Art is forever recycling, prodding and breaking its own past. Here are four shows that unapologetically dig for inspiration in forgotten corners, and come out with something new, sharp and thought provoking.

Pleasure & Reality
This new show at NGV Australia focuses on contemporary artists re-appropriating everyday images into new contexts and poses. Justene Williams offers a wall of convex mirrors – the round, distorting kind you usually see on tight traffic corners – bluntly re-presented as an installation called engaging an object other than itself. Nathan Grey’s piece Species of spaces is a circle of five screens playing footage of abandoned industrial spaces. The viewer is stuck in the middle, their attention dragged in all five directions by a series of sounds: from the jangling of chains and the falling of a nail, to the almost musical grind of a violin bow scraping across metal surfaces. The result is a symphony of unease. But the most attention grabbing of the lot is Bloodline, Tony Garifalakis’ series of op-shop-found portraits of the British royal family, defaced with black paint (except for the eyes, mouth and jewellery). It’s a picture of grotesque inherited wealth with a hint of irony. Unmissable.

Pleasure & Reality is at NGV Australia until February 16.
ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/pleasure-reality

Polaroid Resurrection
Direct from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, this show puts the humble Polaroid photograph back in the limelight. It’s a selection of shots supplied by everyone from teenaged amateurs to world-renowned photographers. All are presented anonymously, in their original form and as blown-up prints. Some are ad-hoc snaps, and some are intricately staged. With others, it’s difficult to tell. But all have that eerie, nostalgic glow of old film stock – that distance and vividness that no Instagram filter can replicate.

Polaroid Resurrection is at Magnet Galleries until October 3.
melbournefringe.com.au/program

wtf renaissance
Internet memes are too often hastily put-together micro-jokes, revelling in their lo-fi, low-art silliness. Not so with wtf renaissance, which is as much a showcase of the intricate weirdness of this revered period of art as it is of cheap gags. A bishop chastising a winged, two-faced (one on his head, one … not on his head) demon, disembowelments, nudes and enormous decorative ruffs, are juxtaposed with 2015 Twitter-wit about Etsy, Yelp and Australian politics. The jokes aren’t for everyone, but the art will burn itself into your retinas. Go for the glorious light, colour and weirdness of renaissance art, stay for the curious displacement of seeing bits of Tumblr on a gallery wall.

wtf renaissance is at the Fringe Hub at the Lithuanian Club until October 3.
wtfrenaissance.tumblr.com

AS IF: 40 years of the Women’s Art Register
The Women’s Art Register, which aptly abbreviates to WAR, is about, in its own words, “insisting that women’s art matters”. To that end it’s been building an archive of artworks by Australian women for 40 years, and doing it in slide form. The anniversary brings a season of events across October, from bringing an underexposed side of the art world to life, to literally re-writing history to be more inclusive. Slide Night, an event that subverts the familiar night of boredom that the phrase “slide night” evokes, encourages the audience to engage with the work on show and derail the night into tangents of art discussion. And there’s the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, which invites visitors to bring their own laptop and help expand Wikipedia’s coverage of women in art. On top of that, there’s WAR Sliders, a month-long exhibition of all of the artists in their archive.

AS IF runs various events across Melbourne until November 7.
womensartregister40years.info