Three exhibitions by three generations of Perth artists offer psychological portraits of the city as it has grown over 50 years.
A show about the adoption of modernism by local artists is as compelling as it is stifling in retelling a certain history of the city, while two other exhibitions feature young and mid-career Perth artists.
Perth '62 is wonderfully cluttered with early work by the cutting-edge designers and painters of the city. There is a real attempt to include as much diversity as possible, from furniture by David Foulkes-Taylor to public sculpture by Howard Taylor, a sculpture by Margaret Priest and pottery by Guy Grey-Smith.
This diversity looks very odd, however, when it comes to the inclusion of a bark painting from the island of Milingimbi, which is off the coast of the Northern Territory.
The curator has tried to include Aboriginal art while overlooking a whole movement of local Noongar and Yamatji artists.
If the theme of the show is Perth modernism in the 1960s, this modernism must include the beautiful Aboriginal landscapes of Reynold Hart, Bella Kelly and Revel Cooper. The show includes craft, but misses a whole genre of craft invented in 1962 in the layered bark landscape drawings that came out of the Aboriginal settlement in Guildford.
I have to declare a conflict of interest here, as I am employed by the University of WA, which hosts this show, and have an interest in expanding the stories of Australian art rather than repeating them. It is indeed a different story in the Here&Now12 exhibition, also at Lawrence Wilson on the UWA campus.
These artists are young graduates of Curtin University's art school, more often seen in Northbridge's tiny OK Gallery. If the Empire show resembles a cluttered lounge room from the 1960s, Here&Now resembles an abandoned office.
Neat drawings, intricately designed sculptures and the installation of an IKEA-style scale model of a pottery furnace, model the austere visions of the OK generation. It is innovative and interesting art, but a long way from the expressive freedoms of the 1960s modernists.
These 20-somethings have a refined version of art, to be achieved through attention to detail, as they work like architects and designers on miniature models. This is the vision of a generation who, like the 1960s modernists, are looking elsewhere for their inspiration.
A third exhibition is less serious than either of these shows. The work of two Perth photographers is hanging in the foyer of Council House, the architectural icon of 1960s Perth modernism, and their work finds something fascinating in the banality of the inner city.
Juha Tolonen wrests the city's numerous older office blocks into focus, turning to a landscape of concrete 10 to 20-storey buildings. A panorama of four images of the Swan River is punctuated by the top of the BGC building, its flat roof adding a plane to the flatness of the Perth horizon.
There is a series by the brilliant Toni Wilkinson here, too, of people on Perth's streets who embody the built landscape. A woman's yellow pants radiate with the sunset, while a young man's mirrored sunglasses reflect buildings.
These shows do capture something of the maturity of a city that has now nurtured several generations of artists.Perth '62 and Here&Now are at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA, until October 6. The City of Perth 2012 Photographic Commissions Exhibition is at Council House, Perth, until November 30.
'The West Australian' is a trademark of West Australian Newspapers Limited 2013.
All rights reserved.
Select your state to see news for your area.