From Sublime to Luminous World, a decade has passed since Wesfarmers last assembled a major touring exhibition from its significant corporate art collection.
Over that time the company's collecting focus has moved from colonial paintings, Australian impressionists and mid-20th century modernists to more emphasis on contemporary art, including indigenous art and works from New Zealand, where the company has expanded its business footprint.
"The contemporary art collection has grown and diversified quite a lot over that period," Wesfarmers art curator Helen Carroll says. "We wanted to put together a show that had a unifying thread through it that could show the span of the collection and the diversity it encompassed."
Looking through the lens of how artists use light, the central facet of any visual art, seemed a good theme to represent a cross-section from the 1960s to works produced as recently as this year, Ms Carroll says.
Luminous World, which opens at the Art Gallery of WA this weekend, does just that in the form of more than 60 paintings, photographs and sculptures by 50 contemporary artists, including Susan Norrie, Rosemary Laing, Howard Taylor, Dale Frank, Bill Henson, Brian Blanchflower, Brook Andrew, Timothy Cook and Barrupu Yunupingu.
Three works by very different artists share a radiant quality that gives the exhibition its name, Ms Carroll says.
Dowerin Autumn 2005, an image by WA photographer Brad Rimmer of a wrecked car in an overgrown, decommissioned drive-in sets a blank white screen against the astringent luminescence of a Wheatbelt sunset.
In a book which accompanies the exhibition, Wheatbelt poet John Kinsella has written the poem Silence in response to that work, which begins:
_ Screen silence is the silence / _
_ we fill in our emptiness: / _
_ letting evening in before it arrives, / _
_ the switching into cicada rhythms, / _
_ crickets; a worn redress / _
_ desultory as heat in a car waiting / _
_ for images, sound from other lives, other places: / _
_ fantastical. We survive the day, waiting. _
It is an aptly existential conjunction of word and image in an exhibition by Wesfarmers, which began life in the Wheatbelt nearly 100 years ago as a farmers' cooperative.
Ms Carroll calls Rimmer's photograph, from his Silence series of Wheatbelt pictures, an exquisite, poetic image that captures the atmospheric beauty and magic of a certain time of day. "It also alludes to the passing of a way of life, the idea of the empty drive-in theatre where nobody is going to see any movies anymore," she says.
The lingering presence of people long gone also runs through the work of New Zealander Fiona Pardington, who photographed a series of human-head plaster casts taken during French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville's 19th century voyage through the South Pacific. Among the live-casts of Maori chiefs and Pacific islanders, the onboard phrenologist took the impressions of crew and passengers including Dumont d'Urville and his wife, Adele, which features in this exhibition.
A work by the late East Kimberley Warmun artist, Paddy Bedford, Merrmerrji - Queensland Creek 2005, normally has pride of place in the office of Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder. He will have to do without its natural-ochre whites, soft radiant pinks and inky blacks for the next couple of years while it tours as part of the exhibition, Ms Carroll says.
"Paddy Bedford made some of the softest, most atmospheric and austere evocations of the Western Australian landscape that we have ever seen," she says. "He so distilled the idea, atmosphere and the depth and ancient age of these spaces in a way that nobody else has."
The Wesfarmers Collection numbers about 700 major works and began in 1977 when then general manager John Bennison bought a pastoral scene by the Australian impressionist, Elioth Gruner. It has since grown in prestige, influence and value under successive bosses Trevor Eastwood, Michael Chaney and now Mr Goyder.
Sparked by a refurbishment of its Perth headquarters, the company recently had its first spring-clean of its collection by dispensing with more than 50 works at auction. The $1.3 million proceeds will be spent on more Aboriginal art and cultural sponsorships.
Art is central to the life of the company and its engagement with the community, Mr Goyder says. "From the start, Wesfarmers has been committed to sharing its collection with the community through exhibitions and loans and by opening our workplaces for groups to view the art in our offices. This is the first time we have showcased the contemporary art in the collection."
Art Gallery of WA director Stefano Carboni says the exhibition is the latest expression of Wesfarmers' two-decade partnership with the gallery. "It is a relationship that has tangibly enriched not only AGWA but the cultural landscape of our State," he says.
In the accompanying Luminous World book, published by Fremantle Press, participating artist Bill Henson contributes an essay, as does composer and former WA Opera director Richard Mills. A collection of poems by Kinsella enhances the appreciation of the artworks.Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection opens at the Art Gallery of WA on Saturday and runs until February 11 before touring nationally.