Inland Exhibition

Inland Exhibition
SCOPE Gallery
July 15 to August 1, 2010
38 Kelp Street

International Contemporary Masters Book 2010

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble booksellers.


Teaching: National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria 
Life Drawing Workshops 
Feb 27 & 28


Margaret Gurney at the Florence¬†Biennale

My journey to Florence started long before I boarded the aircraft at Melbourne airport. The invitation came to me via email in August 2008, more than 12 months before the event was to take place. I was amazed to receive the invitation, how fantastic I thought! Then I started to worry about the legitimacy of the email and I did quite a bit of research to establish it was what it said it was.

The Florence Biennale is an international contemporary art exhibition held every two years in the historical Fortezza da Basso in Florence, Italy. It is a partner with the United Nations in the ‘Dialogue between Civilizations’ program promoting understanding through cultural exchange. In 2009 there were 700 artists from 78 countries and thousands of visitors and I was thrilled to be one of seven artists representing Australia.

Artists are selected to exhibit in the Biennale by an international jury without prejudice towards, style, school or theme but for the quality of their work.  Artists cover their own expenses through grants, sponsorships and their own funds. Once I had decided to take part and attend the Biennale I spent many hours writing grant applications and sponsorship letters. I had a little success but most of the expenses I paid for myself. Work exhibited at the Biennale is not for sale, it is exhibition only and prizes are awarded in each category.

I decided to take paintings on canvas of the Australian outback, portraying the wonder of inland Australia, our cultural heritage, history and geography. I have been deeply involved in this work for several years and am inspired by the Australian landscape and travel regularly inland to paint.

My paintings needed to be finished and photographed by April 2009 to go into the Biennale catalogue. Consequently, I painted consistently throughout last summer. Painters were allowed to take a maximum of three works to hang in their designated area of three meters. I showed my paintings to family and friends and asked them to choose their favorites. This in itself was an interesting exercise! Finally a decision was made and I had my three paintings photographed professionally in time to meet the deadline.

The Biennale offers a recommended shipping company and services to exhibitors. I decided to take up this option. My paintings were packed and collected, but I heard they had been ‘lost’. On ‘set-up day’ at the Fortezza da Basso I was extremely relieved to see my paintings hanging in my designated area when I arrived. I was very lucky to be one of the few artists to have a wall of my own, especially in such a large exhibition.

My daughter was able to accompany me to Italy and we decided to spend two weeks traveling in Italy before going to Florence for the Biennale. She became my moral support during the Biennale.

The exhibits featured at the Biennale were paintings, works on paper, mixed media, photography, sculpture, installations and digital work. Painting was considered to be on canvas; watercolours, prints, digital art and photography were all considered works on paper. Sculpture and installations were separate categories. The majority of work was painted canvases. There were many abstracts, surreal and ‘shock’ art and numerous subjects but very few, if any tonal realist paintings.

The curators had done very well hanging compatible works together and intermingling the sculptures and installations. The exhibition centre within the Fortezza da Bazzo is a huge space and it comfortably accommodated all the work. The exhibition was so enormous that every time I walked in I saw different works of art!

The Opening was a fantastic ceremony announced by the traditional band of Florence all dressed in their traditional costumes. This was followed by an Italian Government official cutting the red ribbon, many speeches and champagne. CNN news and other media outlets were there. Many countries had their diplomats present. It was very exciting.

A lecture program ran throughout the Biennale which was very interesting and informative. The Biennale gave each artist a large hardbacked, full colour catalogue of artist biographies and artworks. 

My paintings attracted a lot of attention and interest. Inland Australia was very exotic for many Europeans. One art critic decided I had been ‘creative’ with my colours and could not believe they are like that in reality.

I spoke with many artists from around the world and looked at their work. It was so interesting and inspiring. I speak only English and ‘pigeon’ Italian so I was limited to English speakers and hand gestures. There were many artists from South American countries, Germany and America. I managed to meet some of the other Australian artists and I believe I was the only Victorian. Some artists chose to send their work and not attend.

We were each given a chair and could sit with our work all day and night if we wished. However, during the quieter times Jane and I explored Florence, particularly all the wonderful Renaissance art. For some artists it’s all about getting attention and the outfits they wore were amazing and made for the event.

There was an immense closing Gala dinner on the last Saturday night with opera singers and others to entertain us. The closing ceremony awarded many prizes to artists and Australians won a President’s medal, 5th and 4th equal prizes for painting. Overall, the event was very well organized and everything promised happened. The attendances were down on previous years, the result of the GFC.

What I loved about participating in the Florence Biennale was that I got a chance to see artists from all over the world working in very different techniques. The place vibrated, it was diverse, wonderful and was full of hope for the future.

Margaret Gurney
Australian Artist

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