London | Published on 20th September 2017 at 8:28



Works by renowned Australian artists Gordon Bennett and Susan Norrie have gone on display at Tate Modern for the first time. They are among ten works of art which have now been jointly acquired by Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) in Sydney. The partnership, launched in 2015, is made possible through a $2.75 million corporate gift from Qantas and enables both museums to expand their collections each year, bringing the work of Australian artists to new global audiences.

Qantas Group’s CEO, Alan Joyce, and the MCA’s Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, travelled to London to help launch the new display today, alongside artist Susan Norrie and Leanne Bennett, Gordon Bennett’s widow. They were welcomed by Tate Modern’s Director, Frances Morris and Tate’s Director of Collection for International Art, Gregor Muir.

Frances Morris said:
‘Tate Modern has always championed a more international story of art, and we are delighted to see Australian artists represented in our new displays alongside those from Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Working with our partners at the MCA and Qantas, we look forward to showcasing more Australian acquisitions in London and beyond over the coming years.’

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor said:
‘We are thrilled to unveil this diverse range of joint acquisitions with Tate. This initiative is a true game-changer for contemporary Australian artists: it places their artworks in one of the world’s great public collections, where they will be seen alongside those of their international peers. It also enables us to acquire more ambitiously and strategically – transforming the opportunities for international audiences to connect with contemporary Australian art. Working closely with the Tate curatorial team has been an enriching experience; there’s been a real synchronicity in our approaches.’

Alan Joyce said:
‘What we love about this program is the opportunity to grow awareness of Australian art not just in Australia through the MCA, but on the global stage through Tate. It’s a really powerful and unique combination – two of the world’s most influential cultural institutions working side by side to win new audiences for the amazing artists that we have in our country. Qantas believes in the power of art to tell Australia’s story – our Indigenous identity, our modern development and our links to the world, which is so vital to our future. As Australia’s national carrier we are extremely proud to be involved in this program which helps to showcase the spirit of Australia to the world.’

Visitors to Tate Modern can find the works by Gordon Bennett and Susan Norrie on Level 2 of the Boiler House as part of the ‘Artist and Society’ display. This free collection display explores how artists respond to political contexts, raise awareness of social issues and argue for change in the world.

Gordon Bennett’s painting Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991 is based on an image of Captain Cook claiming the eastern coast of Australia in 1770. Bennett simultaneously obscures and draws attention to the Aboriginal man standing next to Cook, overlaying an abstract geometric shape which recalls constructivist art and the Aboriginal flag. Susan Norrie’s Transit 2011 is a video installation about the conflicting relationship between humanity and the natural world. It focuses on the Tōhoku earthquake and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as examples of the destructive power of nature and technology.

The ground-breaking collaboration between Tate, the MCA and Qantas was announced in 2015 as an ambitious five-year joint program. The program enables a range of major artworks by contemporary Australian artists to be acquired each year for the collections of the MCA and Tate, which are then owned and displayed by both institutions.

In the first year of the partnership, alongside works by Gordon Bennett and Susan Norrie, Tate and the MCA acquired a video installation by Vernon Ah Kee (tall man 2010) and an artist book of sixteen prints by Judy Watson (a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005). These were joined in 2017 by three paintings by Helen Johnson (Seat of Power 2016, Bad Debt 2016 and A Feast of Reason and a Flow of Soul 2016), an installation by Richard Bell (Embassy 2013-ongoing) and a video by Peter Kennedy with John Hughes (On Sacred Land 1983-4).


Oil and acrylic paint on canvas, 1820 × 1820 mm. Image © The Estate of Gordon Bennett – View Gordon’s art here.

Gordon Bennett (1955-2014) was born in Monto, Queensland. His practice included painting, printmaking, drawing, video, installation and sculpture. Bennett’s work challenged racial stereotypes and critically reflected on Australia’s history.

In the painting Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991, the artist placed what he called a ‘field of disturbance’ over an image charged with a particular historical significance: a 19th century etching of Captain James Cook claiming the eastern coast of Australia for the British Crown in 1770. An abstract geometric shape is laid on top of the scene, referencing both constructivist art and the colours of the Aboriginal flag. The addition of this shape covers up and yet ironically also draws attention to the Aboriginal man originally shown standing next to Cook, transforming it from a celebratory depiction of colonial conquest into one that highlights its legacy of dispossession and displacement. The painting typifies the artist’s use of a bold visual language, reclaiming the Aboriginal perspective in history through a process of transformation and reflecting the way history itself is endlessly translated over time.

Leanne Bennett said: ‘It is such an honour to see Possession Island (Abstraction) on display at Tate Modern, as I consider it a pivotal work in Gordon’s career. It not only speaks to his early narrative works about Australia’s untold history but also to his later conversations with Abstraction. Throughout his career, he continuously set personal goals which served to challenge and drive him forward. Within these ambitions were his long term aspirations for representation in international collections – and the Tate was always at the top of his list. He would have been absolutely thrilled and humbled by the news of this latest significant acquisition, which further strengthens his position as an important, thought-provoking and valued contemporary artist.’


Single channel high-definition video, 14 minutes 35 seconds. Image © Susan Norrie – View Susan’s art here.

Susan Norrie (b.1953) lives and works in Sydney, where she originally trained as a painter before shifting towards film and installation in the mid-1990s. Focusing on the Asia-Pacific region, her work explores the often conflicting relationship between humanity, technology and the natural world.

Her video installation Transit 2011 depicts the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, and the subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Transit shows an anti-nuclear demonstration where people expressed their anger and frustration following the disaster, while the destructive power of nature is reinforced by the image of a plume of ash rising from the Sakurajima volcano. Norrie also collaborated with the scientists of the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) in filming rockets taking off to track weather patterns and greenhouse emissions, as well as speaking to a shaman, Yoshimaru Higa, whose voice can be heard discussing what it means to look at our planet from space. Even when contemplating the unpredictable and catastrophic forces of nature, Norrie’s elegant compositions, extended takes and slow camera movements create moments of serene beauty.

Susan Norrie said: ‘As an artist that has always been interested in the Asia Pacific region, I find this recent acquisition between the Tate and the MCA to be timely in relation to world events. It’s a great acknowledgement of my practice.’