This is the first mid-career survey in the U.S. of the work of this important Aboriginal artist.
Australia’s most talked about contemporary artist and a figure of increasing international stature, Richard Bell describes himself as “more an activist than an artist,” and indeed much of his work is politically charged, addressing issues such as the racist Australian culture within which he finds himself. Didactic yet humorous, Bell’s vivid and provocative paintings and videos signal an important and powerful voice in contemporary art. His work is included in major public and private collections and has been represented in a number of notable contemporary exhibitions, both in Australia and overseas.
Among Bell’s American corollaries are Emory Douglas, Jimmie Durham, James Luna, Daniel Martinez, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems, all of whom have taken “identity politics” as their subject, appropriating popular imagery to subvert its often inherently derogatory message—be it slavery, the subjugation of indigenous Americans, and so forth. Bell invokes the formal aesthetics of Aboriginal desert painting (with their dot matrixes and expressionist drips) while usurping the mainstream Pop art styles à la Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. He began his practice of pop appropriation around 2001, as is most visible in his brightly colored Lichtenstein series, of which there are multiple examples in the exhibition, including a Ben-Day dot painting of the Sydney Opera House, as well as the The Peckin’ Order (2007), a well-known work in which a young woman cries out, “Thank Christ I’m Not Aboriginal.”
Maura Reilly is a curator and arts writer based in New York.
The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and supported by the Queensland Government, Australia, through Trade and Investment Queensland’s Queensland Indigenous Arts Marketing and Export Agency (QIAMEA). Additional support has come from the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts and the Embassy of Australia, Washington, D.C.