The Futlie City
Free with Museum Pass
The Futile City derives its theme from Albert Tucker’s iconic 1940 painting of the same title in Heide’s Collection. The exhibition juxtaposes images of the city painted by Tucker over his lifetime with those by several contemporary artists for whom the city and its structures provide rich and complex source material.
Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s elegiac poem ‘The Waste Land’ (1922), which is both a lament and search for redemption of the human soul, Tucker’s The Futile City reflects a mood of personal despair and anxiety in the face of the realities and social crisis of World War II. Tucker recognised in Eliot a ‘twin soul’ who painted with words images of horror, futility and prophecies of doom, to all of which Tucker had a heightened sensitivity.
Albert Tucker, London Bus 1957, oil on composition board, © Estate of Barbara Tucker
Just as it has for Tucker, the darker and enigmatic aspects of the city have been an enduring interest for a number of Australian artists. Through their eyes, this exhibition speculates on the rise of the city, the expansion of its limits and its rapidly increasing density from the modern era to the present day.
Robert Boynes, Louise Forthun, Richard Giblett and Jeffrey Smart each use imagery of the city as a means to examine aspects of the human condition and the rituals of urban existence, and to suggest the place and power (or powerlessness) of the individual in the city’s physical, political and social structures.
Other artists like Susan Norrie and David Jolly invoke some of the unpredictable psychic states to which the claustrophobia and dystopia of the city give rise. Teasing out tensions between private and public domains, reality and fantasy, and the vulnerability and intimacy of the body and mind, their images present stark counterpoints to the immensity of the urban landscape, and suggest the various ecologies and histories the city colonises.
The Futile City reflects on the facts and fictions of the city through the visions and imaginings of seven Australian painters working over seven decades, whose preoccupations have alerted us to the potency and pitfalls of the rising and expanding metropolis.