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Australiana stars melted ice cream and a Ken Done doona

The Bendigo Art Gallery has launched an exhibition of Australiana featuring Ken Done paintings alongside works by Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale.

March 18, 2023
By Liz Hobday
18 March 2023

Whatever Australiana really is, it’s probably wearing a Ken Done T-shirt.

The artist, whose brightly coloured artworks, clothing and homewares were ubiquitous in the 1980s, features in a new exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery.

“There weren’t too many things you could buy in those days that said, I live in Sydney or I live in Australia, and it’s a really exciting and interesting place,” Done told AAP.

Australiana: Designing a Nation showcases his 1982 painting Sydney Sunday, as well as one of his classic 1980s doonas, displayed on a single bed.

Along with Ken Done, the work of some 200 other artists is on show – works that could not be more different, yet are each quintessentially Aussie.

“This has been a unique opportunity to really take a very deep look at what it means to be Australian through our art and design,” curator Emma Busowsky told AAP.

Perhaps every Aussie would recognise Kenny Pittock’s giant image of a melting Bubble O’Bill, or his sculptures of Monaco Bars, Golden Gaytimes and Sunnyboys.

There are also more serious works on show.

Gallery-goers will be able to see some of the country’s most recognisable art, such as Shearing the Rams by Tom Roberts and Moody’s Pub by Russell Drysdale.

Early Modernists such as Grace Cossington-Smith and Margaret Preston and important central desert artworks by Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye are also part of the show.

The Bendigo Gallery has a reputation for blockbuster exhibitions and put this one together with help from the National Gallery of Victoria.

Busowsky believes a sense of nostalgia is a consistent theme.

She said she felt a deep responsibility curating an exhibition about national aesthetics and identities.

“I think one of the strengths of the show is the small moments, the little everyday kind of works that evoke that sense of meaning for people,” she said.

For Done, an Australian aesthetic is all about colour and light.

Although he’s a commercial success and a household name, his work has been largely disregarded by institutional galleries – the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, for example, do not have any of his works in their permanent collections.

Now aged 82, Done prefers to keep his feelings on this to himself but says he hopes people can view his work in the context of other Australian artists.

With this show, that’s exactly what they’ll be able to do.

Australiana: Designing a Nation is at the Bendigo Art Gallery from Saturday until June 25.

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