Future History

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Acknowledging the multifaceted reality of Australian contemporary society — from its fraught history of whitewashing brutal colonial settlement, to the movement of bodies (erroneously deemed illegal) across borders and the migration of people from across the globe — is essential to the ability for both visual and material culture to speak to the future history of humankind globally. For this reason, Australian art historians must urgently activate and thoroughly engage in the much-needed renovation of the canon. With or without the canonical references to ‘outsider art’, so-called ‘outsider artists’ and their communities will continue to create and engage in various forms of art practice, and with each undocumented moment the chasm between art as culture maker and historical witness expands and grows out of necessity into its own self-contained history. This contained history will soon enough surpass, and then reject, its Western occupier and host. Migrant and diasporic artists, artists from minority communities and all those deemed as ‘outsiders’ will no longer wait patiently on the sidelines as the global contemporary art community beckons them. The confines of Australia’s national narratives and borders, along with the Eurocentric tastes they harbour will be soon be discarded.


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Taking the Discussion Outside the Converted

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The main issue for me is how do we effectively force systemic change that reforms and transforms current perceptions, values and access paradigms within the broader art cannon? 

It makes me think; how do we take these considerable challenges to the kingmakers and cultural/political/social influencers, so we aren’t simply having these critical discussions with the converted?

The COVID-19 timing in terms of [this] research is fascinating. Perhaps we will see a faster, more inclusive transformation of the arts sector than we would have otherwise? All organisations and individuals have to rethink who they are talking to, who they are connecting with and how. Access and accessibility are moving more to the fore more than ever before. I think accountability is a significant issue.

Institutions such as the museum and gallery, need to be held to account to represent artists from diverse backgrounds more broadly; what we engage with should reflect our current society and culture. Periodically deaccessioning collections (“selling the Rothkos”) to purchase other works that reflect better the artists and culture of the time, could be a step toward creating a more accurate cultural history. However, would it not be better to add to the collections, and use the existing artworks in the collection as a point of reference for understanding why particular artists of that time were (and still are) underrepresented. It’s something I think about.

We still have a long way to go, but change is in the air!”


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Can’t it just be about the art?

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I guess it can be frustrating for organisations like [Arts Project Australia] to constantly be validating the work of our artists as a critical and important part of the broader contemporary arts sector. Particularly the decisions makers, the lords of the museum and gallery sectors, the art influencers whose opinions and decisions are often slavishly followed by the collectors.

I have actually found that artists themselves are the most receptive to the proposed melange.

Systemic change means real endorsement from art funding bodies and philanthropists – we are starting to see a little of this from Australia Council and state arts funding agencies, but always under a lens of diversity.  Can’t it just be about the art?

The main issue for me is the current structures of the art world generally – however I feel that this is a shake up that may be forced upon us (or them!).

I see the current COVID19 crisis as an opportunity to speed this up – with everything online for the foreseeable future, it has to be accessible, and it puts everyone on the same playing ground. It will be interesting to see how this evolves after the galleries and studios are open. We [at Arts Project] certainly plan to keep exploring online delivery in everything we do – and, of course, this has the capacity to be internationally received and accepted.


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Sharing the Stage

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When the introduction to the roundtable ended with the statement that ‘Many of you know each other, it is like the band gets back together”, I felt the warmth of inclusion, and indeed I had the pleasure of seeing several familiar faces around me.

The roundtable consisted of twenty participants. Of these most were academics, many working together on this ACR funded project. There was a large group representing Arts Project Australia including one of their current studio artists. Amongst the group there were four artists who identified as outsiders, three of them who knew each other from the refugee arts project, one of whom was also completing a Ph.D. at Melbourne University, and one artist who also identified as having a mental illness. 

 What is an ‘outsider’? 

Can any of us taking part in a roundtable, with the opportunity to speak and be heard really claim such status? 

What does the project look like if the ‘outsider’ is only represented through research? 

Does being funded make you complicit with the broader aims of the organisation that supports you, preventing you from being able to view it from the outside? 

Without funding, how will diverse and marginalised voices be heard?  What about disability where artists may not be able to articulate their needs and where advocacy sometimes only paves the way for absence? 

What do artists who identify as ‘outsiders’ and have agency to promote their work have in common with artists who have no language?

When asked what I would like the group to take away with them I suggested they keep searching for the artists that they have never heard of. But the challenge to seek out those who have no voice may be an oxymoron despite the best intentions of those who wish to include them. But as difficult as this challenge might be, it’s important to keep asking this of ourselves because as great as the band is currently sounding, we need to be sharing the stage.


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Dr Anna Parlane

Anna is a lecturer at Monash University who teaches across the art history and curatorial practice programs. Within a research area broadly including contemporary art and its recent histories, she has written most extensively on the work of contemporary New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson. Anna has a particular interest in how alternative or marginalised epistemologies can be expressed through art practice. This has manifested in research into several distinct topics: religious art, particularly in relation to non-linear conceptions of time; First Nations art histories; feminist practices and art made by untrained artists. 

Anna’s background encompasses fine art practice, museum studies, curatorship and art history. Prior to taking up her current role at Monash University, she taught modern and contemporary art history at the University of Melbourne and the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She also previously worked as Assistant curator, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and was Curatorial assistant for the 4th Auckland Triennial, Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon, 2010.

Anna is a founding member and regular contributor to Memo Review, and has published work in both peer-reviewed and industry publications including DisciplineEMAJReading Room and Art in Australia.


Professor Charles Green

Charles Green is Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Melbourne, and an authority in contemporary international and Australian art, on biennials and exhibition histories, and on artist collaborations. His books include Biennials, Triennials and Documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art (2016, co-authored with Anthony Gardner), The Third Hand: Artist Collaborations from Conceptualism to Postmodernism (2001), and Peripheral Vision: Contemporary Australian Art 1970-94 (1995). He has been awarded several ARC grants and was Adjunct Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (2001-2006), leading large curatorial teams who produced major exhibitions, including the inaugural, museum-wide installation of modern and contemporary Australian art at NGVA Federation Square (Fieldwork, 2001) as an outcome of an ARC Large Grant. He is also an artist, having worked in collaboration with Lyndell Brown as one artist since 1989; their works are in most Australian art museum collections and they were Australia’s Official War Artists in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007.


Dr Grace McQuilten

Dr Grace McQuilten is an art historian, curator and writer. Grace completed her Ph.D. in art history at the University of Melbourne in 2008. In 2016, she published the book Art as Enterprise: Social & Economic Engagement in Contemporary Art (co-authored with Dr Anthony White, IB Tauris,2016) and in 2011 Art in Consumer Culture (Ashgate Publishing, 2011). In 2009, Grace founded The Social Studio, a creative social enterprise located in Melbourne. She currently leads the Contemporary Art and Social Transformation Research Group at RMIT University, and is a Chief Investigator on the Australian Research Council funded project, ‘Art-based Social Enterprise and Marginalised Young People’s Transitions’ (2017–20).


Associate Professor Anthony White

Anthony White’s research focuses on the history of modern and contemporary art. He is the author of Italian Modern Art in the Age of Fascism (New York: Routledge, 2020); with Grace McQuilten, of Art as Enterprise: Social and Economic Engagement in Contemporary Art (London: IB Tauris / Bloomsbury, 2016); and Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011). He has written for the peer-reviewed journals Grey Room, October, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art and Third Text,and for exhibition catalogues published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

He has received several research awards from the Australian Research Council (2018, 2012, 2007) and the Ian Potter Foundation (2014) and was a named Collaborator on a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2012 – 2017). He has held visiting appointments at the Department of Italian Studies, New York University (2013), The Centre for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, Washington D.C. (2006), and the Humanities Research Centre at The Australian National University (2005). From 2014 – 2018 he was President of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand.



MCQUILTEN, G. (curator), Outside Melbourne, Federation Square & various sites, Melbourne CBD, 17-31 October 2014.

MCQUILTEN, G. (curator), TSS Chai and the Land Before Time, Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, 24 November 2013 & 23 March 2014.

MCQUILTEN, G. (curator), The Magic Tent, Craft Cubed Festival and Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, 5-24 August 2011.

GREEN, C. (curator) Voiceless, Sherman Galleries, Sydney (2007)

GREEN, C. (co-curator), with Gellatly, K., Smith, J. 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth, National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for Moving Image, Melbourne (2006)

GREEN, C. (co-curator), with Gellatly, K., Smith, J. 2004: Australian Culture Now, National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for Moving Image, Melbourne (2004)

GREEN, C. (co-curator), with Gellatly, K., Smith, J. world rush_4 artists: Doug Aitken, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Lee Bul and Sarah Sze, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2003)

GREEN, C. (co-curator), and Smith, J. Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968-2002, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2002). 

Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context

An International Conference Hosted by Arts Project and the University of Melbourne 23-26 October 2014.

This inter-disciplinary exploration of the field drew on the experience and knowledge of Australian and international artists, collectors, curators and scholars. The conference comprised keynote addresses, sessions of 30-minute papers and round table discussions where presenters from different disciplines and backgrounds engaged with topics relating to three major themes:

  • The Practices of Outsider Artists
  • Collections of Outsider Art and Curated Exhibitions
  • Outsider Art History and Theory

The conference also hosted an exhibition – Outside – curated by Grace McQuilten and held at Federation Square, Arts Victoria. Outside was an exhibition that showcased the work of ten artists from new migrant communities, postered-up throughout the streets of Melbourne and exhibited in a digital display on the large screens at Federation Square over two weeks from 17th – 31st October 2014. The exhibition played with the idea of “outside” in the context of issues of social inclusion and exclusion, access and participation in the visual landscape of Melbourne’s city streets. The exhibition was funded by Arts Victoria and formed a visual dialogue with Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context.

The website for the conference can be accessed here: http://www.outsiderartmelbourne2014.com

PDF summaries of the conference streams can be downloaded here and here.