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Curious Colony: a twenty first century Wunderkammer

  • This event finished on 20 February 2011

Curious Colony: a twenty first century Wunderkammer is an exhibition organised by Newcastle Region Art Gallery that transforms the S.H. Ervin Gallery into a twenty first century room of wonders where colonial curiosities jostle contemporary art. Cabinets of curiosities or chambers of wonder Wunderkammer were developed during the Renaissance and filled with artefacts of mystery, exceptional specimens from nature and science and cultural objects collected from distant lands.

Curious Colony captures this spirit bringing together the work of colonial artists Augustus Earle, Richard Browne, John Lewin, Joseph Lycett, Walter Preston and James Wallis in juxtaposition with contemporary artists Lionel Bawden, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Fiona Hall, Narelle Jubelin, Fiona MacDonald, Danie Mellor, Kate Rohde, Joan Ross, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, Robyn Stacey, Imants Tillers, Esme Timbery, Louise Weaver & Philip Wolfhagen in an exciting exhibition that promises to stimulate and inspire.

Curious Colony includes a cabinet commissioned for the exhibition that contains wonders from the world of contemporary art made by celebrated Canberra based artisan Scott Mitchell in collaboration with five of Australia’s leading artists LIONEL BAWDEN, MARIA FERNANDA CARDOSO, ESME TIMBERY, LOUISE WEAVER and PHILIP WOLFHAGEN. This contemporary cabinet of curiosity has been inspired by the Macquarie Collectors’ Chest made in Newcastle, New South Wales around 1818 for Governor Macquarie and now held in the Mitchell Collection of the State Library of New South Wales. The lure of this object is such that it has inspired a contemporary response from the very place in which it was made almost two centuries ago.

Aboriginal artist Danie Mellor has been supported by the Australia Council for the Arts to make a major work of art. Winner of the 2009 NATSIAA (The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards) Mellor uses taxidermy, sculpture and installation to explore original interpretations of colonial collecting practices. Similarly, artist JOAN ROSS has been funded by ARTS NSW to make a new work of art for the exhibition, motivated by the Gallery’s colonial collection.

The S.H. Ervin Gallery is delighted to present this highly acclaimed exhibition in Sydney over summer in partnership with Newcastle Region Art Gallery. The city of Newcastle has just been named as one the top ten cities in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011 and this exhibition gives you an idea of the cultural attractions on offer just two hours north of Sydney.


Sunday 13 February @ 3pm   DANIE MELLOR & SCOTT MITCHELL

Danie Mellor’s work engages with Indigenous and Western perspectives of culture and history, and examines the way in which they interact. His work utilises a broad range of media including drawing, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture and installation. Danie will discuss his works in the exhibition, specifically his major installation The native’s chest. Scott Mitchell is a master cabinetmaker commissioned to re-create a contemporary collectors’ chest – its drawers filled with contemporary works created in response to the original Macquarie collectors’ chest.

Sunday 20 February @ 3pm    ELIZABETH ELLIS & RARE AND CURIOUS

Join Elizabeth Ellis, the inaugural Emeritus Curator at the Mitchell Library as she shares with us the incredible history of Lachlan Macquarie’s Collectors’ Chest as documented in her book Rare and Curious, The Secret History of Governor Macquarie’s Collectors’ Chest .

With hidden compartments, stuffed birds and painted scenes from early Australia, remarkably, this exquisite treasure chest remained unnoticed in a Scottish castle for more than 140 years before Elizabeth began her search which led to its successful return to Sydney. This lavish and beautifully illustrated book is highly collectable and already out of print.


Art and Australia Review – Curious Colony by Christine France Issue 48 No.2

Art Monthly #236 Opportunity Knocks – Stop Press p.88 December 2010- February 2011

Artlink Review by Margaret Farmer

Steve Meacham  Take this cabinet and stuff it   The Sydney Morning Herald  Tuesday 11 January

Andrew Taylor Cabinet secrets revealed The Sun-Herald Sunday 9 January p.27

ABC 702 Weekends with Simon Marnie – What’s On