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Published on May 27, 2012
This public lecture was presented by Patrick McCaughey for the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, on 17 April 2012.
When Clem Greenberg came to Australia in 1968, he admired a lot of Australian painting, more the older moderns than the young mods. But his parting words were: "Enjoy your diversity." Few took much notice and the 60s has been generally characterised as the time of the young abstractionists with some pop thrown in, ending with the first bits and pieces of Conceptualism. Indeed these were striking new forces on the landscape and so quickly embraced by the institutions. Even the NGV bought from all those exciting first solo shows - Ball, Jacks, Hickey, Hunter etc. The era did have a certain electricity to it: it was the decade of the sell out show and all those fiercely competitive art prizes. I'd like to get some of that 'electric' feel across.
But the 60s is also the time when Fred Williams emerged as an artist with a distinctive voice. The Sherbrooke Forest and You Yang paintings all date from 1960 to 1963 and surely constitute a genuine breakthrough in Australian landscape painting. Jefrey Smart moved from the periphery to becoming a much lauded figure. John Olsen produced some of his most important work such as You Beaut Country paintings. Likewise Arthur Boyd painted those great Nebuchadnezzar paintings. Robert Klippel was widely agreed upon as Australia's most important sculptor in that decade. And one can multiply the list of oldies producing some of their best work in this decade. If we don't find a way of including them in the history of the 60s, then I think we're writing bad or at least seriously incomplete art history.
Patrick McCaughey is an alumnus of art history at the University of Melbourne, Professor Emeritus of Monash University, and Director Emeritus of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Yale Center for British Art.