The Biennale of Sydney and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain have announced a creative partnership to promote First Nations art. The two organisations have established the role of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain First Nations Curatorial Fellow, announcing celebrated artist Tony Albert as the inaugural appointment.

As a Visionary Partner, Fondation Cartier will work with the Biennale to commission, present and promote First Nations arts and culture as part of the Biennale of Sydney program which will extend from 2023 to 2027, including the 24th Biennale of Sydney (9 March – 10 June 2024) and the 25th edition in 2026.

For the next year’s edition, ‘Ten Thousand Suns’, the Fondation Cartier will commission 14 new works by First Nations artists, with details to be released later this year.

What a responsibility for Tony Albert. Interestingly, the artist who is both a member of the radical proppaNOW collective and a solo commercial artist, began his working life as a trainee curator at the Queensland Art Gallery. And his eminence in winning events such as the NATSIAAs and the Basil Sellers Art Prize has been reflected in his current appointment as the first Indigenous Trustee at the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Kuku Yalanji/Girramay man from Northern Queensland has gained international acclaim for his exploration of the legacy of racial and cultural misrepresentation of Australia’s Aboriginal people. Working across a practice which combines text, video, drawing, painting and three-dimensional objects, Albert has developed a language that seeks to challenge and rewrite historical mistruths and injustice. His largest public art work is the Memorial to forgotten Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park, Sydney.

Now, Albert assumes the role of the Fondation Cartier First Nations Curatorial Fellow and will work with the Biennale, the Fondation and the 14 commissioned artists, collaborating closely with the artists to bring their creative visions to life. He will also forge a significant connection between the Fondation Cartier in Paris and First Nations artists and curators, and will contribute to the support and promotion of Indigenous art and culture generally in the Biennale of Sydney.

Tony Albert himself commented: “Indigenous Australian art has a unique identity and position within the contemporary art world. A platform to expand their artistic collections (of BOS and the Fondation) and the development of strong curatorial perimeters with First Nations peoples represents an important and timely partnership. In my hopes and dreams I believe that this partnership will bring outstanding commissions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and curatorial excellence to the rest of the world”.

Hervé Chandès, Artistic Managing Director of the Fondation Cartier added: “This partnership reflects our belief in empowering First Nations communities to share their truths and underscores the crucial role of listening to their voices as we navigate the challenges of our planet. First Nations artists bring their rich cultural heritage and unique artistic traditions to the contemporary art scene”.

The Fondation Cartier has some standing in this matter already, having honoured the late Sally Gabori with a major solo survey exhibition in Paris in 2022. To coincide with this exhibition, the Fondation, working with Gabori’s family and the Kaiadilt community, published a comprehensive exhibition catalogue and online archive dedicated to the artist’s life and work. In 2023, the exhibition travelled to Italy for the Triennale di Milano.

The Artistic Directors of next year’s Biennale of Sydney, Cosmin Costinaș and Inti Guerrero said: “Tony Albert is an exceptional figure in the Australian art and cultural scenes, widely respected and influential across several generations of artists and practitioners. The uncompromising questioning of power relations and political
formulations in his artistic practice have pushed boundaries and contributed to exposing the ongoing effects of colonialism on First Nations people in Australia”.

Don’t tell Senator Nampitjinpa Price!