People milled around Mikala Dwyer’s tactile installation, I Maybe You, only barely prevented from reaching out to feel the intriguing shapes of cloth and blow-up clear plastic by the presence of a stern-looking museum guard. James Angus’s huge upside-down hot air balloon dominated the entrance near his streamlined Manta Ray, with Fiona Hall’s delicate Cell Culture – small native animals and plants fashioned from white Tupperware and glass – hovering nearby. Other participants included Robert MacPherson, Daniel von Sturmer and urban Aboriginal artist Darren Siwes, whose almost mystical, superimposed photographs drew many visitors.
The diversity was a deliberate choice by curator Britta Schmitz, who resisted strong pressure from the Australia Council for the Arts – which funded the exhibition with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of their two-year artsaustralia berlin program – to nominate a specific theme. “I didn’t choose particularly ‘Australian’ works, and I absolutely didn’t want a theme,” she said.
She stressed that all those selected are leading artists in their field who have already attracted substantial international interest. “While the works are all so different, I think it fits very well together.”
This turned out to be little short of a curatorial miracle, considering the events that nearly capsized the whole undertaking. Two months ago fire broke out at the museum, demolishing the west wing designed to house a large portion of the exhibition and raising the spectre of cancellation.