A summer of curious creatures

The Art Gallery of Ballarat is celebrating animals and art this summer with a series of exhibitions which all have a connection to creatures – creatures found in nature, creatures of the imagination and creatures constructed by artists.  

Real and imagined animals have been represented by artists in a variety of ways, as symbols and metaphors, as friendly or threatening beings, or as sparks for the imagination. 

Dark horse: Wild beasts and curious creatures (9 November-23 February) draws from the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s extensive collection to reveal some of the complicated ways animals have been depicted throughout history – from the prey of hunters to mythological creatures to symbols of danger to emblems of love and reminders of environmental threats to political caricatures. 

The exhibition presents historic and contemporary prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture by artists including Eric Thake, William Strutt, Patricia Piccinini, Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Rick Amor, Bruce Armstrong, Lorrain Jenyns, Pam Hallandal, James Gillray, Norman Lindsay, Guelda Pyke and Reginald Ward Sturgess. 

Dark horse includes Puppy, a large sculpture constructed by local artist Geoff Bonney using giant gold Christmas baubles. Bonney’s work is also featured in Pangrams (30 November-15 March), a playful exhibition in which the artist uses the alphabet as a repeated motif in an investigation into colour, form and communication, with each letter taking on an abstract colour field quality. The pangrams of the title are sentences which contain each letter of the alphabet, such as the well-known example ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’. 

Third in the line-up of shows with links to animals is After the gold rush (9 November-9 February), which combines paintings and sculptures by Melbourne artist Troy Emery in conjunction with works from the Art Gallery of Ballarat collection. This immersive installation features both Emery’s beautiful bright beast-sculptures – constructed from pompoms, tassels, tinsel, and yarn – and his bold, colourful painted works. The artist addresses the gold rush history of Ballarat, making reference to the cultural value of an art gallery and its contents and the value and rarity of native wildlife. 

Finally, Cake Industries’ experimental artist duo Jesse Stevens and Dean Petersen present 08:26am (14 December-22 March), a dark and humorous work which balances weirdness, whimsy and grotesquerie. The exhibition is a complex and dense installation piece in the form of a caged, mechanical zoo. A series of robotic sculptures will come to life in an immersive display of choreographed theatre which incorporates automated movement, sound, light and projected video. This work has been commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ballarat and is also supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.