Continuing our guest blogs this is the second contribution from our Siganto Foundation Fellow Peter Anderson.
When I first began working in the Australian Library of Art’s collection here at the State Library, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find. This is particularly the case with ephemera, not least because it is usually material that was produced for the moment, with little sense that it might end up being the only trace of an exhibition or event. One outcome of this ‘of the moment’ approach to ephemera production is that while exhibition titles, artists’ names, days, months and times are often included, the year in which the exhibition or event took place is often a bit of a mystery. When an exhibition invitation arrives in the mail it is usually only a few days or weeks before the event, so there’s really no need to include the year. This means that identifying when something was produced can be a bit of a puzzle.
This is less frequently the case with more substantial publications. However, in the case of one important publication from the period – the ‘exhibition catalogue’ produced for the ‘No Names’ exhibition held at the Institute of Modern Art – the level of information is actually quite scant. This publication not only leaves out the year, but also the dates of the exhibition. In fact, all up it’s a pretty complicated process working out quite what you’re looking at.
There are a couple of copies of the ‘No Names’ catalogue in the collection, with at least one of them also including the important ‘Plan of works’ that was produced to help gallery visitors work out which work was done by which artist. Of course, part of the strategy of ‘No Names’ was to question the emphasis on seeing art through the ‘name’ of the artist. It was an exhibition that offered a rare moment of open access to the IMA, particularly for local Brisbane artists.
I think it is possible to see ‘No Names’ as an important moment of self-reflection for local artists – and the check lists of artists do give a very clear indication of shape of ‘the scene’ at the time (even if a few artists seem to be trying to lead us astray with some curious attributions and collective identities).
So … when was ‘No Names’ held, and what was it all about? I’m afraid the catalogue doesn’t really provide this information. What did the exhibition look like? To find out more there’s some digging to do in the Institute of Modern Art’s archives (the first 20 years of which are held in the ALA collection). It is here, in a folder of odd photographs, that I came across a proof sheet of large format documentary shots of the exhibition taken by Richard Stringer in May 1983. Other research in the archives indicates that ‘No Names’ was on show from the 10th to the 21st of May 1983 (does that make this a 30th anniversary blog post … I think it does).