The Birth of the Cool

Dates & times

Fri 6 November — Sun 13 December 2015

Image: Aspden Outer Spice 1969 OA19-1970_S_jpg_510x313_q85


Birth of the Cool is a selection of major works by four painters: David Aspden, Sydney Ball, Michael Johnson and Dick Watkins. It surveys the decade between 1963 and 1973.

With the benefit of hindsight, this can be appraised as a golden era of Australian art, with a brilliant generation emerging in full confidence of its powers, determined to excel at the highest level – not just locally, but in a global context.

The art historian Bernard Smith characterised that generation as the first genuine avant-garde to appear in Australia since the Heidelberg School in the 1880s. Greeted enthusiastically as a liberation from dowdy provincialism and ingrained mediocrity, the trail-blazing art of the era was cheered on by supporters and simultaneously howled down by detractors.
Hard-edge, colour-field abstraction – a common idiom of this exhibition – may best be remembered in connection with the exhibition The Field held in Melbourne and Sydney in 1968, in which Aspden, Ball, Johnson and Watkins participated.

A reappraisal of the idiom has been in full swing during the last few years. Birth of the Cool contributes to this reconsideration with some of the finest, most dazzling works borrowed from private and institutional collections across Australia, several of which have been out of the public eye for decades.

Birth of the Cool has been organized in collaboration with the Anne and Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia, curated by Terence Maloon.


Updated:  30 March 2016/ Responsible Officer:  DHG Director/ Page Contact:  Drill Hall Gallery