Ben Quilty’s first survey exhibition in a decade heads to Adelaide

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The Art Gallery of South Australia will be the first to host a major exhibition by one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists.

Archibald Prize 2011 winner Ben Quilty will present his first major survey exhibition in a decade in Adelaide in 2019 before the collection tours to Queensland and New South Wales.

Titled Quilty, the exhibition will feature a career’s worth of works including Ben’s early reflection on the initiation rituals performed by young Australian men, his experience as an official war artist in Afghanistan and his campaign to save the lives of Bali nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were executed by firing squad in 2015.

Ben mentored and became a friend to Sukumaran during his years on death row, inspiring the prisoner’s love for art and encouraging creativity behind bars.

Also included in the survey exhibition will be works inspired by Ben’s visits with Australian author Richard Flanagan to Lebanon, Lesbos and Serbia, his revisions of the Australian landscape, and portraits of himself, his family and friends.

Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, ‘Self-portrait after Afghanistan’, 2012, Southern Highlands, New South Wales, oil on canvas, 130.0 x 120.0 cm, private collection, Sydney, courtesy the artist.

“My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance,” Ben says.

“Through it I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate.”

Quilty will be presented as part of the 2019 Adelaide Festival and curated by Art Galley of SA co-acting director Lisa Slade.

“The exhibition presents a portrait of a socially engaged contemporary artist who is committed to art’s capacity to instigate change,” Lisa says.

“Quilty’s subjects are never objectified, but always rendered through the lens of personal experience.

“For most of this century Quilty has been delivering urgent visions of our time in history.

“An unlikely activist, he wields paint to draw our attention to our responsibility as critical citizens in an increasingly fraught world.”

Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, ‘The Last Supper no.9’, 2017, Southern Highlands, New South Wales, oil on linen, 265.0 x 202.0 cm; courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries.

In 2011, Ben’s portrait of legendary Australian artist Margaret Olley was awarded one of the country’s most prestigious accolades, the Archibald Prize.

He then travelled to Afghanistan as Australia’s official war artist and in 2013 presented the Australian War Memorial’s major touring exhibition, After Afghanistan.

Art critic John McDonald says Ben is willing to go where many people wouldn’t otherwise step foot.

“Quilty’s radical humanism has lured him outside the sedate spaces of the art gallery into war zones, refugee camps, and the Bali prison where Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed,” he says.

“Not many of us would willingly undertake such journeys, which reveal Quilty’s compassion for the victim, his determination to use his skills (and increasingly high profile) to make a difference.”

Quilty will be unveiled at the Art Gallery of SA on March 2, 2019, running until June 2.

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