This is a very special exhibition that showcases artworks from NERAM’s collections and contemporary fashion from the International Woolmark Prize archive. The exhibition explores two ideas: the place of wool in the artistic imagination of Australia; and visual relationships between art and fashion. Tanya Zoe Robinson, exhibition curator, The Art of Wool tell Focus readers more.
What inspired you to develop this exhibition?
It all started with NERAM’s collections. NERAM has the most comprehensive art collection of any regional gallery in Australia. I was struck by the number of works that depicted sheep and wool – and I wondered why? It turns out that wool and sheep have inspired generations of Australian artists. From great properties to prize sheep, farm work to hand knitting, artists have captured every aspect of sheep and wool production. The artworks show the importance of rural life and our relationship to land. They speak to an Australian identity bedded in wool and landscape.
Why wool, art and fashion?
I’m also interested in fashion, so pairing the two together makes sense to me – especially as art and fashion are so closely related. They share an intertwined history, sense of creative expression, and desire to communicate visually. I noticed that details in the paintings are similar to features on the garments, and I liked the way both artists and designers had explored the technical and creative possibilities of their mediums. Some designers emphasise qualities of raw and knitted wool that are also captured by artists, or details in the paintings are similar to features on the garments. The bold painterly gestures, gently draping fabrics, detailed textures and sculptural shapes create a dialogue between art and fashion. It’s as if many artworks and garments were made for each other.
Where do the garments come from?
The International Woolmark Prize recognises outstanding rising fashion labels. Regional competitions are held around the world to choose finalists for the award. All entries have to use at least 80% Merino wool – most of which will have come from this region. High profile judges choose the winner during the international autumn-winter fashion shows. So, we are very fortunate to be able to exhibit these garments. As well as many international fashion designers, there are Australians Alistair Trung, Christopher Esber, Dion Lee, ELLERY, Magdalena Velevska and STRATEUS.CARLUCCI.
What will visitors see?
It will be different for everyone – some people will enjoy seeing the historic artworks, or love reading about wool, art and fashion. For others it will be about the variety of techniques or the incredible detail on some garments. Others will love the exhibition because it’s their wool that’s on display! The garments are amazing – they are all so different, and many are like artworks in their own right. At the same time, most are very wearable. It’s really interesting to see fashion from around the world alongside wool-inspired artworks from our collections.
Are there any special works in the exhibition?
Its really hard to choose the best artworks – we have so many great works in the exhibition. I particularly love the artworks that contrast the romance of landscape with the work of production, so things such as working shearing sheds and yards – you can really feel the heat and activity in those paintings. Rahul Mishra’s dresses are truly amazing. He comes from India, so his garments combine a mix of old and new technology, intricate embroidery and hand weaving. Mishra also loves storytelling, so he strives to tell a story with every part of each garment. You can see this in the way his filmy fabrics contrast with heavy stitching and merge representations of nature with the geometry of the city. It’s hard to believe that this is his first time working with wool, and that he’d never visited a wool growing property. He made his first trip to Australia and got to see sheep first hand, shortly after he won the Prize.
And what is special about the exhibition?
The exhibition is attracting attention to this region from all around the world and is part of the global Campaign for Wool, which has HRH the Prince of Wales as its patron. So for NERAM, it’s also a very special way to make a statement about the region to an international audience. Of course, the wool industry has always been so important locally – and the fashion on display is part of this story. These fashion designers have transformed wool from farm-based production, to design realisation, to the catwalks of the world’s fashion cities.
Another special part of the exhibition is the beautiful book that accompanies the exhibition. It has photos of many of the artworks and garments, and essays about the place of wool in Australian art, a history of wool fashion, and an interesting discussion about crossovers between art and fashion.