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Media | Gordon Bennett and Slavs and Tatars

Exhibition Title:

Be Polite and Mirrors for Princes

Exhibition Dates:

24 October - 20 December 2015

Exhibiting Artists:

Gordon Bennett, Gordon Bennett

Curated By:

Aileen Burns & Johan Lundh

Press Release:


The IMA is pleased to present an exhibition of largely unseen works-on-paper by one of Australia’s most visionary and critical artists, Gordon Bennett (1955–2014). The IMA’s Executive Directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh have worked closely with the Estate of Gordon Bennett to curate a selection of works that comprise drawing, painting, watercolour, poetry, and essays from the early 1990s through to the early 2000s. Though rarely seen in exhibition contexts, Bennett’s drawing and writings form the foundation of his practice. Paper is the site where imagery, words, and ideas often found their first expression for the artist before being combined into the large-scale paintings for which he is known. In spite of their relatively small scale, the works in Be Polite contain all the rich layers of Western and Australian indigenous art history and contemporary politics for which Bennett was renowned.

Gordon Bennett’s practice draws on his personal experiences with both colonial and indigenous Australian cultures to create politically charged and confronting work. His highly diverse practice – which encompasses painting, for which he is most well known, printmaking, sculpture, video, and drawing – is simultaneously poetic, politically astute, and often humorous. He has been the subject of major solo presentations and retrospectives at leading institutions such as Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, (touring Europe), 1999-2000, Griffith University, Brisbane, (touring Australia), 2004-2005, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, (touring Australia), 2007-2009. International recognition and attention for Bennett’s practice has been growing with his inclusion in the acclaimed dOCUMENTA (13), in Kassel in 2012, curated by Artistic Director and long-time supporter Carolyn Christov-Barkargiev, and more recently, the 8th Berlin Biennale in 2014.


The IMA is pleased to present a major solo exhibition by the art collective Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes. This is the first solo presentation of Slavs and Tatars’ practice in Australia.

In this exhibition, the artists look to a medieval genre of advice literature known as ‘mirrors for princes’. These guidebooks for future rulers were a literary tradition shared by Christians and Muslims, with Machiavelli’s The Prince the best-known example. The texts present issues that continue to resonate today across the world, providing a case study of the balance between faith and state. In the exhibition, visitors traverse two immersive and contrasting environments: an audio-sculpture installation featuring multilingual excerpts from an 11th-century Turkic ‘mirror for prince’ called Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Royal Glory), and a dark, psychedelic space revealing a series of glowing, fetishistic sculptures that share the text's concern with grooming.

Founded in 2006, Slavs and Tatars is an art collective that describes itself as “a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia”. The collective’s practice is based on three activities–exhibitions, books and lecture performances–and spans a broad spectrum of cultural registers (high and low) focusing on an oft-forgotten sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.

An accompanying book, also titled Mirrors for Princes, presents a hybrid of scholarly research and original artworks, and is available from the Motto IMA bookstore.

Slavs and Tatars have presented solo exhibitions at major institutions including MoMA, NY; Secession, Vienna; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Group exhibitions include Centre Pompidou, Paris; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Tate Modern, London; Salt, Istanbul; Istanbul Modern, Istanbul; 10th Sharjah, 3rd Mercosul, 9th Gwangju and 8th Berlin biennials. Slavs and Tatars are nominated for the 2015 Nationalgalerie Preis.

Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes is a series of unique installations drawn from their research. The exhibition cycle manifests at five different venues. These include Kunsthalle Zurich (August 30–November 9, 2014); NYUAD Art Gallery (February 28–May 30, 2015); Collective Art Gallery, Edinburgh (25 April-12 July, 2015), Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Brisbane, Australia (October 24–December 20, 2015); Blaffer Art Museum, Houston, Texas (January 16–March 19, 2016).

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