Celebrating women artists - A Finer Grain: Selected Works from the SAM Collection

Sally Smart - 2010.18 The Exquisite Pirate 3 1
Image: Sally Smart, The Exquisite Pirate #3 (Pink / Dress / Parrot), 2006, synthetic polymer paint on canvas with felt and collage elements. 183 x 91.5 cm. Shepparton Art Museum collection, purchased with the assistance of an anonymous donor, 2010. © the artist

The latest curated exhibition of works from the Shepparton Art Museum Collection is now on display and presents key and lesser-known works by Australian women artists across several decades.

A Finer Grain: Selected Works from the SAM Collection spans the full breadth of SAM’s 83 year collection history. The artworks are displayed chronologically, loosely grouped by decade from the date of creation. The artworks span a range of mediums and subjects, and showcase the breadth of SAM’s material focus in works on paper, painting, and Australian ceramics.

SAM Director, Rebecca Coates, says “this approach offers insights into SAM’s collection and the history of its development, as pertinent then as it is today.”

The exhibition includes the first work by a female artist Alice Currie acquired by the museum in 1938, with an early focus on landscapes, still-lives and portraiture. “The exhibition highlights some of SAM’s collection strengths, such as the acquisition in the 1970’s of many of Australia’s now renowned early 20th century Australian Modernist women artists including Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston, and many others, when their works were more affordable than their male counterparts,” said Dr Coates.

“From the 1970s and ’80s, ceramics became SAM’s collection strength, and one we continue to celebrate today as the most significant collection of Australian ceramics in regional Australia.”

“Importantly, the exhibition also includes the first acquisition by a female Aboriginal artist Dr Thanakupi Gloria Fletcher James, AO in 1991, and a number of recent acquisitions by Aboriginal artists from south-east Australia and across Australia. It reveals the importance these works have as part of SAM’s collection, enabling a fuller and more complex understanding of Australia’s culture.”

Rebecca Coates says the development of SAM’s contemporary collection reflects the many themes and ideas that artists explore in new and exciting ways but with ceramics remaining core to the collection – a point of regional difference for SAM.”

“There are always surprises and discoveries with exhibitions of this kind. Artists that can be overlooked and sometimes forgotten, or unfashionable artists and artworks are also celebrated along with the well know ones,” she said.

“It is the stories of people, artists and artworks that enable many of Australia’s great regional galleries to celebrate and rethink histories within our contemporary context in new and exciting ways.”

There are 114 works in the exhibition – 113 from the SAM collection and one on loan – with 15 indigenous works included. The works include both 2D and 3D art with 60 per cent of the works by living artists. 

The exhibition opened on 18 May and will be on show until 25 October 2020.