Touau (feather money), before 1950 
Unknown maker(s)
800 x 690 x 60 mm, cardinal honeyeater breast feathers, plant fibre, bark, resin, shell, thread 
Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands
Collected by and purchased from Mr Denis Glyn Bailey, 1975
 
   
Why do people across space and time lust after red things? What does red do for our psyche? Redness is connected with emotional intensity – power, energy, fire, danger, violence, blood and desire. Is it mad, bad and bloody or does redness have other dimensions?
Red ‘out does’ other hues. Red can be a full stop, a beginning, a declaration. Is there some universal response to this idea that we call in English ‘red’ ? Is there a universal agreement on the category of ‘red’?

Contemporary Western culture has, it might be argued, a predilection for chromaphobia but every so often chromaphilia swivels to the fore. Currently we are in one such period, coinciding with the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when brightly colour is again in fashion. And more than ever before in the history of the world there is global availability of brightly coloured goods and hyper coloured digital imagery. Since the turn of this century there has been more research and writing on colour in academia and a resurgence of colourfulness in Western contemporary art. 
 
Bright colours make things seem present and alive. Red, with its metaphoric shorthand for fiscal insolvency has returned, including as the theme or title of many exhibitions. But the material manifestation of reds, are, like sunsets, fleeting. Many red dyes quickly fade or transform into another hue. (In the UQAM collection it is red feathers that have retained their vibrancy through the decades.) As Malraux reminds us the past tends to reach us colour-less and there is a popular Western contemporary convention in film and photography that represents the past in black and white.
 
This exhibition aims to offer the gallery visitor an immersive experience exploring the spatial, temporal and affective dimensions of red. The gallery walls too are red after the French artist Henri Matisse’s influential painting ‘the red studio’. Matisse used bright red paint to flatten out the space of the room in his picture. The red was also said to be produced by his return indoors from a brilliantly green garden which gave him an after image of red. The UQ gallery is painted a darker red to complement the mostly subtle, faded reds of collection items. The green walls will give you an ‘after image’ of bright red if you stare at one close up for 30 seconds and then shut your eyes.
 
Exhibiting red things, things that were once red, might become red or be imagined as red also enables us to address how museum collections maintain their vibrancy and relevance.

 

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Lesley Bryant, Bob MacLennan, Jean Herbert, Cathleen Carman and Gertrude Stotz for their generosity and to Fiona Foley and Jennifer Deger for generously making work especially for the exhibition. 
Lithic collection curated by Jane Willcock, additional research by Clair Harris. Curatorial and research assistance; Jane Willcock, Kiri Chan, Charla Strelan. Exhibition design; Diana Young. With thanks to Pat Faulkner, Kirk Huffman, Todd Barlin, Margie West, Lissant Bolton, Girringun Art Centre, Tangentyere Artists and Sally Mulda, Ernabella Arts and Niningka Lewis, Ryan Presley, Nancy Williams, Lindy Allen, Howard and Frances Morphy, Alphonse Yambisang, Luke Taylor, Hilary Furlong, Carl Warner, Wilson Architects, Siva Kumar, Louise Hamby, Campbell Gray, Crispin Howarth, Kate Stanway and Avant Cards.

On this site