Question Time: Curator Peter McKay of GOMA

We love Patricia Piccinini. 

We look at her sculptures and we just want to be closer to them and stare at them and know what they mean and what their names are and, well, we all think about touching them right! Silicone - fibreglass - human hair! She is a deep thinker and an incredibly important artist who we are thrilled to have collaborated with, in line with her current exhibition, Curious Affection, at GOMA. 

Before we dive into the collection (and how everyone should own a Skywhale keyring) we wanted to share a few questions we asked GOMA curator Peter McKay. We feel so lucky to be sharing this insight with you - and to be exclusively launching the collection in line with Queensland GOMA.

Being described as Patricia's most ambitious exhibition yet, spanning GOMA's entire ground floor including over 70 sculptures, photographs, videos, drawings and an array of new installation pieces, how did you tackle this retrospective mega show?

Yes, Patricia has had a very productive career comparatively, so the back-catalogue was very large, and then there was the challenging group of ambitious new commissions too. It was a lot to get my head around. First I looked for patterns, to see what themes and motifs Patricia repeated, and what was distinct. Once I had that mapped, I went through and tried to make a selection that reached into as many corners of activity as possible, mindful to include key career moments such The Young FamilyBig MotherThe Carrier and the like. Of course, there was a lot of discussion with Patricia the whole way through.  

Once the list started shaping up I played with different groupings and sequences, then these rough plans would bounce between Patricia and her studio, and our team of exhibition designers and conservators here. There are a lot of dialogues and elements of fine-tuning in a project this big.  

One of our new products from the amazing Third Drawer Down x Patricia Piccinini series includes her widely known Skywhale as an air freshener! We had the surprisingly fun task of determining its scent, so we ask you, if you could choose ANY smell for Patricia's work, say her sculpture Teenage Metamorphosis what would it be? 

Skywhale scent?  I imagine it’s like cows or goats at the beach – am I close? I’ll have to go find one.

The protagonist in Teenage Metamorphosis is reclined on a blue throw while he reads Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I think you’d be able to smell the laundered cotton, the smell of paper, and perhaps some coffee too. I often drink coffee when I read. He has a sneaker tread pattern on his back, so perhaps he might smell a little rubbery. I have heard it is good to put something slightly malodorous in perfumes as it heightens the scent by contrast, and rubber doesn’t smell great. I wonder if that really works.

Recognised for her unique sculptural works how did you find the curatorial process working on Patricia Piccinini's Curious Affection as distinct from your previous exhibition experiences?

A lot has been written about Patricia’s creatures, so perhaps I had more reading to do in preparation for this one, particularly for our own accompanying publication. The process is usually pretty similar - actually just scaled up, but you do see different things in the work in a large show, more patterns and commonalities, and that can change the relationship to the work. Thinking about writing the catalogue, with smaller shows you might tend to narrate something of the artist’s process or the particular story they have shaped. With a larger show, there are so many big concepts and stories jostling for attention that it becomes important to give greater consideration to the artist’s worldview, and their evolving inspirations, motivations, and how this all pieces together. These fragments can be a challenge to assemble, it's more intellectual labour, and curiously I think every curator would do it a little differently.  

Making art accessible is something that we are all about at Third Drawer Down, tell us about the decision to include Curious Creatures, a feature of Patricia Piccinini's exhibition designed for children to enjoy and explore. Was this component something that Patricia aimed to be incorporated, or did you feel it was an important aspect for the gallery and it's viewers?

GOMA has a permanent Children’s Art Centre, and it makes an important contribution to the activities and philosophy of the institution. We welcome the cultural participation of young people and young families and believe we can offer a unique learning and social experiences. Families, maternal experiences and related values frequently feature in Patricia’s work, so it came as no surprise when Patricia was enthusiastic about creating something new for the Children’s Art Centre. There was a great synergy there.

Do you have a favourite, stand out piece in this exhibition?

It is very hard to choose, but I do like the final room with The Couple in their caravan, parked in the wilderness of the diorama. These human-bear-chimeras appear to have escaped their daily lives - whatever they might have looked like - to take up a nomadic experience, a journey. I think a lot of us would like to escape, even just for a while at least, right? It’s a powerful desire. Coming at the end of the show, it seems to sum up all the other curious scenarios that Patricia devised. It’s a great gesture, a great summary, and a powerful thought on which to return to regular programming.  

Just love everything about Patricia. You can shop the collection here - if you can't get to Queensland why not just shop the collection right!

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