The 20th Century Urban Experience: Jeffrey Smart at the NGA | HerCanberra

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The 20th Century Urban Experience: Jeffrey Smart at the NGA

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Lovers of acclaimed Australian artist Jeffrey Smart have waited long enough.

After a COVID-related delay, a major new exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia marks the centenary of his birth this year and celebrates his dynamic depiction of the 20th-century urban experience.

The exhibition will introduce new audiences to Adelaide-born Smart’s artistic legacy and provide fresh insights on his work for long-time enthusiasts, examining themes including architectural constructs, art about art, and portraiture and friendships, as well as an in-depth examination of Smart’s art practice—his studio, archive and working methods.

Jeffrey Smart, Waiting for the train, 1969-70, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1969, gift of Alcoa World Alumina Australia 2005, © The Estate of Jeffrey Smart, courtesy of Philip Bacon Galleries.

Curated by the National Gallery’s Dr Deborah Hart, the Henry Dalrymple Head Curator, Australian Art, and Dr Rebecca Edwards, the Sid and Fiona Myer Curator of Ceramics and Design, Jeffrey Smart will showcase more than 100 paintings beginning with his early works from the 1940s to Smart’s last painting Labyrinth, completed in 2011.

This diverse showing of his art brings together many of the philosophical, literary, and aesthetic threads running through his work from the start of his artistic career.

National Gallery Director Nick Mitzevich said Smart had sought inspiration from the world around him and in the process captured a new way of looking at urban life. “He looked to the environment of urban and industrial modernity such as apartment blocks, factories, transportation, highways and signage. These potent images have become emblematic of the 20th and 21st century urban experience,” he said.

(From left) Sid and Fiona Myer Curator of Ceramics and Design Rebecca Edwards, Director Nick Mitzevich and Henry Dalrymple Head of Australian Art Deborah Hart are pictured with Jeffrey Smart’s Labyrinth (left) and Waiting for the train (right).

Hart and Edwards said Smart’s artistic approach combined the mundane and metaphysical, along with a strong sense of geometry and construction. The theatrical nature of his art sets the scene for the viewer to read his works through their own lens. “Smart’s subjects are suggestive realms in which the characters and signposts are a jumping off point for the viewer,” they said. “We hope people will feel intrigued and moved by the imagery which Smart deliberately preferred to leave open-ended and to bring their own stories about their place in the world and experiences to their interpretation of his works.”

Jeffrey Smart in his studio in Arezzo, Italy, 2011, photo: Rob Palmer, © Rob Palmer.

With a career that included stints as an art critic at The Daily Telegraph, presenter on the ABC children’s radio program The Argonauts, and a drawing teacher at the National Art School, Smart explored his journey to becoming an artist and the complexity of being gay in post-war Australia, in his 1996 memoir Not Quite Straight. Across several decades, his brilliantly-constructed works convey a rich array of sources and imagery which continue to intrigue and engage us today.

Tickets are available online at

Main image: Jeffrey Smart, Corrugated Gioconda, 1976, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1976, © The Estate of Jeffrey Smart, courtesy of Philip Bacon Galleries.

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