Skip to content
Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Closed for installation
until June 7, 2024

Admission always free
30 Jun 17until24 Sep 17

Gordon Bennett

Be Polite

Alvin Balkind and North Galleries

Detail image of Gordon Bennett’s work on paper. A person in a red jacket stands on a seashore, surrounded by other human figures in black and white. A ship is visible in the far left on a body of water.

Gordon Bennett, Untitled (High Moral Ground), circa 1998. Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Bennett.

The Contemporary Art Gallery presents an exhibition of largely unseen works on paper by one of Australia’s most visionary and critical artists, Gordon Bennett (1955–2014). The exhibition is the first solo presentation of the artist’s work in North America.

Gordon Bennett is internationally acclaimed as one of Australia’s most significant and critically engaged contemporary artists. He is recognized for his powerful perspectives on the post-colonial experience, particularly in the Australian context, with much of his work mapping alternative histories and questioning racial categorizations and stereotypes.

Working closely with the Estate of Gordon Bennett and IMA Brisbane the show comprises a selection of works on paper including drawing, painting and watercolour from the early 1990s through to the early 2000s. Though rarely seen in exhibition contexts, Bennett’s drawing and script form the foundation of his practice. Paper is the site where imagery, words and ideas often found their first expression before being combined into the large-scale conceptual paintings for which Bennett is known. Despite their relatively small scale, works in Be Polite embrace rich layers of Western and Australian Indigenous art history and contemporary politics, a direction Bennett played a leading role in developing throughout the 1980s and continued to explore in his successful career. Often confrontational and unsettling, Bennett nevertheless expressed his discomfort with being seen as spokesman for Aboriginal peoples, and in a manifesto (or "manifest toe" as he calls it) published in 1996 he spoke of his wish “to avoid banal containment as a professional Aborigine, which both misrepresents me and denies my upbringing and Scottish/English heritage,” while simultaneously expressing his wish that his young daughter could grow up in a society where her life would not be defined by her race. The confrontation of Australian racism is a regular theme in works by Bennett. As such the shared colonial histories with Canada and in particular those of First Nations concerns are set in dialogue across continents by the exhibition. Issues, events and histories are given compelling voice in these provocative and often disturbing images.

Accompanying the exhibition is a book featuring three newly commissioned essays by art historian Ian McLean and curators and arts writers Helen Hughes and Julie Nagam, published with Sternberg Press. The selection of herein covers a period that produced work of remarkable force and revealed the artist’s working methods, research focuses and ultimately his ambitions for his work.

First presented at IMA, Brisbane and subsequently at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2016, the exhibition will evolve and be reconfigured with a new selection of works at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. This version will then travel to McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton in 2018.

Gordon Bennett: Be Polite is produced in partnership with the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Supported by Arts Queensland and Visions of Australia, Department of Communications and the Arts, Australia Council for the Arts, The Estate of Gordon Bennett, Milani Gallery, and Sutton Gallery.


Selected solo exhibitions include: Outsider / Insider: The Art of Gordon Bennett, The Aboriginal Art Museum (AAMU), Utrecht, The Netherlands (2012); Gordon Bennett: a survey, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2007), and touring to Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; The Expiation of Guilt, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK (2007); History and Memory in the Art of Gordon Bennett, Brisbane City Gallery (1999), and touring to Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK; Arnolfini, Bristol, UK; Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Norway. Selected group exhibitions include: Berlin Biennale (2014); Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany (2012); Cubism and Australian Art, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Avoiding Myth and Message: Australian Artists and the Literary World, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2009); 16th Biennale of Sydney: Revolutions-forms that turn (2008); Kwangju Biennale, Korea (2000); Shanghai Biennale, China (2000); The Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (1999); Art-Worlds in Dialogue, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany (1999);* In Place (Out of Time): Contemporary Art in Australia*, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK (1997); TransCulture, Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, Venice Biennale (1995); Aratjara: Art of the First Australians, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Germany and Hayward Gallery, London (1993).