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Australia born 1952

Gorilla skull 2005
Collection Title: Beau monde
Title Notes: high resolution scan on file
Materials & Technique: photographs, Type C colour photograph Edition: 2/5. edition of 5 + artist proof

Dimensions: printed image 100.0 h x 162.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.152

Robyn Stacey belongs to a generation of photomedia artists who came to prominence in the 1980s. These artists were unconcerned with, even suspicious of, the claims to truth by various styles of personal documentary photography dominant in art museums in the 1970s. They spurned reportage photography and embraced visual culture as a source rather than the ‘real’ world. The artists of this movement (later called Postmodernism) happily appropriated images from the past as well as popular culture, including the look of ‘old master’ paintings or fifties and sixties magazines and television.

From her earliest series in the mid 1980s, Robyn Stacey has created seductive and vibrantly coloured tableaux involving great technical expertise in synthesising multiple sources and motifs which has been greatly facilitated by the emergence of digital manipulation. Her earliest efforts are hand-coloured black-and-white prints; later works involve complex overlays. Stacey’s series works, such as Kiss kiss bang bang 1985 and All the sounds of fear 1990, were grounded in popular culture with a slightly sixties Pop look, but presented a modern world made somewhat anxious and edgy. By contrast her work since the 1990s has made use of science and the deathly quiet of a number of natural history museum collections in which she worked during several residencies.

Gorilla skull 2005 comes from Stacey’s Beau monde series which draws on collections at the Macleay Museum, Sydney, and recalls the tradition of the Dutch genre of nature morte paintings in which the still-life objects provide a moral lesson on the vanity of world. The reference to the gorilla (a threatened species symbolising humankind) and coral (a threatened wonder of Australia’s northern coast) alongside dead specimens under the microscope and an ominously placed geological hammer, combine to create an anxiety often found in her early works. Stacey’s art entertains and yet reminds us of dangers to the planet.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra