Review – Streetwise: contemporary print culture at NGA

Paul Costigan 19 April 2016

The latest exhibition on display at the National Gallery of Australia’s lakeside contemporary exhibition space, Streetwise: contemporary print culture, is a curious affair. If you are interested in contemporary printmaking, then a visit to this exhibition is recommended.

The exhibition’s marketing collateral states that: “Streetwise: contemporary print culture is a bold and vibrant exhibition which surveys the last 15 years of exciting Australian printmaking.”


I share with many of my colleagues the distrust of any marketing spin that includes the words ‘bold and vibrant’. And sadly it applies to this exhibition.

While the works on display are interesting, with a few being fascinating, the overall feel of the show is very conservative. If this exhibition reflects the ‘streetwise’ of the 21st Century, then there is not a lot of excitement in the creative political minds of our contemporary artists.

I am still not sure whether this was because of the curatorial selection or whether it is the state of contemporary printmaking. I am still pondering whether this exhibition reflects the current conservatism in society or the fact that many of the current print makers are still working in styles that date from the previous decades.


Bold and vibrant it was not. But it is still worth a visit.

Take a friend or two and judge for yourselves and then go for a coffee over the road and talk about it (the exhibition not the coffee).

This exhibition runs until 7 August 2015 at the National Gallery of Australia’s contemporary space down by Commonwealth Place and is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free.

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