Jim's picnic 1975 printed cut-out cardboard shapes (Arnott's logos), glass bottles, dried (rye) grass, wire netting, weathered timber 44.0 x 75.0 x 22.0cm (17 5/16 x 29 1/2 x 8 11/16in).
PROVENANCE James Mollison, purchased 1976 Niagara Galleries, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2006
EXHIBITED Rosalie Gascoigne: assemblage, Gallery A, Sydney, 11 September 1976, cat. no. 25 Survey 2: Rosalie Gascoigne, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 29 April 4 June 1978, cat. no. 21 Blue Chip VIII: the collectors' exhibition, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 7 March 1 April 2006, cat. no. 1
LITERATURE Robert Lindsay, Survey 2: Rosalie Gascoigne, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1978, pp. 2, 5 (illus.), 6 Mildred Kirk, Art and Australia, 1986, vol. 23, no. 4, p. 513 Harriet Edquist, 'Material Matters - the Landscapes of Rosalie Gascoigne', Binocular, 1993, p. 15 Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro, Sydney, 1998, p. 106 Mary Eagle, From the Studio of Rosalie Gascoigne, exh. cat., Australian National University, Canberra, 2000, pp. 30-31 (illus.) Rosalie Gascoigne: plain air, exh. cat., City Gallery Wellington / Victoria University Press, 2004, p. 22 (illus.) Blue Chip VIII: the collectors' exhibition, exh. cat., Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 2006, pp. 4, 5 (illus. and cover), 58-59
Jim's Picnic was made at two important art-historical moments: the peak of the Whitlam government's munificent patronage of art, and the sensational start of Rosalie Gascoigne's career as an artist. The national collection was developing in earnest, and under the Labor government the Australian National Gallery had more money to spend on acquisitions than any other gallery in the world.
Unusually for Rosalie, Jim's Picnic is about an actual event. She discussed the work in a talk at the Canberra School of Art in 1985:
This one is called Jim's Picnic. It was about a picnic and it was meant to be impractical, it was on a windy day on top of a mountain. This was an actual picnic. The wire netting I have used is a pretty sort of netting. It gives a good visual reading; in feel, it is mountain air. I was enclosing air with those spaces. The grass stuck in the bottles is as ephemeral as you can get, and it was to show this awful - it wasn't awful, it was a marvellous impractical picnic with the clouds coming over, the kangaroos hopping up and down. The kangaroos are the parrots, if you can bear the transition, but that was the life element in it and it was to capture the actual event. What are the parrots made of? You haven't been in the supermarket lately. You can get as many parrots as the kind girls in the check-out will let you by taking the Arnott's boxes. They haven't got the variety they used to have. You used to be able to get blue ones and red ones and I have had a great store of them and for me they're almost the animal in the landscape as Ned Kelly is to Nolan. I use them a lot.
James Mollison organised a picnic on 16 April 1975 for Mrs John D. Rockefeller III and the 37 members of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, who were in Australia for their biannual meeting and for the touring exhibition 'Modern Masters: Manet to Matisse' 'the finest exhibition ever brought to Australia', Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced at the opening at the Art Gallery NSW a week earlier. Astonishingly, the government had not only indemnified the exhibition in Australia, for something like $50 million, but in America as well, where the exhibition was subsequently shown. Gough admired the benefaction of the 'Patricians of New York', while Mrs Rockefeller expressed a desire that America emulate the model of the British Arts Council.1 The delegation included the exhibition's curator William Lieberman, Richard Oldenburg, Mrs Douglas Auchincloss, Prince Franz von Bayern, Porter McCray,SteingrimLaursen and Monroe Wheeler.The Australian members of the council, as reported in the Australian Women's Weekly, were 'Mr James Fairfax, Mrs John D. [Ann] Lewis, Mrs M. A. [Sandra] McGrath, Lady [Maie] Casey, Mrs Harry [Penelope] Seidler, and Mrs Chester [Patricia] Guest.'
During their ten-day tour, the Council was entertained in Sydney by a seven-course banquet at the Opera House, a dinner dance at Rosemont with Lady Lloyd-Jones, lunch with Mrs Whitlam at Kirribili Houseand a dinner party (one of many) hosted by Penelope and Harry Seidler. The entourage travelled to Canberra (via lunch at James Fairfax's in Bowral) to view the national collection, which was kept in 'one of a series of prefab units on top of a ridge in the outer industrial suburb of Fyshwick'.2 (In 1975 there was no national gallery, only a national collection; the Australian National Gallery, as it was then named, opened in 1982.) In Shop 14 Molongo Mall, Blue poles was stored in a specially built crate, covered in graffiti after its nation-wide tour, de Kooning's Woman V hung on a cinderblock wall, and Duchamp's Bicycle wheel was perched on top of a filing cabinet. There, in what must have felt like the middle of nowhere, the Council inspected works by Morris Louis, Malevich, Duchamp, Man Ray, Lichtenstein and Bacon laid out on the warehouse floor and stacked against walls. They then travelled by bus to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve for the picnic where, as Daniel Thomas observed, one could expect 'dependable appearances by wallabies'. The visitors were delighted by the 'real' Australia, encountering emus and kangaroos and seeing eagles overhead. It was a drizzly day, and everyone ate standing up. For the members of the International Council, accustomed to luncheons in the grand homes of Washington and Buenos Aires, this scrap lunch on a windy hilltop was exciting. Matt Kelso, a young photographer working for the collection initially as a storeman, was invited to record the event. Rosalie was one of the few Canberrans invited, along with Felicity St John Moore and Dimity Davy.
Two weeks after the picnic, Rosalie made her spectacular debut in Sydney with the opening of the 'Artist's Choice' exhibition at Gallery A on 3 May 1975. Michael Taylor had selected four works, each of which sold almost immediately. Daniel Thomas and Sandra McGrath wrote rave reviews. Rosalie's first solo exhibition, held a year later, was an even more spectacular success, with four works being bought by state galleries and the rest by just about every important art world person in Australia. It was from this exhibition thatJames Mollison bought Jim's picnic.
Rosalie was introduced to Mollison in 1969 by her son Martin. During the next few years, as she moved from ikebana arrangements to iron sculptures to assemblage, she tested her work against Mollison's eye. 'You really are good with your bits of twig', was his first compliment, leading eventually to his acquiring four of her works for the Philip Morris Collection in 1974 and 1975. Rosalie was a frequent visitor to the warehouse in Fyshwick, invited by Mollison to see the new purchases as they arrived. He valued Rosalie's opinions she was always a great talker and from him she learned the rigour of contemporary art. Undoubtedly, seeing great works of twentieth century art in this informal and personal way had a lot to do with Rosalie's transition from being artistic to creating art. Many years later, Rosalie wrote to Mollison saying, 'You were the one I always had to prove it to.' Mollisonkept Jim's picnic in his office during the time he was director of the National Gallery. This early work, made at this exhilarating time, captures the genius of both the artist and her mentor.
1 Canberra Times, Canberra, 10 April; 17 April 1975, On the same page in a separate article, the Premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen complained that the Federal Government was 'throwing money away like drunken sailors'. 2 Warwick Reeder, 'The Rise of Registration in the House Under Construction', Building the Collection, Pauline Green [ed.], National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003
With thanks to Warwick Reeder and Matt Kelso, and to Martin Gascoigne for access to his archive and Catalogue raisoneé (in prep).