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15 Women on Top of the Australian Art Scene
Meet the those tastemakers putting Australia on the art world map
Art Girls Jungle 30 Jul 2019

Australia might be a bit off the beaten path of the art world, but that doesn’t make it a cultural desert. Its unique history and location inspires a unique blend of cultures: Western, Asian and Indigenous. With the Western art world and all its trends an entire ocean away, Australia is a little freer than the rest of us to experiment, play, and wave its freak flag. And these days, Australian art is setting a few trends of its own. Meet the artists, curators, gallerists and tastemakers putting Australia on the art world map.
1) Esther Stewart

In 2018, this Melbourne-based artist took home Melbourne Art Week’s inaugural YarraBend Stand Prize for her bright, buzzing and ‘Grammable booth at Sarah Cottier Gallery. Her latest show is on at Incinerator Gallery until July 28—catch it if you can!
2) Yvette Coppersmith

Coppersmith Self Portrait after George Lambert

Self-portrait after George Lambert (2018).

One morning in 2018, Yvette Coppersmith woke up to a career-changing piece of news: she had won the ultra-prestigious Archibald Prize. From nearly 800 artworks, her Self-portrait after George Lambert (after the English painter) snagged the title—and a cool $100,000 cash. On that day, Coppersmith became the tenth woman to win the Archibald in 100 years of the prize. You do the math.

The following months brought a flood of media coverage and PR for the emerging artist, not to mention a whirlwind tour around the country. The press might have slowed to a trickle, but Coppersmith’s career shows no signs of slowing down. This summer, she’s participating in a traveling group show sponsored by NETS Victoria and Arts Project Australia. FEM-aFFINITY will travel the country through 2021.
IG: @yvettecoppersmith
3) Leila Jeffreys
Leila Jeffreys is the uncontested queen of what is admittedly a pretty niche art category: bird portrait photography. But these aren’t just any bird pictures; they’re the bird pictures you never knew you wanted. One peek at Jeffreys’ portfolio will have you convinced that you immediately need 50 for every room in your house.

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Hello all – I am pleased to finally announce dates for my next exhibition – High Society. It is the first exhibition in my home town of Sydney in five years so I am very excited. Sydney @olsen_gallery High Society | 16 October – 10 November, 2019 Opening Reception, Thursday 17 October, 6-9pm New York @olsengruin High Society | 13 November – January 6, 2020 Opening Reception, Friday 15 November, 6-8pm The concept for High Society occurred to me when I noticed how a flock of native Australian Budgerigars resembled leaves when perched in a tree. I looked closer: I saw individuals, couples, and families – a secret High Society. From whole flocks of birds to those who live within it. I hope this series inspires you to ask questions about the constructs of society: the relationship of the group through to its individuals. Here is one of my new portraits, a couple ‘Rain and June’. Thank you to Ravenswood Art Prize @rawartprize for their award of Highly Commended last Friday. It is a huge compliment given over 1200 entries. ************************************************ I will send an email update and preview of art closer to the exhibition dates. Please email [email protected] or use my website to be added to this list. Thank you.

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But Jeffreys’ work isn’t just exotic interior décor. She’s a passionate conservationist who captures rare species in high-def. The resulting pictures are almost surreal, gifting you closer access to these magical creatures than you could ever get with the naked eye. With an impressive list of exhibitions already under her belt, this summer Jeffreys is showing all around the world, from New York to California to Australia. It’s safe to say that viewers will flock to her work, which puts Australian art on the map.
IG: @leilajeffreys
4) Tamara Dean

Tamara Dean Self Portrait

A self-portrait by the artist.

This summer, Tamara Dean is ringing in her tenth show in 10 years—not bad for a photographer who confessed she still doesn’t know how to use a hand-held light meter. Her new series, Endangered, builds off of the same environmental focus and dark imagery that got Dean her 70K followers, but with a greater focus on beauty. Climate change is a very heavy topic, but in this series, Dean said she’s making an effort to look more towards the light.
It clearly worked: when the pictures premiered at Martin Browne gallery, many editions sold out that same night. Putting her money where her lens is, the artist donated 10% of the proceeds, more than $10,000, to the Climate Council. Endangered is on show at Martin Browne Contemporary in Paddington, Australia through August 18.
IG: @tamaradean
5) Kaylene Whiskey
kaylene whiskey
Historically, indigenous Australian artists have often been overlooked. No longer: Kaylene Whiskey, represented by the AYP Art Centre Collective, won the prestigious 2018 Sulman Art Prize in 2018. The winning artwork showed, of all things, Cher and Dolly Parton. But you’ve definitely never seen them like this. Her work blends traditional indigenous culture with the pop culture references that she grew up with to create a cheeky and delightful feast for the eyes.
kaylene whiskey kaylene tv

Kaylene TV (2018).

After her Sulman Art Prize win, Whiskey is quickly becoming a household name. This year, she debuted new work in The National 2019: New Australian Art at the Museum of Contemporary art Australia (MCA).
6) Patricia Piccinini
patricia piccinini
When you cross Where the Wild Things Are with modern genetic engineering, you get something that looks like Patricia Piccinini’s work. Unsettling, to say the least. Then again, that’s kind of the point: this young artist’s life-sized sculptures pose some deep questions about nature and artifice. In a world where the only thing faster than our technological evolution is the progression of climate change, she strikes a chord.

Skywhale (2013).

After making waves in 2013 with The Skywhale, Piccinini showed all over the world, from her native Australia to Austria, Turkey and the US. Her first solo museum show is on at Arken Museum in Copenhagen through September 8.
IG: @patricia.piccinini
7) Del Kathryn Barton
Del Kathryn Barton for Artist Profile Magazine
In 2018, this Sydney-based painter made history when she became the only woman in Australia’s top 10-selling living artists. In mid-May, Sotheby’s Australia sold her work, Of Pollen, for a whopping $378,000.
of pollen del kathryn barton

Of Pollen (2013).

Since then, Barton has become one of her nation’s most lusted-after artists, and a big figure on the international market, too. Instead of letting the fame get to her head, Barton takes a no-bullshit approach to art: “The only way I can do this is just… f*cking heads-down and keep doing the best work that I can, day, after day, after day!”, she told The Design Files. And may we add that her signature top-knot is a work of art in itself?
8) Amanda Shadforth

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Got milk ???? @prada

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Move over, Kayla Itsines—there’s another Aussie ruling Instagram. Creative director, photographer, visual artist, stylist and social media queen, Shadforth is one art girl that you absolutely need to be following. Her aesthetic is as fresh as it is hard to define: 30% part jet-setting influencer, 20% 70s nostalgia vibes, 50% edgy culture mag. 100% hers. She’s worked with some of the biggest fashion and luxury brands in the world, including Chanel, Calvin Klein and Tiffany & Co. She also runs the fashion, art and lifestyle blog Oracle Fox and most recently launched an online shop focusing on ethical and sustainable sourcing, OF by Amanda Shadforth.
IG: @oraclefox
9) Alexie Glass-Kantor
Alexie Glass Kantor
Another Australian art influencer on the rise, Alexie Glass-Kantor is the Director of Artspace Sydney and the curator of Encounters at Art Basel Hong Kong. A woman of many talents, she also runs a food Instagram, @curatorsgottoeat. It’s the first art x curatorial blog that we’ve seen. Follow for delectable food shots from all over the world, along with a fair share of surprises (marshmallow Aperol Spritz, anyone?).
IG: @alexieglass
Curators, Gallerinas and Museum Heads
10) Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE
To say that Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE is on top of the Australian art scene is a bit of an understatement. In September, she’s ringing in two decades as Director of Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The Scottish-born curator has spent her entire career focusing on bringing contemporary art to a wider audience, starting with her first gig driving a bus-turned-mobile art gallery all around the country.
IG: @elizabethmacgregor
11) Jasmin Stephens
After stints at Artbank, MCA and Freemantle Arts Centre, Stephens has been an independent curator, writer and arts educator for the past eight years. Of her many career highlights, here are just a couple: curating an exhibit for Armani and contributing research for Contemporary Art & Feminism. This year, Stephens was tapped to travel to the Venice Biennial to mentor at the Australia Council for the Arts’ Emerging Arts Professionals Program.
Twitter: @Jasmin_Stephens
12) Jane Clark
jane clark
After kicking off her art career at the Met, Clark spent twelve years curating for the National Gallery of Victoria before taking over as Director of Painting and Deputy Chairman at Sotheby’s Australia. From there, she made her way over to the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart (MONA), where she currently serves as Senior Research Curator.
13) Amy Barrett-Lennard
Amy Barrett-Lennard
In 1995 (the year this author was born), Amy Barrett-Lennard had already locked in a gig as British Pavilion Manager at the Venice Biennial. It’s all been uphill from there: Barrett-Lennard lectured, curated and served as Director of many prestigious institutions around Australia.
Curator at Goldfields Arts Centre Gallery, Director of the Linden Center for Contemporary Art, and currently, Director/CEO of Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts are just some of the many arty hats she’s worn. In addition to her role at Perth, Barrett-Lennard serves on the boards of Edith Cowan University and the Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia.
14) Kim Machan


With Gabby MacTaggart, right.

The founding director of MAAP-Media Arts Asia Pacific, Kim Machan has spent the last two decades building an impressive CV full of curatorial projects scattered around the region. Exhibits that Machan developed at MAAP have traveled to many of China’s top art institutions, including the National Art Museum of China and the China Academy of Fine Arts. Machan is currently working on her PhD on the rise of video art in East Asia—stay tuned!
15) Cassandra Bird

A seasoned gallerina, Cassandra Bird has served as Associate Director of Sydney’s prestigious Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery for almost seven years. Well regarded internationally, the gallery jump-started the careers of some of Australia’s best-known artists, including Patricia Piccinini, Fiona Hall and Tracey Moffatt. It’s also hosted artists like Yayoi Kusama, Tracey Emin and Robert Mapplethorpe—you get the idea. (Not on this list but well worth an honorary mention: Roslyn Oxley herself).
Before landing back in Australia, Bird cut her teeth in Berlin and NYC, working at galleries like Venetia Kapernekas and Duve Berlin. She’s also the co-founder of MOMENTUM, a non-profit platform for “time-based art.” And, as we discovered by creeping her Instagram, she recently celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary—congrats!
IG: @cassandra_bird
Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via Daily Imprint, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Art Guide, Art Gallery NSW, YouTube, Wikimedia Commons, Blue Thumb, The Design Files, Sydney Contemporary, Cimam, Art Almanac, Hadley’s Art Prize, The West Australian, West End Magazine.

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