Five standing lights in a row

Light & Darkness

Late modernism and the Power Collection

This evocative theme unites 70 artworks from the Power Collection, exploring luminosity, colour, movement, race and politics across three decades of late modernism.

Light & Darkness is a major exhibition drawing on the University of Sydney’s Power Collection. It spans the luminal, op and kinetic works of the 1960s by major artists such as Jean Tinguely and Bridget Riley; the political and conceptual art of the 1970s with Ed Kienholtz and On Kawara; and Australian and New Zealander artists in the 1980s, including Peter Tyndall, Jenny Watson and Colin McCahon. The exhibition and accompanying book are the first projects from the University’s extensive collection of international contemporary art in its new home at the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

‘Light works’ are a major feature of the early Power acquisitions in the late 1960s. Significantly, a planetary grammar of solar discs, spheres and orbs is a common vocabulary for many artists who employ light, whether literally or in abstraction. Other kinetic works, such as those by Julio Le Parc and Lucio Fontana, have a lightness, moving according to air currents. As the utopian dreams of the 1960s soured, many artists turned to language; the darker side of the collection features major text paintings by New Zealanders McCahon and Maori artist Ralph Hotere, alongside a multiple by Kienholtz who spotlights a horrific race crime, and Beuys who is represented by ‘a hair shirt masquerading as a felt suit’. Today the Power Collection, spanning 25 years, appears like a time capsule. 

Discover more about the exhibition

Hear from Senior Curator Dr Ann Stephen, Director of the Power Institute Mark Ledbury and artist Tim Johnson.

Header image: Takis, Signals series I, II, III, 1968, aluminium, chrome, steel, synthetic polymer paint and sheet, lightbulb, light unit, Power Collection PW1968.54-56 © Panagiotis Vassilakis. ADAGP/Copyright Agency, 2022.