Left to right: The Earth of Sydney, 1981, Alan Sonfist, earth, sand, pebbles, glue on duck canvas on stretcher; A still life with fruit and seafood, Michiel Simons, oil on canvas; limestone sarcophagus lid belonging to Tasheritmin, c. 100BC Ptolemaic Period,

Pop art meets ancient Egypt

11 May 2021
One of 18 exhibitions at our recently opened museum
An introductory exhibition at the Chau Chak Wing Museum shows the possibilities created by bringing three museum collections under one roof.
Left to right: The Temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, c. 1530, Michiel Coxcie the Elder, egg tempera and oil on oak panel; Eclectus parrots, collected by George Masters 1875, Papua New Guinea; Love, 1972, Robert Indiana, screen print

Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE’ in ‘Sex, love, death’ 

Iconic pop art hung with an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. A West Papuan bag shoulder to shoulder with a Canaanite Bronze Age bowl. A Tasmanian tiger positioned in front of a modernist industrial painting – the diagonal stripes of both acknowledging human impact on nature. This introductory exhibition at Sydney’s newest museum, these objects celebrate the bringing together of our three diverse museum collections.

Object/Art/Specimen opened with the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney in November. The museum amalgamated the University’s Nicholson, Macleay and Art collections, previously displayed in separate museums.

While most of the 18 exhibitions opening in the five-level, 8000-square metre museum display objects clearly from one of the three original museums, Object/Art/Specimen blends the collections. Far from an exhibition solely of treasures, Object/Art/Specimen brings together the celebrated, the anonymous, and the unusual. 

Presented in the museum’s entry level ‘Power Gallery’, the exhibition is organised into six themes of interlinked terms. Object/Art/Specimen demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of the Chau Chak Wing Museum and the breadth of the university’s research and collecting practices, going back to its beginnings in 1860.

Left to Right: ‘Open cut mine’ by Weaver Hawkins, 1960; taxidermy specimen, Thylacinus cynocephalus (Harris 1808); Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) skulls and jawbone, collected in 1808

Stripes through a Thylacine and ‘Open cut mine’ by Weaver Hawkins, 1960 

“Not many museums bring art, natural history, ethnography, science and antiquity together like this,” said museum Deputy Director and exhibition curator Paul Donnelly. “Object/Art/Specimen shows the world of possibilities available to the museum now its collections will be shown in one building.  A modern museum with our kind of diverse collections is ideally placed to rewrite the way we interpret and explore the world. This museum can show Australia’s largest collection of ancient Egypt, not in isolation, but within the context of Australia, the Pacific, and beyond.”

Object/Art/Specimen brings the collections together in six themes:

  • Sex, love, death
  • Chaos, pattern, order
  • Land, environment, climate
  • Exploration, trade, colonialism
  • Performance, ritual, belief
  • G-Forces, extra-terrestrial, the universe

In Sex, love, death , Dr Donnelly  grouped 14 vibrantly coloured purple, red and green Eclectus parrot specimens, a commentary on gender stereotyping. The extreme sexual dimorphism between the specimens meant, until the 20th century, each of the 14 was considered a different species. The parrots are positioned between Robert Indiana’s famous 1960s LOVE screen-print, and a 16th century Flemish oil painting of Adam and Eve.

“These parrots demonstrate the many surprising ways we can interpret our collections.”

Object/Art/Specimen is on show until late 2022. 

Jocelyn Prasad

Media and Public Relations Advisor