Submitted Review

Judith Wright in ‘Monster Theatres’

  • Art Gallery of South Australia • Adelaide

  • 27 February—01 August 2020

  • Marielle Soni • Published 25 May 2020

Enchanting it is to enter the surreal dualistic tableaus of Judith Wright’s ‘Tales of Enchantment’ in the Adelaide Biennial of Art. A procession of video work, assemblages, installation, paintings, and collection objects as medium. A very ambitious iteration of the artist’s practice due to the sheer scale of the spaces (think kunsthalle) and the demands this would oblige from the artist.

The entrance is a secluded short corridor, the visitor approaches a monitor displaying video works, but the peripheral vision is immediately seduced by the menagerie of form, light and shadow which is too much to resist. So, the videos that greet us intuitively become a more fitting farewell. The sequences of odd human/object dances making more meaningful impacts after viewing the main gallery and annex presentations.

The larger gallery contains configured installations utilising hundreds of objects, most from the artist’s own personal collection of antiques and oddities. Pairs of shoe lasts march toward a playful winged mannequin, a dancing creature enjoying its leading role. Behind them, a large cut out tree dripping with painted fruit: blank faces, flying figures, surrounded by suspended winged eyes. Above, below, around – the visitor wanders/wonders through the bodyless limbs, limbless bodies, unblinking disembodied eyes, children, mythical characters, a robed priest with a terrifying mask.

Flitting between light and dark, mass and shadow, heaven and hell, Wright displays a sophisticated understanding of spatial physicality. These danse macabre scenes are drawings in space, using objects as line and form, shadow-play as composition. The presence of childhood throughout, should I be enchanted or horrified? Play can be dichotomous; the delight of horror can make us giddy with terrifying glee.

‘The presence of childhood throughout, should I be enchanted or horrified?’

In comparison to the artist’s major 2018 show at QAGOMA the installations are brighter lit, detracting from the key dramatic element of her work: the shadow play. Three dimensional objects cast alternative compositions on the white walls. Which are the scenes? The lit or the shadow worlds. The emotional narrative carried through the work relies on this contrast. It will be interesting to see if the lighting is finessed when they re-open the show.

5 large-scale paintings on Japanese paper are presented solemnly in the annex gallery. Presented on black walls, spot lit.

Unequivocally figurative, a shift away from earlier work that play more cryptically between abstraction & figuration. The eye motif is repeated, unflinching in its observation of the viewer observing them adding to the feeling of disquiet psychological tensions.

Marielle Soni

Monster Theatres : the 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. Companion information online at