Curated by Doug Hall – a former director of the Queensland Art Gallery and founder of Australia’s Asia Pacific Triennial – this astute exhibition of Peter Tyndall’s work provided a small survey of the artist’s career. Tyndall is recognized as an important figure in the development of Postmodern art in Australia, although he remains little recognized internationally. Tyndall is closely associated with Conceptual art, and his work could be described as a blend of Joseph Kosuth’s self-reflexivity, John Baldessari’s irreverence and On Kawara’s thematic consistency. In his catalogue essay, Hall claims that Tyndall was ‘the least partisan or doctrinaire’ amongst coteries of emerging Australian artists in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and it is this combination of playfulness and rigour that the exhibition brought to the fore.
For almost 40 years, Tyndall’s work has consistently featured a symbol of a square or rectangle that is adjoined by two lines – signifying a painting hanging from strings attached to its upper corners – and each of the 22 paintings in the exhibition were correspondingly hung, in chronological order, from strings attached to the gallery walls. Tyndall’s persistent use of this device was immediately obvious in four small, framed paintings dating from the mid- to late 1970s, rendered in a quasi-AbEx style. This repetition, coupled with Tyndall’s similarly steadfast use of the title detail/A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/someone looks at something… for all of his works, places an emphasis on the processes of art-making, and the exhibition served to contextualize his practice as a continual reworking of long-standing ideas.
Executed in a pared-down, predominantly black and white, graphic style, many of Tyndall’s works included here portray paintings as tools for causing outrage. Aspects of Edvard Munch’s versions of The Scream (1893–1910) are relocated to an art gallery in detail/A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/someone looks at something...LOGOS/HA HA (1982), which presents Munch’s famous figure screaming as if in response to the very idea of art. Similarly, a 1989 work with the same title depicts a 1950s-era comic book illustration of a distressed man, sunglasses in hand and his eyes struck by beams of light, beneath a speech-bubble containing Tyndall’s signature painting symbol. One of the most compelling works in the exhibition was a 1995 diptych comprising verses about the 11th-century Danish monarch King Canute’s views on art, alongside a cartoon illustration of the king with his arms outstretched, reacting to an abstract painting in an art gallery. Reminiscent of Ad Reinhardt’s satirical cartoons about art and the art world, these three works focus explicitly on the act of viewing art, and on viewers who become caught up in the illusions evoked by art objects.
Inspired by his long-term interest in Eastern religions, Tyndall is not just concerned with the nature of looking at art, but also with the nature of being. In two paintings, both titled detail/A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/someone looks at something...LOGOS/HA HA, (The Supreme Goddess as Void, with projection-space for image) (2007), Tyndall depicts a 19th-century Indian bronze figure of the Supreme Goddess as Void: a spiritual object, traditionally conceived of as representing emptiness, consisting of an empty mirror frame with legs, arms, ears and other corporeal features. The presence of this religious symbol in the exhibition revealed how Tyndall’s paintings similarly act as voids, or empty frames, drawing attention to the spiritual undertones in his ‘art about art’ approach.
In less experienced hands, this overview of Tyndall’s career could have become overly repetitive or earnest. However, Hall’s uncomplicated method of curating complemented Tyndall’s reductive yet upbeat body of work, and highlighted how, through a distinct pictorial language, Tyndall brings a paradoxically metaphysical slant to the phenomenology of art.