Darren Sylvester,  'Adidas Hiker,'  Lightjet print, 2017. Courtesy of Neon Parc.

Darren Sylvester, 'Adidas Hiker,' Lightjet print, 2017. Courtesy of Neon Parc.


9 X 5 NOW showcases generations of practicing artists who have studied or taught at the National Gallery School or VCA Art. The most experienced artist represented attended the National Gallery School in the 1940s, and the youngest completed studies at the VCA just one year ago.

The exhibition title and concept references the famous ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ held at the Buxton Rooms, Swanston Street Melbourne in 1889. All seven artists in that exhibition, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, Charles Conder, C Douglas Richardson, R.E. Falls and Herbert Daly, were National Gallery School alumni. McCubbin was also a staff member and Louis Abrahams, also a former student, supplied the 9 x 5 inch cedar cigar box lids on which the works were painted. The Victorian College of the Arts is indebted to Lauraine Diggins of Lauraine Diggins Fine Art for facilitating the loan of works by Roberts, Conder and Streeton from the original 1889 exhibition especially for the opening of 9 X 5 NOW.

At the time women made up the majority of the National Gallery School student cohort and alumni. It is significant to note that Jane Sutherland, Clara Southern, May Vale, Elizabeth Parsons, Jane Price, who practised en plein air painting and were associated with the development of Australian Impressionism were not included in the ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’.

In contrast, representation in the current 9 X 5 NOW exhibition is characterised by inclusivity and diversity of identity, generation and practice. Each contributing artist was supplied with a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm) plywood board, and a range of works have been returned from across Australia and overseas that include contemporary approaches to photography, drawing, text, painting and cross media practice.

It is easy to forget that en plein air painting promoted by the ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ was avant garde and challenged the prevailing status quo. In this light, the 1889 exhibition can be considered one of the first Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs), which have since come to characterise exhibition practice in Melbourne.

Many ARIs have been founded and developed by subsequent generations of National Gallery School and VCA graduates as venues for independent exhibitions, debate and the promotion of cutting edge aesthetics. These include Art Projects, Roar Studios, First floor, Basement, TCB art inc, Conical, Westspace, DAMP, Kings ARI, Blender Studios, Blindside, Platform and Caves.

The work in 9 x 5 NOW is indicative of the significant contribution the 350 eminent alumni and staff have made to art education, the visual arts and the broader cultural landscape of Australia. It has been a privilege and a challenge to curate this landmark exhibition.

Dr Elizabeth Gower
Curator, 9 X 5 NOW

9 X5 NOW is one of the highlights of ART150, a year-long program of events, interviews and expert commentary to celebrate 150 years of art in Melbourne at the VCA and its predecessor institution, the National Gallery School – a lineage that began with its establishment in 1867.

More than 300 contemporary visual artists have contributed original artworks for the  9 X 5 NOW exhibition, the biggest show ever to be staged the University of Melbourne’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery.

The funds generated from the sale of works from the exhibition will establish the ART150 Fellowship which will encourage subsequent generations of alumni to pursue and support high ambitions for their work. 

I thank the artists for coming to the project with such enthusiasm and acknowledge their participation, generosity, and to recognise the important contribution they will make for generations of future artists.

Professor Su Baker
Director, Victorian College of the Arts