The MCA is a jewel in Sydney’s crown that many of us – distracted by beaches, bistros and beer barns – somehow miss out on. Since its opening in 1991 as the flowering of the John Power Bequest it has shocked, bemused and confounded Sydneysiders – as all good capital ‘A’ Art should.

Under the directorship of the astonishingly dynamic Elizabeth Ann Macgregor  – forget The Avengers, this woman is a real superhero – the MCA (and with it Contemporary Art) became not only – horrors! – popular but something that corporations and the influential fell over each other to be associated with.

But even though the old Customs House building was big, it could not hold the ever-swelling – and phenomenal – MCA collection of Modern and Indigenous Art.

In 2005 a redevelopment was mooted – money was pledged, plans were drawn up, machinery chugged and rattled, time passed. On the 29th of March this year the MCA opened up to us again with now much more space for Art – the refurb increased the MCA’s total size by almost 50 per cent with the addition of 4,500 square metres, including a new five-storey wing.

And they have used all of it to fantastic effect.

Volume One: MCA Collection displays a great slab of the MCA’s collection. One is initially pulled up by Stephen Birch’s Untitled (2005) – a lifesize Spiderman pondering a snake-necked old man who leans out at him from the wall. Wonders abound: Hossein Valamanesh’s The lover circles his own heart (1993), a fabric cone that rotates unsteadily in dim light; Tracey Moffat’s Something more #3 (1989), glossy photos with glossy people taking us to some unglossy places; Rebecca Baumann’s Automated Colour Field (2011), flipping colour cards, beautiful, familiar and unfamiliar in one.

Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are represented by a staggering wall of extraordinary bark paintings – there are also woven bags and baskets as well as video, photography, drawings and collage. It is worth the trip just for these – one can get lost in their earth tones, fine cross-hatchings and dot rows which are of the here and now, yet suggest the infinite in time and space. Yet another treasure right under our noses.

The exhibition Marking Time, curated by Rachel Kent, is an exhibition it seems hung off one its major works. Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay’s The Clock is a 24 hour film that is synchronized with real time. It is a collage of film snippets from existing movies (Marclay claims to have had to obtain clearances for over 5,000 films – such is the world we live in…) that all pertain to the time of day outside in the real world. As fascinating as the concept is – and as mesmerizing the pop-culture miasma feeding into one’s brain is – The Clock seems one of those art pieces more exciting in concept than experience, like Andy Warhol’s movies 5 ½ hr Sleep (1963) or 8 hr Empire (1964). Also, The Clock is impossible to watch as intended – although the MCA allows you to stay overnight to watch it, it doesn’t allow for toilet or meal breaks – only those with bladders of iron and no need for nutrition could physically withstand it. There, see? – I have already written much more than intended about The Clock; such is the PR power of a cool concept…

The Art works surrounding The Clock and making up the rest of Marking Time are jaw-dropping though, in both concept and experience. Around the unwieldy idea of Time, Kent has brought in some stunning works: Katie Pearson’s player piano playing the Moonlight Sonata recorded from distorted waves bounced off the moon (!); Tom Nicholson’s vast wall drawing (writing) of geo-political dates throughout history done in spidery, ephemeral pencil; Lindy Lee’s almost religious burned-hole paper works or ‘weather drawings’, Conflagrations from the End of Time (2011) which suggest space and time rotating off in all directions.

Are these about Time? Well, go on – prove that they are not. Daniel CrooksStatic no.12 (seek still in movement) – brings home in more convention (rational?) how time works: that we exist static in frames, slices of time, that move forward making the movie that is our lives. Showing an elderly man going through his graceful tai-chi arcs and swoops, it freezes him mid-movement, stretching and drawing that movement across the screen. It all is so gracefully and musical one almost forgets how elementally disturbing and unsettling it makes one feel – as all good capital ‘A’ Art should.

Published May 2012 on


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