Art, cold war diplomacy and commonwealth: Australian and Canadian art at the tate gallery 1962–1964

Sarah Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    This article analyses the formation, presentation and reception of two seminal exhibitions: Australian Painting: Colonial, Impressionist, Contemporary (1962–1963) and Canadian Painting 1939–1963 (1964). The presentation of these exhibitions at London’s Tate Gallery reflected the institution’s support for “old dominion” Commonwealth members. The exhibitions also highlight the differing visions of the Canadian and Australian governments concerning the relationship between art, diplomacy and politics during the Cold War. In Canada, Vincent Massey (Governor General 1952–1959) played a key role in ensuring that all forms of Canadian art were promoted internationally. Massey wanted to connect with the European and American avant-garde and to be part of a multiracial Commonwealth. This contrasted with the rather “old-fashioned” views of the Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. They supported a Commonwealth dominated by the “white dominions” and the initial exhibition plan for Australian Painting recalled previous British Empire art shows. The British response to the Canadian and Australian exhibitions is also discussed. British critics preferred the nationally identifiable “exotic” art found in Australian art to the transnational forms of international abstraction in Canadian art. Eventually, Australia “caught up” with Canadian cultural policy following the establishment of the Australia Council.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)487-502
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Australian Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017


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