The Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of SA offers audiences the opportunity to witness developments in contemporary art across the country. In many instances, it also allows us to see our much-loved collection in a new light.

José da Silva, the curator of the 18th biennial, Inner Sanctum, has thoughtfully selected a small number of biennial artists to be displayed in the Melrose and Elder wings, where AGSA houses its permanent collections. These incursions, or interventions, provide new contexts and prompt fresh conversations about the intersections between historic and contemporary art.

In Gallery 17 of the Melrose Wing, Jazz Money’s sound work, This is how we love, sits alongside a 17th-century work depicting the interior of Antwerp Cathedral in Belgium, painted by the Flemish painters Peeter Neeffs the Elder and Frans Francken II. A descendant of the Wiradjuri Nation, Money lives on the Gadigal Lands and works across many disciplines, including installation, film, performance and poetry.

An installation view of the 18th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Inner Sanctum featuring This is How We Love by Jazz Money, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photo: Saul Steed / supplied

Created centuries and countries apart, these two works of art appear to be completely at odds. Yet, when contemplating the painting while listening to Money’s soaring choral poem, a sense of aptness – and equanimity – arises from this seemingly jarring juxtaposition. Despite our predominantly secular society, choral music, with its long association with the Christian Church, creates a palpable connection to these ecclesiastical interiors.

Cathedrals such as that depicted by the two Flemish masters were designed to inspire awe and majesty in the lay attendee, exemplified by the figures in the painting’s foreground, which are entirely dwarfed by the enormity of the Gothic arches. But, more practically, the scale of these buildings allowed the sound to travel in an era long before amplification.

Commissioned for the Out & Loud & Proud International Choral Festival, Money’s poem about queer love focuses on diverse forms of love rather than purely romantic love. It speaks of friendship, platonic love and community.

Similarly, Neeffs’ and Francken’s cathedral interior, with its lively bustling community, is much more than merely a solemn church space. The whole spectrum of Antwerp society is on show: elegantly dressed figures socialise among themselves, with the occasional dog running around. In the centre of the nave, a group of monks and laypeople are seen praying, while the foreground includes seemingly less fortunate members of society, with a frail older man with crutches and a destitute woman and her baby asking for alms.

Artists and curators play an important role in connecting people across place and time. This simple pairing of works created nearly 400 years apart helps us to identify the fundamental human connections between the past and the present in art, culture and society.

An installation view of Gallery 17 at AGSA featuring Capriccio – interior of the Colosseum, Rome, attributed to Pietro Francesco Garoli, and A church interior with elegant figures strolling and figures attending mass, by Peeter Neeffs The Elder and Frans Francken II. Photo: Saul Steed

Tansy Curtin is curator of international art pre-1980 at the Art Gallery of South Australia. This article is part of InReview’s Off the Wall series, in which AGSA curators offer an insight into specific works or displays at the gallery.

The 18th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Inner Sanctum is showing at AGSA until June 2.

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