Emerging artists deliver stunning first commissions

A major arts project presented by the University launched on 1 July at the feet of Michelangelo’s David, the world’s most famous statement on physical perfection, ahead of an exhibition in Florence, and another to be held in Melbourne this month.

First Commissions
L-R Sam Kreusler, Danna Yun, Jack Riley, Associate Professor Matt Delbridge,
Esther Stewart and Ash Perry at the feet of Michelangelo’s statue of David,
Galleria dell’ Accademia, Florence. By O’Rourke & Gates.

For First Commissions, 30 emerging student and alumni artists from the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music have interpreted briefs inspired by world-changing historical commissions for the present moment – from Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkeys to Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Without knowing what the original briefs related to, the artists have created contemporary works that cast a range of urgent global issues in a stark new light, from feminism through to climate change, grief and loss.

Five of the artists, including Melbourne visual artist Esther Stewart and Australian Indigenous artist Ashley Perry, interpreted a brief pertaining to Michelangelo’s David, and travelled to Florence for a public exhibition of their work.  

The entire First Commissions series responds to commissions inspired by David, Titanic, Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, Bob Dylan’s Hurricane, Camille Claudel’s Age of Maturity, Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Monkeys and Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee’s The Great Petition.

First Commissions
Jack Riley and Nikki Tarling at the Library of Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. By O’Rourke & Gates.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell, who launched First Commissions in Florence, said the University believed in the power of art.

“As our world becomes increasingly automated, our creative artists and musicians have the ability to work together to solve problems and meet the challenges that we face in society.

“A fine arts and music education is transformative, encourages confidence and a strong sense of self-belief. It gives students the courage to think independently and critically. It fosters collaboration and creative risk-taking, passion, determination and resilience.”

A public exhibition of work by all 30 artists will be held on 27 and 28 July at the University’s Southbank campus.

Visit the First Commissions online gallery.