Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou, the first major museum retrospective by the late prominent photo artist, is showing at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Ian Potter Centre until March 15, 2020.
The exhibition comprises photographs of the artist’s daughter Olympia. From Olympia’s birth in 1997 until her mother’s death last year, she played a central role in Papapetrou’s image making.
Olympia surveys twenty years of Papapetrou’s practice and includes works from her best-known series, as well as images never before displayed in Melbourne. Influenced by her PhD on the work of nineteenth-century English author, Lewis Carroll, Papapetrou’s work explores the representation of children in historical and contemporary settings and their role in society, along with the complex stereotypes surrounding childhood and issues of identity.
Before Olympia came along, Papapetrou’s work focused on ‘carefully constructed and stage-managed worlds of people who lived, worked and played in disguise, including drag queens, wrestlers and avid Elvis fans’. Her work then shifted to photographing Olympia and her friends.
Olympia was curated in collaboration with the artist’s family and includes a number of celebrated series ranging from Phantomwise 2003, the first to feature Olympia, through to her final series MY HEART – still full of her, 2018. Other series include her clown series Melancholia 2014, which reflects the artist’s grief on hearing her second, and ultimately terminal, cancer diagnosis; and her floral Eden 2016 series that highlights the impermanence of life.
The final series of works in the exhibition brings together early self-portraits by Papapetrou and images of Olympia drawn from the artists archive.
‘Polixeni Papapetrou was a singular Australian artist, known for her compelling photographs that show childhood as a complex realm of imagination and storytelling,’ said Tony Ellwood, director of the NGV. ‘We are pleased to have been able to work in collaboration with her family to present this wonderful exhibition that offers unprecedented insight into her oeuvre.’
Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou is on display until March 15, 2020 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square. Entry is free.