NGV Curator Pip Wallis takes us through the new exhibition celebrating Australian art and culture in the 1990s

From club to grunge, sci-fi cyborgs and DIY culture, the '90s in Australia was a complex, twisted landscape that is hard to define.  It was a time where Australia glowed with a post-bicentennial  pride, where we were starting to get noticed by the rest of the world as much as we were becoming global citizens ourselves, and yet, still questioning exactly who we were.

Currently on show at the National Gallery of Victoria, Every Brilliant Eye: Australian Art of the 90s brilliantly explores the complexities of this time in our cultural history and unearths quite a few similarities between social conversations made 20 years apart - including dialogues surrounding identity politics, queer culture and feminism.  "Some people remark on how recent the 90s feel," comments Pip Wallis, Contemporary Art Curator at the NGV and Co-curator of the exhitbion. "And yet, it was clear that we had gained enough distance to look at it with a bit more perspective and see things with historical reflection."

The exhibition, named after the song Every Brilliant Eye by seminal 90s Australian rock band Died Pretty, features over 100 works, ranging from a dedicated club culture room that features a music video by Maria Kozic and fashion by Leigh Bowery, Peter Tully and design studio Abyss; to grunge and DIY-related works by Kathy Temin, Ricky Swallow, Kristen Hedlam, art collective DAMP.  Beyond that, the exhibition also rides a heavy view on identity via a 1990s post-modernist eye, featuring works by Tracey Moffatt, Anette Bezor, Anne Ferran, Patricia Piccininni; and includes works by Emily Kam Kngwarray, Yvonne Koolmatrie and Judy Watson, indigenous artists who represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997. For those who went to school in the 90s, these are names you most likely remember.

Art lesson: The NGV is taking us back to the 90s

Adam Cullen, Everything is low impact 1999

"For me, [the reoccurring conversations] were a really interesting thing," says Wallis. "Because I feel like after bit of hiatus in the 2000s, a lot of these issues, particularly around identity politics, have returned to the work of a lot of young artists. I think that it's good to reflect on how previous generations have addressed the same issues. Take stock of how the conversations have developed over decades." 

Being a collection exhibition, Every Brilliant Eye looks at the 90s through the looking glass of the NGV, with a few key loans thrown in -a perfect survey of both the gallery and what was happening in Australia at that time.   "One of things that people will experience as they go to the exhibition is the timeline that looks at each year of the decade, highlighting some of the key Australian and international political and cultural moments, "says Wallis, noting  the 1999 Australian Republic Referendum as such a point. "At that time, there was a lot of discussion about who we were as a nation. I think that kind of questioning is very visible in the exhibition. It applies to things like national culture, but it also applies to things like identity politics." Couple that with the AIDS crisis, third wave feminism and looking back at our own history. "We're doing that in a way that called into question what we thought we knew about ourselves."

As the NGV is wont to do, the exhibition also boasts a live music program to support the mood, including conversations between Jae Laffer of The Panics and artists (Sundays at 2pm, until 23 July); artist talks, including "The 90s: DIY Decade", which looks at zines, the rise of artist-run initiatives and collectives and street art (Sunday July 16, 12pm) and a film screening of Loop/Critical Cities, a series of rare artist films from the 90s, which will also feature artist and co-curator of the exhibition Callum Morton (August 20, 2pm). 

Here, Wallis takes us through some of the key works of the show, click through the gallery for a 90s art history lesson.

Every Brilliant Eye: Australian Art of the 1990s is open now at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, until October 1. http://ngv.gov.au/

Art lesson: The NGV is taking us back to the 90s