Diana Baker Smith (NSW) has received the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art’s 2024 Judy Wheeler Commission to produce a new site-specific work for the multi-arts space.
Commencing in 2023, the Judy Wheeler Commission is the result of a 10-year philanthropic gift given by the Simpson family to PICA. Each year, it supports an Australia-based artist to create a bold new work that responds to PICA’s architecture and history as one of Perth’s first schools and now a contemporary art space.
Diana Baker Smith is a Gadigal (Sydney)-based artist who works across performance, moving image and installation to explore the relationship between art history and its institutions through a feminist lens. She is also a member of the acclaimed performance art collective, Barbara Cleveland.
Baker Smith’s winning proposal will feature a text-based score and live performance created specifically for the mezzanine level above PICA’s Central Gallery space.
The score will be made up of performative instructions inviting audiences to consider the history of the site (as a space of art, education and incubation), their relationship to the building’s architecture and the ways in which they move through its spaces.
On her selection, Baker Smith said: “I am thrilled to have been selected for the 2024 Judy Wheeler Commission. This is a unique opportunity to create an ambitious new work that responds to the architecture and history of PICA’s building and site.”
“I’m very grateful to the selection committee, and I’m looking forward to working with the PICA team to realise this project.”
Image: Diana Baker Smith, She Speaks in Sculpture, 2022, photo: Lucy Parakhina
The 2024 panel, consisting of Stephen Gilchrist (Senior Lecturer, UWA School of Indigenous Studies), Melissa Keys (Curator, Heide Museum of Art and former PICA curator) and Sarah Wall (Curator, PICA), selected Baker Smith from 42 submissions from artists across the country.
The selection panel commented: “We were incredibly impressed by the breadth and originality of submissions for the 2024 Judy Wheeler Commission and we’re delighted to announce Diana Baker Smith as the commission’s second recipient.”
“Diana’s site-specific choreographic installation stood out for its sophisticated multi-disciplinary approach – something she is well known for in her practice and a characteristic that sits in synergy with PICA’s unique industry position as a leading presenter of exhibition and performance.
“By occupying the space between performance and visual art, Diana’s work will enliven visitors’ experiences of PICA. We look forward to welcoming Diana and presenting her work in Perth for the first time.”
The commission builds on Baker Smith’s 15 year-long artistic practice. Her recent projects have been featured at UTS Art Gallery, Sydney; Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart; Artspace, Sydney; and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. She holds a PhD from the University of NSW where she is a Lecturer in Fine Arts in the School of Art and Design.
Her work with Barbara Cleveland is held by major national collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Art Bank.
PICA Director/CEO Hannah Mathews said: “With PICA’s rich history as a space for education and experimentation, and home to the archives of influential Perth art collectives Praxis and Media-Space, there’s a wealth of stories for artists to investigate and reinterpret for contemporary audiences.”
“Diana’s work, with Barbara Cleveland and solo, is playful, at times comical, and always provocative. She asks us to look twice at our surroundings and consider what we know of them, who has been before us and who will follow. We are excited to see her unique interpretation of PICA.”
Baker Smith will visit PICA in the coming months to undertake research towards her commission, which will launch in February 2024 and remain in place for one year.
Sam Leung | email@example.com | +61 8 9228 6307
Image: Diana Baker Smith, photo: Anna Hay
About the Artist
Diana Baker Smith is an Australian artist based on Gadigal land in Sydney. Her artistic practice is collaborative, research driven, and underpinned by feminist methods. Her recent projects engage with art historiography and its fictions, spanning moving image, performance, photography and text. They include She Speaks in Sculpture (UTS Art Gallery, Sydney, 2022), The Lost Hour (Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart, 2022), Tasks yet to be composed for the occasion (Artspace, Sydney, 2021) and Opening Night (National Gallery of Australia, 2020).
She is currently working on a solo exhibition for Penrith Regional Gallery engaging with the archive and former home of the Australian modernist artist Margo Lewers. Baker Smith is a member of the art collective Barbara Cleveland, whose works are held in collections including Artbank, Museum of Contemporary Art, Monash University Museum of Art, Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, and Art Gallery of NSW. Diana holds a PhD from the University of NSW, where she is a Lecturer in Fine Arts in the School of Art and Design.
About the Commission
The Judy Wheeler Commission is a collaboration between PICA and the Simpson family to honour the legacy of Judy Wheeler, wife of Jamie and mother of Tom and Genevieve Simpson.
PICA invites artists from across Australia to propose a work that responds physically or conceptually to the architecture and history of its building and site. Artists are encouraged to match PICA’s spirit of risk and experimentation in their proposals, addressing spaces that PICA’s visitors move through when visiting the building, including its entrance lobby, foyer, stairwells and balcony mezzanine. Each commission includes an artist fee of $10,000 and is installed for a one-year period.
Judy Wheeler was born in 1954 and grew up in Gosford, New South Wales. She spent a year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, obtained a teaching diploma at Sydney Teachers College and a Bachelor of Arts from Flinders University. She later worked as a town councillor and bookshop owner. Throughout her life she was an enduring lover and supporter of the arts. For several years she funded Western Australia’s T.A.G. Hungerford literary award, and through her patronage of the visual arts she amassed a substantial collection of Australian prints and paintings. She passed away in 2010 after a long illness.
About PICA’s Site and History
Now the home of contemporary arts in WA, PICA’s building, opened in 1897, was originally designed to be part of a large educational campus of separate schools, collectively known as Perth Central School. The building housed several different schools during this period until 1958, when Perth Technical College moved in, expanding the building’s educational focus into the tertiary sector. In 1988, the iconic red brick establishment began its new life as an arts institution, officially opening as the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1991.
Today, PICA remains a pillar of Perth’s contemporary arts scene. While it is not a collecting institution in a conventional sense, PICA holds history, whether that be in its impressive archive of more than three decades of programming material and ephemera; in its creaky floorboards and old classrooms; or in the memories of the students who attended the institution during its century-long span as a school and the estimated 1.5 million people who have visited the building since 1991.