Melbourne’s Biggest Show of Small Art

Since 1990, Linden New Art has held a yearly exhibition made of artworks smaller than the size of an A4 page - the Linden Postcard Show. The gallery walls become a colourful showcase of the myriad styles of art being made in Australia, providing a collection of unique works for the city’s art lovers to peruse.

The event has included some of Australia’s top artists and recently the organisers have been seeking to expand the range of talent on show by providing free entry to artists for whom the entry fee may be a barrier for participation. There is also a renewed focus on encouraging First Nations artists.

The CEO/Director of Linden New Art, Dr Vincent Alessi, says that this is a natural extension of the show’s core aims over the last three decades:

‘It is all about access and community, so everyone has an opportunity to enter regardless whether they’re a represented artist or someone who hasn’t shown in the gallery before. The show has changed in scale and how the exhibition is installed, but the ethos that underpins the show has always been the same.’

Some years there have been over a thousand works of art and it can take 4-5 days to hang them all. It is their small size which makes this possible since each work is restricted to a maximum size of 8 x 10 inches (20.32 x 25.4cm) and it also needs to be able to be hung on a wall. The original idea had been that the best artworks might then be reproduced as postcards, since their images would be clear enough to survive being reduced down further. These days though, the original works are more likely to be sold through the show than reproduced.

Alessi says the small size of the works has side benefits:

‘If it was open sizing, an artist could put in a two by three metre work that would dominate the others. Instead, no work becomes the key work - they're all key works. Looking at art is such a sensory experience that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by scale. Instead there's a sense of intimacy in the works, so the viewers have a real engagement with them. For the artists, there's something really skillful about working on a small scale and still getting the kind of impact that is easy to achieve on a larger scale. Every aspect is important - from the composition to the subject matter to the way it has been framed. The restriction pushes the art into all sorts of new directions.’

This also means that artists can push between the boundaries of painting, collage, photography and sculpture. Alessi was particularly surprised by one entry this year - a plastic bag filled with blue-coloured water that had tiny plastic ducks floating inside it. More broadly, the range of approaches run the gamut - from realist works to surrealist ones; from photography to sculpture; and from pop art to abstract.

The re-introduction of Australian knighthood by Abdul Abdullah from Linden Postcard Show, 2014The re-introduction of Australian knighthood by Abdul Abdullah won 1st prize at Linden Postcard Show in 2014

There is now an incredibly long list of accomplished artists who have had work in the show. Abdul Abdullah won the competition in 2014 with his work The re-introduction of Australian knighthood, which he notes was the first of his many awards:

‘It was such a boost and I felt so proud to win the prize and so honoured to be included in it. At the time it was the only prize I’d won up to that point, so I really appreciated that. I like the fact that the people who have won it have often gone on to really solid and professional careers, with critical and engaging practices. It’s really nice to be part of that lineage.’

The fact that the entries are placed on the walls roughly in the order in which they came in means that there is an egalitarian nature to the way in which each individual work takes up space in the gallery. Alessi believes that this openness allows great work to shine through:

‘It's interesting when you look at the successful artists who have exhibited in the show. Whether it’s John Campbell, who's now a much-loved Australian artist or Tony Albert, the Girramay, Yidinji and Kuku Yalanji artist, who recently opened a really fantastic exhibition in Melbourne and whose work is internationally recognised. Tony won the major postcard prize in 2009 when he was just starting out. There’s many others too - like Penny Byrne, Rob McHaffie, and so on. When people are young and have just finished art school, they often just want to get their work into a public gallery and the Postcard Show allows them to do that. We don't claim that - for example - the fact that Tony Albert won our prize was what set him up, but the Postcard Show does provide a platform for artists to get exposure when they’re just starting out.’

Family by Ashleigh Pugh from Linden Postcard Show, 2020Family by Ashleigh Pugh, a First Nations artist, won ‘Best Landscape’ at Linden Postcard Show in 2020

The show has a unique place for artists in the local community. Lyn Pool currently has her own exhibition Nest at the Linden and has lived in St Kilda since 1989 and says that ever since those early years ‘the Linden and the Postcard Show have been linked in my mind.’ She has twice had work in the Postcard Show (2016 and 2021) and found it is well suited to her work:

‘I’ve often worked around the vernacular in my image making so I like to work on a smaller, more domestic scale.’

In recent years, the organisers have been attempting to further expand the varieties of artists who take part in the show. A new prize was introduced - the ‘First Nations Award’ - which was won last year by Shannon Bosch. The competition also allows First Nations artists to enter for free, as Alessi explains:

‘Like many creative organisations around the country, we acknowledge that we operate on unceded lands and we take that really seriously. We are cognisant that access, opportunity and equality still remain a present issue for our First Nations people and communities. Providing free entry for Indigenous artists recognises this and creates an opportunity to participate and most importantly ensures that Linden does its part in celebrating Indigenous voices and acknowledging that for a long time their voice has not been heard.’

More broadly, the Linden Postcard Show provides a unique way to appreciate the wide range of art being made in Australia at the current time. Visitors to the show can expect to see over 850 works, covering the walls from knee-height to head-height. Part of the fun is scanning the walls and seeing which images pop out, then having the opportunity to get closer and examine them in detail.

Alessi hopes that the expanse of works will help inspire new artists to enter in future:

‘I've always argued that everyone is creative but not everyone can find a space that is comfortable enough for them to show their work, so the Postcard Show does that. Our approach is to say - you might be a banker, but on the weekends you make stuff and that's just as valid as John Campbell who gets up every day and makes art. It's actually about saying creativity is important to our existence and that's what the Linden Postcard Show celebrates.’

The Opening Reception for the Linden Postcard show is at 6pm on Friday 9 December and the exhibition will run from 10 December 2022 to 26 February 2023.


MAIN IMAGE: Artworks on display at Linden Postcard Show 2021

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