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Spring Exhibition Suite

Celebrating 75 years of Modernist art and living at its Emu Plains site, Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest presents a suite of exhibitions and associated programs titled Emu Island – Modernism in Place that will be open to the public from 26 August until 19 November 2017.

Once the home and studio of artists Margo and Gerald Lewers, the Gallery site was – and is today – a place of lively debate, artistic creation and exhibition at the foot of the Blue Mountains on the banks of the Nepean River. Coming up against the Nepean River, early settlers thought the land on the mountainside was an island inhabited by Emus hence ‘Emu Island’. The place was considered to be land’s end, but as the home of artists Margo and Gerald Lewers it became the place for new beginnings.

The Gallery site was an ‘island of modernism’ in the Australian suburbs. The Lewers’ home was founded on the principles of modernism – they lived, worked and entertained like-minded contemporaries set on fostering modernism as a holistic way of living. Curated by Dr Shirley Daborn together with consulting curator Dr Cassi Plate, Emu Island – Modernism in Place highlights the cultural significance of the Gallery’s history and site to Modernism in Australia.

Emu Island – Modernism in Place in the Main Gallery showcases the work of the Lewers and their immediate contemporaries over the four-decade period of their residence (1942-1978).  In this place, artists and friends gathered and were inspired by the energy and experimentation of the Lewers home, and beyond, by a rapidly changing world.  The exhibition features works by those at the heart of Sydney Modernism such as: Margo and Gerald Lewers, Frank and Margel Hinder, Judy Cassab, John Olsen, Tony Tuckson, Carl Plate and Robert Klippel among others.

Elsewhere on the site the legacy of Sydney modernism will be highlighted within the original historic home of Margo and Gerald Lewers, now known as the Lewers House Gallery. The work of eight young contemporary artists who continue to grapple with modernist ideals will be showcased in Young Moderns. These Artists include: Emma Beer, Terrence Combos, Sanne Koelemij, Mason Kimber, Nadia Odlum, Helen Shelley, Kael Stasce and Kate Tucker.

In Ancher House, now known as the Modernist Research Centre, the work of the Gallery’s 2017 artist in residence Ian Milliss will be exhibited in Shifting Dirt.  The artist takes his place as the youngest member of the legendary 1960s artist venue, Central Street Gallery, which revolutionised abstract art practice in Sydney. Having access to the Gallery’s modernist art collection and archive, Millis has produced an extraordinary text based exhibition which reaches into a worker’s history of place based modernism.

Through the Gallery’s Modernist Research Centre, leading scholars have been commissioned to write on distinct perspectives of Australian modernism. Their contributions will investigate the differing dynamics of modernism and Australian Abstraction and will be published within an online publication in conjunction with the exhibition program:

  • Shirley Daborn: The Lewers’: Modernism and Difference
  • Cassi Plate: Lewers within the context of the Sydney art scene
  • Rhonda Davis: Design in the home: Margo Lewers and Margaret Preston
  • Kirsty Grant: The Melbourne and Sydney Dynamic
  • Ian Milliss: Modernism in Sydney and International trends


Throughout the exhibition there will be a public program including symposium, talks, education activities and family fun days.

Modernism in the Garden – Explore Margo Lewers original garden design through garden tours and talks. Enjoy a jazz trio, and picnic in the garden, buy plants and flowers.  11 – 3pm, Sunday 17 September 2017. Free

Into the Archives – Storytelling and Research – Local historians, archivists and librarians reveal the process of digging into the archives to bring the past to life. 2-4pm, Sunday 24 September, 2017. Bookings Essential, Free

Emu Island – Modernism in Place – Author and Exhibition Curator talks, Sunday 15 October, 2-4pm, Places Limited, Bookings Essential, Free

Modernist Art + Architecture – On site and out of site, Author and Designer talks, Sunday 22 October, 2 – 4pm Places Limited, Bookings Essential, Free

Opening Saturday 26 August
3 – 5pm
Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest
86 River Road Emu Plains New South Wales
RSVP (essential)
Telephone 4735 1100

Featured image: Ancher House Living Room. Photo: Adam Hollingworth, 2014