Project 08
An Australian

Project Summary

In 1984 the art industry was at the beginning of a new internationalism. John Kaldor took the opportunity provided by the wave of interest in Australian film and literature to curate an exhibition of Australian art in New York as Project 8, titled An Australian Accent. Three of the most celebrated Australian artists of their generation – Mike Parr, Imants Tillers and Ken Unsworth – presented 52 drawings and paintings for the project, generating laudatory and extensive reviews. New York Times critic John Russell praised the exhibition’s ‘exceptional expressive power’. After opening in the New York contemporary art centre P.S.1 Gallery, the exhibition travelled to Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art and then returned to tour museums in Australia.

Now a celebrated contemporary art space and a Museum of Modern Art affiliate since 2000, P.S.1 was founded by director Alanna Heiss, who knew John Kaldor as a collector. Heiss agreed to Kaldor's proposal for an exhibition and, with the support of curators Daniel Thomas and Jonathan Fineberg, Kaldor selected the three artists, none of whom had previously shown in an American museum or gallery.

Parr presented 14 large stretched and contorted self-portraits in charcoal, predominantly black-and-white and some partially coloured with pastel. Tillers created 10 large works comprised of hundreds of small canvasboards, each painted and overpainted with layered references. Unsworth presented 11 large works drawn in bitumen and paint and four series of smaller drawings, including studies for his performance works.

All of the artists travelled to New York to install the works and attend the opening, timed to coincide with the re-opening of a newly extended Museum of Modern Art that brought visitors from across America. The director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Michael Botwinick, was in New York at the time and contacted Kaldor to request the show for Washington. Three rooms of the Corcoran’s permanent collection were taken down to make room for An Australian Accent to be shown at the same time as a group exhibition of German artists, Expressions, and, on returning to Australia, the show travelled to the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

​Mike Parr
Imants Tillers
Ken Unsworth

An Australian Accent 

15 April – 10 June 1984
P.S.1, New York  

30 June – 26 August 1984 
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC

22 September – 11 November 1984
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

1 December 1984 – 31 January 1985 
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney



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Mike Parr, Imants Tillers & Ken UnsworthBack to top

Mike Parr
Widely known as a performance artist, Mike Parr’s career has produced videos, photographs, drawings and installations. In 1970 Parr along with Peter Kennedy organised the first artist run space in Australia, Inhibodress, as a rejection of the commercial gallery system. Much of Parr’s work is an attempt to address identity and self-representation while pushing the boundaries of his own physical limits. Parr is known as one of the most outstanding artists of his generation.

Imants Tillers
Imants Tillers was an architecture student at when he participated with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast in 1969. Inspired by his experience working on the project, Tillers is now regarded as one of Australia’s most important artist’s of his generation. A child of immigrant Latvian parents who met in a displaced person’s camp, many of his large-scale paintings address the complexities of migration and displacement within contemporary concepts of place.

Ken Unsworth
Ken Unsworth’s art is founded in the magic and mystery of hidden forces.His work spans four decades in many different mediums: site-specific land-based art, performance (with his own body used as a component in the presentation), motorised relief works, work with river stones (his Suspended stone circle II in the Art Gallery of NSW is one of Australia’s most popular public works), large bitumen drawings, maquettes, and room-sized installations.

Education KitBack to top

This Education kit explores the practice of three Australian artists – Mike Parr, Imants Tillers and Ken Unsworth – and their groundbreaking exhibition at P.S.1, New York.

LEARNING STAGES: Senior secondary (Stages 5-6) | Tertiary

CONTENTS: Introduction | Artist bio | Project outline | World events 1984 | Theme: regionalism vs internationalism | Art Gallery of NSW Collection connections | Selected references | Issues for discussion