Mastering merino at NERAM

Art meets fashion at this must-visit museum

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A new exhibition pairs fashion from designers like Dion Lee, Kym Ellery, Rahul Mishra and Christopher Esber with seminal Australian art. Pack your bags; The Art of Wool is worth the road trip.

Garments by International Woolmark Prize finalists featured from left to right: Matohu, Japan; Alpana and Neeraj, India; CO/TE, Italy. Artwork: Albert Irvin, Discoverer, 1972 (gift of Chandler Coventry 1979). Photographer: Michael Taylor

If you’ve ever found yourself travelling on the New England Highway from Sydney to Brisbane, or vice versa, you may have passed the turn-off to Armidale, a pretty town centred in an area of New South Wales famous for its high-quality wool. Marking the halfway point, it’s a natural rest stop for road-weary holidaymakers, but if you failed to veer in you will have missed regional Australia’s best-kept secret, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM).

Home to three important collections of national art, the scenically placed museum is now more than ever a must-visit destination thanks to the newly-launched exhibition The Art of Wool. A collaboration between The Woolmark Company and NERAM, the exhibition explores the relationship between paintings that emphasise the position of wool in Australia’s national identity, and fashion crafted from the storied fibre – in this case, garments chosen from the International Woolmark Prize archives.

Painstakingly collected over the four years since the prize was re-established, the innovative outfits showcase the infinite possibilities of designing with wool. “So many of the prize garments are like artworks in their own right,” says exhibition curator Tanya Zoe Robinson, who worked closely with The Woolmark Company to create a visual conversation between the fashion and art drawn from NERAM’s more than 5000 works of art. 

Garment: Strateas.Carlucci. Artwork: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Untitled, 1996 (gift of Christopher Hodges and Helen Eager, 2003). Photographer: Michael Taylor

The resulting show teams sculptural or painterly fashion by local and international designers with seminal Australian artworks in a three-dimensional experience that can be enjoyed by local woolgrowers and day-trippers alike. Artworks range from historic paintings “literally depicting sales yards and shearing sheds, hand-knitting and prize sheep,” to more recent pieces that speak of “textures or qualities found in fabric” like the painting of Emily Kame Kngwarreye that sits alongside an outfit by Melbourne label Strateas.Carlucci.  

Robinson (who grew up amusing herself on her family’s sheep farms) says the exhibitions helps present “a new relationship between art and fashion that adds to an understanding of the place of wool in the artistic imagination.” With Australian Wool Week celebrations scheduled for May 18 to May 24, the Art of Wool is a timely project created in support of the global Campaign for Wool.

From farm to fashion via canvas and catwalk: this is an exhibition well worth the detour.

Art of Wool runs through to August 2, 2015 and opens Tuesday to Sunday.

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