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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Announcing... Pub Rock

11 August 2020

Jimmy Barnes at The Coogee Bay Hotel 1984
Jimmy Barnes at The Coogee Bay Hotel 1984 Grant Matthews. © Grant Matthews

An exhibition that celebrates the people, places and sounds of Australian pub rock and its enduring impact on the nation’s identity, opens at the National Portrait Gallery on 5 September, 2020.

The pub rock phenomenon spread across Australia throughout the 70s and 80s, resulting in an evolution of music that has had an enduring impact on Australia’s identity and culture. Numerous Australian bands cultivated their style and their followings in urban pubs, making these venues – some now long-gone – integral to the evolution of Australian rock and pop music. For the artists documenting this distinct cultural moment, the line between fan and portraitist was naturally blurred.

Pub Rock celebrates the people, places, scenes and sounds defining 1970s and 1980s Australia. Drawn primarily from the Gallery’s collection and enriched with works by leading Australian music photographers including Tony Mott and Wendy McDougall, Pub Rock will feature staged portraits and publicity shots alongside images captured during unguarded moments and the grungy energy of live performances.

The exhibition includes pioneering 1960s performers such as The Easybeats, Little Pattie and Johnny O’Keefe, moving through to the early nineties via ground-breaking Australian punk; the bluesy, guitar-driven rock of the 1970s; the synthesised pop of the 1980s; and the sunburnt settings of music festivals and protest rallies.

Featuring internationally successful homegrown performers like AC/DC, INXS, Nick Cave, The Bee Gees and Kylie Minogue, the exhibition also explores the strident activism inherent in the music of Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly and Yothu Yindi and the enduring appeal of hard rock anthems penned by the likes of Cold Chisel, The Angels and Rose Tattoo. The strength of women in a traditionally male-dominated scene is a focus, as well as Canberra’s significance as a rock‘n’roll byway, with a selection of images by performance photographer ‘pling (Kevin Prideaux).

The work of specialist music photographers including Stu Spence and Bob King, will also be highlighted in The Mosh Pit: an anarchic, graffiti-strewn installation of shots captured at gigs and venues throughout Australia.

Karen Quinlan AM, Director of the National Portrait Gallery said the exhibition celebrates one of the aspects of Australian culture that many have missed during lockdown. “The very essence of live music is about people coming together, in close confines, to listen and celebrate a common interest. We wanted to capture some of the excitement and energy of the pub rock scene.

“For those who cannot travel outside their areas at present, the majority of portraits in the exhibition will be available online as well as videos and a curated Spotify playlist. In coming weeks we will launch a live streamed event together with a series of virtual tours and talks for visitors to participate in online.” 

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to access a selected playlist and iconic music videos – and then dance and lip-sync to their hearts’ content.

Pub Rock
5 September, 2020 – 14 February 2021 followed by a national tour.
National Portrait Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Entry free, bookings essential.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency