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Salon, 10 Years On

If you'd have told Matt Ward and Paul Johnstone that a little spin-off art exhibition they started in 2013 would still be going strong a decade later, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. But through their utter tenacity and the fight to give Aboriginal artists and their work the recognition they deserve, the SALON des Refusés has only grown in size. And reputation.

By Tierney Seccull

Created to showcase artists who had works submitted to, but not accepted for, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards (NATSIAA) at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the SALON des Refusés has become a highlight on the national arts calendar, attracting audiences and collectors from across the country, even the world.

“We started it to push the conversation about the NATSIAA, and why works get in and why works don’t get in – that was pretty much the concept,” says Ward.

“The idea had been floating around for a while, with the concern that there were all of these great works that were submitted into the NATSIAA but nobody had the ability to see them, because there was no other secondary venue,” Johnstone adds.

“Matt came to see me about it in 2012 with the idea to have a salon of NATSIAA, and I said, ‘I think we should do it’. So, we gave it a crack!”

Based on the concept of the Salon, or the Paris Salon, works not accepted into the art prize still had the chance to be exhibited. Salon des Refusés translates to ‘exhibition of rejects' in French, however all works gracing the walls are very worthy of exhibition.

These days, SALON is a highly anticipated event held to coincide with the NATSIAA, as well as other national Indigenous events including the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and the National Indigenous Music Awards.

“The first year, we were being antagonistic – but that’s kind of the Darwin spirit, in some ways … Because we were sort of sticking our noses up to the museum, people thought it was a bit rebellious and a bit cheeky,” Ward says.

“We managed to get away with it, because by the third year, the museum offered to put our name on the NATSIAA entry form to allow artists to submit to SALON as well as NATSIAA, and they have been very supportive ever since.”

Around four years in, Ward and Johnstone recognised momentum was building, and expanded with the introduction of SALON Art Projects.

“We decided to start holding other exhibitions. Often, it’s an Art Centre we’ve worked with before that we have good relationships with, and that there’s an artist we are both interested in,” Ward says.

“One of the things I remember way back, when we started doing the satellite shows, was that it was a perfect opportunity to showcase emerging artists,” Johnstone adds.

“So we started looking at who hadn’t had the public profiling they deserve ... with all of the directors and collectors and institutions coming here to Darwin, we thought it was a really good opportunity for us to be able to show these new up-and-comings.”

This year offers five total shows under the SALON Art Projects banner, and to mark a decade of the exhibition that started it all, Ward and Johnstone have put their hands in their pockets to give one artist $2000 in prize money for the first People’s Choice Award.

And if 2023 wasn't already exciting enough, SALON Art Projects goes nation-wide, with shows at Tarnanthi at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and also an exhibition to coincide with the National Gallery of Victoria Triennial in December.

Mark all five wonderful exhibitions in the diary – plus the other two if you find yourself down south later in the year – and celebrate a wonderful decade of Aboriginal art and culture at SALON.

Check out all of the Salon Art Projects exhibitions here


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