In 1983, the Melbourne University Art Gallery held an exhibition guest curated by Paul Taylor entitled Tall poppies – ‘an exhibition of five pictures’. The all male group of artists consisted of John Dunkley-Smith, Dale Frank, John Nixon, Mike Parr and Imants Tillers. As Taylor wrote in the catalogue essay, ‘these five artists have all been selected by non-Australian curators to exhibit abroad. This is their similarity, it is my curatorial acquiescence and also our parochialism.’1
The year before, at the age of twenty-four, Taylor had curated Popism for the National Gallery of Victoria. The first guest curator, and the youngest, in the National Gallery’s history, Taylor organised the first large scale contemporary exhibition in that institution since The field in 1968. Popism, by virtue of taking artists of mainly Taylor’s own generation to the museum, was a meteorite in the still pond of the art establishment. Those represented in Popism could easily be found in the alternative spaces of Sydney and Melbourne. The majority were recent art school graduates, highly literate, curious, and making what American academic Douglas Crimp had called, six years before, ‘pictures’.2 Pictures refers to artworks which called attention to the ambiguities within an image regardless of the medium used as a platform. Crimp, and his various essays published in October, was an important influence on Taylor and this was acknowledged in the Popism bibliography. Tall poppies had no bibliography but it did have five pictures, which were mostly not the kind of art objects generally referred to as such at that time.