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Enchantment, thresholds and transformations at QAGOMA

Across a magical threshold and beyond the everyday, Fairy Tales is an unexpected and immersive exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art this summer.

Enchantment, thresholds and transformations at QAGOMA

Henrique Oliveira, Baitogogo 2013, photograph by André Morin.

Re-telling the enduring folk stories of childhood through the lens of contemporary artists, designers and filmmakers, the exhibition will feature more than 100 works encompassing sculpture, installation, painting, photography, printmaking, papercuts, animation, video art, film, props, costumes and the realm of augmented reality.

“Celebrating a much-loved genre of storytelling, ‘Fairy Tales’ is an adventure that will inspire and delight as it reminds us how timeworn narratives can be remixed and updated to both surprise and disconcert audiences,” says Chris Saines, QAGOMA Director.

Promotional image from Mirror Mirror 2012 (detail) showing ‘Yellow dress with hood’ costume, director Tarsem Singh © 2012 UV RML NL Assets LLC, photograph Jan Thijs.

Amanda Slack-Smith, exhibition curator and Curatorial Manager of QAGOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque, has set out to explore the classic archetypes of powerful witches, magical beasts and spirited princesses, and look at how artists have unravelled the iconic visual motifs of the genre, from deep dark woods to impossible shoes and regal gowns.

“The exhibition explores enchantment, thresholds and transformation while articulating concerns that have always been inherent in fairy tales, such as power imbalances, injustice, ageing, gender and otherness, and resilience in the face of adversity” says Slack-Smith said.

The exhibition’s first chapter, ‘Into the Woods’, dramatically explores metamorphosis, unpredictability and danger.  The major new commission by Brazilian sculptor Henrique Oliviera, Corupira 2023, envelops the visitor in a twisted forest of found tree branches, plywood and strips of salvaged timber.

Timothy Horn, Glass slipper (ugly blister) 2001.

Other ‘Into the Woods’ investigations include Gustave Doré’s Little Red Riding Hood c.1862; Kiki Smith’s wolfish self-portrait Born 2022; Anish Kapoor’s dual concave mirror Red and Black Mist Magenta 2018; Jana Sterbak’s glass coffin Inside 1990; Trulee Hall’s Witch House (Umbilical Coven) 2023; a gown from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête 1946; reproductions of the Sky, Sun and Moon dresses worn by Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy’s film Peau d’Âne 1970; and Abdul Abdullah’s haunting photographic series Coming to Terms 2015.

Through the Looking Glass (the second chapter), draws on childhood imagination, with puppets, toys, clocks, twirling mushrooms and flying houses. Immersive, otherworldly gardens are here populated with unusual creatures and enhanced by augmented reality.

Related: Book review, ‘Earth & Fire’

Timothy Horn, Mother-load 2008, photograph by Jason Schmidt. 

Highlights include images for Maurice Sendak’s iconic 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are; with costumes by the Jim Henson Creature Shop for the 2009 film adaptation; the thirteen-hour clock, glass orbs and a costume worn by David Bowie in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth 1986; Carsten Höller’s interactive sculpture Flying Mushrooms 2015; and Enchanted Field 2023, a major installation by Australian artist Patricia Piccinini that delivers a magical pathway beneath a canopy of 3000 genetically modified blooms.

Celebrating the many ways love and relationships are depicted in fairy tales, the final chapter of the exhibition, ‘Ever After’, brings the tropes of marriage in ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’ into focus. The costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka for the 2012 film Mirror Mirror and Timothy Horn’s Mother-load 2008; will be presented with a richly embellished stagecoach made of crystalised rock sugar. This chapter also includes Ron Mueck’s sculpture Pinocchio 1996; Henri Matisse’s stunning ballet costume Costume for a mourner c.1920; and Del Kathryn Barton and Brendan Fletcher’s fantastical animation The Nightingale and the Rose 2015.

Abdul Abdullah, Reconciliation (of self) (from ‘Coming to Terms’ series) 2015, photograph courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery.

The exhibition is accompanied by ‘Fairy Tales: Truth, Power and Enchantment’, a film program at the GOMA Cinema, and a major publication with contributions from exhibition curator Amanda Slack-Smith; Emeritus Professor Jack Zipes, former Director of the Centre for German and European Studies, University of Minnesota; Professor Pauline Greenhill, Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Winnipeg; an excerpt from Dame Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck College, University of London; and Dr Sophie Hopmeier, Assistant Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA, plus an original short story by Holly Ringland, novelist and author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart and The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding.

Fairy Tales runs at QAGOMA from 2nd December 2023 to 28th April 2024.



Henrique Oliveira, Baitogogo 2013, photograph by André Morin.
Del Kathryn Barton (artist, director) and Brendan Fletcher (director) Australia, The Nightingale and the Rose (still) 2015, photograph courtesy the artist and RoslynOxley9 Gallery.
Gustave Doré, Little Red Riding Hood c.1862.
Tarsem Singh (director) and Eiko Ishioka (designer), ‘Green dress’ costume from Mirror Mirror, 2012, photograph by Jan Thijs. 
Rachel Feinstein, Puritan’s Delight 2008, photograph by Rachel Feinstein, courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. 
Fuyuhiko Takata, Dream Catcher (still), 2018, photograph courtesy The artist and WAITINGROOM, Tokyo. 
Production still from The Company of Wolves 1984, Director: Neil Jordan, photograph by Chris Brown/Stephen Wooley, courtesy Park Circus/ITV Studios.

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