Under the

      Big Top


10 January - 29 May 2007


Under the Big Top features a fascinating selection of objects that reflect on the broad themes of the circus and popular entertainment.


Circus-like events have been enjoyed since the Roman period when chariot-racing, duels and wild animals regularly entertained Rome’s citizens. The circuses we see today, however, owe their origin to Philip Astley, who established the first circus in London in 1770. Such was Astley’s success that his acts, in which human and animal displays were combined, were widely copied and the modern circus was born.

Bring on the big cats
Lorraine JENYNS, Australia, born 1945, Bring on the big cats, 1977, Daylesford, Victoria, earthenware, 62.0 cm, 35.0 cm (diam), South Australian Government Grant 1978, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.


Under the Big Top looks at artists who have been inspired directly and indirectly by the distinctive performances and transgressive personalities that make up the rich flavour of circus life. A highlight of the display is the Gallery’s marvelous Circus dinner set designed by British artist Laura Knight for Bizarre, by Clarice Cliff, in 1934. Knight, better known as a painter of circus subjects, combines the bright colours so characteristic of Cliff’s own work to create a remarkable dinner setting. Decorated with clowns, acrobats and performing animals, this fifty-eight-piece setting even includes a lamp. The circus performers climb up the circus tent pole lamp stand; the silk shade surrounding the lamp resembles a circus tent.


Other objects include Brigitte the bearded lady, 1977, one of several humorous and colourful studio ceramics by Lorraine Jenyns. A perennial favourite, Burt Flugelman’s Tattooed lady, 1974, has found a new home in the circus. Flugelman used the rich tradition of the inked skin as the site from which to titillate and shock the viewing audience - this lady was being ‘tattooed’ with Japanese couples engaged in sexual activity! Funky and erotic shoes make an appearance, and those with a penchant for footstools might enjoy the Elephant footstool by American Funk Art Movement artist David Gilhooly. So why not have a little fun this summer and experience our very own Under the Big Top.

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