Denmark celebrates Utzon's Sydney Opera House as muse

Brett Whiteley and Ken Done in a new exhibition of Australian works inspired by Utzon's masterpiece.

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Brett Whiteley Opera House Oil, canvas, cardboard, collage, shell and ink on board, 203 x 244 cm
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Peter Kingston, Big Black Opera House, 2008 Oil on canvas, 183 x 233 cm
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Ken Done, White Opera House Yellow Sky

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The Sydney Opera House is not only an emblem of world-class and architecture – its elegant, mercurial form has also inspired many of Australia's most celebrated artists.

The World Heritage-listed landmark has served as muse to painters including Brett Whiteley and Ken Done, who are among seven Australian artists to be featured in a forthcoming exhibition in architect Jørn Utzon's hometown of Aalborg, Denmark.

The Utzon Centre, the last building designed by its namesake before his death in 2008, draws together these Australian artworks for the first time in a major showing curated by the designer's daughter Lin Utzon, who says "It will be a revelation for the Danes to see the huge impact the Opera House has had on the artistic community of Australia." The exhibition is a family affair spanning three generations – the elaborately detailed charcoal drawings by the architect's grandson Mika Utzon Popov will be among the works on display.

Ken Done says the iconic building has been a crucial part of his oeuvre. "I painted the Opera House all kinds of different ways: straight, coloured, upside-down, inside-out... It is an absolute constant source of inspiration."

Painter Peter Kingston lives in North Sydney and enjoys a spectacular view of the famous white sails from across the water. "We ended up getting a lot more than an Opera House – we got the most beautiful sculpture on the harbour," he told the ABC. "Because it's a magnificent work of art in itself it's very hard to capture as a work of art." 

But when Princess Mary opens the exhibition in September, celebrating Danish-Australian connections, there will be an elephant in the room: in 1966, mid-construction, Jørn Utzon famously left Australia vowing never to return after a falling out over the cost of the project with the then Minister for Public Works, David Hughes. The structure was not completed until 1973, without the architect's vision fully realised.

Still, curator Lin Utzon insists that her father "felt a great connection with artists and with the Australian artists, so it would delight him to see that now they're exhibiting their thoughts on his building in Australia in the building that was made in Denmark. It would delight him."


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