Giselle ANTMANN | Genetic glimpse

Germany 1946
Australia from 1955

Genetic glimpse (1978)
synthetic polymer paint on canvas, sisal, nylon, pine
not signed. not dated
236.0 (h) x 187.5 (w) x 86.0 (d) cm
Purchased 1979
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1979.84


In biology and psychology, ‘genetic memory’ refers to the idea that some of our instincts, behaviors and knowledge have been passed on to us through our genes. Giselle Antmann’s title, Genetic glimpse, is a reference to these theories, and the idea that glimpses of genetic memories could be revealed in dreams―some pleasant, some not so pleasant.

Antmann is interested in the way in which human experiences are sifted and recalled in the mind via dreams. During the 1970s, she was influenced by the ideas of Surrealism, and the atmospheric and emotive resonance of dreams. When Genetic glimpse was first exhibited in 1978, it was part of an installation of nine wall-based works collectively titled Dreamscapes, and a series of free-standing sculptures known as the Guardians of the dreams.[1]

Genetic glimpse is like the atmosphere of a dream made solid. In her experimental approach to making art, Antmann combines the characteristic fine art mediums of synthetic polymer paint on canvas with less-conventional materials of rope and nylon netting. Although presented as a wall piece, this work challenges our expectations of a painted canvas by melding painting and sculpture. Eluding easy categorisation, Antmann gave her works from this period the name ‘hard/soft hybrids’. She states:

I hope that this hybridity gives a tantalising sense of some elements understood and some still hanging beyond the edge of understanding. That gap in human experience is what I love the most. It is an empty space waiting to be filled with possibilities.[2]

Genetic glimpse is a free-form assemblage liberated from the frame. The large, sugary-sweet coloured canvas gives the impression of a shimmering, melting and sticky amorphous mass that emerges from the wall. The layers of canvas and nylon netting refer to skin and the body, or suggest fragments of recalled memories and dreams. The work is sensuous, visceral and foils our attempts at rational definition: like dreams.

Miriam Kelly
Associate Curator
Australian Paintings and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1] Exhibited at the gallery of the art dealer Rex Irwin, in Sydney

[2] Email from Giselle Antmann to the National Gallery of Australia, 8 February 2009. NGA file 78/0372 folio 35. The artist’s other comments about the work stem from this same correspondence