Victory over Death 2

Victory over death 2, 1970, synthetic polymer paint on unstretched canvas, 2075 x 5977 mm, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of the New Zealand Government 1978, courtesy McCahon Research and Publication Trust

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Nick Mitzevich in front of Colin McCahon’s Victory over death 2 1970 installed at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, 22 July 2020

Nick Mitzevich

Director, National Gallery of Australia

Colin McCahon’s monumental Victory over death 2 has long been one of my favourite works in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. We value our Trans-Tasman connections greatly and it is heartening and inspiring to read the words of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in her appreciation of McCahon’s contribution to the art of his home country and this region, as well as her personal journey with this remarkable painting. 

Victory over death 2 crosses many boundaries and is often shown in our Gallery in the context of connections between Australian and New Zealand art, as well as in our International displays. For instance, it has recently been exhibited in proximity to Agnes Martin’s paintings – the two artists’ works complementing each other in evocative ways. McCahon’s use of text was part of this ongoing search for meaning in his art and life around concerns of personal identity and questions of faith. In the painting he gave himself the freedom to embrace text – from the almost architectural scale of the capital letters, over two metres high, to intimate cursive script that alternates in assertiveness and a delicacy of touch. 

A number of contemporary artists currently working in Australia have been inspired by McCahon’s work in diverse ways including Imants Tillers, Nell and Brent Harris. For me personally, the specific interest of Victory over death 2 is how its vastness, and by extension its timelessness, allows it to remain an enduringly contemporary work. The work resonates because it grapples with the strange and beautiful and painful phenomenon of existence. It is so deeply human in what it asks and so profound in its longing for something else, something more, some greater connection.

In 2003 the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam borrowed Victory over death 2 from the National Gallery of Australia for their McCahon retrospective and I very much agree with the assessment of Rudi Fuchs, Director at the time, when he hailed McCahon as one of the great artists of the second half of the 20th century. In 1978 Victory over death 2 was a most generous gift from the New Zealand Government to the people of Australia. It remains one of the treasures of our collection and is also a symbol of connection and cultural generosity between Australia and New Zealand that endures. 

CONNECTING CULTURAL LEGACY WITH CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

Index
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Artwork image/svg+xml Group Copy 2 Group Copy 2 Created with Sketch.
Naomi McCleary
Kauri
Séraphine Pick
Northland Panels
Brian Sweeney
View from the top of the cliff
Rudi Fuchs
North Otago Landscape
Rex Butler
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Donna McDonald
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Harold Jones
Muriwai no.6
Ted Spring
On Building Bridges
Areez Katki
The Three Marys at the Tomb
Rosanna Raymond
Jet Out
Rufus Knight
Waterfall
Megan Tamati-Quennell
Black Landscape
Nick Mitzevich
Victory over Death 2
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Victory over Death 2
The Governor-General, The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy
Gate III
Grant Banbury
I Paul
Sir Bob Harvey
Dark Landscape
Young Old Girls (Christchurch Girls’ High)
North Otago Landscape 19
Sophie Bannan
Van Gogh - poems by John Caselberg
Linda Tyler
Urewera Triptych
Emily Karaka
Tangi. Muriwai
Robert Gardiner
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Thomas Crow
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Jude Rae
Victory over death 2
Brent Harris
The Family
Cora-Allan Wickliffe
15 Drawings Dec '51 to May '52
Salome Tanuvasa
Landscape
Yona Lee
Landscape theme and variations (series B)
David Kirk
Kaipara
Priscilla Pitts
Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Ruth Watson
This day a man is
Tessa Laird
Keep New Zealand Green
Nell
East window
Nicola Farquhar
Kauri trees
Hon Grant Robertson
Otago Peninsula
Jane Macknight
Untitled (North Otago Landscape)
Karen Walker
Titirangi
Wystan Curnow
The Green Plain
Philip Clarke
Necessary Protection (IHS)
Mary Kisler
A candle in a dark room
Ayesha Green
I AM
Matthew O'Reilly
Muriwai
Bettina Bradbury and Kararaina Rangihau
A poster for the Urewera no. 2
Al Keating
A Grain of wheat
Cushla Dillon
Entombment (after Titian)
Hamish Coney
Here I give thanks to Mondrian
Stephen Wainwright
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Sue Gardiner
Landscape theme and variations (series A)
Robert Leonard
Numerals
Judy Darragh
Clouds 1
John Coley
AS THERE IS A CONSTANT FLOW OF LIGHT WE ARE BORN INTO THE PURE LAND
Shannon Te Ao
Ka pōraruraru ahau. I am troubled.
Helen Beaglehole
GATE III
Ralph Paine
Jump E9
Judy Millar
Muriwai: Necessary Protection
Fiona Pardington
Waterfall
C.K. Stead
All mortals are like grass
Gretchen Albrecht
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Martin Edmond
Cross (1959)
Lisa Reihana
Urewera mural
Peter Simpson
Jet out to Te Reinga
Christina Barton
Gate III
Dame Jenny Gibbs
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Zoe Black
Ruby Bay
Jim Barr and Mary Barr
Oaia and clouds
Vivienne Stone
Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is
Kate Sylvester
Northland Panels