Muzak Mural – Chair Tableau (1980-81) [3/M]

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas & wood, with vinyl tiles: 240 x 330 x 90.2 overall

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Michell Endowment, 1982 [DC18, a-h 1982]

This installation, one of Arkley’s best known early works, went through several variations before reaching its definitive form at Tolarno in July 1981; the artist’s archive slides of the completed work are dated Aug81.

In the earlier ensemble shown at ‘Australian Perspecta’ in Sydney in May 1981, Untitled [installation] (1981) [3/M], three of the chairs were combined with two of Arkley’s ‘doors’ and tiled flooring.

As explained in Spray, acquisition of the present work for the NGV was rejected initially, then accepted after it was shown in the ‘Formed in Wood’ show at Banyule in 1982, curated by Jan Minchin (prior to her joining Tolarno).

In the detailed artist’s statement he wrote to accompany the installation in 1981 (typescript in archive; reprinted in Lindsay, ‘Against the Wall’ 1983, and Duncan 1991), Arkley eloquently identified the complex blend of elements informing the work:

‘It is important to note that my work has direct outside content and is not rigidly self-referring (formalist). The chairs… belong to both art history (de Stijl, Bauhaus etc.) and to aspects of everyday suburban life…’

Commenting for the audio-guide for the 2006 Arkley retrospective at the NGVA, both Chris McAuliffe and Jason Smith reflected on the complexities this work brings to the late modernist non-representational project.


  • Purchased via Tolarno, 1982


  • HA Tolarno 7/81, cat.13: as ‘Musak {sic} Mural and Chairs X, T, W, V’
  • Banyule Gallery, 3/82 (‘Formed in Wood’)
  • Melb. Uni. Gallery, 2/83 (‘Against the Wall’: Michell Endowment)
  • Banyule, 11/83 (‘The New Art’: Michell Endowment)
  • NGV 2/87 (‘Field to Figuration’), cat.2
  • NGVA opening exh., 11/02
  • HA retrospective 2006-7 (all 3 venues)


  • Taylor, Art + Text #1, 1981: 29-30 (inc.ill.of chairs ‘T, V, X’)
  • Lane & Minchin 1982 (‘Formed in Wood’; unpaginated)
  • Lindsay, ‘Against the Wall’ 1983 (; unpaginated), reprinting Arkley’s 1981 statement (quoted above)
  • Lindsay 1986 (‘Field to Figuration’, 59 (ill.)
  • Spray 42-3 (double-page ill.) and 45-6, including quote from former NGV curator Robert Lindsay re the acquisition
  • Duncan 1991: 22, reprinting Arkley’s artist’s statement of 1981 (see above)
  • Smith 2003:143 (ill.)
  • Carnival 64 and Fig.2.9
  • Smith 2006:12 (inc.ill.)
  • NGVA Arkley audio-guide 2006: comments by Ray Edgar, Chris McAuliffe and Jason Smith