Icon Interior (1994-2001) [3/M] [Howard Arkley & Juan Davila]

Synthetic polymer paint, oil and enamel on canvas and MDF, comprising canvas, 160 x 119.5; two cut-out tables with lamps, each 139 x 73; chair, 86.5 x 38 x 39.5, with base, 60 x 60; ‘rug’, 15 x 160 x 54; and two double-sided screens, each 242 x 122
Private collection, Melbourne

The complex history and meaning of this challenging work – centring on Arkley’s 1994 canvas Icon Head (1994), substantially modified by Davila – are addressed in the extended catalogue essay published to accompany the completion of the installation (Gregory 2001). According to this analysis, the work, initiated in 1994, extends the collaborative ambitions of Blue Chip Instant Decorator: a Room (1991-2) [3/M], once again focussing on the clash of cultural systems, and also raising the thorny issue of iconoclasm.

Whether Arkley himself would have participated in this project as enthusiastically as Davila (or even in the same terms), is an intriguing but essentially academic question, given the fact that the installation was completed after Arkley’s death – a scenario that troubled some commentators, notably Stephen Zagala (O’Connell), at the time of the Canberra exhibition of the installation in 2002 (see Carnival 156; see also Gates 2002). However, as suggested in Carnival 153-6, in further comments on the work and its reception, the installation evolved in Davila’s elaboration into a ‘powerful last trace’ of the two artists’ substantial collaborative history. The canvas, screens and other components contain references to various alternative traditions (notably South and Central American decoration), intended by Davila to challenge the supposed authority of the Western imagery and decoration informing Arkley’s contributions. For further analysis of the work in the context of Davila’s oeuvre, see Roger Benjamin’s remarks in Brett & Benjamin 2006, pp.54-56.

Recently, in a sustained theoretical analysis, Georgia Jones has made a strong case for this work as the ‘pinnacle’ of Arkley and Davila’s collaborative oeuvre, arguing that it encapsulates their development of a ‘composite identity’ that ‘…reveals how, in combined art practice, individual subjectivity does not need to be obliterated in order to collaborate effectively’ (Jones 2012, pp.23-25 and 35). She also points out that, alongside references to iconoclasm, the installation also involves a strong critique of the historical idea of the artist as ‘autonomous artistic genius’ (p.25).

The installation was included in the 2006 Davila survey exhibition staged by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and shown subsequently in Melbourne, at the same time as the Arkley retrospective at the NGVA.

Photographs in both the Arkley archive and Davila’s files document the work in detail; see also installation photos taken at the first public exhibition of the work in Canberra in 2002 (photo shown here also reproduced in Carnival Fig.5.14).


  • The artists and the Arkley Estate


  • Australian National University (Canberra), Drill Hall Gallery, Feb.-March 2002 (‘Howard Arkley & Juan Davila: Icon Interior’)
  • Juan Davila survey exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 9 Sept.-12 Nov.2006, and NGV (International), Melb., 30 Nov.2006-4 Feb.2007


  • Gregory 2001 (with ills.)
  • Nelson 2001
  • Gates 2002
  • Carnival 153-6 and Figs.5.13-5.15
  • Brett & Benjamin 2006: 54-56 and fig.47
  • Jones 2012: 23-26 and 35 (as discussed and quoted above)