February 27, 2011

Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria International

One is starved of European art in New Zealand and you have to travel a long way to get a fill, but luckily Melbourne has a quite marvellous but not overwhelming collection of Western (and Asiatic and Pacific) art. It took 2 days to visit most of the National Gallery of Victoria International and Australian venues.
The permanent collections, mainly purchased as the result of a 1904 bequest by a local benefactor, Mr Albert Felton, are quite a nice introduction to all periods, countries and schools and art forms in the Western canon, with an especially lovely Flemish and Dutch painting collection (including Rembrandt). Not only paintings and sculpture but also beautiful glass work and modernist furniture (such as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Gerrit Rietveld).
The temporary exhibitions included a small selection of drawings and paintings by Gustave Moreau, which was interesting if you are into highly decorative, symbolic and scantily-clad feminine figures from history and myth. My favourite was "Hercules and Omphale" (pictured left) because it's so wonderfully rude with him, while obviously sexually aroused, being forced by her to stare at her barely veiled private parts. The painting was not available in poster form in the Gallery shop, unfortunately.

A very different kettle of fish was on offer next door with a travelling exhibition from the Queensland Art Gallery on New Zealand art called "Unnerved". It's a ramshackle collection of mainly non-pakeha art by artists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, purportedly telling a nervous story about being in New Zealand, from black and white short films about growing up poor in a Pacific household to larger than life full colour photographs of Maori mythical figures. It's supposed to "unsettle" us but I was mainly offended instead of amused, especially by a series of photograph/collages showing state houses and their tenants (their heads replaced by photos of anonymous mental health patients cut out of a medical text book). If their portraits had been non-white there would have been an outcry.
There were two pieces that were brilliant: the seal balancing a piano on its nose, and a short film of two "brothers" sharing a piece of chewing gum.
Even the Gallery coffee shop staff (mostly New Zealanders) thought the exhibition was terrible.

1 comment:

Elly said...

to me that pic looks like the woman is pushing the man's head down so he will eat her out. But that's just me.

(sorry art world don't mean to lower the tone)