Some Words on Some Galleries

I caught the travel bug many years ago, and wherever I go I always make time for a gallery or two. It would be an unending job to write down thoughts on everything I’ve seen, but here’s a few recent and old, that have stuck with me. I’ll try to be quick.

MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York

I finally made it to New York recently. It’s been on my list to visit once I found out Starry Night by Van Gogh was at MoMA. This was one of my favourite pieces growing up – and I think I can blame it for my obsessions with swirls and the colour blue. I’ve been to a number of Van Gogh exhibitions, including the largest collection in Amsterdam – but I’ve never seen Starry Night. I was excited and a little apprehensive the day before, when we arrived at the gallery we went straight up to the top floor, wanting to see it before anything else. There it was, in front of me, and I felt a little, well, underwhelmed.

vango

I contribute this to two factors. One, there was glass covering the canvas, no doubt protecting the work but it made it harder to see the brush strokes. It felt more like seeing a reproduction that you can find anywhere and everywhere. And, while I still like the work, my tastes have changed slightly. But no matter what, this piece will still hold a place in my heart, and I’m happy to have seen it.

 

 

Mona – Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania

It’s a theme park of art. Neverending levels of the unusual and the unexpected, leaving you exhausted at the end. I particularly remember Gregory Barsamian’s “Artifact”. A large bronze head lies on the floor, perhaps in sleep. You can look into one of the small windows and inside it’s a whirl of imagination. Using fast movement and strobe lights, it creates an animation effect (zoetrope). Suddenly you’re looking into a twisting dream. Check out this review.

Another worthy Zoetrope is at ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. 

Tate Modern, London

I went to Tate Modern years ago, and it was the first time I had seen a Wassily Kandinsky. The Cossacks 1910–1 quickly became one of my favourite paintings. The seemingly random lines and colours come to together to tell a story with deep meaning, all while remaining aesthetically pleasing – something I’ve realised is a lot harder than it looks.

Cossacks 1910-1 by Wassily Kandinsky 1866-1944
Wassily Kandinsky, Cossacks 1910–1. Image released under Creative Commons.

Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Oh Paris, how I love you. So much art to see. But the one I have to mention here is the Musée de l’Orangerie, mainly because of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Not just the paintings – but the room.

According to Claude Monet’s own suggestion, the eight compositions were set out in the two consecutive oval rooms. These rooms have the advantage of natural light from the roof, and are oriented from west to east, following the course of the sun and one of the main routes through Paris along the Seine. The two ovals evoke the symbol of infinity, whereas the paintings represent the cycle of light throughout the day.” 

There was something about being in the space Monet had created, surrounded by the Water Lilies that was extremely powerful. He truly achieved calming peace, bringing the healing aspect of nature indoors.

The painter wanted visitors to be able to immerse themselves completely in the painting and to forget about the outside world. The end of the First World War in 1918 reinforced his desire to offer beauty to wounded souls.

Galleria Borghese, Rome

Apollo_&_Daphne_September_2a
Apollo and Daphne by Bernini( CC wiki)

Another space that added just as much to the art as the works themselves. Three of us entered, and all three of us paused, mouths opened, as we withheld the majesty of Galleria Borghese. The building itself is a work of art. We were lucky enough to be there at the same time as an exhibition of Caravaggio and Francis Bacon, their works standing side-by-side and at times fighting side-by-side.

I found myself drawn into Caravaggio’s work, more so than Bacon’s, perhaps because they worked more cohesively within the space. Then again I always find Caravaggio’s work entrapping.

Another work that makes the Borghese always a worthy visit is the Apollo and Daphne sculpture by Bernini – a master of composition and detail.

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

mexico2
Outside of Museo Soumaya

Although not the best Gallery I’ve been to, it was impressive for a private collection – made even more notable because it’s free to all. There was a level that I found impressive and tragic. Almost a whole floor is of ivory art. Whole tusks, carved with precision into detailed tableaus. Stunning work that’s using one of the most despicable materials.  

NGV – National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Since I lived in Melbourne I’ve seen a lot of great things here, but there was only one exhibition that brought tears to my eyes – Hokusai. You know I’ve got to love The Great Wave off Kanagawa – there are swirls and it’s blue. The surprise was the quantity and quality of his works. Another prolific artist that made no money during his life. The tears came when I saw two prints of  The Great Wave off Kanagawa side by side. Seeing the works together brought a sense of the past, of Hokusai working to create, and the journeys of the works – both surviving time to be together once more.

 

Advertisements

Sleep no more

Sleep No More, McKittrick Hotel, NY

It’s like no other experience I’ve witnessed before.

Quickly, I’ve lost track of those I came with, wandering the rooms in a perpetual state of awe. There are stairs leading up and down, already I’ve lost track of what floor I’m on. Is there five levels, I’m really not sure now?

I enter a dark room. A flash of light, his clothes are torn from him.

There’s a love affair in a western street, they dance, torn by their love. There’s a hurt nurse in a maze of a forest, the long line of her neck reflects the lonely street lamp, the tree branches cast crisscross shadows over her struggling figure. A lone dancer twirls in an empty ballroom, so talented, so much emotion I can’t look away. A man rocks an empty crib, a torn teddy bear recently stitched held tightly against his chest. It’s impossible to see it all. Four hours, I’ve floated through the building, running up and down stairs chasing characters, standing in astonishment in the spectacle in front of me, or sitting by myself in a small dressing room, looking at my masked face in a mirror.

Another flash of light, the dancers twirl and twist. There’s blood on him now. A baby is placed on a alter. A sacrifice? A spell?

The audience all wear masks. White with deep dark eyes. Our faces seem to float around the actors like silent spirits watching, trying to make sense of this strange world we have found ourselves in. Or perhaps, they are the ghosts, doomed to play out the night’s tragic events, repeating their actions over and over. The ballroom is where it begins. They all dance, twirling around. It will come back here during the right, rewinding and restarting. A moment to follow another character, to see what was missed on another floor.

The strobe lights flicker faster, a deep pulsing beat vibrates through the room. He appears again. A goat’s head, naked, still covered in blood.

From the moment you step inside, you are immersed in a heightened world, where dance and violence embrace sensuously. There was a story – did I follow it? Not at all.  We were able to put together pieces at the end, combining the different scenes we had seen. Did the story matter? Not at all. The talent, the spectacle, the atmosphere was enough to engage me entirely.

No photos can be taken inside, instead here’s an illustration.

sleepnomore_small

Alien Perspective

Do you believe in aliens? I found it more frightening to consider a universe that has no other life in all it’s expanse than one that does, somewhere out there. In the same breath, I found it difficult to believe we have encountered aliens on earth. The question Physicist Enrico Fermi asked comes to mind, “Where are they?”. In the past, I’ve never really given this much thought. That changed when I went to ACCA, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
There had been other talks, and more was to come, but today happened to be about Alien Invasions. Something I didn’t particularly seek out but since I happened to be free that afternoon I went along. It was a subject I didn’t know a lot about. One that comes with much criticism and scepticism. Especially with the media representations of UFO followers out there. But very quickly, I was engaged in the subject. The local Melbourne sightings I had never heard of, like the Westall UFO sighting in 1966, where 200 school students witnessed an unidentified flying object. The speakers from the Victorian UFO Action Group, the sensibility so conflicting with stereotypical representations, the belief that has changed their lives and the strength it takes to follow it. Thoughts like “Trying to think of an alien species is like trying to think of a new colour” stayed with me. Something so different it cannot be comprehended. Would we even recognise it?
And in the end, I was overwhelmed by how hearing new voices in natural spaces had succeeded in engaging the audience in a different perspective. And that’s exactly what Field Theory, the creators of this exhibition, ‘Bunker’, aims to do. Field Theory is about immersion into a place and community, in mixing interesting subgroups, breaking barriers, engaging in different perspectives.

I’ve been studying regional arts and getting more and more intrigued by how arts in a community can foster new ideas. What’s the best way to achieve this is an unending question, but I’m glad to feel some of its effects at ACCA.

The other artist within this exhibition ‘Greater together’ all deserve consideration, but here I will just quickly go into a couple others.
There was a tree inside, it’s branches reached up and seemed to disappear into the ceiling. A closer look and I can see the places where it was cut, where it was bolted back together. A Frankenstein tree. Killed and then resurrected into this space. It feels the room with life, even after death.
Another room, and it’s filled with red dirt. A red dirt that reminds me of Australian country towns, but seems brighter, cleaner. Voices rising from under white plights that cut over the dirt. The stories being told seem to emulate from under the dirt, I couldn’t help think they were graves – memories of the dead rising. Or as the artist duo, Bik Van Der Pol say of their exhibition “seeing the land as memory”.
The whole exhibition was amazingly curated by Annika Kristensen.

Through the dark

My niece is showing me her room, she lifts up a little bear and with a press, he lights up. “He chases away the monsters,” she tells me. From a young age we fear the monsters in the dark, and although I’m no longer afraid of the monsters, I have been afraid of a permanent darkness, of losing my vision. I’m not alone, in a Vision 2020 Australian national study it was found that nearly two-thirds of Australians fear going blind over losing a limb or having a heart attack. 

It’s an unlikely fear with 75 per cent of vision loss or blindness being preventable or treatable. And yet at times, I think how I would live without sight. I was able to experience it for an hour at Dialogue in the Dark. With the help of a blind or partially sighted guide, I am going to explore a completely dark space created to mimic Melbourne.

I’m given a cane and we enter. The light dissipates more quickly than I expected, a few turns and we’re in utter darkness. All I know is the cold, smooth rail under my hand, and then it ends. I am nowhere. Adrift in the dark. But no, there is a click of a cane behind me. I am not the only one here to experience a Dialogue in the Dark. The kind voice of our guide helps us through. We’re in her world now. She lost the majority of her sight when she was three, a tumour that can’t be removed. Her world is one of touch and sound. Even before we enter we’re told that our voice will be important. For someone who often has problems finding their voice this resonated with me. Our voices were essential in making our presence known and in helping each other navigate the darkness.

It was all we knew of our guide – her confident, patient and kind voice – just a presence in the dark – but that doesn’t mean we knew her any less. She said that she’s not interested in what people look like, and why would she be when she has their voice, their presence.

We’re taken through a market and with touch and smell we decipher what’s in front of us. An onion, it’s skin flaking off. A pineapple, rough under my fingers.  An apple. The image of a red apple pops into mind as I feel it’s smooth round surface. What comes first into the mind of those you have never seen an apple? Is it the shape, the feeling of the texture, the smell, the crunch as you bite through the skin?

We’re in a forest, the texture beneath our feet changes, a breeze on our faces, the sounds of birds in the distance. A leaf brushes against my face and it’s the most frightful experience of the day. I realise how intrusive a touch could be, to someone who can not see it coming. Someone is having trouble finding an object and our guide asks, ‘Can I touch your hand?’. He answers, ‘Yes, of course.’ His tone suggests it’s an unnecessary question. But it seems a very important question to me. If you can not see the touch coming, the sudden fingers on yours, it would be an invasion.

With the help of our guide, we navigate through the constructed recreation of Melbourne, past the MCG, through the Queen Vic markets, a laneway, onto a tram and finishing up in a living room. Much more confident now I found my way around the space with more ease. Now I’m intrigued to see the space in the light. How different would it be? The only impression I have is what I managed to touch. Perhaps it would be different for someone with more experience navigating in the dark. Our guide says that although she’s never been taught to use echoes to ‘see’ a space, she’s still able to tell where walls and large objects are, it seems to me like an almost subconscious rendering of echoing sounds. It’s a difference world to the one I’m used to, but that doesn’t make it a lesser one. Our guide’s independence and strength is proof of that.

Society’s Cycles

Alternating Current ArtSpace
Alchemy – Janice GOBEY
‘Vicious Cycle’

Janice Gobey’s long obsession with fur continues in her latest exhibition Alchemy at the Alternating Current ArtSpace. Her art doesn’t need words. She works on connecting to people on a non-verbal level. She’d like people to feel the work more than view it in a logical, rational way. So pause for a moment, and take a look at the piece Vicious Cycle. Feel it.

viciouscycle
Janice GOBEY
‘Vicious Cycle’

Art is powerful in its non-verbal communication, allowing the viewer to think and bring their own discourse. But in sharing our views we may be able to clarify our thoughts, looking further, thinking deeper and seeing more. An attempt to breach the obscurity of a single image.

I see hands reaching, stretching out to touch pieces of animal skin and fur. It’s no longer recognisable what animal these were, nor what piece of body they once covered. They’ve been manipulated by man into nothing more than shapes and textures. This bit, soft and white. Another pink, the skin on the inside showing – more obviously something that was once living. They’ve been twisted, pulled and trapped into a circle. Those hands reaching, coming from off the canvas, were perhaps the makers – twisting that long strip of cured skin. Not any one person but the symbol of humankind twisting nature to their will. No longer do we fit into the circle of life, but rather we have created a cycle of death. As the title suggests it’s a ‘Vicious Cycle’.

The pastel palette softens the potentially gruesome subject, giving it a feminine beauty. An image comes to mind, from Charlotte Wood’s book ‘The Natural Way of Things’:

9781760111236“By the end she wore a ragged skirt of rabbit bodies and clinking steel traps. Fur, steel, fur, steel. The flesh soon glued to the belt with blood, the heads and ears swung like heavy feathers as she moved.” In this book, the character Yolanda hunts for survival – a fight for life, a fight against mistreatment at the hands of men and the society that created it. Another vicious cycle.

With undergraduate studies in Psychology and Society, Gobey brings this understanding of people and, the world we live in, to her practice. She has explored women’s issues, particularly violence against women, as well as trauma and healing, and now her concern for global politics is explored in Alchemy. She grew up in Apartheid South Africa and is concerned with the resurgence of nationalism. Wishing for an alternative dialogue of peace, healing and tolerance. It seems there are a lot of vicious cycles where humans are concerned.

Perhaps by titling her exhibition Alchemy, she is sharing the desire for the ‘base material’ of human nature to be transformed into something more ‘noble’ – like lead turning into gold. It’s an impossible goal, but the study of Alchemy has led to discoveries in science. Perhaps in the study of the human condition there can be discoveries in peace and tolerance. A more hopeful thought, that doesn’t quite chase away the darker feelings I’m left with after viewing Vicious Cycle.

A beach, somewhere

A short story inspired by viewing ‘Loose and Limbic’ by Claire Lefebvre.

Lefebvre_Claire_Loose_and_Limbic_100x122_2016

The four of us walked in silence, making a staggered line down the path. Tall, mismatched fences on either side led us forward. There was a child’s laughter echoing from the left and a raised voice in the distance, a language we didn’t understand, but still we seemed alone on that path. We emerged and, before us, the pebbles stretched out to become the shore and then the ocean. A slight chill breeze and a smell of salt washed over us, all was a pale, ripply stillness. We made our way to the water’s edge, passing over gentle rises and dips, like the swelling of small waves frozen in time. There were signs of past visitors – a fisherman’s net poking up through the pebbles, crusty with salt and loose edges fraying; a weathered child’s bicycle, it’s once bright plastic worn pale and brittle; a discarded hat with an obscure logo and indecipherable Greek letters. But still, we were the only people. There was a dog. He was slim but not starving, with short caramel tan fur. He happily hung his tongue out the side of this mouth and approached us with a wagging tail. We petted him and he followed us down the beach.  

I placed my hand on the wet pebbles, they were smaller at the shore, ground down to pieces of unrecognisable material, little specks of colour here and there. The water was cold and clear. As it washed over me it seemed to make my hand more real. I picked up a little rock, pale pink, marbled with white. While I turned it over, running my thumb over its smooth surface, I sensed movement behind me and without looking jumped up and away, just missing an attempted splash. A half smile invited retaliation. I put the rock in my pocket and a war of sorts ensued.

The sun started to set and an unspoken peace ended the battle, slightly breathless, we all looked out to the horizon: each silent, each thinking, each absorbing. Colours slowly morphed the once empty, pale blue horizon. The ripples of movement on the water caught the light and threw it back to the sky. Then one of us launched a pebble into the ocean. It plopped in with a splash and rippled outwards, for a second disturbing the stillness, bringing us out of our own heads. And then it’s a race to find bigger, better pebble. I threw a small one to see how far it could go. Someone found a round flat one and managed three skims along the water before it went under.

I looked up to see Molly sitting on a slight rise, the dog at her side, she still looked out over the water. Her pale pink hair was almost the same colour of the setting sky, her grey oversized jumper matched in with the pebbles, she was still, apart of the landscape. I spotted a nice, big rock and I threw it as far into the water as I could. It didn’t go far but it was satisfyingly loud. The splash reached up, the ripples swelled out and then it was gone. It was never there. Just like when we left that place on the beach, there were no ripples of our being there, not a photograph taken, not even a forgotten hat. Maybe that’s why I pocketed the pink pebble.

We laughed at the deep thudding splash. Was it nervous laughter erupting from disturbing the otherwise peaceful landscape or joy from making a change, showing we exist, we are here?

I sat next to Molly and the boys continued to try to find bigger rocks. I think Molly and I may have spoken a little, but we were both lost in thought, lost in the horizon. The light lost colour slowly, it faded to a pale wash of pink and orange, then into deep blues and darkened. Although I didn’t see him leave, the dog was gone. With the last of the light we made our way slowly through the path again and back to the car. Now that place is just memories, and a little pink rock I lost long ago.

Unseen Spaces in Highlight

A little while ago I went to the exhibition and talk by Shaun Tan at Tinning Street Presents, “Every Place is the Same”. And as I read Murakami now, those images are coming back to me. They both share an interest in the relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Tan’s landscapes, often those urban spaces you see every day, become a place of whimsy and beauty – showing their potential to be extraordinary.

Murakami’s work is no less whimsical or beautiful, but almost a direct opposite. As he shows us the ordinary in the extraordinary. The easy acceptance of the impossible, makes it seem almost every day.

Can we constantly be in these two states? Schrödinger’s thought experiment was to disprove using the Quantum mechanical superposition state on everyday objects, but perhaps we can – in a more metaphysical sense. We are both ordinary and extraordinary, until observing the system forces the system to collapse and forces the object into just one of those possible states.

Or perhaps there is just two type of people as Murakami writes in “A Wild Sheep Chase”“Now people can generally be classified into two groups: the mediocre realist and the mediocre dreamers.” (page 180)

But then what would I know, “It’s an illusion that we know anything at all.” (page 125)

I love to read a Murakami novel in those in-between places, clinical by nature, like airports and hotel bars – where time is meaningless. Those sort of places I can see Tan painting into something extraordinary.

Even better if I have something warm to sip when I read lines like “In which there is nothing” (page 85). There’s truth in a lot of what he says, especially, “The second whisky is always my favourite.” (page 100).

I may be buying a bottle of Nikka Whisky From the Barrel when I finish this book.

Threads to Bare

I just wanted to share the art joy that is the Jealous Curator blog and podcast.

The art is stunning and the gracious and modest voice of the curator inspiring, with a genuine interest in the people behind the art.

The feature art of this post is inspired by ‘Art for your Ear’ episode no.58 ‘comfortable in my skin’, with Erin M. Riley – I’m calling the image ‘Threads to Bare’. It’s ink on paper and acrylic on canvas, in a digital creation. 

Listen and enjoy.

 

Walking in Both Directions

I had seen Emily Ferretti’s work at the Sophie Gannon Gallery, so when I heard she was launching an art book, ‘Walking in Both Direction‘ I had to go along.

The sun was blasting down on my walk to the Gertrude Glasshouse, and I was red faced and sweaty when I arrived, but inside was cool and fresh.  Slightly nervous, and probably even redder than before, I brought a book and asked for a signature, silently appreciating our taste in hats. 

Ahh the smell of a new book. It’s beautifully produced. A lovely way to enjoy work such as these.

parks_full-wall-2smaller
Emily Ferretti: PARKS-SOPHIE GANNON GALLERY- JUNE 2015

Poetry in Paint

It’s hard not to compare John Olsen’s paintings to poetry. His lines lyrically travel over the canvas, the varied colours bringing either subtle beauty or dramatic power. In The You Beaut Country at the NGV, you can see Olsen’s work and T.S Eliot’s words come together with a natural affinity.

Not only had I come to see Olsen’s works, but also to hear Ben Quilty’s talk. A great artist in his own right whose painting of Margaret Olley is one of my favourite Archibald winners.

Ben Quilty started the talk by mentioning the negative review by Robert Nelson. Quilty asks why anyone would write a bad review about art in Australia. As he says, ‘Why would anyone want to stop people going to a gallery?’

It’s true that art needs all the support it can get but we also need truthful critics.

During the Q&A, one person mentions that we should all write a review. This seems a lot closer to a solution. We are all so different, why give only certain people the power over the critique. Let’s share our thoughts. Let’s have a conversation.

I would like to share one sentence from the aforementioned review, John Olsen retrospective: mildly entertaining at best by Robert Nelson.

“His tumultuous panoramas spread out in convulsive swings and encounters, making us think of streets, places and ratbags, the nooks and monstrosities that surge and eddy with random impulse; but at the same time, this hubbub of a life teeming in its crannies is also pure painting, nothing but marks of painterly spontaneity that read as an abstract gestural language on a flat surface.”

A lovely description that loses me at the end. I don’t see anything wrong with art that is gestural mark making. Art is a way we can work through thoughts bigger than words, how we can communicate emotion, how we can try to make sense of the world or ourselves. Quilty tells us that a couple of weeks ago Olsen’s wife, Katherine, passed away. In this terrible time, Olsen has made more work in the last couple of weeks than he has for a while. Art is there to express the best and help us through the worst of moments. Does it need to be anything else?

olsen2