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.
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.
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
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
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.