A second prize win in a lucky-door draw at Australia House in London meant my very first visit to Melbourne was spent (bizarrely) in a seven-room suite of the Hotel Windsor. At the tail end of last year, in slightly less glorious digs in St Kilda, I enjoyed supper and fireworks for New Year’s Eve with Melbourne friends on the banks of the Yarra. A rainy picnic at Hanging Rock Races the next day (complete with unofficial grey kangaroo sprint) set the scene for a viewing of Melbourne Now which boasts “the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex creative landscape of Melbourne”.
Over 170 individual works (plus additional special projects) from 387 artists and collectives span two sites of the National Gallery of Victoria. The NGV show requires at least a whole day to view with the very real chance that you still won’t see it all – at least without repeat visits. While many public Galleries in other States are showing imported summer blockbusters, the NGV’s curators have worked with many of Victoria’s prominent contemporary artists to ensure the show reflects both the current local art scene and an overview of the city’s cultural life. While this is obviously a parochial premise, many of the artists who call Melbourne home have migrated from elsewhere – purely for art’s sake.
Even with a brain still in holiday mode writing a review of the show seemed like a great idea until the first couple of attempts stalled due to the sheer number of works. Inevitably there’s quite a few misses among the hits but I decided to go with a selection of the most memorable.
Daniel Crooks – An Embroidery of Voids 2013
Melbourne is a city synonymous with its lively character-filled laneways. Crooks, Australian video art’s Master of Time, has employed many of these anonymous laneways as subjects in this latest ‘time-slice’ piece. Following 2012’s A Garden of Parallel Paths and adopting the graceful pace suggested by the title, Crooks’ video lures the viewer into its mesmerisingly powerful grasp. The work reveals a hidden city and doesn’t allow the viewer an easy escape.
Rick Amor Mobile Call 2012
Painted in Amor’s signature style and palette, a solitary businessman dwarfed by the surrounding buildings stands sideways to the viewer. The end face of an anonymous laneway brings an abrupt stop to the composition. Absorbed in a mobile call, the man is watched by a security camera. It’s an intriguing painting that conjures Amor’s special blend of anticipation and ominous mystery.
Patrick Pound – The Gallery of Air 2013
It’s easy to be dismissive of the wunderkammer with an ‘I could have done that’ attitude but it’s the subject of Pound’s collection of op shop and NGV collection finds that makes this installation so intriguing. The Gallery of Air literally creates something from nothing. Each piece in this disparate collective is suggestive of the idea of air, some more visibly than others. From an asthma inhaler to a Japanese fan and paintings that depict their subjects in the act of falling or jumping, Pound’s collection is a fascinating exploration of the “mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and minute amounts of other gases that surround the earth and form its atmosphere”.
Brook Andrew – Vox: Beyond Tasmania 2013
As a child I remember being overawed at the Australian Museum when the skeleton of an Aboriginal man – once employed by my great-grandfather in northern NSW – was a central display. Andrew’s Vox, a collection of artefacts and literature fronted by an oversize plywood megaphone, recalls the shameful practice of our colonial history and simultaneously provides a voice for lost or hidden histories.
Penny Byrne – iProtest 2012-13
It’s hard not to like Penny Byrne’s acerbic but witty take on the dissemination of the international protest movement through Facebook and other social media. Her reworked souvenir-style ceramic figures, often identified by their national flag, are installed on a wall in a catchy colour-themed installation. Tackling contemporary issues from the domestic effect of the global financial crisis to marriage equality, these kitsch and cutesy figures sweetly subvert their potent message without losing the irony of using Facebook for the purpose.
Ross Coulter – 10,000 Paper Planes 2011
The poetic symmetry and asymmetry of Coulter’s series of photographs is what makes them so visually appealing. With the assistance of 165 friends, the artist released 10,000 paper planes from the upper levels of the octagonal domed reading room at the State Library of Victoria (a previous employer). The resulting images document the silence of the ‘aftermath’ but retain the memory of flight and a record of the original cheeky act.
Stephen Bram – Level 3, E29, NGV 2013
Bram’s sculptural installation made from wood, plasterboard and steel is a large room built within a room of the Gallery. Outside it appears as an unfinished construction while inside is an abstract light-filled white space – apparently designed according to specific reference points that determine its line and overall shape. The installation explores aesthetic and psychological states. It merges the formal and the informal, the incomplete and the perfect, the secret and the revealed.
Gareth Sansom – The Visit (and others) 2013
According to the NGV blurb Sansom has “moved away from the autobiographical content” in his earlier work for this compelling series of paintings. I have no idea what Sansom is depicting but striking colours and detailed composition certainly command attention without ticking the boxes for any particular style.
George Egerton-Warburton – Steaming Ties 2013
Egerton-Warburton’s work recalls Alexander Calder’s kinetic sculptures. A delicate balancing act is played out on either end of a room size steel arch. Equilibrium is restrained by a swinging television monitor on one end and a bundled group of shoes and found objects on the other. A video titled Why Are You Wearing Athletic Gear if You’re Not Playing Any Sport Today (Melbourne: Run Artist Run), plays on the monitor. In a single take the artist filmed his circular journey through Melbourne streets and return to the NGV using a Go pro camera and “completing a cycle from three dimensional space to two dimensional space and back again”.
Although they’re not prominently displayed there’s something about Harris’s small macabre oil paintings of abstract zombie-like creatures that haul you in for a second (or third) look.
Anastasia Klose – Knock-off Shop etc
There’s a special skill required to pull off Klose’s brand of self-deprecating failure and do it well. For Melbourne Now Klose personally [wo]mans a ‘defective aesthetic’ knock off shop inside the NGV. Purchases of Klose’s everywhere artist-editioned T-shirts, that reference the commercial and celebrity aspects of the international art market and rate Melbourne’s commercial galleries with dollar signs, attract bonus free relationship advice from the artist.
Richard Lewer – Northside Boxing Gym 2013
Lewer’s Northside Boxing Gym immerses you in a round of blood, sweat and noise at the punching bag while exploring his re-created gym complete with mirrors, sound and an enormous wall size charcoal drawing.
Tomislav Nikolic – We all have a dream of a place we belong 2013
This stirring baby pink canvas with a lime green border and provocative title is totally self-referential but encourages the viewer to fall into the ‘Here’ (of the Pet Shop Boys song) without a second thought. A bit like falling in love.
Yhonnie Scarce – Blood on the Wattle (Elliston South Australia 1949) 2013
Scarce is originally a Kokatha/Nukunu woman from South Australia now living and working in Melbourne. Here, a Perspex coffin contains a hundred individual sardined black yams made from glass. They recall the ‘Elliston massacres’ where stories abound of dozens of Aboriginal people driven off cliffs into the sea in a retaliatory action by white settlers. Spare but poignant, Scarce’s sculptural installation captures these moments in a minimal but authentic manner.
I’ve written this post without the benefit of the $100 catalogue – which at that price broke my usual habit of purchasing one at every worthwhile show. The Melbourne Now app, however, is free and fabulous, especially if you can’t get to the NGV on time.
National Gallery of Victoria
Until 23 March.