Archive for November 11th, 2018

Exhibitions in Canberra

In Canberra for a short visit, mum and I hit exhibitions at some of the big institutions.

Rome: City and Empire at the National Museum of Australia.
With over 200 objects loaned from the British Museum, this exhibition was the main motivation for our visit. It’s a diverse group of things, flitting around place and time. There’s a light touch of some themes, at cross-purposes with chronology. A lot of marble, a lot of coins, some jewellery, domestic and military paraphernalia… Much of the overview information wasn’t new to us, that was mainly in the detail. So for me no earth-shattering insights, but some pleasant hours of looking and thinking.

Javelin head

Dated to mid-1st century CE, found at Hod Hill, Dorset inthe UK, a javelin or pilium head, is softened steel. They were designed to bend on impact, so the enemy couldn’t throw them back. Clever. Dreadful.
Can’t see a way to make that visible and meaningful in a work, but a curious idea.

Military diploma

Bronze plaques, 122 (dated 17th July), Brigetio Hungary, were given to a soldier after 25 years of service. It records Gemellus was granted citizenship on his retirement. The plaques are described as “a four-leaved document” on the British Museum website.
I’ve already been thinking about hammer-punching text into metal tags as inserts to folded books. Was planning to buy a set of alphabet punches, but I should explore other ways of making the marks. And making them directly into a book… possibilities…

Punic funerary stele

Amazing, graphic, lines carved into this burial stone. It’s probably from Carthage, Tunisia, 1st-2nd century CE.
This link might be the right object – the description doesn’t quite fit.

National Library of Australia

Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp
1637

Following up some of mum’s recent reading, we visited both the National Gallery and the National Library, to see Cuyp’s Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter. A very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly volunteer at the Library took us into the gallery – to the wall where it usually hangs. Just so we know next time where to go, as it had been away on loan and was perhaps now being checked in and checked over before rehanging. The Library website catalogue notes “On loan to the National Gallery of Australia”, but when we asked at the NGA information desk they had no information on it. So a reason for another visit to Canberra in a few months.

While at the Library we took in the Cook and the Pacific exhibition.

Tricky stuff. As the website notes “The exhibition web pages may also contain material with terms and descriptions that may be culturally sensitive or considered inappropriate today.” Delicately put! A lot of thought and effort has gone into giving context, and in making sure First Nations peoples from the places Cook visited were heard and seen in the exhibition. Still, some very uncomfortable reading. Included is a document with ‘hints’ provided to Cook by the president of the Royal Society, James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton. The hints advise ‘the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch’. Cook may have taken this to heart, but further on:

To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:—They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent. Conquest over such people can give no just title; because they could never be the Aggressors.

No excuses.

National Gallery of Australia
Over a couple of days we got to a few exhibitions here.
Australian art: Earth/Sky

Philip Hunter
Night Wimmera X


This abstracted landscape drew us both in, quietly contemplating. There is a shimmering, unearthly feel. Wheat sways in patterns, making visible the patterns of the wind. Are those the min min lights, dancing across the ancient, slumbering land? There is industry in the tracks of the harvesting equipment, balanced by the calm and unmoving certainty of the infinite horizon.

I can see those fields in textured rows of stitching; those graceful, turning, tangles of line woven in metal in a sculpture. While the painting soothed my mind it had my fingers twitching with an urge to be making.

A view of part of the Sky gallery space


Taking a step back to think about the curation of this exhibition. I love the freshness, the new insights, provided by moving away from the geographic | chronological lockstep in presenting a collection. I first became conscious of an alternative when seeing the New Classical at the Art Gallery of South Australia (5-May-2013). Back then I quoted Director Nick Mitzevich in the press release “Boundaries of geography and time have been collapsed to inspire a new way of looking at the rich diversity of the Gallery’s collections. Objects from different periods and cultures are juxtaposed to reveal how art links the past to the present”. In this current exhibition in Canberra, people from different periods, different cultures, different belief systems, but all within Australia, are shown to have a commonality in looking around themselves at this land, at the southern skies. We all seek to explain, to express, how we come to be here, what this amazing place means to us. Visiting the exhibition, I can get a glimpse of other perspectives and share a moment of delight, wonder, perhaps understanding.

Bronwyn Oliver
Comet

I’ve never felt moved to write about Bronwyn Oliver’s work before now. Reading about her work it sounds exactly in my interest area, that should have me buzzing with admiration, inspiration. Wire used to create abstract forms, woven or soldered, sewn with wire. Instead there is a level of calculation, control, perfectionism, closed and ungiving, almost desperately balanced, in the work that I find alienating.

As so often happens, I need to think again, look again. Comet has a delicacy, the trailing tendrils of wire are slightly wayward, not all the personality groomed out. You’ll get a better view of the structure on the gallery website, but my poor photos (especially the general gallery view) give at least a sense of the movement, hung in a corner with shadows at different angles on the two walls. Being connected, in conversation, with the other works here also helps me approach it.


Margel Hinder, Revolving construction.
Sorry about the raw, poor video. Any past small skills in my editing software have vanished. The kinetic nature of the sculpture is important, but again, you’ll get a better photo of it on the gallery website.

I have written about Margel Hinder’s work before – see 13-Jun-2014 for a figure sculpture that was warm and inviting, and 31-Dec-2013 for her Free standing sculpture in copper and steel that manages to be enormous, self-effacing, tactile and inviting, and an expression of the importance and economic might of the Reserve Bank of Australia(!).

The NGA sculpture is serious, scientific, an expression of ideas, while still fun and playful. I see a lightness and sense of adventure. Seeing it move, the shadows drawing on the walls, gave a nice segue to the next NGA exhibition visited.

Performing Drawing
This exhibition “explores how actions can become art. Focusing on chance and change, this exhibition highlights the NGA’s collection of process-based drawing, video and photography.”

Ilka White
Still from Drawing breath


In this video Ilka White draws on the ground using sand that trickles down from a sack resting across her shoulders. It is an intensely physical and meditative process. Ilka moves carefully, thoughtfully; pauses and pivots; stretches and expands then draws back in to herself. When the sack is empty she balances, reaches down, gently brushes the sand with her hand and you can feel its texture, the grating of the grains.

Ilka White Installation view in Group exchange, Tamworth Triennial 2015

Ilka spoke at the Art Textiles conference in Sydney in 2008 (ATASDA, supported by COFA). I have a general memory of someone deeply thoughtful, a weaver interested in exploring her world through her craft. She was also included in GROUP exchange, the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial – not in my post (22-May-2015), so I’ve dug through my photo archive to give a view of the range of work she presented then. In that the billabong near her home was her muse, and a central theme the interconnectedness of the world.

That sense of deep and still waters of thought, of reflection of the world around, of stepping lightly on the land, of beautiful traces that will blow away and rejoin the earth, continues though all the different expressions of her work.

Kieran Browne
Trace


Kieran Brown
Gallery view

This was so much fun.

Entering this part of the exhibition, on the wall was a screen, blank except for a black mark on the right edge. I looked a while, read the blurb, looked again – and there were grey and black smudges on the screen.

A little thought, a careful scan of the gallery ceiling – and a small black camera or sensor discovered.

I ran to get mum, and we danced together to draw on the screen. Move slowly and a line of grey smudges records your progress. Pause, a little conversation, and that smudge darkens to black. Step away, wait, and the traces gradually lighten and disappear. The viewer creates meaning in the art in a very literal, if transient, way.

David Rosetzky
From memory

Could any maker, weaver, not love, love, love this? In this photomontage portrait of Stephen Phillips the actor plays with a length of string, a metaphor for the act of remembering. The double exposure suggests the passage of time. I think of people telling stories as they make shapes, illustrations, in string between their fingers.

David Moore
Moon writing series

The beautiful lines continue – these works by David Moore seeming so connected to Philip Hunter’s work up near the top of this post. Here the photographer used his camera as a drawing instrument, under the full moon in Tasmania, moving to create shapes. Rhythm, elegance, incredible skill; a flow and a spark.

All this and the long weekend still wasn’t over. We had a spare hour before setting off for Sydney, so returned to the NGA to breeze through American Masters.

American Masters
As I write this post this exhibition is in its final hours, and I am so annoyed with myself. I needed much, much, much more time here.

Alexander Calder
Night and day


Walking up the long, high, dimly lit, hallway to the special exhibition space, this mobile by Calder speeds your pace. Backlit, a series of red ovals can be discerned, with two circles, black and white, moving amongst them. Get closer and look down – a white circle, filled with circular shadows.

It was quite different with the Calder work I saw at NGV this year. The post was 15-Sep-2018, but I didn’t include any photos. Remedying that:


My brain registers everything as circles, even when I concentrate on it.
It’s not just my photography. From the institution websites:

I think there are enough clear circles on the MoMA work that I accept all of them as circles, even those at an angle that makes them just a vertical line. In the NGV version all the red shapes appear oval, with the odd effect that the proportions change as I walk towards them.

Is there something to exploit here? For my own work, don’t know. For the person who designed the NGV presentation, with that white circle on the ground and the shadows – brilliant!

Most of my time was spent visiting old friends:

Eva Hesse
Contingent
Post 7-Jun-2015


Mark Rothko
1957 # 20
Post 27-Dec-2013


Blue Poles, of course (post 26-Dec-2013). A few more.
Why is that? Is it a comfort thing? I think more that for me they are strong things, works that I continue to think about, that influence in some way the way I see the world and other art, including my own.

So maybe some new friends:

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Core samples of stratified stone, drilled from between 1.5 and 40 metres below ground level in different locations across New York City. Monumental. Fascinating in detail. Seeing what is usually hidden – the structure of the land beneath us. Centering. Dare I say, grounding.

There was a quote from Sonfist on the signage: “My feeling is that if we are going to live in a city, we have to create an understanding of the land… We have to come to a better understanding of who we are and how we exist on the planet.”

Hans Hofmann
Untitled
(1943)

The energy and excitment! While writing this up, I found a great description on the NGA website – read it there.

This post has taken enormously more time than I intended. My son sensibly pointed out that I enjoyed it. Plus I know that this process of later thinking and relooking helps me retain memories – and the blog acts as a supplementary memory too. So before I move on, time to record just a couple of works in the general NGV collection that caught my eye.

E. Phillips Fox
Promenade

Stripes! Diagonal lines! Too many posts, too much material, relate to those. My final assignment for the Open College of the Arts course Understanding Western Art is one. I’ve been enjoying analysing the structure of this painting.

Jane Sutherland
A cabbage garden

Why do I like this so much? It seems to trigger a memory that I can’t track down. Something about the composition? That bending figure? In my memory the colours have more purple. Something familiar…


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