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Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes at NGV

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Greatest Hits, Melbourne, est. 2008, Gavin Bell, born Australia 1985, Jarrah de Kuijer, born Australia 1985, Simon McGlinn, born Australia 1985, Untitled 2012, taxidermied cat, electronic components, 40.0 x 21.7 x 34.0 cm (variable), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014, © Greatest Hits

Optical illusions, exaggerated perspectives and maze-like rooms are integral to a provocative new exhibition Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes, on show at NGV Australia.

This highly creative show in Melbourne is on view until January 31, 2016 and is sure to have the whole city talking.

At the preview fashion models dressed in surreal, experimental garments were unveiled alongside Barry Humphries ‘siamese’ shoes.

A taxidermy cat has its front leg raised, a weird salute, drawing attention to himself and the artist who gave it new life.

Surreal is a term we have all tossed off carelessly when endeavouring to put words to paper to describe something we often don’t understand or comprehend.

Curators have taken a thought-provoking approach, highlighting the ongoing vitality and power of Surrealist thought, which had its period of Genesis prior to World War I.

A collaborative effort between various departments of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the show highlights the influence of Surrealism on popular culture through the mediums of visual, performance, film and fashion as art.

It certainly reveals the breadth and depth of human ingenuity and expression in works that while strange are continually fascinating.

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Rosslynd Piggott born Australia 1958 High bed 1998, painted wood, metal, cotton, polyethylene, terephthalate, satin, mirrored synthetic, polymer resin, synthetic polymer paint, on existing walls, 370.0 x 200.0 x 230.0 cm (variable), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased, 2000 (NGA 2000.231.A-I), © Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery

All art remains subjective; open to interpretation and how it affects human emotions. The structured hierarchical society of the nineteenth century had imposed straitjackets on art through its restricting values.

The style now known as Surrealism emerged during the 1920’s following World War I at Paris, followed by England, America and the rest of Europe.

Surrealism had an aim to resolve dream and reality began by calling on the unconscious to express itself through unnerving images, illogical scenes and strange creatures emerging from everyday objects.

Gender roles were also part of the original challenge. An exploration of woman in society meant that her lips, torso and reproduction areas inspired works that can still be confronting or playful.

A high bed on a plinth with a ladder to the top for instance, could be viewed as a stairway to heavenly dreams, to erotic adventures or indeed, a stairway to where your worst nightmares come true.

Times have changed and as bizarre as it may seem, its appeal in its most challenging images while limited, certainly has its champions. It could be likened to freedom of speech, without the words.

Like all art forms it has a central core with racial elements ranging left and right and Surrealism is entirely dependent on how you would like to view it.

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From the Dali-esque dreamscapes of Australian artist James Gleeson to hauntingly beautiful photographs by iconic photographer Max Dupain, the NGV show Lurid Beauty at NGV Australia Fed Square presents more than 230 works traversing painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, fashion, film and photography.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘It is inconceivable to imagine a world without Surrealism. The rich legacy of the movement is pervasive not only in contemporary art, but also film, theatre and even advertising, showing its continued influence upon modern society’.

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William Shakespeare – All The World’s a Stage, 400 Years On


Flower Portrait of William Shakespeared, mid 19th century forgery inspired by the Droeshout engraving of the bard on the First Folio of his works produced posthumously

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet, born at Stratford-on-Avon is considered in the western world, the greatest playwright who ever lived. He certainly is the most controversial.

The bard from England’s Stratford on Avon, helped to shape not only England’s sense of national identity, but also that of the English-speaking world as he became the greatest dramatist of all time.

Everything about him including his portraits, are a puzzlement and part of the bigger mystery surrounding the poet, dramatist actor and his identity.

Since Shakespeare took the London world by storm with his plays, his sonnets, words of wisdom Shakespeare and his life’s journey, has been subjected to scrutiny on a monumental scale throughout the western world.

Who was he really? Speculation continues to be rife, despite many theories abounding.

The Royal Collection Trust program of exhibitions in 2016  at Windsor Castle will feature Shakespeare in the Library, presented by Queen Elizabeth II, whose ancestor Queen Elizabeth 1 enjoyed the bard’s sense of humour and drama. It will mark the 400 year anniversary since he died.

The Flower portrait of William Shakespeare is an image widely recognised as being of the literary hero.


Frontespiece, First Folio Shakespeare, courtesy Bodleian Library, Oxford

It seems to have been inspired by the engraving portrait of the bard that appeared on the title page of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works produced posthumously.

Named for Sir Desmond Flower who donated it to the Shakespeare Museum in 1911, it is a work proven to have been painted in the 19th century not 1609 as marked, by its unknown painter.

It was acquired sometime around 1840 from a widow who sold it to a member of the Flower Family as authentic. They gave it to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The image was drawn and engraved by Martin Droeshout in 1623 with the portrait from it painted somewhere between 1810 – 1840. (1810 – 15 seems likelier to me, leading up to his 200th anniversary).

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) said ‘we know what we are, but know not what we may become’ as he wrote about history, wrote about romance and tragedy. His ‘comedic’ plays featured morally dubious plots, certainly by the standards of our day.

Perhaps we will never know the truth of it all. What we do know is that whoever the man was behind the mask his words are evidence enough for scholars to declare that he was a true genius.

Muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention;
A kingdom for a stage

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