The inaugural NGV Triennial, opening on 15 December 2017, yet again proves the National Gallery of Victoria to be a hard hitter amongst both Australian and international galleries. The exhibition spans all four floors of the NGV International, showcasing over 100 emerging and established artists and designers from all corners of the world, crossing cultures, scales, geographies and perspective.
The exhibition is a snapshot of contemporary art and design, and is divided into five broad themes: Movement, Change, Virtual, Body and Time. Through these five themes many of the issues of today are explored, including a variety of the social, cultural, scientific and physiological concerns of the individual and society/ies.
The art and artists included have been chosen for their diversity and dynamism of practice, some involving cutting edge technologies such as 3D printing and robotics, others involving more traditional media: painting, drawing, tapestry, and sculpture.
Tony Ellwood, Director of the NGV said, “We believe that the ambition, depth and diversity of the artist and designers in the inaugural NGV Triennial will ensure our audience has a truly unforgettable cultural experience.”
The exhibition was conceived as a result of Melbourne Now in 2013/14, which showcased the work of current artistic practice in Melbourne, and it has since taken four years to come to fruition.
The NGV Triennial, builds on the success of Melbourne Now and expands upon it dramatically, to encompass contemporary national and international art and design created in 32 different countries, and including 20 new works commissioned especially for the exhibition.
Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley MP, rightly states that Tony Ellwood and his team continue to raise the bar for outstanding shows in Australia and that the Triennial presents “a global outlook and a bold exciting vision”.
The exhibition begins in the great entrance hall of the gallery, where viewers are greeted by a 15.8 metre long reclining Buddha statue adorned with 3D scanned and cast replicas of classical Greco-Roman sculptures by Xu Zhen.
Also in the entrance hall is the peaceful Victoria Amazonica, a vividly colourful upholstered dome commenting on waterways across cultures, created by Humberto Campana, Elliat Rich, Sophie Wallace and Yarrenyty Arltere artist Marlene Rubuntja. These works set the scene for the exhibition, crossing geographies and cultures, time and techniques.
Visitors can choose to see a little or a lot, in whichever order they desire and, as the exhibition is Free, are able to return again and again during the summer period.
It is very difficult to successfully put into words quite how far-reaching and expansive the exhibition is, and just how many ideas are touched upon, and how much creativity is on display. Every corner turned brings something new and inspiring to consider, to marvel upon, to have fun with, to get excited about.
A personal highlight for me are the Antoinette-inspired haute couture gowns created by Chinese couturier Guo Pei. More commonly seen swathed on supermodels striding down international catwalks and on celebrities at film premieres, it is a treat to be able to view some of Guo Pei’s designs close-up.
The gowns are astounding in every way, dripping in gold and jewels and Baroque-inspired gossamer fabrics, and the ensembles on display were inspired by the Cathedral of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, and drawn from her 2017 spring/summer couture show shown in Paris.
Another delight is the brand new participatory work by Yayoi Kusama, the inimitable octogenarian pop artist from Japan. Within Flower Obsession (2017) visitors are asked to help ‘obliterate’ an apartment with vividly coloured flowers; great fun for visitors of all ages.
Each participant is given a bright flower sticker upon entrance to an apartment – an installation set up as a full living space, with living, kitchen and bedroom complete with all furniture and accoutrements required for modern living, right down to a cat scratching post!
Visitors are invited to place the sticker wherever they wish, and so what begins as a show home will gradual transform into an entirely different space, as the flowers envelop every surface. I am looking forward to returning in a few weeks to see how the transformation is progressing.
Yet another favourite (there are many!) is the new sculptural display created by Melbourne-born, UK-based artist Ron Mueck. Mass (2016-17) is on show, on an epic scale, in the NGV’s 18th century gallery spaces, and cleverly intersects and interacts with the more traditional permanent collection.
A dark piece containing 100 large human skulls piled up in a corner of the gallery, it calls to mind the catacombs of Paris, the contemporary atrocities of Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and Iraq, and references the potent use of the skull within the art of many cultures and religions, serving as a reminder of the transience of life.
Situated on the third level of the gallery, tucked away from much of the rest of the Triennial, the work was one of the final pieces I viewed during my visit to the exhibition, and I was truly moved by what I saw.
It is a thing of beauty, a work of genius, and much like the NGV Triennial as a whole, is a very modern yet also timeless comment on the state of the world.
Iris van Herpen‘s fantastical fashion designs are also on display. The Dutch designer’s very progressive and otherworldly garments are created using a combination of 3D printing and more traditional processes, creating gloriously futuristic pieces that would appear right at home in a science fiction film.
Van Herpen’s creations are surprisingly well placed amongst the furniture/industrial design section of the galleries, with similarities between her garments and those of the furniture of Joris Laarman, also from the Netherlands.
His work is inspired by nature but uses cutting edge technologies including 3D printing and robots to create futuristic chairs and dining tables, including Bridge table (2010) and the versatile Maker chairs (2014), available on the internet under a creative commons licence for people to download, modify and manufacture themselves.
As the number of displaced peoples throughout the world is regularly in the news and on people’s minds, so the status and treatment of these people, these refugees, is highlighted by a number of artists in the NGV Triennial under the theme of Movement.
India’s Shilpa Gupta’s Untitled work presents a very moving ambiguous mass in a darkened room, accompanied by voices invites viewers to consider real and imagined borders, whether across state lines or within censorship and security.
Australian artist Ben Quilty’s work High Tide Mark (2016) is a comment on the Syrian asylum seekers crossing the treacherous seas to Turkey in search of safety, and the high tide trail left as they discard their lifejackets upon their completion.
And Ireland’s Richard Mosse has produced Incoming (2014-17), a very strong three-screen video installation filmed using a military-grade thermal camera that can detect human body heat from a distance of over 30 kilometres. It portrays journeys along two of the busiest and most perilous routes of mass migration into Europe.
Running through the NGV Triennial is a bold undercurrent of a fusion of the past with the future, with a number of works inspired by a combination of ‘science fiction’, nature and tradition, including Neri Oxman’s beautiful The Vespers Series (2016), comprising fifteen life-size death masks created with 3D printing, utilising colourful and translucent resins.
Although inspired by traditional, handmade death masks, these thoroughly modern creations are entirely digitally generated, with the complex, swirling shapes within each mask modelled on the wearer’s facial features and breathing. Presented in individual display cases with individual spotlights but also very obviously as a collection, this breathtakingly beautiful series invites closer inspection, and is another favourite.
Interactive works abound too, including teamLab’s Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement (2017), a fully immersive digital installation inspired by human, digital and special relationships. As the visitor moves around the room, their movement is tracked by sensors, which in turn change the projections in the room.
Their movement creates a visual vortex, and the faster a person moves, the stronger the vortex. Visitors will have great fun creating changes within the environment, but it is also intended to remind people of that vortices are a hallmark of nature, present in the ocean and on land and in the microclimates of every city, and that each individual’s actions have repercussions.
A host of additional events and activities will be held during the NGV Triennial, including Triennial Extra, a ten-night festival of dance performance, guest DJs, pop-up bars, architecture, food and conversation.
The festival will be held 19 – 28 January in collaboration with the Australian Tennis Open, and includes Supernormal Natsu (Japanese for ‘summer’), a pop-up restaurant by award-winning Melbourne chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell, bars scattered over the site, a host of DJs, discussion forums for big ideas, and creative workshops.
NGV Triennial: Voices is a digital editorial project and a part of the NGV Triennial. Bringing together a range of academics to respond to the five themes of the exhibition: Movement, Change, Virtual, Body and Time, it adds yet another dimension to the NGV Triennial experience, and can be found here.
The annual NGV Summer Festival for Kids is also on during the NGV Triennial. Inspired by one of the main themes, the Body, the festival celebrates the ways every body can play, move and make.
Dutch artists We Make Carpets, whose work involves the unexpected and ingenious usage of everyday objects like kitchen sponges and plastic pegs, have created a vibrant space for children to share their own creativity, contributing to a patterned floor-based work, splashing paint onto a wall with rope and playing with colour and shape using Velcro swatches. As the exhibition progresses, the creation itself will progress, with the outcome unknown but likely to be bright and colourful.
Support for the exhibition is unprecedented and the NGV has worked with over 100 donors, corporate partners and charitable foundations.
Some of the many partnerships in place included Principal Sponsor Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific, and four of the major Victorian universities involved: Design Partner RMIT University, Major Sponsor Deakin University, Research Partner The University of Melbourne and Learning Partner LaTrobe University.
Other Major Partners include Golden Age, Ernst & Young, Telstra, Macquarie Bank and Higgins, and NGV Triennial Champions include the Felton Bequest, the Loti and Victor Smorgon Fund and the NGV Women’s Association.
The NGV Triennial is now on until 15 April 2018. The exhibition is truly inspiring, a broad-reaching exhibition providing thoughtful commentary on many of today’s pressing issues. It is a wonderful assault to the senses, and very much requires repeat visits in order to absorb everything on display; to view and review the many different works, with new discoveries made each time.
Belinda McDowall, Deputy Editor & Special Features Victoria, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
15 December 2017 – 15 April 2018