The NGV Triennial, now on show at the National Gallery of Victoria, St Kilda Road, Melbourne, is a very cool, classy celebration of contemporary art. When visiting recently I discovered its resounding success was being discussed on every level of the three-storey building by crowds of people having a jolly good time.
Melbourne has won the world’s most liveable city for the past seven years and it is because it is so beloved by the people who believe they are lucky enough to live in it.
The arts and culture of this city are both healthy and alive, as many of its people embrace change and keep moving forward. While they may subscribe to expanding their knowledge of the past, they also use their knowledge to plan for a future that remains full of hope and promise.
They treasure such special experiences every day, never taking the many blessings they have for granted. The city itself represents a coherent spirit; one in which everything affects everything else.
My tardiness in coming late to view this landmark event had been caused by a post Xmas lingering illness. Just being there in the all-enveloping buzzy ambiance was like having a feast for the body and soul.
This spectacular show not only inspired my interest, but also gave me strength, while nurturing my desire to keep pace with the changing vistas of the world around me.
The imagery is compelling, reminding me that art in all its forms and in every age, reflects our attitudes and philosophies, fashions and passions; a visible expression of something profound and invisible.
My arrival at NGV International came only after pausing to observe the fascination and affection visitors and residents alike have for the fabulous water wall as children and adults alike laughingly try to trail their hands through its cascading waters. It certainly sets people up for a day of enjoyment.
My first impression inside was an overwhelming feeling of de ja vu as I encountered once more the sheer scale and monumentality of the world-premiere installation by renowned Chinese contemporary artist Xu Zhen in the forecourt.
Loved having another chance to spend time with Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana with its additions of the art of the ancients in the form of the Dying Gaul, Farnese Hercules, Night, Day, Satyr and Bacchante, Funerary Genius, Achilles, Persian Soldier Fighting, Dancing Faun, Crouching Aphrodite, Narcissus Lying, Othryades the Spartan Dying, the Fall of Icarus, A River and Milo of Croton.
Having been there the week it was being installed I was reminded of something Xu Zhen said at the time that for him “. bringing cultural traditions together was his way of addressing barriers – I have always been curious about the differences between cultures and the alienation between them. And yet, misconceptions can be the beginning of awareness and understanding.”
Started my big day out with a splendid coffee in the Moroccan tea house, where artist Hassan Hajjaj has transformed the normal NGV Gallery Kitchen into an interactive Noss Noss (meaning coffee with milk) studio. It was only half an hour after opening time and it was packed with people taking a pause.
Riding the escalator to Level 3, the top floor of the building where my adventure proceeded proved a good choice, as most people travel from the bottom up, creating traffic jams.
As I alighted, I was dazzled by the reflective surfaces of a star like work inspired by Islamic and Persian architecture. Epistrophy by Timo Nasseri ‘offers an abstract image of infinity’ – and it had the kids present in excited raptures as they raced about, endeavouring to find their own reflection in its multiple forms.
In a gallery nearby fashionable concerns were quietly showcased by Dutch born Iris van Herpen of an Amsterdam couture house, with works from her autumn-winter collection of 2016.
Her futuristic experimental collection had already attracted a crowd, all of whom were endeavouring to relate to the unconventional materials she had used to present her avant-garde works.
The one attracting the most comment, was a dress featuring ‘laser-cut acrylic glass towers, constructed by a process of heating and extrusion’
With the ‘laser-cut silicone chevrons hand stitched to the surface of a solid black fabric underneath, as one lady said to me… ‘goodness, you wouldn’t want to fall over wearing it’.
Traversing down the outside winding walkway, I enjoyed the work on the wild side by Australian born Ron Mueck. His Mass is a ‘sombre study of mortality’ in the giant form of 100 individual human skulls.
Goodness, what is there to say about this installation that has not already been said by others… it has certainly caused a stir; it’s impressive, designed to stir the emotions.
There was a man sketching in one room where, skulls abounded, seated below a painting of eighteenth centuries celebrity singer Farinelli and his friends looking down from above. It was not a leap too far to imagine what they would have thought of such a display.
Observing these great giant reminders of death was both quietly disturbing and confronting, while being peaceful, as if the artist is trying to remind us of the transience of life and how we should be sure to enjoy every minute we are privileged to have on earth.
My next encounter was again with couture; an exciting installation between floors where in a special space Chinese designer, artist and couturier Guo Pei who presents wondrous works from her 2017 Paris Spring-Summer Show.
I discovered Guo Pei employs 500 skilled artisans, including 300 embroiderers, 200 pattern-makers, designers and sewers who produce her ‘dense layers of embroidered colour, swells of beaded semi-precious stones and vast skirt volumes.
She brilliantly engages European fabrics with the Chinese design heritage. As you stand gazing in awe, you can suddenly see her inspiration has been driven by her recorded encounter of the personal kind with a European style twin towered Cathedral and fabric manufacturer.
This actually took place in the small picturesque town of St Gallen, Switzerland, formerly famous for textile and embroidery production. Her inspiration has been driven by a recorded encounter of the personal kind with a European style twin towered Cathedral and fabric manufacturer.
This actually took place apparently in the small picturesque town of St Gallen, Switzerland, formerly famous for its textile and embroidery production.
You would have to say Guo Pei’s show Legend is truly spectacular. Captivated by the glories of the coloured light from medieval stained-glass windows and spectacular dome paintings of the ‘grand manner’ Baroque style, they helped inspire her to create her own ‘heavenly scenes’.
The use of crowns and halos hovering above it is all very surreal and coming back down to earth her shoes are masterworks of gleaming gold.
This extensive use of gold reminded me of how the church through time glorified Jesus the Christ as Light of the world by depicting him with a golden halo, or clothed in the radiance and glitter of gold mosaic.
While we like to think it was about showing off their wealth, it was also about how Church forefathers believed Jesus was the son of God and the God of light who dispelled darkness.
It was also happening in an age before man learned to harness energy, control his fears to an extent and dispel ideas of magic to provide artificial light.
Gold was wondrously reflective, doubling the light from candles and it certainly proves its point of being able to dazzle here.
After one and half hours of walking from the top of the building down, visiting every nook and cranny on each floor, while being drawn down every corridor by the promise of what may lie ahead, I went back downstairs to the foyer.
Gathering my strength before spending the next hour or so on the ground level, where a number of the main works are focused I looked around for somewhere to rest quietly amid the crowds I found myself with others, relaxing on a cushioned like seating arrangement under a captivating canopy – celebrating the splendours of art above.
Given the title Victoria Amazonica by Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, who worked in collaboration with Australia’s Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, designers Elliat Rich and James Young and the Centre for Appropriate Technology – all based in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
This work interestingly had a profound effect on me. It was so much more than what it seemed at first glance. Based initially on a sketch Humberto Campana made in Alice Springs of a giant South American lily, this exuberant, large-scale soft domed structure features on its interior, superb intricate embroidery by the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, which tell stories of rain, rivers and water.
After a while I gradually disengaged from my canopy of solitude to strike out once more toward the great hall of the NGV where the work Floe by Roland Snooks and Philip Samartzis was attracting a great deal of attention.
The installation was transporting audiences south to understand the atmospheric conditions of the landscape in Antarctica. with accompanying sound effects and they were responding in various ways, which was interesting to observe.
Out in the courtyard the simple unified conception of sober simplicity, the architectural commission Garden Wall by Retallack Thompson was drawing people to enjoy time out in the fresh air and the garden and to view Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman (1958) who has been showcased with a city building backdrop.
Plunging back inside there was much to like in the main exhibition space on the ground floor, paintings that built on tradition and gave it a twist and works that with the aid of science and technology, went off into a place of their own.
The Painter a work by Paulina Olowska caught my eye, as did Complete Poems (2015) by Mexican born Jorge Méndez Blake.
In her case the work really encapsulates a headline I have read about her as ‘Poland’s Most Optimistic Backward-Looking Artist’. There is something very familiar about her work, which presents as a comment on Modernism… a mixture of the avante-garde with the stylized aspects of art deco presenting as something very new.
His work, which traditionally explores the connections between literature and the fine arts, offered a view of quiet simplicity among the chaos.
Another favourite was the visual vortex by teamLab a destablizing work of art, which is born of, and only transforms under the influence of people. It’s immersive; when you move inside the environment it creates a visual vortex in patterns on the floor, a fabulous experience to enjoy.
Also loved Myoung Ho Lee’s fabulous photographs of trees, which he described ‘… the tree unites all; the ground, the sky and man in between’… a tree is like a universe’…
There are so many outstanding displays at the NGV Triennial, as you proceed its hard to work out what is your absolute favourite. In the delicious ‘flower room’ people were wild with delight.
They were kept busy trying to find a space to add the ‘flower’ sticker they are given at the entry, to the obsessive display in artist Yayoi Kusama’s apartment.
It’s flower overload and a lot of fun.
Traversing through that space I would have to say that Japanese designer Nendo’s Manga Chairs series, the last in the sequence on the ground floor was captivating.
It is truly sensational, as the artist plays around with one form taken to ever extreme in his quest to alter our ideas of perspective. Very clever and sophisticated.
As I traversed the trio of floors at NGV International it was easy to encounter many pre-modernist paintings, amazing sculptures and displays of fabulous decorative arts all purchased by the Felton Bequest as they remained in place, standing side by side with the display of contemporary works and objects.
A portrait Head of a Man c1795, an oil on canvas caught my eye. I couldn’t remember seeing before. Wrongly attributed years ago, he’s now known to have been painted by Swiss painter Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, a student of the master French painter of the Romance and Revolutionary era, Jacques Louis-David.
He’s dashingly handsome and confidently portrayed; a young man of substance, one who would have identified with the patriots who rode high during the age of romantics and revolutionaries.
Reflecting on my way home, I couldn’t help muse on how NGV Director Tony Ellwood AO together with his team, have embraced the fact a well-informed public means striving for and achieving an even higher standard of art, ultimately benefiting society as a whole. Also understand fully why Belinda McDowall, our Deputy Editor, was so animated after her visit, eruditely expressed in her thought provoking review; Big, Bold Beautiful – The Inaugural NGV Triennial.
You really need to take your family and friends and enjoy it for yourself first hand. Everyone will find something to love and admire.
The educational programs attached to this important exhibition, especially for children, are impressive and the Kids Area was packed when I put my head in the door.
Each aspect of the NGV Triennial exhibition will stimulate your imagination, inspire your reaction and will help you to build memories and lasting impressions of what art is or is not.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018
Victoria Amazonica, 2017
On Show until April 15, 2018
St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
All images, unless otherwise stated, were taken in situ by Carolyn McDowall