It is always a buzz at the Art Gallery of NSW. As long as I can remember from the moment you first approach the building with its glorious façade based on the architecture of antiquity, you feel your expectation of encountering great works of art begin to build.
Today as you enter the lobby you are suddenly confronted with a multi-coloured creative canopy of more than sixty thousand strips of custom-sewn plastic bunting installed by artist Nike Savvas. As one visitor observed out loud “…it brings happiness to the Gallery and indeed, the city of Sydney.
Suspended from the ceiling of the massive entrance court, visually Rally is a powerful work of art above, linking the old wings of the gallery to the new.
The Art Gallery of NSW commissioned Rally with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of NSW Contempo Group 2014.
The word ceiling comes from the French ciel, meaning sky, heaven and canopy – it’s a space people have enjoyed creating art above on from the days of the original cave dwellers and the starry blue skied tombs of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the catacombs of ancient Rome and on to the ceilings of Baroque style chapels, churches and cathedrals in Europe.
Nike Sivass’s Rally at the Art Gallery of NSW has an interesting and instantaneous effect on visitors. Their reactions were fascinating to observe during the time I was there on Friday morning 15th March.
As it progresses along the length of the ceiling in the entrance court its colour intensity changes from the warm glowing jewel like colours of the Renaissance age to becoming gradually dominated by the vibrancy of the greens in nature.
It could be said to be a reflection on, and metaphor for the change that has taken place during the last century of human progress as we now imagine and bring to fruition 21st century enlightenment.
“It’s intimate”, said one of a group of three ladies who were enthusiastically discussing its positives as I approached, “…for the first time that I have been here I have felt ‘drawn into exploring the rest of the spaces”
“…I am a regular here and it gives me a feeling of comfort, like an old familiar friend inviting me in and then drawing me forward so that I can see what lies beyond”.
The buzz of energy and excitement in the foyer was palpable as the adults entering when the doors opened were nearly bowled over by the hundreds of excited school children streaming into the gallery.
Of all different age groups they were on an excursion to the opening day of the innovative ArtExpress, which features a selection of outstanding student artworks developed for the HSC examination in Visual Arts, 2013.
They animatedly responded, excitedly looking upward and eagerly pointing at the strips of colourful plastic material fluttering high above them. The majority seemed to love it judging by the beaming smiles on their faces.
“It’s really cool,” said one 11 year old when I asked if he liked it.
He was enthusiastically running along the length of the installation, taking photos with his iPhone and then running back to to his mother breathlessly sharing his thoughts.
She was animated too, telling me it was a welcoming piece, which she liked very much.
Others were ambiguous about how they felt, some were negative, one didn’t like that it brought the ceiling down making her feel alarmed, although everyone certainly liked its colourful component.
“I particularly like how it picks up on the theme of all the paintings that are hanging on the wall around it “ said a seventeen year old, who confessed to loving art and then generously shared that he wanted to make his own ‘creative’ career in the film industry.
“It moves, and is free” he said referring to Rally and “I like that is without a frame to constrain it”.
Would be wonderful to be around in 20 years time to see if the young man fulfills his dreams, which we discussed at length.
Identifying what we like and want to do and having a commitment to follow our dreams is not something everyone can achieve in real terms. It takes courage, commitment and often a very cool head.
The artist Nike Savvas has all the desired values it seems and apart from such a stunning commission received from one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious galleries, she has had a stunning career to date.
She was composed and relaxed as we talked. She was sitting with the head of International Art Justin Paton, who wants to make all art accessible. He had given her some really wonderful support by selecting other contemporary works from the Gallery’s abstract collection to offset and compliment Rally.
Paton has mounted a small exhibition of 11 eye popping works on the Entrance Court walls and called it Forcefields.
As a whole the foyer looked amazing, vibrant and full of the colours of life.
No single style, place or moment connects the paintings, their artists are Polish, Australian, British and America who have all used abstraction as a way to endow the art of painting with special energy. The whole foyer has become a perfect juxtaposition of colours and shapes.
Nike Savvas is a girl with an honest hardworking head on her shoulders and a great work ethic. “I have been up every morning at 4:30 am for weeks” she said.
From my observation it was no mean feat installing such a work, laying in each strip of colour by hand one at a time.
Suspended high above the air Nike must have gained a good grasp on how Michelangelo and other artists in time have felt when they performed their art works on ceilings high above.
Although the Entrance court at the art gallery is not high on a scale of comparison with the Baroque palaces of Europe, it does require a great deal of single-minded patience and plenty of effort to conceive, create and install such a work.
Giving her some of the honest feedback I had enjoyed was a small revelation for Nike, because she said not many people really share their real thoughts with her for many reasons.
There are so many forces in life that can happen to apprehend an artist and their dreams, or to distract them from the path they wish to take in life. To succeed it also takes the courage of their convictions.
Nike has followed her dreams with many successful art shows along the way taking her forward to this first pinnacle in her career, allowing her to place her work at the centre of attention in a prominent and prestigious art gallery.
As all art is about the art of now and our individual perceptions, what each person who views Rally takes away from the experience will provide a great diversity of opinion.
Rally is in a place where it will gain a great deal of comment including some criticism, as well a great deal of praise for being such a colourful celebration of contemporary life.
The wonderful thing about contemporary art is that our reaction to it is based on our own knowledge to that date. especially if we allow ourselves a level of emotion and introspection as we endeavor to understand or to come to terms with what we believe it means.
For the small child it’s an exciting concept full of colour and all about the fun of life.
For the teenage boy it has movement, heralding the new freedoms they will enjoy as they grow to take on the responsibilities of adulthood and what lies ahead.
Young parents can join their thoughts to that of their children as they enjoy their love for its fantasy, as well as for the instruction it provides about the world of art for receptive minds.
For the more mature man or woman Rally can mean many things, based on their experiences of life to date.
For me based on what I know, and what I would like to know, Rally is a colourful reminder that life allows us to take out of it what we are prepared to invest into it and proves that the art of life is full of opportunities and possibilities.
All art is the art of now and this colourful commentary of contemporary art and life, as it hovers overhead, certainly caters for those looking beyond its short plastic strips of colour fluttering in the breeze.
Rally is all about enjoying and sharing a magical moment in time in a world full of promise.
It caters for those wishing to gain an insight into the artist’s vision, which it is hoped will in turn inspire them to offer up their own contribution; by putting some colour not only in their own lives but also the lives of others.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014