While in Melbourne briefly for my sister’s wedding, I managed to catch the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), an exhibition celebrating the diverse art, design and architecture created by Melbourne based artists. This comprehensive exhibition was spread across the two Gallery sites: NGV International, and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. According to the exhibition guide it is the largest single show put together by the gallery, 8000 square meters of exhibition space to be exact (Ellwood, 2013, p. 4).
The ambitious scale of the exhibition and the diversity of the art shown made the exhibition an incredible experience, I described it to my family as being ‘like Disneyland’ to get them to understand the sheer childlike excitement it caused me! I only wish I could have savoured it a bit more, spent more time, or made multiple trips.
One of the highlights for me was getting to see Patricia Piccinini’s 2012 work The Carrier. I actually can’t think of words to describe the encounter. The sculpture is so magnificent and so realistic (down to every last hair) that it really seemed as though this strange creature would suddenly wander off; treading heavily, perhaps, with his large feet, but slowly and carefully so as not to give the old lady an uncomfortable ride. Despite their odd-couple look, the pair seemed serene and comfortable together, and contrary to their hyperreality and the darkened room they were positioned in, they didn’t seem creepy. In terms of the Uncanny Valley, I felt as though they were ‘real’ enough not to provoke revulsion, possibly because they don’t move to spoil the effect.
In a nearby space was a room devoted to Julia deVille‘s Victorian gothic taxidermy, an installation called Degustation that was set up to look like a Victorian dining room complete with that characteristic overly decorative oppressive wallpaper and black curtains. I’m not usually very interested in taxidermy, and I wasn’t particularly taken by the cat-drawn carriage deVille submitted to the Wallace awards (the twin of which was present in this show), however the silver platters containing small birds, puppies, rabbits, baby deer were much more visually compelling, and appealed to me a great deal more for stepping back the theatricality a little. It is amazing what a subtle shift can do for an idea. The gothic excess came in the combination of objects and the installation rather than trying to push it all into the one work.
The other element that was really successful was that seats were provided along with paper (black) and pencils (silver and red) so that the viewer could sit and draw. Interactive artworks don’t usually work for me, I’m not really a participator, but this was perfect. Probably because it appealed to me in a language I understood (drawing), but it was so clever too, because it got the viewer to stay with the work longer, to really observe and consider it.
Richard Lewer‘s work was North Side Boxing Gym (2013) which consisted of a huge charcoal drawing, mirrors, a hanging punching bag and a recording of a training session. It was immersive because of the scale of the work, the way the mirrors caught the drawing and installation, and the sound that transports the viewer into the gym, but it was also somewhat disconcerting, because for all the sound and imagery, the lack of movement made the work quite eerie, as though I was somehow experiencing the ghost of a real occurrence.
The collective Hotham Street Ladies commandeered the entire entrance of the The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Their three big installations, At home with the Hotham Street ladies were domestic scenes embellished with details made of icing. There was a chaotic table of leftovers, a hall rug with shoes and mail casually laid out, and a living room with couch cushions and ‘knitted’ afghans, books and paintings all made from icing.
The work had a definite feminine feel to it with its commentary on the domestic in the themes as well as the materials, but the sheer cheeky humour of it was the overwhelming impression.
Overall the exhibition is teeming with inspiring artworks and very talented emerging and established artists, It brings together an eclectic mix from numerous disciplines to really capture the zeitgeist of Melbourne today.