I walk past the National Gallery of Victoria twice a day, almost every day and have done so since October and until now I had never ventured inside. With a wall of water that descends over the entrance and pools and fountains that stretch along St. Kilda Road, you’ll believe me when I say it was awfully tempting to get wet during the heat wave.
Thanks to the Victorian gold rush, the NGV is the oldest of Australia’s art museums and holds one of the largest collections of work. I’ve been keen to have a look around since the adverts for the Melbourne Now exhibit went up; expecting modern, stylish works that reflected the minimal designs plastered around the city.
I’d honestly say that I was a little disappointed when I reached the first gallery on the third floor; shoes, furniture and clothing were not exactly what I had in mind. Still, an open mind is something that’s I’m finding easier to embrace these days, so I pushed my expectations aside and tried to appreciate what was in front of me.
I won’t deny that I’ve got a soft spot for art with pop art and surrealism scoring particularly high on the list of things I like to look at. After my initial set back, I found that Melbourne Now was going to deliver. Patrick Pound’s The Gallery of Air introduced me to a new format; a collection as a work of art. Comprising of paintings by the masters, records and cassettes from famous artists, every day objects including air horns and even a script from an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Filling a room with artifacts that were connected with a common theme as a piece of art itself, rather than just a way of displaying objects appealed to me.
I discovered that the gallery and exhibition were actually split over two sites, with the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square also housing works. Moving away from Melbourne Now, I checked out some of the more classical paintings and found myself thinking that a lot of 18th and 19th century ladies and gentlemen all looked rather similar. Big, white, round faces, a somewhat miserable expression and flamboyant, colourful costumes. Renaissance portraiture is not something I’m a fan of, and moved quickly on to the landscapes.
I don’t know if perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the qualities of collections held in British and U.S. galleries and museums but I was struggling to find myself in front of anything that held my attention for more than a few minutes. It wasn’t until things started to become a little more modern that I found myself having a lot more time for appreciation. A particular highlight for me was Daniel Crooks’s An Embroidery of Voids; commissioned for Melbourne Now, the video takes a journey through Melbourne’s laneways with splices of cobblestones, street art, and concrete passing gracefully by.
I had my most educational experience in the galleries of Asian works, taking in a timeline of China’s dynasties. Learning a little about the growth and development of the superpower it is today. I can’t say I was overly impressed with the selection of Chinese pottery and sculptures on display, but there were some pretty excellent Japanese landscapes to take in.
It was across the river at the Ian Potter Centre where I would eventually find what I was looking for; something that I wanted to look at. The art on display became a little bit more abstract and a lot more surreal. I kind of wanted to say everything went a bit Salvador but I’m not sure if I can get away with that kind of thing.
Things went from strength to strength for a while; I was introduced to a new artist that I could very quickly become a fan of; Jess Johnson. Her work on display had everything that I wanted; a touch of the weird, a clean design and a heavy art noveau influence. Some time was lost simply trying to figure it all out. I knew I was on to something listening to the comments and remarks of those around me; “it’s different” they said, “it’s interesting” they said, “I’ve not seen anything like that before.” The sudden introduction of very netural, diplomatic phrasing suggested that a lot of people simply did not know what was up. At last, I was satisfied with the NGV.
My satisfaction was short-lived. The Ian Potter Centre had one final promise; indigenous Australian art; something quite often left out of those galleries around the world that I mentioned earlier. Initially I was hopeful to see some pretty cool things, but the displays were limited and left me feeling underwhelmed once more.
Ok, so this might sound like I had a negative experience. Yes, the NGV did not live up to my expectations, but my expectations were probably too high or a little wide of the mark. My fault, not the gallery. I actually had a really enjoyable time looking at things, spending the best part of four hours staring at canvases on walls. I would recommend that you do drop in and check it out and I mean, why not? It’s free!