Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 18, 2012

Thursday, 16th February 2012 – an afternoon at Melbourne’s ‘National Galleries’ this time

Today was the birthday of the older of my two sisters – have to admit despite all good intentions, that it would be the evening before I remembered to ring her, and then found I couldn’t get through on either of her phones, obviously too busy taking thousands of best wishes!! Oh well, I left a message anyway, so she would at least know that Bill did remember.

A rather ‘tough’ session at the gymnasium this morning – a new program had been drawn up for me, with a few exercises I’d not undertaken before. Afterwards, no time for treats in the town – straight back home to shower, change etc, before catching a train into the city.  I was surprised by [though not surprised] that Susan came back from Bendigo this morning, wasn’t due until tomorrow, but can’t always rely on when her plans are likely to eventuate. It was a case of ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ as I was on my way soon after she returned. Caught the 11.45am train to Melbourne [after being forced to park three blocks from the station due to Sunbury’s restrictive parking provisions – not generally a concern, unless the weather turns nasty [which it did, though I didn’t know that at the time!].  Train to Southern Cross, and then a second train over to Flinders Street, from where it was a casual 15 minute walk down to Victoria’s National [Art] Gallery/  I’m finding the new MYKI ticketing system quite efficient and cheap to work with, especially with the assistance of my Senior’s Card. I believe that within the year, the MYKI system is going to completely replace the existing Metcard transport system.  Though I don’t think that all problems associated with the new procedure have yet been solved, eg, how visitors and occasional users of the public transport network are going to be catered for!!

It was about 1.30 pm, when I met Heather from Ballarat in front of the National Gallery and it’s spectacular ‘water wall’. Heather was staying in the city for a couple of days while she visited her son who was ill in one of the hospitals – we had agreed to spend the afternoon together exploring the National Gallery. Our particular joint interests were the Australian exhibitions, but we had forgotten that the National Gallery of Victoria was now divided between two buildings – the NGV International, where we now were, in St Kilda Road, and the Ian Potter Centre for Australian art, back in Federation Square, near the Flinders Street train station.  Anyway, after a brief stop for a coffee in the NGV café, after realising that we would have to go up to the other NGV gallery to find the Australian works, our main aim in this venue was to have  it a look at the special Buddhist display. Some of the descriptions that follow are a combination of my own comments and/or promotional material relating to the exhibitions in question.  One advantage of visiting the NGV on a school day was that it was not too crowded, plenty of comfort and ease in wandering around the galleries to look at the exhibits. Very much that way in Ballarat last week.  Overall, the NGV’s permanent collection of art spans thousands of years, dating back to the art of ancient civilisations right up to contemporary art and reflects a wide range of different disciplines, periods, styles and inspirations. Because of the separation of the two galleries, this venue in St Kilda Road now has the space to run a number of special exhibitions in conjunction with the permanent displays. A brief comment on a few of those special displays in this precinct follows.  I noticed that there were a number of art areas that Heather didn’t have a great deal of interest for, so our viewing of those areas was rather scant! Nevertheless, we seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and both quite relaxed in conversations about pretty well anything, lots of mutual interest topics.

The exhibition of 80 Buddhist and Hindu works of art drawn from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria explored the development of Buddhist imagery across Asia. From early Buddhist works created in India in the 2nd – 4th centuries AD to a contemporary Zen Buddhist ink and brush painting in the Chinese tradition, In the steps of the Buddha illustrates different styles of art associated with the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist schools. The exhibition presented a wide range of Buddhist works of art including sculptures of the Buddha, bodhisattvas and Buddhist deities in bronze, wood, clay and lacquer, ritual items, pilgrimage souvenirs, paintings, masks and manuscript covers and includes works from Gandhara, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Japan, China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. I wasn’t sure that this exhibition would enthral me particularly, but in actual fact it was quite interesting, particularly the widespread geographical nature of the artefacts and other displays, etc, as I’d not really realised that Buddhism had been so widespread, particularly in it’s earlier periods of development.  I also realised that much of this artwork was included in the book that James had given me for Christmas, on the world history of art, from ancient times –  the history of art in all it’s various forms.  I think Heather had a better knowledge of Buddhism than I did, because although like myself, brought up in a ‘strict’ Methodist family, the over strictness of her father when he was young, had seemingly turned her away from our church, with which she had not associated herself for decades. I suppose most of my siblings have gone down the same path.

Moving on, we found the New Art of the Pacific gallery aimed to introduce viewers to the cultural diversity, vitality and spirit resonance of Oceanic art and to some of its universe of forms, both old and new. A feature of the current display is that many of the originally highly mobile objects, some ingeniously made from a profusion of organic materials, are on open display where they can resonate as images in space, rather than being isolated in glass cases. Context and cultural meaning are also vital principles that we honour in the Pacific gallery. Heather felt this was an aggressive, angry display, and I guess in view of the multiplicity of war like weaponry, etc, in the various life size displays of sculpture, etc,, made that a fair enough observation on her part. We didn’t spend much time on that display, although, as with a number of areas, had I been alone, I probably would have done so. No doubt I shall return at a later date. This was in fact, my first visit to the NGV for many years.

The special photographic display presented the act of photographing people involving a process of observation, scrutiny and looking. At times photographers remain detached and anonymous. Other times they are complicit, directing their subjects and encouraging specific actions and poses. Sometimes the gaze is returned, and sometimes it is denied. The power of the gaze can create complex relationships between the subject, the photographer and the audience. So, from people observed in a crowd, to surveillance photographs from war zones, and images that ‘split’ our gaze, the exhibition presents the work of a range of photographers who have explored ideas of looking.  We didn’t explore this one in much detail either!  I imagined that young Rosie in Ballarat, with her photography background, would have found this a fascinating display at the NGV.

One of the major exhibitions at the NGV at present is ‘The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910-1937’  –    a major international loan exhibition focussing on German Modernism. The exhibition highlights the great aesthetic innovations that were made by artists throughout Germany in painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography, film and the decorative arts during the years from 1910 to 1937.
The exhibition features more than 200 representative works from museums around the world by leading artists of the period  and the works reveal the fascinating and complex ways in which artists responded to the forces of modernity and their passionate engagement with contemporary society, culture and politics. This important and insightful exhibition emphasises the legacy of innovation left by the Weimar Republic on art and culture over the decades. The range of artworks included in The Mad Square makes this the most comprehensive exhibition of European Modernism art ever to be shown in Australia. Well, after giving that exhibition a great promotion, we didn’t really have much of a look at it – a brief perusal, found it not really appealing to either of us!!  Some of the first pieces I saw, did not do much to inspire, though again, I probably would have given it more attention, on my own. Of course this was the period in Germany which was seeing the rise of Hitler and Nazism, and perhaps part of my reluctance to get too excited about the exhibition may have been the assumption that aspect of German life then would have highly influenced the nation’s art as well!

After a bit of a delay in the NGV shop [where I didn’t buy anything, though tempted to do so], we exited that building, and slowly made our way back up St Kilda Road, across the Yarra River, towards the city and Federation Square, and more precisely to the Ian Potter Centre for Australian Art.  The pedestrian traffic, on this warm and humid mid-week afternoon was fairly light, as were the ‘crowds’ in Federation Square itself. Usually, day or night, this area is a real beehive of human activity, so from the point of view of personal comfort, it was a pleasant time to be here. Of course the degree of humidity in the air, should have been a warning of adverse weather on the horizon. Neither of us had brought an umbrella, even though a change was predicted, and as we walked into the protective cover of the Ian Potter Centre, there was no thought or apparent indication of rain.

It was here that Heather in particular wanted me to have a look at the Joseph Brown exhibition. He had been a friend of her father in years past, through his [her father] association as an antique furniture and art dealer and retailer in Ballarat, and the family had apparently spent many hours in his company.

The Joseph Brown Collection is on permanent display at the Centre, and what a magnificent display it indeed was.   In May 2004 Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE donated the major part of his incomparable collection of Australian art to the National Gallery of Victoria — the most generous single gift of works of art ever made to a public gallery in Australia. More than 150 works are on display at the Centre. The collection comprises varied Australian art from different periods, including portraits painted by many well-known artists. The display gives a history of Australian art. It includes engravings from the first days of the colony and early European looking landscapes of Australia, and Heidelberg era paintings from the late 19th century, and post-impressionist works of the early 20th century. The Melbourne ‘Angry Penguins’ school of the 1940s is represented, as are colour field and abstract painting. Many modern and post-modern Australian painters of the later 20th century are also on display. A few works by Australian Aboriginal artists are also included.  Brown himself, was born in Poland in 1918 and migrated to Australia in 1933 at the age of fifteen, settling in Melbourne. He trained initially as an artist but after returning from war service in 1945 became increasingly involved in the fashion industry. Later he became a leading art dealer and consultant, promoting a wide range of Australian artists, both historical and contemporary. He reclaimed the work of forgotten artists, introduced and mentored many new artists, and was a great advocate for portraiture as an art form. Simultaneously he built up an outstanding private collection of Australian art.  When Brown offered his collection to the National Gallery of Victoria the Gallery selected more than 150 works, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper from colonial times to the present day. Dr Brown’s extraordinary act of benefaction followed his gifts of over 450 works of art to Australian public galleries, including the National Gallery of Victoria, over the past forty years. The collection is a tribute to the great generosity of Dr Brown and his exquisite taste in Australian art through many different eras.  As one writer said, the Joseph Brown Collection at NGV Australia will forever tell the story of the immigrant who became an artist and soldier, a scholar and connoisseur, a successful businessman and an art dealer, a mentor to artists and an art patron; a man who made a huge and enduring difference to the culture of this country.

Certainly, it was a collection well worth spending a bit of time on, which we did. It got me thinking – what was I going to do about my ‘book’ collection, naturally of a far different standard and value than the quality of what was here, but to myself, an important collection which I didn’t want to see end up at a car-boot sale somewhere, purchased for  few dollars, and then discarded after being read!  Anyway, that was another matter, and meanwhile, Heather was able to relate some interesting little tales about her family’s connection with this extraordinary art donor.

In another section of the Ian Potter Centre, we found the Australian Collection of NGV Australia which was of particular interest to myself. The collection includes works by artists such as Russell Drysdale, John Brack, Burn, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Sidney Nolan. Interestingly, we both actually felt that this particular collection of Australian art appeared not to be as extensive as it’s equivalent on display at the Ballarat Art Gallery, where there really is an excellent display of local and widespread Australian paintings, etc. Maybe there was some bias in feeling that way. I must get up to the Bendigo Art Gallery which also has an extremely good reputation.

The art of Indigenous Australia comes from the world’s longest continuing art tradition. Located in country of the Kulin nation, the NGV’s Indigenous Galleries, in the Ian Potter Centre, acknowledge the power, primacy and cultural diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and represent some of its major historical and contemporary moments.  I don’t think Heather was terribly interested in this area, as we ‘skipped’ through it rather quickly!!  Aboriginal ‘art’ is a special art-form of it’s own, and generally requires some considerable explanation and understanding of it’s purpose and meaning.  I think that only with that kind of understanding, can it be really appreciated. Unlike a similar display in Ballarat, we didn’t really have the time this afternoon, to examine those explanations, where available.

One display here which particularly interested Heather, not surprisingly, was the Linda Jackson Bush Couture display  – a 40 year display of a distinctly Australian approach to fashion design. Working as an artist outside of the conventional fashion market place, she devised unique forms of clothing that evolved beyond the sphere of seasonal trends; defying the limits of Western fashion by drawing on an eclectic mix of influences from India, Africa, Asia and Australia. Drawn from the NGV collection and the artist’s own archive, the exhibition featured seminal works created by Jackson from the mid 1970s to the 1990s, including a number of unique and rare early pieces which embodied the dynamic period during which she defined her own style. I’m sure that people with a special interest in such a style of ‘art-form’ would find this a fascinating display. I was content to wander through briefly, admire [to some extent] and more on.

Move on in fact to another great ‘gallery shop’, where despite the presence of a number of tempting and generally pricey books, we kept moving without exchanging any money! Nearby was a magnificent shop of beautiful glassware –  spectacularly designed vases, just one example [I do like vases], but priced up in the thousands of dollars range – hard not to have the thought come into one’s mind of picking up one of those pieces, and then dropping it!  Horrible thought! I think this was described as the Home-wares shop in the Centre – Anyway, we were obviously not going to make any purchases there either!

It was at this point that we suddenly realised, at 4.15 pm, how dark it suddenly seemed to have become, and looking out towards Flinders Street we quickly understood why – there was a torrential downpour in progress, and half of the people out in the street, were like us, minus umbrellas. Well at this stage, we had no rush to get anywhere, so decided it was time to sit and relax over a drink – iced coffee for Bill, and  pot of tea for Heather – actually that’s not what he had. Heather insisted this was her shout, and she was drinking a glass of wine, apparently much nicer than the glass of house wine she had drunk last night at the Victoria Hotel where she was staying! Actually, that was a very pleasant 45 minutes or so, as we dawdled over our respective drinks – occasionally, it would look as though the rain had stopped, people out in the street were rushing past without their umbrellas up, until I realised they were simply the unfortunates who didn’t have an umbrella with them, to put up!!  We tried to work out which would be our best means of ‘escape’ to get back towards Little Collins Street, where Heather’s hotel was – on the other side of Flinders Street, just east a bit of St Paul’s Cathedral, there was quite a steep laneway, going somewhere!~ However looking at the water pouring down the walls of the old buildings on either side of that laneway, I decided it looked a little slippery on the stonework, and rather steep  – inclines of that nature seem to be worrying me at present, and for Heather, who had a troublesome knee, which was going to require surgical treatment within the next couple of months, it would be a poor option. So we waited a little longer!

I think it was around 5.30, when although a little early for a meal, we decided to do just that, have an early evening ‘tea’. It was still raining when we exited from the protection of the Centre, though only light rain, just enough to dampen one’s hair, but not much else, for a brief period.  Wandered down to Swanston Street – considered going into Young & Jackson’s pub, but looked a bit crowded, so walked on up to Flinders Lane and began to explore the off-lanes from there, where there were a multitude of little eating places, most of them quite popular, especially those that had a bit of overhead cover from the rain, which was starting to get heavier by the minute.  Can’t remember the name of the café that we had little hesitation in getting into and finding a spare table for two, out of the rain!  While Heather ate a combination of a couple of entrees, I ate a dish of Calamari salad –  the calamari just a touch more rubbery than I prefer it, but not enough to spoil enjoyment. The salad consisted simply of lettuce, but with the aid of a lemon, it was tasty enough.  No alcohol, just ‘tap’ water for Bill and a pot of tea for Heather. And another 45 minutes or so to learn about the other’s life and families over the past 50 years.

Afterwards, walking away from the laneway, Heather made sure we walked past a discount book store, advertising most books at just $5. We spent a bit of time in there [surprise, surprise], and I would eventually walk out, with at least one purchase – a Wordsworth Bio library edition, of the life of the English author, Thomas Hardy, of whose novels, I have a number, in paperback form, as was this book. There were in fact a number of authors from that period that I could have chosen –  back another time for the others, maybe! Meanwhile, something to begin reading on the train trip back to Sunbury

Heather and I parted company near her hotel, where she had another night, before visiting her son in hospital again tomorrow prior to returning to Ballarat.  Farewell greetings, before I continued my walk in the rain [still only lightly falling now] up to the Bourke Street tram, and back down to the Southern Cross train station.  It had been a rather full and pleasant day for two people who at our advanced ages seemed comfortable with each other’s company. Meanwhile, the 7.15 train to Bendigo was reasonably crowded as usual, but the trip was comfortable and uneventful for me. Back in Sunbury, it seemed to have been raining for some time, and still was – hence, a bit of a damp walk back to my car, which thankfully was where I had left it! I was pleased to be home in time to watch tonight’s episode of The Straits, on the ABC.

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