Wednesday, September 03, 2014

There’s no business like show business

One of our most remarkable art experiences was being left alone in a room with a set of hand-coloured William Blake engravings. They were in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria and the curator Ursula Hoff had given us white gloves and shown us how to go through the solander boxes. Truly extraordinary. It’s easy to forget how much outstanding international art is held in the collections of Australian art museums. James Mollison’s remarkable collecting forays over the late seventies and eighties for the National Gallery means that Australian museums can mount a first class exhibition around a key figure like Marcel Duchamp as Monash University Museum of Art did last year with Reinventing the wheel: the readymade century.

It's also a great boon for NZ as our art museums can also benefit from the depth and breadth of Australian institutional collecting. A great example is about to kick off in Wellington when the City Gallery opens William Kentridge’s The refusal of time. Over the last week or so three technicians who work with William Kentridge have been overseeing the installation. This work was first shown at Documenta in 2012 and more recently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York where it attracted long queues. This is a great coup for the City Gallery and only possible because the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth has purchased The refusal of time and was prepared to lend it.

Watching this work is like being swept up into an immersive video game that's a heady and poetic mix of film and drawing enveloping the walls around a lumbering analogue construction holding the centre of the space. It's just the sort of work that art museums can rely on to bring significant numbers of new people into the world of contemporary art.