Monday, November 17, 2008


A while back we were wondering why Australian public art museums didn’t take to our art as much as we to theirs. You couldn’t have said that if you were at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne last week.

Arriving at the building on St Kilda Road (it has always been a special place for us because it was where we first saw great international art. In 1971 we had written ahead to the curator of prints and drawings, the legendary Ursula Hoff, and asked to see the William Blake collection. Hoff took us to a large room and a stack of Solander boxes on a table. Opening one of them she revealed a pile of Blakes in archival mattes with their surfaces only covered by a sheet of glassine paper. We were given gloves and left to it. Each time we removed a protective sheet the hand coloured works lit up the room. It was our most unforgettable art experience.) we saw two large banners announcing the re-hang of the collection. One of them featured a work by John Pule, probably not something we would do with Australian art in similar circumstances. In the main hall a large screen advertised the current shows cycling through images. Suddenly there was a Gordon Walters koru, followed by a drawing included in the exhibition. Finally, in the photography gallery we saw a large Patrick Pound book collage as a feature work.

For all that, the visits to NGVI (for international) and NGVA (Australia) were kind of depressing. The experience was overwhelmed by escalators, circulation areas, preparations to cater corporate events, surly guards wearing shades, clunky over-the-top exhibition design and tragic location systems (aka signage). Any great art experience, if you could find it, was way down in the pecking order.

Images: Top left, John Pule leads the way, right, Pat Pound at work in the photography gallery. Bottom, a Gordon Walters lightshow in the foyer.