it was strange was immediately obvious. A fallen and malleable Greek Corinthian style pillar; who knows, it might have once graced the Parthenon but – just when you least expect it – it moves! Snake like, it seems to follow you, about to pounce but, fear not! Its title is “Hello”. As Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked ““If you stare into the abyss, eventually it will stare back at you”.
No, I found that quite benign compared to his “Calm”. Imagine a rectangular pile of builder’s rubble. You walk past it, merely glancing at something that seems meaningless and needs to be swept away but, then, it heaves up and down, likely making you feel a little queasy. It did it for me.
The National Gallery in Canberra doesn’t shirk from controversy, Blue Poles tells us that, and Xu Zhen, one of China’s most significant artists and activists, certainly will add to that genre. In the gallery’s script, “His recent work centres on sculptural installations, video and performances that challenge cultural assumptions, question social taboos and comment on the idea of art as a commodity.” Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed his work, particularly the classic sculptures lined up on a slightly inclining surface.
Entitled “European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture 2014”, it takes you from antiquity to the Statue of Liberty (twice, both left and right handed). Very eye-catching and thought provoking.
The main feature during this visit however was “Know My Name – Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now”. Here there was a wide variety, as you would expect. With 170 artists on display with 350 works, it’s unlikely you’ll soak it all up in one viewing. Covering over 100 years there’s a broad spectrum of genres, from moving pictures of someone, well, moving, that lost me as to its value to Anne Ferran’s imaginative “Scenes on the Death of Nature” that grabbed my attention, a self portrat by Nora Heysen (now there’s a famous name in art) who was the first female to win the Archibald Prize (1938) to indigenous art of high quality, Grace Crossington-Smith’s (an artist I’ve admired at the N.S.W. State Gallery) “Interior in Yellow” and eX de Medici’s seminal (and huge) work called “The Wreckers” purportedly depicting the crash of capitalism.
And who could ignore the Seven Sisters, the woven figures standing around in the middle of a room, especially when all the staff remind you that it’s there. From nudes to Impressionism, the exhibit has it all.
So many more across a broad spectrum made it well worthwhile in this spacious venue whose very architecture is worth a look as well. That’s also ignoring the outside works, mainly sculptures, scattered around various sites that both greet and farewell you. One of the better exhibitions I’ve seen there.