Category Archives: National Gallery of Victoria

The Field re-visited

‘Summing them up as morbid or deathly, but their very primitiveness, their sledge hammer effects, reinforce this mentally; naked extreme art’

Profoundly Art-Critic G.R.Lansell is describing Peter Booths early ‘Field’ work, a slate of black and grey on a minimalist canvas however he could have been describing his later dramatic figurative art.

Although the artist’s work morphed into an entirely different style, the essence of the artist’s style was conceived.

The Field exhibition launched Melbourne’s art scene in 1968 however it was not fully embraced by the locals.

The battle between Figurative Art that was the flagship of the Melbourne art tribes such as the Reed’s at Hiede and the Boyd’s at Murumbeena, had rallied against the American influence of the exhibition. At the time the exhibition was not organically Melbourne, nor was it entirely ‘International’.

The New York art critic Clement Greenberg criticised the first NGV Contemporary exhibition as ‘ second-rate.’


The exhibition aimed at awakening a sleepy town, after the failure of the 1956 Gallery of Contemporary Art. The new NGV curator John Stringer thrust his ideas forward and imposed his stipulations on the artists; they were happy to comply as careers and reputations were being made.

In today’s climate the work stands the test of time but to mark the journey of the Abstract Movement there is no greater example than Ron Robertson’s ‘Vault’.

The Vault 1978

The Vault was placed in the City Square in  1980, twelve years after the exhibition but the local reaction marks the cultural journey of Melbourne. The sculpture received such disfavour that it was nicknamed the ‘Yellow Peril’ by journalists and removed from its place due to public demand. It was a displaced work and was thrown into the shadows until 2002 when it found its home outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

The art of The Field exhibition sits comfortably within our minimalist technological community . The ideas that may have seemed cold, isolated and sterile during the ‘flower power’ period have a greater relevance in 2018, within a world disconnecting with nature and embracing the virtual.


The Field Exhibition was the first piece of the NGV journey that began in 1968 and was 50 years before its time.

Banner photo Rolla Scape 1968 Janet Dawson


Until Aug 26

Everything is not as it seems

GOU PEI, Chinese Fabric Artist engineers her Masterpieces, stitch by stitch, bead upon bead, golden thread and a mantle of dreams inspired by an ancient past with dresses that would inspire the Pope. Her exhibit arrived in Melbourne, as precious as the Emperors Palace treasures and is located in the eye of the TRIENNIAL storm at the NGV.

If Melbourne wanted to grab a snatch of the Artistic cyclic pie, they are heading in the right direction. This show stopping art storm is fixated on capturing the Melbourne imagination with no expense spared, and this year it is free.

The journey starts and ends in the Moroccan coffee house but our focus is on the second floor, up the Reko Rennie elevator. From the Australian Aboriginal world, without excess to the pre-communist decadance, up the spine into the heart and soul of the human mind.IMG_1147

Pei claims her work denies what it succumbs to, human vanity. Heart, soul and creativity, with a barrage of craftsmen on the floor, and this has happened before, in Dynasties past, a royal glass slipper for the ball. Rhianna , contemporary Diva, herald in the Artist at the Met Gala, formally the Costume Institute Gala, in New York.

The NGV hive, houses the Queen in an exhibition that begins in a blaze of glory.


Like Michelangelo, one can imagine that she is ripe for Vatican success.

The NGV has gone wild, Curated by Simon Maidment’s team, a wonderland passing from one installation to another, a mind altering experience of Art.

As art-life drifts out of the fringe into the mainstream an unholy alliance bridges the gap between today and tomorrow. The current stream sedating, a war brewing.

It’s an epic bombardment, a Cultural revolution in it’s full thrust of life bordering on the ruin of decadance. Ron Mueck explores the human condition and its vulnerability in the wake of God-like delusions.


Against the odds

How hard is hard? What is our mortal capacity?

Artist, Mel O’Callaghan explores these questions through her dramatic Video Art currently on display at NGV Australia. Resistance and endurance is a rite of passage each of us will pass through eventually, a relative condition at every age.


Ensemble within the NGV space is cinematic, with life-size actors in a war-like water-battle. O’Callaghan uses the violence of the force to explore existence. It is when we let go  , that life spirals and the body is swept away.

‘What a single body is capable of when enduring a voluntarily experience of duress is a powerful thing to behold’  Callaghan

Australian O’Callaghan lives in Paris and gave a live performance at the Serralves, taking it out of the dark theatre space and into the light of day.

O’Callaghan considers the body as a vehicle of ‘imposed labour’. The resistance of a ballet dancer perhaps or an underpaid worker forcing him/herself out of bed? Consider the Soldier preparing for death, or worse. Each day we battle, not to win, just to remain standing.

‘To fall, to begin again which is where the virtuous aspect comes into violence. It’s not being purely negative but rather a creative force’ O’Callaghan

Her work also relates to the Political and Economic climax point that is coming into focus.

…. those mounting feelings of deep despair that force acts of extremism’

Now showing within the perfect space, the deconstructive architectural venue at Fed. Square.





based on interview with Louise Paramor NGV

The Fabric Architect

“I wanted to be an Architect” Dior

French designer Christian Dior craved an artistic life as the economic world collapsed under the weight of the war machine that had eaten into Europe. He fell into the company of artists, and sought the bohemian path in the aftermath of terror. They had new hope, a brighter path, where he could be an artist or an architect and became a Fashion Designer.

Dior learnt the sophistication of simplicity through his training with designer Robert Piguet from 1937, yet his spatial designs grew out of his visual comprehension of Architecture, creating elaborate folds and abundant material to create contrasts that would highlight a slim waistline through his A-line skirts that dropped just short of the floor to make the model appear taller.

“I drew flower ladies” Dior

This return to the former traditions and the excessive indulgence of fabric angered the post-war women that had achieved a degree of independence through taking on jobs during the war that required sensible attire. Material was still rationed and his designs also mocked the practice accessibility of the ‘new look’.

“The women were very closely tailored and it wasn’t easy, there was no freedom, morally women were veering toward a freer , more equal way of being, of course 68′ proved this many years later. Dior was fastening them into inconvenience with skirts like the BON BON dress that must have used 30 meters of fabric. It was tailored to the waist……tight fitting shoulders..breasts lifted with bra and corset, the dress even had an inner frame” Pierre Cardin

Dior’s vision was a cog that sent women back to the home, as the men returned from war and re-entered the workforce. Fashion that ornamented womens figures, new kitchens and pushing prams was the road into the 1950’s. Celebrities, Royalty and Movie stars modelled his frocks and set the scene in womens magazines for women to admire and sew.

Dior designed all of the dresses worn by Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic ‘Stagefright’.

 “So long as I have the dress I am the one who decides how long this show will run, .. and everything else(quote from movie Stagefright)

Dior did not enjoy the celebrity life, he preferred life outside of the spotlight of his Haute Couture kingdom, however his business acumen rarely failed him. Despite his success, he didn’t have a Fashion House until he was 42 years of age.

‘Australian women were among the first outside of Paris to witness, model and purchase original Dior designs. Less than a week after Dior’s dramatic debut of February 1947, articles celebrating his talent appeared in local newspapers.’ NGV

Up until the late 70’s most women could sew clothes for their families and magazines promoted dress patterns over shop purchases. Fashion designers had to be a step ahead of their acute audience and the dazzle of Dior’s complex silhouettes continued to challenge women who tried to make what few could afford. David Jones (Sydney) presented a Dior fashion parade in 1948.

The elegant French designs were tempered into frocks that marked ‘the look’ of the 50’s. As fashion relaxed in the 70’s, puffed up in the 80’s and went grunge in the 90’s, the Dior sophistication excites a retrospective desire for elegance.

During the week the NGV was wall to wall with women visiting the gallery, marking the Spring Carnival of fashion in Melbourne.





Christian Dior The Man behind the myth, Phillipe Lanfranch




The seasons of David Hockney


Hockney is both artist and philosopher and does not leave ‘Art for Arts-sake’,. He has a dilemma and a relationship with the camera. It’s an interesting journey. Hockney wants to break free from the ‘window to the world’ and look upon life with fresh eyes but memory draws him back into the abyss of ‘what if’. It’s this challenge that makes his work exciting and current.


Hockney was an early explorer of new technology when others were still reckoning with it. The perplex of the eye informing Art or the camera has etched itself into his work. The inner debate of Hockney is explored in his art and educates the viewer. He is an intellectual and art is his vehicle

“The camera can’t get the beauty of this ……it can’t compete with painting” Hockney


Hockney challenges the limitations of the camera but continues to return to it. He has a union to technology that he cannot divorce himself from and that’s fine. As Hockney searches for the truth and is willing to film it; we benefit.

Hockney knew that 14th Century artists were using the ancient Camera Obscure,  a technique that reproduced a slide show via light and darkness onto a canvas. He devoted a few years documenting it and producing evidence.

Maybe in the early years, Hockney was criticised for letting the camera inform him and he aimed to provide its legitimate history within the Renaissance . He ended up proving and providing something more important, it works either way.

The pool and boys journey in LA begins as an eye and brush experience.

‘Though there was no photography used in the swimming pool paintings, because the camera “freezes” the water, which was not the effect he was after, he did continue to use it as n aide-memoire’ Christopher Simon Skykes

Hockney could capture the movement and effect of pool water with his eye but needed the camera for the Splash!

When Hockney returns to the English countryside to capture the seasons, he faces extreme weather and does not photograph the landscape. He forsakes a cosy studio for art of plein-air. Back indoors however he views the photographs of his work and aims to create a cinematic version within a jigsaw. The camera is back. The final twist is that the weather weathered work informs the photograph.


Take the journey and roll out the green carpet for David Hockney at NGV International.

NGV International  Nov 11- Mar 13


Why Degas mattered

The terrors of recent France and the Edgar Degas exhibition in Melbourne, may seem to have nothing in common, but look again.

“Have we loss the supremacy on the field of Fine Arts as we have lost it on the field of battle? Are our Artists like our Generals the victims of a treacherous illusion of seeing themselves invincible?” Ross King

Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans ou Grande Danseuse habille ; once in NGV permanent collection in 70s-80s

This was the general critical response to the 1872 Exhibition held at the Salon;  the heartbeat that informed the public of what was regarded as Art.The committee that held tight to conservative principles had got it wrong. The times were changing.

The French had loss a war to the Germans and the terms of defeat were so disagreeable to the French that there was Civil war on the streets. Scorched buildings, street executions and dead bodies scarred the city. The public no longer wanted Art or Artists that celebrated Napoleon Wars.

Manet the mentor of the Impressionist who had been made ridiculous by the Salon, it’s critics and the public, for most of his career, was suddenly the ‘toast of the town’. The Socialists were imprisoned and shot after the riots at Montmarte, however the tide had turned. People wanted artists that told their stories, not those of the Ruling Class and its Generals.

“Suddenly , as if in reaction against the grim drabness and horrors of the Siege and the Commune, the Impressionists burst forth into a new,passionate, glorious blaze of colour, redolent with the love of simple, ordinary existence.” Alistair Horne

detail of The Bellelli Family 1860

The Salon was losing its hold and the cafes where rogue artists congregated were taking hold as the places which informed Artists.It is in this environment that Degas and the Impressionists went forth and re-created new ‘ways of seeing’.

“Drawing is not what one sees but what others are made to see” Degas

Manets tireless battle with the Art Establishment that would have worn down most; forged a path for Modern Art.

“Of Manet’s circle the closest to him in age, intellect and temperament was Edgar Degas,whom Manet first met in 1853, the year of his first rejection from the Salon.” Denis Thomas

Degas purchased a camera on a trip to America and it informed his work, he chose to paint unconventional angles. The Modern Era needed a new voice.



by April Forward


Banner photo by Degas

Alister Horne/ The Fall of Paris

Ross King / The Judgement of Paris

Denis Thomas/ The Impressionists


History in Fabric

200 years of Fashion at NGV Australia is a fashion warp of cultural remembering. It is commonly acknowledged that written history is told through the eyes of the ‘white man’, Aboriginal history through Art and Womens history through fashion.

The Suitors

This bride isn't shrinking away from a bold statement, there will be 2 suits in this marriage.
This bride isn’t shrinking away from a bold statement, there will be 2 suits in this marriage.

‘…the Colonial taste (which might differ from Melbourne suburb to suburb) was capricious, so different as to be sometimes absurd.’  Margaret Maynard


‘Australian fashion from the early twentieth-century broadly emulated international trends and ideas of glamour inherited from Paris and Hollywood, but by the 1960’s, Australian designers were beginning to have there own impact on the world stage with work that no longer followed..’   Nadia Buick

Its political; burn the bra,womens lib,sexual liberation due to the pill & frighten your parents all at once.
Its political; burn the bra,womens lib,sexual liberation due to the pill & frighten your parents all at once.



Prue Actons ‘Youthquake’ reveals a sheer jumpsuit that sold for $60. David Jones marketed it to mainstream as sexy but for the Flower Power generation; ‘it was a symbol of passive resistance .. anti- war  protests..its changed attitudes and allegiances’   NGV

Meet Mr. John

All this suit needs is a perm,thick moustache, reflecting glasses. Its more trip than hip.
All this suit needs is a perm,thick moustache, reflecting glasses. Its more trip than hip.

House of Merivale and Mr. John Sydney, introduce the corduroy belted suit for men in 1973.

‘The 1970’s trend towards unisex attire, which saw traditionally ascribed masculine and feminine codes of dress become more androgynous.’    NGV

As the 70’s seep into the 80’s, The Chai Jumpsuit 1978, reveals fashionscapacity as a medium for artistic expression’   Danielle Whitfield.

Doing time with the Pistols
Doing time with the Pistols

the PUNK period, was no longer passive resistance, it was anarchy. The Melbourne music culture embraced punk, Sex Pistol films were played at Uni. events and the alternative scene was self supporting.

‘As the band reappeared for an encore, Sid showed the audience an obscene gesture and Steve yelled, “You must be mad to want more of us’             Dangerous Minds, Gallagher.

Less is Best for NOW

Inspired by Mondrain and conceptual minimalism and Kraftwerk.
Inspired by Mondrain , conceptual minimalism and Kraftwerk.

Tina Salivas studied fashion at Adelaide’s Marston College her 2007 creation draws inspiration from European Artists.

‘the cloth contributes to the overall design of the fully realise their artistic visions …they must not only develop form, but the textile as well.’    Paola Di Trocchio




extracts from 200 years of Fashion NGV publication.

Top Photo: Kate Durham ‘Sentimenta romantica de l’amour et glamour: Wedding ensemble 1982’ If this was the veil, imagine the reception.

review and photographs by A Forward

Still Here by Josh Muir, a White Night Sensation

Crowds gathered around NGV International on the crisp cool Saturday night, to enjoy the White Night projections. The mood was relaxed as the audience waited for the remains of the day, to become night.


The projection used the entire space of the facade, a perfect blank canvas for award-winning artist Josh Muir. Emma Donovan and James Henry provided the haunting soundscape, it was a  flawless collaboration. Still Here was a visual feast with a political edge.

It began with a bird flying peacefully across the building, followed by an eruption of circular abstract formations, representing creation. The new scene was of Aboriginal men on the beach, with a catch, as the women sat in circles, chatting.


On the horizon, crosses that symbolised the coming of a new culture, draw closer and a storm thunders down, closing the curtains on that era.

In the new scene ,the landscape is less sympathetic, however the newly clothed Aboriginal people continue on with family life. A white van drives down a road to a family sitting together. A white man comes out of the van and pulls the child away, the parents fight the intruder but they are over powered. The child is put into the van and  driven off. The mother wails as the father collapses with despair.

There is a shocked murmur in the audience.


“They are taking the kids” is voiced throughout the  large gathering.

In the next scene City life has taken over, trams ‘ding’ and cars roar  by. It was a blatant statement. Muir was evoking the viewer through the power of Art. It was stunning.

‘I am a proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunditjmara man, born and living in Ballarat, Victoria. I hold my culture strong to my heart – it gives me a voice and a great sense of my identity. When I look around, I see empires built on aboriginal land. I cannot physically change or shift this, though I can make the most of my culture in a contemporary setting and use my art projects to address current issues of reconciliation.’ WhiteNightMelbourne

If you saw no other projection,  White Night Melbourne was a great success.

Reko Reno at Fed Square
Reko Reno at Fed Square

Other Aboriginal Artists represented on White Night Melbourne were Reko Reno at Federation Square and Pitch Makin Fellas, a group work at The Exhibition Buildings.



Chinese Palace treasures in Melbourne

The life of a Chinese Emperor was that of extreme wealth and power, his role was to govern and unite the country. He was known as the ‘Son of Heaven’ and expected to have spiritual influence over the elements. Confucius ideology influenced the aristocratic place of the ruler; historically the roles had been degraded by a series of abusive and debauch rulers. Confucius believed in the feudal system however he intended that the leader would be honourable and exemplify the finer qualities of leadership. Parental care of the autocrat would aim to establish order amongst the obedient subjects.

Qianlong, fourth Emperor of the Quing dynasty (1644-1911), was one of Chinas most successful leaders and ruled for over 60 years (1736–1795). He brought prosperity and peace to the region, although he came from a military background. He was a descendant of the Manchu, which was a small ethnic group. Qianlong adopted Chinese manners and followed the guidelines of Confucius ethics, to influence the 150 million Han Chinese that he ruled. The treasures of this royal court are currently on display at the National Gallery of Victoria.

“The Victorian Government is grateful to the Palace Museum for entrusting the NGV with its treasures as part of a ground-breaking partnership between the two institutions.” Mr. Foley said.

Dr Mae Anna Pang, Senior Curator of Asian Art, NGV and Curator of A Golden Age of China very generously gave time to the Melbourne Press and revealed details that are hidden within the beautiful objects, of the Forbidden City. She explained the Emperors interest in art. He employed artists to depict royal life, he collected art from around the world and he also practiced drawing and calligraphy.

There were two types of artwork in Imperial China, one that was to be shown and the other for private meditation. Some of Dr. Pang’s favorite pieces in the exhibition are Qianlong’s private drawings and his poetry. Private drawings were to aid inner contemplation, not to impress the viewer. She remarked that the exhibit is less grand than the surrounding works and could be overlooked, however the drawings give us insight into the state and mind of the Emperor.

The Emperors landscape scrolls are encased in a glass cabinet, they depict nature and the favorite places that he had visited. Dr. Pang explained that he was a determined traveler at a time when the task was a difficult one. When he was fascinated by a place he would attempt to recreate an aspect of it in his drawing or have its feature installed, in the palace gardens.

The visually beautiful characters of the Chinese language are an esteemed part of its literature. Although the language develops and changes, its intrinsic core meaning can still be understood in modern China. The Emperor was a prolific poet and wrote over 40,000 poems and 1300 pieces of prose. Dr Pang read the calligraphy of a large poem Poem about East Mountain Brush-rest peak that was written by Qianlong and is framed on the gallery wall. The poem elevates people that seek inner spiritual development over those that adorn themselves in jade and corals, who care only for outer appearances. Within the poem, he creates clever puns and plays on words to give them multiple meanings. This duality is represented in many of the works on display.


“Everything is not as it seems” Dr Pang explains.

Symbols and color are used to portray status, longevity and luck. The yellow silk costumes that are used for ceremonies are rich in such detail. Yellow was the distinctive colour of the ruler; it was exclusive to the royal court. A death penalty would be the punishment of anyone who breached this code and incorporated the color in his or her garment.

Leadership entitled the Emperor to a vast array of wives and concubines for his pleasure and procreation, however it also required eunuchs to service them. To ensure a faithful court, many men forfeited their patriarchal rights. They were often sons of the poor who had been sold to the Palace. They were donned with red hats to distinguish their rank, as depicted in the composition, Imperial Banquet in the Garden of Ten Thousand Trees by Giuseppe Castiglione.

“One of his 41 wives was Moslem” Dr Pang adds

Dr. Pang discussed the details of a large work of coloured inks on silk, titled Envoys from vassal states and foreign countries presenting tribute to the Emperor


The composition has a warped aerial perspective to show the viewer multiple angles. Walls, to ensure royal privacy, separate the private and public areas. At the entrance of the Palace, visitors are assembled from around the world. The flags depict the country that the ambassador is from and it includes European nations. Due to the successful leadership of Qianlong, China had become a great empire and was held in worldly renown.

Most of the items within the collection are adorned with symbols and references to good fortune. The Melbourne Press asked the Palace Museums Vice Director Song Jirong what the Chinese would regard as the most important ‘type of luck’.

“A long life” she replied.

Many symbols of the artwork promote longevity. The court women adorned themselves with hairpieces that have knots embellished within the design, to represent an extended life. They also wore extremely long nail protectors and the pair that is currently on display is made of fine gilt silver wires formed into symbols of happiness and a long life. Some of the items on display incorporate storks, dragons and the number 9; these are keystone symbols that perpetuate the life-force. Many of the symbols used are unique to eastern culture and can be overlooked by western visitors. At the hem of a semi formal robe for the Empress are waves of colour that represent the sky. Chinese artists represent the sky as having many colours, not just solo blue.

The final room of the exhibition is a slide show of the Forbidden City so the visitor gets an idea of the expanse of the Palace. It’s the size of a suburb, with magnificent engineering feats. It was built between 1406 and 1421 and involved a workforce of 10,000 craftsmen and 1,000,000 labourers. The Palace has 9000 rooms and the Forbidden City occupies a vast expanse of more than 72 hectares. The two dynasties of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) households and their 24 Emperors enjoyed this exclusive luxury. In 1925, the Palace Museum opened the heavy gates of the Forbidden City to the public.

One cannot underestimate the level of negotiations and the transport considerations of the exhibit. Valuable Chinese antique treasures are currently on loan at the NGV. Air China was given the task of the safe haul. Melbourne is in the entitled position of host to this important collection. It is an opportunity to view a cultural legacy in its prime.

Modern Art broke its ties to its European Masters and drew inspiration from the East. It is important to understand the influence that Chinese art has had on the West. It was exposure to these types of works that influenced artists such as Henri Matisse. Matisse worked extensively in the breaking down of image to essential form. Strong lines, negative spaces and flat dimensions became the new vision that the Modern Master employed.

Dr Pang remarked that the NGV and Melbourne reminded her of the Palace and prime places in China. She noted that both are very orderly and have garden areas that are reminiscent of Chinese aesthetics.

Rio Tinto is a major sponsor of The Golden Age of China; they have arranged free entry for all school children, to the exhibits. The Exhibition will be open to the public until June 21st. There will also be a series of talks and films for those that desire a deeper understanding of Chinese culture.


QIANLONG EMPEROR Chinese 1711–99

Poem about East Mountain Brush-rest peak, calligraphy 弘历咏东山笔架峰贴落Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1768

signed by Qianlong Emperor in the autumn of 1768 and with 2 seals of Qianlong Emperor

ink on paper 157.5 x 216.0 cm (image and sheet)The Palace Museum, Beijing

Envoys from vassal states and foreign countries presenting tribute to the Emperor 清人万国来朝图轴Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736–95

coloured inks on silk 365.0 x 219.5 cm The Palace Museum, Beijing


Shrigleys Definitive Deployment of Art

David Shrigley’s drawings, sculpture, happenings and films follow the anti-art traditions of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. ‘This is not art, this is not important’. Then why did the NGV host his work and float his head-less toy swans in the moat.


The seduction of Art refusing to be Art is like a conquest behaving coy and disinterested. Its chic, its naughty but its mostly irreverent. It’s the cat and mouse game that the art world has been playing with itself since the 1880s when Modern Art decided to challenge the status quo of ‘what is Art?’

Shrigley has a mass appeal. Since 2005 he has produced a weekly cartoon for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Michael Leunig cartoons, that have appeared weekly in The Age draw similar references, however Shrigleys message, is less emotive and more ‘slap stick’.

The exhibition came wallpapered, with roughly drawn cartoons and captions such as;

“I don’t have a head but still I must go to work”

The exhibition housed an interactive life drawing class where the live model was replaced by a naked cartoon sculpture, like a garden cupid fountain, it too, relieved itself. A motorized head entertained visitors and there were ‘boring’ films. The film of a cartoon figure sleeping ‘A Napping Station’, is a parody to the Andy Warhol film, Sleep.

The NGV website noted a remark by the English art critic Adrian Searle.

‘Shrigley’s work is very wrong and very bad in all sorts of ways. It is also ubiquitous and compelling. There are lots of artists who, furrowing their brows and trying to convince us of their seriousness, aren’t half as profound or compelling.’

The most important thing to have when examining his work is your sense of humor.IMG_0787