The na­tion’s gal­leries are filled with im­pres­sive block­busters for the cloudy days of sum­mer, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

THE great­est change in our mod­ern ex­pe­ri­ence of time has come with a shift from ru­ral to ur­ban life. For farm­ers, sum­mer is the busiest pe­riod of the year. From time im­memo­rial, the hay was cut for win­ter feed in early sum­mer, then at mid­sum­mer the wheat was ready to be har­vested. Af­ter dry­ing, it was threshed and stored in barns, in time to pre­pare for the au­tumn vin­tage and gath­er­ing of other fruit and nut crops. Wheat was sown in later au­tumn, to lie in the ground through win­ter and ger­mi­nate in spring. Win­ter was the sea­son of en­forced idle­ness, apart from re­pair­ing and main­tain­ing equip­ment and keep­ing live­stock fed.

All that has been re­versed by ur­ban and in­dus­trial so­ci­ety. We work in heated offices, schools and fac­to­ries through the cold months, and the sum­mer, when cities be­come un­com­fort­ably hot, is de­voted to leisure. It is the same in the art world: by late spring, the com­mer­cial dealers are hold­ing their last im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tions, then they hang the gal­leries with selections from the stock­rooms for the quiet sum­mer months when hardly any­one is buy­ing pic­tures.

The pub­lic mu­se­ums also take hol­i­days, but this is less ap­par­ent be­cause their gal­leries are filled with block­busters and big shows that the hol­i­day crowds will visit on those grey days when the beach is un­ap­peal­ing. This year, and dur­ing sum­mer, there is as rich a choice as ever.

In Syd­ney, Monet and the Im­pres­sion­ists con­tin­ues at the Art Gallery of NSW un­til Jan­uary 26; this loan ex­hi­bi­tion from the Bos­ton Mu­seum of Fine Arts is an ex­cep­tional op­por­tu­nity to re­visit an artist we some­times take for granted and to med­i­tate not only on the mean­ing of im­pres­sion­ism but on the na­ture of the art of paint­ing.

Claude Monet was not only the finest of the im­pres­sion­ists in the strict sense of the term but also the one who ex­tended the style far be­yond its orig­i­nal in­ter­est in sub­jec­tive and ephemeral ex­pe­ri­ence, his last works ex­press­ing a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the rhythms of na­ture, at once ever-chang­ing and eter­nal. The show also in­cludes very fine works by artists whose aims were fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent, such as Edgar De­gas, Paul Cezanne, Jean-Bap­tiste-Camille Corot and Theodore Rousseau.

The gallery also has a sur­vey of the late work of a rel­a­tively lit­tle-known and ec­cen­tric South Aus­tralian painter, Ho­race Tren­erry ( 1899-1958), to March 15, and Half Light, a sur­vey of Abo­rig­i­nal pho­tog­ra­phers, un­til Fe­bru­ary 22. The good works in this show are those that are sim­ple, di­rect and hon­est; the out­stand­ing fig­ure is Mervyn Bishop, fol­lowed by Michael Ri­ley and Ricky May­nard. Un­for­tu­nately the show is marred by var­i­ous post­mod­ern con­ceits, the in­evitable tub-thump­ing of some pieces and by the self-in­dul­gent crude­ness of Des­tiny Dea­con.

About as far from such qual­i­ties as pos­si­ble will be the so­phis­ti­ca­tion and re­fine­ment of Genji: The World of the Shin­ing Prince, an ex­hi­bi­tion of il­lus­tra­tions to the fa­mous Ja­panese novel, the Genji Mono­gatari or The Tale of Genji , com­posed 1000 years ago by no­ble­woman Murasaki Shik­ibu; it opens at the AGNSW on De­cem­ber 12 and runs un­til Fe­bru­ary 22. The gallery will present the pho­to­graphic and in­stal­la­tion work of Colom­bian Os­car Munoz from to June 14.

An­other show al­ready re­viewed here is Mod­ern Times, at the Pow­er­house Mu­seum un­til Fe­bru­ary 15. It is full of in­ter­est­ing arte­facts re­lat­ing to the his­tory of mod­ern de­sign in Aus­tralia, though rather poorly or­gan­ised as an ex­hi­bi­tion. The S. H. Ervin Gallery at Ob­ser­va­tory Hill has a group ex­hi­bi­tion of con­tem­po­rary land­scape painters, On the Hey­sen Trail ( to De­cem­ber 21), to co­in­cide with the Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia’s Hans Hey­sen, which was dis­cussed in this col­umn last week. From Jan­uary 10 to Fe­bru­ary 22, S. H. Ervin will be hold­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive of Cres­sida Camp­bell, whose com­mer­cial show at Philip Ba­con Gal­leries in Bris­bane has just closed, and whose sumptuous book was pub­lished re­cently.

In Mel­bourne, the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria has a sur­vey of the vast and minutely detailed pho­to­graphs of con­tem­po­rary Ger­man An­dreas Gursky to Fe­bru­ary 22, as well as the ret­ro­spec­tive of Ros­alie Gas­coigne, which runs from De­cem­ber 19 to March 15 at the Ian Pot­ter Cen­tre. Also there are Abo­rig­i­nal batiks from Cen­tral Aus­tralia to Fe­bru­ary 1, and pho­to­graphs of night life and low life by Rennie El­lis to Fe­bru­ary 22. From Fe­bru­ary 27 to July 26, The Satir­i­cal Eye: Com­edy and Cri­tique from Hog­a­rth to Dau­mier, will deal with the emer­gence of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal car­i­ca­ture in Eng­land and France from 1730 to 1870. An­other sig­nif­i­cant show to fol­low in the au­tumn will be John Brack, from April 24 to Au­gust 9. The Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art will be show­ing The Wa­ter Hole, by Swiss artists Gerda Steiner and Jorg Len­zlinger, from De­cem­ber 23 to March 1.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est at the NGV is the fine 16th-cen­tury oval paint­ing pur­chased in 1965 and for­merly thought to be the por­trait of an un­known young man by an anony­mous north


19 Ital­ian. This dou­ble puz­zle ap­par­ently has been solved. The pic­ture has been iden­ti­fied as a like­ness of the no­to­ri­ous Lu­crezia Bor­gia, daugh­ter of Pope Alexan­der VI, and at­trib­uted to Fer­rarese painter Dosso Dossi, au­thor of a num­ber of beau­ti­ful but of­ten icono­graph­i­cally ob­scure mytho­log­i­cal paint­ings.

The Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia in Can­berra has the very ab­sorb­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of Pa­cific Arts re­viewed here last month, Gods, Ghosts and Men, un­til Jan­uary 11. The NGA is also about to open what looks like an im­pres­sive loan ex­hi­bi­tion on the work of De­gas, a com­plex in­di­vid­ual and one of the best painters of the 19th cen­tury. Like Monet, he is a great painter whose real qual­i­ties can be ob­scured by his pop­u­lar­ity; the bal­leri­nas that hang in re­pro­duc­tion in dance stu­dios and sub­ur­ban houses are not sen­ti­men­tal pic­tures of nice lit­tle girls but re­flec­tions on the mir­a­cle by which very or­di­nary and even vul­gar crea­tures are made beau­ti­ful by the arts of chore­og­ra­phy and mu­sic. De­gas: Mas­ter of French Art opens on De­cem­ber 12 and runs un­til March 22. It will be com­ple­mented by De­gas’ World: The Rage for Change, a se­lec­tion of prints of the era from the NGA col­lec­tion, from Jan­uary 24 to May 3. Later in the sum­mer, the NGA will also have Misty Mod­erns: Aus­tralian Ton­al­ists 1910-1950, on tour from the Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia and re­viewed here re­cently.

The other big news in Can­berra is the open­ing of the new Na­tional Por­trait Gallery last week, which has fi­nally moved from its tem­po­rary home in Old Par­lia­ment House to an am­bi­tious new build­ing on the edge of Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin. The ex­hi­bi­tion Open Air: Por­traits in the Land­scape runs un­til March 1.

In Bris­bane, Con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia: Op­ti­mism opened at the Gallery of Mod­ern Art few weeks ago and runs un­til Fe­bru­ary 22. At the older Queens­land Art Gallery build­ing there is Some­one’s Uni­verse: The Art of Eu­gene Carch­esio to Fe­bru­ary 1 and the in­ter­est­ing Na­matjira to Now, un­for­tu­nately without a cat­a­logue, to Fe­bru­ary 15. As the ti­tle sug­gests, this ex­hi­bi­tion con­tains works by Al­bert Na­matjira, as well as by his ex­tended fam­ily and ex­am­ples of the work of con­tem­po­rary Abo­rig­i­nal painters who have gone back to his style for in­spi­ra­tion.

From March, GoMA will have a group of ex­hi­bi­tions de­voted to Chi­nese art, in­clud­ing Three Decades: The Con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese Col­lec­tion ( drawn largely from the QAG’s hold­ings), a show of the work of Zhang Xiao­gang and Life Lines, by Chi­nese-Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­pher William Yang. From late May to Septem­ber, there will be an im­por­tant loan ex­hi­bi­tion from the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York, Amer­i­can Im­pres­sion­ism and Re­al­ism. We are so used to the dom­i­nance of US art in the past half-cen­tury that we of­ten for­get how lit­tle we know about the work pro­duced there in the 19th and early 20th cen­tury when, in­deed, Amer­ica’s role in the de­vel­op­ment of the main­stream of mod­ern art was hardly greater than Aus­tralia’s. The sur­vey will in­clude James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer, as well as less fa­mil­iar fig­ures such as Childe Has­sam and William Mer­ritt Chase.

The Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia has its im­por­tant Hans Hey­sen ex­hi­bi­tion un­til Fe­bru­ary 8, be­fore it sets off on an ex­ten­sive tour to the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, Bal­larat, the Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery, the NGA and, fi­nally, the QAG. AGSA’s most im­por­tant project in the au­tumn will be The Golden Jour­ney: Ja­panese Art from Aus­tralian Col­lec­tions, which will run from March 6 to May 31. The show will in­clude 260 works from pre­his­toric times to the Meiji pe­riod, in a range of me­dia in­clud­ing ce­ram­ics and lac­quer as well as paint­ing.

The Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery has The Tilted Stage, a sur­vey of Mike Parr’s work, un­til March 1; and Anne Fer­ran: The Ground, the Air, a col­lec­tion of work made in Tas­ma­nia, deal­ing with the land­scape and the mem­ory of con­vict life, from De­cem­ber 12 to Fe­bru­ary 22. TMAG also has rich hold­ings of set­tler and early colo­nial art, in­clud­ing works by John Glover and Ben­jamin Duter­rau.

The Art Gallery of West­ern Aus­tralia has the West­ern Aus­tralian Premier’s In­dige­nous Art Awards ex­hi­bi­tion un­til Jan­uary 11, as well as a trav­el­ling show of Gor­don Ben­nett’s work from De­cem­ber 20 to March 22.

Much more in­trigu­ing, and elo­quently re­viewed for this news­pa­per by Ni­co­las Roth­well, is Husi Bei Ala Ti­mor Sira Nia Li­man ( From the Hands of our An­ces­tors), an ex­hi­bi­tion of the tra­di­tional arts of East Ti­mor drawn from the im­por­tant col­lec­tion in Dar­win and from the na­tional col­lec­tion in Dili, or at least from what sur­vived the loot­ing by In­done­sian army thugs and their lo­cal al­lies, and the sub­se­quent dam­age caused by weather and ne­glect. The show, at the Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, runs un­til July 12.

There will be many smaller ex­hi­bi­tions dur­ing a hol­i­day pe­riod whose bound­less­ness prompts a fi­nal re­flec­tion on time. The re­ver­sal of sea­sons in the south­ern hemi­sphere means not only that we have Christ­mas in the heat but that we cel­e­brate

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