Get thee to a gallery

The art­ful side of Queens­land’s eclec­tic cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH ELEN

THIS year, Bris­bane is a good place to ex­plore hid­den cor­ners of the world with­out leav­ing the coun­try.

Af­ter en­coun­ter­ing key fig­ures of the Span­ish royal court span­ning 400 years, vis­i­tors can wan­der next door to ex­plore the still in­trigu­ing heart of an­cient Egypt and go on to dis­cover myr­iad creative hubs in sub­ur­ban back­blocks.

In an ex­hi­bi­tion trav­el­ling from the Prado in Madrid, Queens­land Art Gallery is get­ting ready to pen­e­trate the dark side of Euro­pean art, start­ing with the sul­try painters of 16th-cen­tury Spain.

The art-world A-list has been turn­ing up in Bris­bane for some time now. There’s been Pi­casso and Warhol and, most re­cently, Matisse, with more than 300 draw­ings in an ex­hi­bi­tion that ended in March at the Gallery of Mod­ern Art.

Next it will be El Greco, Ve­lazquez, Goya and Rubens at Queens­land Art Gallery in July. De­sert­ing the im­pres­sion­ists and their sun-dap­pled pas­tels, this will be like time-trav­el­ling through Spain at the height of its in­trigu­ing power. Is­abella and Fer­di­nand (Henry VIII’s first wife, Cather­ine of Aragon, was their daugh­ter) united the king­doms of Aragon and Castile through their mar­riage, set up the in­fa­mous In­qui­si­tion and spon­sored Christopher Colum­bus’s 1492 voy­age to the New World.

Their her­itage in art and global pol­i­tics is here in these paint­ings, which be­gin with their heirs in 1550.

As well as spon­sor­ing its court painters, the roy­als col­lected Flem­ish and Dutch art, Ti­tian, Rubens and oth­ers, says David Bur­nett, cu­ra­tor of the QAG ex­hi­bi­tion (the Museo Na­cional del Prado cu­ra­tor is Javier Por­tus). Philip IV, a pa­tron of Ve­lazquez and Rubens, bought key works that had be­longed to the doomed English king Charles I af­ter his be­head­ing in 1649.

From the rich Haps­burg and Bour­bon eras, a time of ex­pand­ing em­pire, strate­gic mar­riages and li­aisons, gallery- go­ers will en­counter royal por­traits and such fa­mil­iar names as Goya and Ve­lazquez, as well as works by less fa­mous painters.

‘‘The ex­hi­bi­tion will have off­shoots and in­sights into the re­li­gion of the pe­riod, [in­clud­ing] por­traits, still life, about four cen­turies of paint­ing as it de­vel­oped un­der royal pa­tron­age, and the ev­ery­day life of a mod­ernising Spain,’’ Bur­nett says. When I visit, as Matisse closes at GoMA, QAG is al­ready run­ning fort­nightly pre­sen­ta­tions to fa­mil­iarise gallery staff with the in­ner work­ings of Spain as it emerged from the Mid­dle Ages, in­clud­ing brief­ings on the counter-ref­or­ma­tion, court pa­tron­age, royal his­tory and world ex­plo­ration, so they are able to of­fer vis­i­tors a broad back­ground.

Ta­pas, Span­ish mu­sic and Sun­day paella brunches will set the mood. La Sala del Prado — with a cafe, bar and in­ter­ac­tive mul­ti­me­dia and draw­ing ac­tiv­i­ties — will run chang­ing pro­grams with spe­cial guests.

QAG is al­ready tak­ing vis­i­tors on a for­eign tour with the ex­hi­bi­tion Mod­ern Woman: Daugh­ters and Lovers 1850-1918, Draw­ings from the Musee d’Or­say, Paris (un­til June 24).

Mean­while, a few min­utes’ stroll from the gal­leries through the city’s cul­tural precinct, Queens­land Mu­seum is prob­ing the dark­est se­crets of all as it trains the light of 21st-cen­tury sci­ence on the 3000-year-old corpse of priest Nes­peren­nub, cour­tesy of the Bri­tish Mu­seum in London.

Queens­land Mu­seum and Scien­cen­tre has re­cently un­der­gone a $14.3 mil­lion facelift. The en­trances and old, con­stricted spa­ces have been thrown open, with a stun­ning black­butt tim­ber stair­case, which folds back on it­self as it as­cends through the cen­tre of the build­ing, open­ing vis­tas across and be­tween floors.

The mu­seum’s pa­le­on­tol­o­gists, qui­etly work­ing away with out­back not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions, have been ex­plor­ing Queens­land’s ex­tra­or­di­nary di­nosaur ar­chive, in­clud­ing the skele­tons and fos­sil records of the ‘ ‘ di­nosaur stam­pede’’ at Win­ton.

The ex­hi­bi­tion Gi­ants of the Past, on dis­play un­til the end of the year, in­cludes a re­con­struc­tion of one of the coun­try’s most com­plete di­nosaur skele­tons.

And now Nes­peren­nub has ar­rived with three (equally mum­mi­fied) trav­el­ling com­pan­ions, one a 12-year-old girl. There are also cat and ibis mum­mies, amulets and more than 100 re­lated ob­jects from Egypt’s dis­tant past.

A smaller com­pan­ion ex­hi­bi­tion of arte­facts from QM’s own col­lec­tion in­cludes a rare Book of the Dead papyrus frag­ment, held by the mu­seum since it was do­nated in 1913 and, in an im­por­tant dis­cov­ery, iden­ti­fied dur­ing prepa­ra­tions for the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Ad­vanced med­i­cal scan­ning tech­nol­ogy and 3-D imag­ing al­low vis­i­tors to probe Nes­peren­nub’s deep­est se­crets with­out dis­turb­ing his frag­ile re­mains.

The in­trigu­ing jour­ney through an­cient ways of life and death tra­verses the pe­riod from 2300BC to the first cen­tury AD.

When Bris­bane flooded last year, mu­seum staff had 24 hours’ no­tice to move ground-floor col­lec­tions. Within two months of the floods, the mu­seum put out a com­mu­nity call for ob­jects and images, and mounted the ex­hi­bi­tion Bounc­ing Back from Dis­as­ter, which ended on May 20.

Way off at the op­po­site end of the time line, and well away from the cul­tural precinct of mu­seum and gal­leries, Bris­bane Pow­er­house on the river’s edge at New Farm is fus­ing lo­cal and over­seas tal­ent, all very much alive. The place hums and buzzes with elec­tric ac­tiv­ity even though the old grid has long been dis­con­nected.

WhenI visit, this hulk­ing in­dus- trial relic of red brick and weath­ered con­crete seethes with peo­ple of all ages and styles. A stand-up com­edy fes­ti­val is in mid-swing and a foot-tap­ping Ir­ish band gets go­ing in an­other space. There are two the­atres, a large hall and var­i­ous stu­dios and ter­races, a hub for com­edy, mu­sic, vis­ual arts, dance, kids’ events, dis­cus­sions and film.

Watt Res­tau­rant + Bar (run by Trip­pas White, which op­er­ates The Res­tau­rant at Art Gallery of NSW) of­fers ter­race din­ing on Pow­er­house’s river­side level while on level one, Bar Alto (alone worth the trip) is work­ing its way around Italy month by month, with stun- ning re­gional lunches. And din­ners are an Ital­ian feast ( chef Sa­jith Ven­ga­teri has worked along­side chefs from Venice’s Ho­tel Cipri­ani).

Out in the sub­urbs, on the in­de­pen­dent gallery trail, Jan Mur­phy Gallery lists artists such as Ma­rina Stroc­chi and Ben Quilty, while Ryan Ren­shaw Gallery is lead­ing the pack with emerg­ing young artists in the linked spa­ces of a cir­cle of old sta­bles.

Tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor and for­mer art stu­dent Ren­shaw, with part­ner Danielle Har­ri­gan, of­fers a se­ries of star­tling white in­te­ri­ors as back­drop to cut­ting-edge art. For four years the gallery has mounted the an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion Test Pat­tern, show­ing the work of care­fully se­lected stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates. This year’s show in­cluded Dana Lawrie’s sub­tle ex­ploratory paint­ing and the pho­tog­ra­phy of young Turk­ish artist Yavuz Erkan.

Ayear-round pro­gram in­cludes projects and solo shows by young Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional artists. Ren­shaw says GoMA has re­ally helped artists in Bris­bane by awak­en­ing in­ter­est in the arts and show­cas­ing the city’s creative ac­tiv­ity.

Mod­ern Woman: Daugh­ters and Lovers 1850-1918, Draw­ings from the Musee d’Or­say, Paris, can be seen at the Queens­land Art Gallery un­til June 24

Gi­ants of the Past

at Queens­land Mu­seum and Scien­cen­tre

An ex­hibit in Mummy: Se­crets of the Tomb

Watt Res­tau­rant + Bar of­fers ter­race din­ing on the Bris­bane Pow­er­house’s river­side level

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