Get thee to a gallery
The artful side of Queensland’s eclectic capital
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