MC Escher’s works, beloved of hip­pies and stars alike, are com­ing to Aus­tralia in a show de­signed to im­merse the vis­i­tor in his cu­ri­ous view, writes Bron­wyn Wat­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

In 2011, an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of peo­ple — al­most 10,000 a day — streamed through an ex­hi­bi­tion in Brazil, mak­ing it the world’s most pop­u­lar show for that year. But the artist fea­tured at the Cen­tro Cul­tural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro was not Pi­casso, Monet, or Dali.

The sub­ject was a mav­er­ick. A man whose work has of­ten been dis­missed, but whose im­ages are among the most mem­o­rable in modern art: Mau­rits Cor­nelis Escher. And while his name might not be in­stantly recog­nis­able, the Dutch­man and his work have had an en­dur­ing ap­peal with its play­ful tricks of op­ti­cal il­lu­sion and in­trigu­ing imag­i­nary worlds into which the viewer can project them­selves.

His prints and draw­ings re­veal a vis­ual dex­ter­ity fea­tur­ing, for ex­am­ple, stair­cases to nowhere, im­pos­si­ble ar­chi­tec­tural struc­tures, birds mor­ph­ing into fish, ar­moured worms, rep­tiles crawl­ing off the page, and wa­ter run­ning up­hill.

For the first time, these iconic im­ages will be on show in Aus­tralia this sum­mer, at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria in Mel­bourne. The show will fea­ture an ex­pan­sive dis­play of 158 prints and draw­ings, start­ing with a 1916 por­trait of his fa­ther, through his early work in Italy in the 1920s and 30s, to his best-known prints, such as Rel­a­tiv­ity and Night and Day. The ex­hi­bi­tion also has his fi­nal work, a large elab­o­rate wood­block print, Snakes, cre­ated three years be­fore his death in 1972 at the age of 73. The dis­play is also book­ended by an­other key work, Draw­ing Hands, which de­picts two hands seem­ingly draw­ing each other into ex­is­tence.

But there is a cu­ra­to­rial twist to the ex­hi­bi­tion. The NGV de­cided it didn’t want the usual show — peo­ple wan­der­ing around look­ing at art­works on the walls. In­stead, di­rec­tor Tony Ell­wood wanted to forge a link between one of the world’s most prom­i­nent artists and one of the world’s lead­ing de­sign­ers. So he took the un­prece­dented step of invit­ing Ja­pa­nese de­sign stu­dio Nendo, led by chief de­signer and founder Oki Sato, to con­ceive the whole look and feel of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

As a re­sult, Nendo has cre­ated an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds, which will re­flect and re­spond to the artist’s black, white and grey palette. Escher’s op­ti­cal il­lu­sions, ma­nip­u­la­tion of space and use of shift­ing per­spec­tives have been utilised to give the ex­hi­bi­tion a three-di­men­sional re­al­ity. It’s late au­tumn in The Hague, seat of the Dutch par­lia­ment and home to the UN’s In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice, and in the his­toric cen­tre of the city, on leafy boule­vard Lange Voorhout, is the Escher in het Paleis mu­seum. The mu­seum’s build­ing, more than 200 years old, was a for­mer win­ter palace of Queen Mother Emma of The Nether­lands between 1901 and 1934. Since then, an­other three gen­er­a­tions of queens — Wil­helmina, Ju­liana, and Beatrix — have used it as their work­ing palace, up un­til 1984.

Now, how­ever, it is ded­i­cated en­tirely to high­light­ing MC Escher. The work on dis­play is drawn from the col­lec­tion of its larger, sis­ter mu­seum, also in The Hague, the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, which has the world’s largest pub­lic col­lec­tion of Escher’s work and has lent all the work for the NGV ex­hi­bi­tion.

At Escher in het Paleis, in a room filled with im­pres­sive pieces of royal sil­ver­ware, the di­rec­tor of both mu­se­ums, Benno Tem­pel, says work­ing with the NGV and Nendo is a “beau­ti­ful op­por­tu­nity”.

“Escher has never shown in Aus­tralia, so I was re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic when the NGV sug­gested the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing to­gether,” he says. “But what made me more happy was their idea of work­ing with Nendo. To be hon­est, I’d never thought of it, but I do think it is an ex­cit­ing idea to ask a de­signer to do the art di­rec­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion. It is a per­fect com­bi­na­tion.

“What of­ten hap­pens with Escher ex­hi­bi­tions is a hor­ri­ble thing. Peo­ple start to make Escheresque de­sign, which turns out to be kitsch and ugly, and it doesn’t do right by the artist. But the NGV has asked a very pro­fes­sional and good-qual­ity artist de­signer to come up with the de­sign.

“So, what you will see is some­body mak­ing in­stal­la­tions to host the art­work of Escher but at the same time adding their own de­signs to it, and I think this is much more so­phis­ti­cated. It’s about op­ti­cal il­lu­sion, it’s about im­pos­si­bil­ity in con­struc­tions, it’s about play­ing with the viewer and at the same time lead­ing the viewer though the ex­hi­bi­tion. I think it is a very clever idea and it will give us a new in­sight into Escher.”

Across town, at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, the co-or­di­na­tor of loans col­lec­tions Frans Peterse dons white gloves and pulls out prints, draw­ings, and fam­ily pho­to­graphs, drawn from the mu­seum’s large Escher archive. There are ex­am­ples of his well-known prints and draw­ings, but also LP al­bum cov­ers in­spired by Escher’s work and ex­am­ples of pub­li­ca­tions where his prints have been re­pro­duced, such as a 1960s counter-cul­ture news­pa­per and a 1968 Dutch rail­way mag­a­zine. Peterse says Escher was very par­tic­u­lar about the type of pa­per he used, Ja­pa­nese pa­per, which has a very soft tex­ture and a creamy colour. This cre­ates a con­trast to the dark-black vel­vet ink, which is not ev­i­dent when see­ing the work in re­pro­duc­tion.

Peterse, who over­saw the loans to Mel­bourne, says the NGV show is one of the largest in terms of loans. “It is unique that Mel­bourne has so many of the tes­sel­la­tion prints be­cause we don’t send them very of­ten for ex­hi­bi­tions be­cause of the fragility of the ma­te­ri­als,” he says. “And a num­ber of draw­ings on loan to Mel­bourne are not nor­mally even on dis­play at The Hague be­cause of their fragility.”

So why send them? “Be­cause Mel­bourne was per­sua­sive,” he replies with a laugh. Although Escher, who was born in 1898 in Leeuwar­den in The Nether­lands, might not have orig­i­nally en­rap­tured art his­to­ri­ans, he cer­tainly seemed to cap­ti­vate vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one else. It was in the 1960s that his work re­ally started to go vi­ral. Posters and cal­en­dars of his vis­ual co­nun­drums dec­o­rated count­less bed-

M.C. Escher’s Rel­a­tiv­ity

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.