Art

The NGV cel­e­brates its 50th birth­day by step­ping back in time.

Time Out (Melbourne) - - INSIDE - By Maxim Boon

ON AU­GUST 21, 1968, the new St Kilda Road premises of the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria opened their doors to the pub­lic for the first time. The im­pos­ing, Bru­tal­ist con­struc­tion had taken six years and $14 mil­lion to com­plete and was now the largest art gallery in the coun­try. But the in­au­gu­ral show in the NGV’S tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions hall seemed, at first glance, to shirk this grandeur. A block­bust­ing show­case of a megas­tar or a sur­vey of true­blue Aus­traliana might have been a more ob­vi­ous cur­tain-raiser. But in­stead, cu­ra­tors John Stringer and Brian Finemore elected to cham­pion 40 emerg­ing Aus­tralian artists work­ing in bold, con­tem­po­rary prac­tices, largely in­flu­enced by the hard-edged, post­painterly move­ments thriv­ing in Amer­ica at the time. The con­tentious show was ti­tled

The Field. “Many of the artists, nearly half of them, were un­der 30; Robert Hunter was the youngest at 21. And very few of them had ever had solo ex­hi­bi­tions, let alone had their work hung at a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion,” ex­plains Beck­ett Rozen­tals, cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian paint­ing, sculp­ture and dec­o­ra­tive arts at the NGV. “The ex­hi­bi­tion was quite di­vi­sive, and its re­cep­tion was var­ied.” Some at­tacked the work for its child­like sim­plic­ity, while others waxed lyri­cal about its de­fi­ant re­jec­tion of pre­dictable pot­boil­ers. Iron­i­cally, it’s pre­cisely this fric­tion, and the gen­er­a­tions of artists in­spired by it, that has proven The

Field to be a wa­ter­shed event. Five decades on, as the NGV’S St Kilda home cel­e­brates its half-cen­tury, art lovers will be able to ex­pe­ri­ence this land­mark show first hand. But bring­ing The Field back to the gallery af­ter 50 years has been no easy task. As the re­mount’s co-cu­ra­tor, work­ing along­side NGV di­rec­tor Tony Ell­wood, Rozen­tals has had to chan­nel her in­ner de­tec­tive to dis­cover the fate of the 74 art­works ex­hib­ited in 1968. “We be­gan by look­ing at our own col­lec­tion; we had three. So it was three down, 71 to go. We’ve found them as close as St Kilda Road, right next door to the NGV, and as far away as Perth. It’s taken four years of search­ing, but the im­por­tance of this ex­hi­bi­tion re­ally can’t be over­stated.” ■ ÀNGV Aus­tralia, Fed­er­a­tion Square, Mel­bourne 3000. 03 8620 2222. www.ngv.vic.gov.au. Daily 10am-5pm. Free. Apr 27-Aug 26.

The­field in 1968

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