Wednesday 26 November 2008


I had really high hopes of my first visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week - and within a few minutes of walking in the doors they were crushed.

First up, the dreary permanent collection hang of pre-20th century Australian and international art. I'm a big fan of the elegant, spacious hang of the NGV International, and I guess I had similar expectations of Sydney. But the galleries were in ratty, tatty condition (peeling paint, little piles of dust, rocky floorboards, crooked signage) , the hang looked like it hadn't budged since the 1950s, the spaces are huge, making showing small works really tricky, and there was enough hanging wire for James McCarthy to play a day-long symphony.

One small highlight - all the sweeter for the respite it offered from huge academic paintings - was a small nook of a gallery that contained a small number of 16th-century Flemish works. There's something in the restraint and gravitas of these small works that slows your breathing when you're feeling visually overwhelmed.

The modern art galleries were better. I admit to not being at all informed about Australian art, and can't help but look at it in comparison to New Zealand art history. For example, I find it interesting that Australian artists took to surrealism at the same time ours took to neo-romanticism, and I came out of the modern rooms interested in the idea of a history of Australian and New Zealand women artists from the 1870s to the 1940s - looking at their training, careers, and critical reception.

Then I went in pursuit of contemporary work. After making my way past the snaking lines for the Monet show and the Monet giftshop and wandering around for a while, I finally found a sign that said that the contemporary galleries were closed while the escalators were being replaced. It would have been nice to have known this before I visited, but I missed any announcement of this on my pre-visit scan of their website.

The highlight of the visit, to be honest, was seeing a stunning example of installer's crack, and a trolley that for some reason had the word POO scrawled across it in big black letters.

Coming next week - an account of a far more enjoyable visit to the MCA. In the meantime, Best of 3 of out and about again - back on Monday.


Ambrosius Benson (Flanders, d.1550),
Portraits of Cornelius Duplicius de Scheppere and his wife Elizabeth Donche, circa 1540. Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1994. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.

The Master of the 1540s (Flanders, active 1541-1551, Portrait of a young woman, 1541.
Oil on panel. Gift of James Fairfax 1993. Art Gallery of New South Wales, image from the AGNSW website.


Cheryl Bernstein said...

Any photos of your visit highlights?

Courtney Johnston said...

You mean, did I capture the installer's crack for posterity? Sadly, no ....