Posts Tagged ‘Jan Senbergs

06
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 12th June 2016

 

You only have five days left to catch what I consider to be one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne.

If ever there was a man deserving of a large retrospective, it is Jan Senbergs. This wondrous, intelligent, immersive exhibition by this iconic Australian artist is a joy. Particularly so as you witness the gestation of the artist, the journey from very first exhibition to latest work.

Witness is a particularly apt metaphor for Senbergs – he is a witness to the world who uses his imagination to create, as he says, “maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.” He belongs to the world but creates things not of the world as we know it. It is a twisted world n/visioned in multiple forms. Twisted labyrinthine structures – mechanistic, naturalistic, humanistic – swirling around in his head, put down as marks on paper, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Mark making is important to this man. He maps mechanistic and biomorphic elements, always intelligently informed by sources as diverse as “literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.” His influences are various – German Expressionism, Max Beckmann, Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s, Brutalism, Eduardo Paolozzi, Pop Art and the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme – to name but a few. And his perspective is unique, as John Olsen insightfully observes, “not often on the vanishing point, but … more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.”

Standing in front of the huge six painting wall of Senbergs’ Antarctic paintings you feel the power of that (topographical? analytical? cut-away) vision. I dare you not to.

There are downsides. When they do appear in his paintings, his literal figures and landscapes (such as people, boats and bays), are weak. But that’s not what this artist is about. His screen print work of the mid to late 1970s lead him into a formally stylistic dead end. But he was an intelligent enough artist to recognise it as such and returned to mark making: “But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” And his popularist map paintings of Sydney and Melbourne, painted in a brighter colour palette, don’t have the depth of feeling and response to the world that other works possess.

His limited colour palette – all blacks and subdued colours in the early enamel work; green and browns in the 1970s work; greys, blacks and beiges in the early 1980s; blues and greens with splashes of colour for the Antarctic and mining paintings; through to the more colourful map paintings of the 1990s and the recent oranges of the bushfire paintings – has always given weight to the object, weight to his constructed upside-down world, weight to his vision of a place where anything might happen. And frequently does.

Irrational, perhaps (but the irrational can only exist if there is the rational).
Something out of the imagination but belonging to the world, indubitably.
A world that is neither dysfunctional in vision nor balance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artworks in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of renowned Melbourne artist Jan Senbergs. Throughout his long career, Senbergs’ work has been characterised by a fundamental humanist vision, a finely-honed sense of the absurd, and a rigorous studio practice spanning printmaking, drawing and painting. He is considered to be amongst Australia’s leading painters and his large-scale expressive drawings are highly regarded. More recently Senbergs has created labyrinthine views of cities, employing aerial perspectives to present a bird’s eye view of humankind’s endeavours. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings and prints from his first exhibition in 1960 until the present day, borrowed from public and private collections around Australia.

Jan Senbergs is one of Australia’s most distinctive artists. He is both an acute observer and a creator of fantastical imagery. Since his first exhibition in 1960, Senbergs’s work has undergone many transformations of style, technique and subject, yet there have also been recurring themes and motifs. Elements from his very first works have reappeared, reworked and reinterpreted, throughout his career.

Senbergs’s artistic imagination has been fed by many sources, including his love of literature and poetry; his interest in no-Western artistic traditions and the work of outsider artists; journeys to distant locales as well as familiar places close to home. The artist has often referred to himself as a ‘visual scavenger’ of images – photographs, scientific diagrams, maps – which he transforms and incorporates into his own work. Above all, Senbergs’s art reflects his essential humanism, humour and wide-ranging curiosity.

 

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half human, trying to put figures into them, in the end they blended together as one, the figures, the buildings and the people.”

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Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

“I was always trying to invent new forms, different forms, shapes which were recognisable – maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.”

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Jan Senbergs, 2008

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Alan Kilner. 'Jan Senbergs, Melbourne' c. 1959

 

Alan Kilner
Jan Senbergs, Melbourne
c. 1959
Image courtesy Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The whipper' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The whipper
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
183.0 x 122.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Literature has always been an important source of imagery for Senbergs. This work, one of his earliest, is based upon an episode in The Trial (1925) by Czech writer Franz Kafka. In the painting two figures cower beneath ‘the whipper’, who metes out a brutal punishment to them. This work was included in Senbergs’s second solo exhibition at the Argus Gallery, Melbourne, in 1962.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Two heads' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Two heads
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half-human, trying to put the figures into them; in the end they blended together as one, the figures and the buildings and the people.” – Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Head' 1963

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Head
1963
Colour screenprint on paper, artist’s proof, edition of 10
42.4 x 35.2 cm (image and sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The night parade
1966
Enamel paint on composition board
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1977

 

At the time of its creation, this was Senbergs’s largest and most ambitious painting to date, and it formed the centrepiece of his 1966 exhibition at Georges Gallery in Melbourne. The triptych format recalls the work of German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann, one of Senbergs’s earliest and ongoing artistic heroes. In his review of the exhibition, critic Allan McCulloch wrote: “Instead of simply looking at abstract pictures we have the feeling of standing on the perimeter of a vast industrial landscape in which hills and slagheaps, factories and cities are relentlessly pushed and jostled by an omni-present parade of silent watchers. The huge triptych “The night parade’ … illustrates the point.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observation post 2' 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observation post 2
1968
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
246.0 x 185.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1971
© Jan Senbergs

 

On his return to Melbourne in late 1967, Senbergs’ work changed dramatically. He ceased painting with enamel on Masonite composition boards, and instead started working with oil or acrylic on canvas and began to incorporate screenprinted elements into his paintings. Of his year in Europe he later recalled, “I got a lot out of it, it completely made me revise and rethink a whole lot of things regarding my painting, my work, my attitudes and so on … I felt very refreshed and confident when I came back.”

By the mid 1960s Senbergs’ imagery was becoming increasingly sculptural, merging mechanistic and biomorphic elements, in part stimulated by his interest in the work of Scottish Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Senbergs entered what he refers to as his ‘axle-grease’ period, when his colours became darker and more sombre, which he considered would enhance form in his work.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at right, Column and still objects 1 (1968)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Column and still objects 1' (detail) 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Column and still objects 1 (detail)
1968
The Edith Cowan University Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Timothy James Bernadt

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Black garden' (detail) 1972

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Black garden (detail)
1972
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas plywood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1973

 

In 1972 Senbergs exhibition sixteen new paintings at Melbourne’s Gallery A, including Black garden, in which he created ambiguous cityscapes from surrealistic combinations of screen printed fragments of images. With their absurdist sensibility and disjointed fragmentary images, these paintings emulate the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme, whose short stories Senbergs admired greatly and whom he credits with being a major influence upon him.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fort 2' 1973

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fort 2
1973
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
243.7 x 197.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974
© Jan Senbergs

 

The paintings Senbergs created in 1973 in response to his selection to represent Australia at the 12th São Paolo Biennial in Brazil were larger and more imposing than his 1972 paintings, and often incorporated an image of a ramp to suggest entry into the foms. With their realistic modelling of architectural forms set against a horizon line, these works evoke the real world, yet remain defiantly resistant to interpretation.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Structure, cloud' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Structure, cloud
1975
Colour screenprint, ed. 19/25
55.6 x 81.2 cm (image), 71.0 x 100.2 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“The printing technique was very important to me because I was a kind of scavenger of odd sorts of images. I mean a lot of those sort of shapes and forms were things that one saw perhaps in an old engraving book, a little detail of a section of some background somewhere and I’d look into it and see certain sorts of forms there … I was a collector, a scavenger. I used to go to libraries and collect these images and I’d buy a lot of books.” – Jan Senbergs

“When I was doing these prints and as I was coming to a conclusion to them, I also realised I was handling it in a more sophisticated way. The prints were becoming more refined, more in control … But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” – Jan Senbergs 2008

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The flyer' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The flyer
1975
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
167.0 x 244.0 cm
Collection of Paul Guest, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Altered Parliament House 1' 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Altered Parliament House 1
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
182.5 x 243.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs Adrian Gibson as the winner of the 1976 Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize, 1977
© Jan Senbergs

 

While living in Canberra, on his walk home Senbergs would see Parliament House: “I’d see this white glowing dreadnought in the distance … that’s the way it appeared, sort of floating, just this whiteness because it was lit up … This form fascinated me. But also, and on another level, I was there in ’75 when all the political things happened and [after that] it didn’t have that sort of purity and whiteness that it appeared to have beforehand. In a way that gave me more liberty to change the imagery of the building.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observatory of hard edges' (detail) 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observatory of hard edges (detail)
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

This is one of Senbergs’ most architectonic images; its massing of asymmetrical forms, pronounced geometry and pale colours bring to mind the contemporaneous style of Brutalist architecture.

 

Jan Senbergs drawings late 1970s - early 1980s

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)

Port piers and overpass (top left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port structure (bottom left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Station Pier (top right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port signals (bottom right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

“Yesterday I visited Jan Senbergs at his studio in Port Melbourne … I was greatly impressed by what I saw: he has moved away from a photo image to observation, perhaps with [Max] Beckmann as his distant father. His line is slow and sullen and he creates a feeling of junk-heap menace … His perspective is not often on the vanishing point, but is more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.” – John Olsen 1980

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Port Liardet' 2 1981

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Port Liardet 2
1981
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 244.0 cm
Latrobe Regional Gallery Collection.
Acquired with assistance from the Caltex Victorian Government Art Fund and the Shire of Morwell
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 at right

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' (detail) 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 (detail)
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

 

Robert Carl Sticht was an American metallurgist who in 1897 became general manager of the copper mine at Mount Lyell on the remote and rugged west coast of Tasmania. There he introduced a new technique of smelting which released large amounts of deadly sulphur into the air, one of the principal agents of destruction of the natural environment of the region.

In the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell series, Senbergs moved away from the smooth surfaces and clearly articulated forms of his Port Liardet paintings to a more gestural, painterly mode, in accord with the style of Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' (detail) 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy (detail)
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services. 'Jan Senbergs in his studio' 2015

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services
Jan Senbergs in his studio
2015

 

 

“From the vast expanses of Antarctica to labyrinthine Melbourne cityscapes, more than five decades of artist Jan Senbergs’ prolific oeuvre will be revealed in the major retrospective Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination.

The exhibition, Senbergs’ first-ever comprehensive survey, will feature over 120 works including large-scale paintings, drawings and prints which depict sprawling aerial views of Australian cities, dystopic industrial landscapes, raging bushfires in the Victorian Otways, the remote deserts of north-Western Australia and more. The exhibition spans Senbergs’ first exhibition in 1960 through to the present day, representing all periods of his career. Recognised for his sheer visual inventiveness and sitting outside any defined artistic trend, Senbergs draws inspiration from a remarkably diverse range of influences; literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “As one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, Jan Senbergs is an extraordinary inventor of his own visual language, at once simple and bold. From lush landscapes to barren urban spaces, his body of work signifies an artist who has continually experimented with shape, form and motif, and one who to this day continues to push his art in new and unexpected directions. The NGV is pleased to present the first major retrospective of Jan Senbergs’ work and offer visitors the opportunity to experience the full spectrum and constant evolution of his career.”

Senbergs, born in 1939 in Latvia, moved to Melbourne in 1950 following the end of World War II. Among other honours, he represented Australia at the prestigious 12th São Paolo Biennial in 1973 and was appointed to the Visiting Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University in 1989, the first artist to hold this illustrious post. Observation – Imagination will include key works from Senbergs’ most important and critically acclaimed series including his 1973 São Paolo Biennial paintings, the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell mining landscape series, 1983, and his immense multi-panelled studio drawings of 1993-95.

Senbergs’ Antarctica series is considered one of the most significant artistic responses to the continent. In 1987, Senbergs spent six weeks with the Australian Antarctic Division, travelling with fellow artists Bea Maddock and John Caldwell, on an annual resupply mission. Observation – Imagination will include key works such as his epic landscapes Mawson and Davis. The exhibition will also present Senbergs’ epic, 4.6 metre long Pulaski Skyway painting, which reflects the post-industrial landscape of the five and a half kilometre freeway that crosses the wasteland of western New Jersey from Newark to Jersey City. In this, Senbergs found a metaphor for the American experience and its splendour and decay.

More recently Senbergs has produced intricate labyrinthine views of cities, combining memory and imagination, and the exhibition will include map-like images of Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Wollongong and Port KemblaThe exhibition will also feature works from Senbergs’ recent 2014 Victorian bushfire series, which burst with visual drama and chromatic brilliance. Senbergs often refers to himself as a scavenger and collector of imagery taken from a wide variety of sources, and Observation – Imagination will include an enormous showcase, created by the artist, filled with cut-outs, photographs and personal artefacts that reference the people, places and artworks which have fuelled his visual imagination.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Blue angel of Wittenoom (top left) and Otway night (bottom right)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Blue angel of Wittenoom' 1988

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Blue angel of Wittenoom
1988
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.5 x 305.0 cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1989
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Eva Fernandez

 

 

The blue angel in the painting refers to the dangers of asbestos in the mining town of Wittenoom.

Wittenoom is a ghost town 1,106 kilometres (687 mi) north-north-east of Perth in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The area around Wittenoom was mainly pastoral until the 1930s when mining began in the area. By 1939, major mining had begun in Yampire Gorge, which was subsequently closed in 1943 when mining began in Wittenoom Gorge. In 1947 a company town was built, and by the 1950s it was Pilbara’s largest town. During the 1950s and early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The town was shut down in 1966 due to unprofitability and growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area.

Today, six residents still live in the town, which receives no government services. In December 2006, the Government of Western Australia announced that the town’s official status would be removed, and in June 2007, Jon Ford, the Minister for Regional Development, announced that the townsite had officially been degazetted. The town’s name was removed from official maps and road signs and the Shire of Ashburton is able to close roads that lead to contaminated areas.

The Wittenoom steering committee met in April 2013 to finalise closure of the town, limit access to the area and raise awareness of the risks. Details of how that would be achieved were to be determined but it would likely necessitate removing the town’s remaining residents, converting freehold land to crown land, demolishing houses and closing or rerouting roads. by 2015 six residents remained.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Otway night' (detail) 1994

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Otway night (detail)
1994
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchase with assistance from Ruth Komon, 1994

 

After purchasing a holiday house at Aireys Inlet, Senbergs became interested in the history of Victoria’s west coast and the story of escaped convict William Buckley, ‘the wild white man’ who lived with the local Wathaurung people from 1803 until 1835 before being integrated back into colonial society.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Mawson' (detail) 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Mawson (detail)
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“As in previous settlements in history, in Antarctica we are again squatting on the edge of yet another continent and bringing our cultural baggage with us. Already there is a sense of history there: architectural, social and visual.” – Jan Senbergs, 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island (top left), Antarctic night (top middle), Mawson (bottom left), and Platcha (bottom middle)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird - Heard Island' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.2 x 274.1cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1987
© Jan Senbergs

 

Senbergs was one of three artists invited by the Australian Antractic Division to take part in the resupply Voyage Six to Antarctica as observers. Leaving Hobart in early January 1987, during their six‐week journey the artists visited Heard Island, Scullin Monolith, Law Base, Davis, Mawson and the Russian base at Mirny. This painting depicts fellow artist Bea Maddock who broke her leg while disembarking at Heard Island and needed to be winched back on board. Unfortunately, she was incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Antarctic night' 1989

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Antarctic night
1989
Synthetic polymer paint and collage on canvas
202.0 x 292.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1990
© Jan Senbergs

 

“In a “cut-away” view, [Antarctic night] shows the interior of a winterer’s hut with its wall covered in a “tapestry” of pin-up images – from the earliest “pin‐up”, the Venus of Willendorf, to the Playboy centrefolds of the 1950s and 1960s … The more you saw of it, the more it seemed like an Antarctic Pop Art movement.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Platcha' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Platcha
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
224.0 x 355.0 cm
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Trust Collection
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs. Installation view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Installation view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs. Detail view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Detail view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'New Guinea male triptych' (detail) 1993

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
New Guinea male triptych (detail) 
1993
pastel on paper
(a-c) 160.0 x 366.0 cm (overall)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“I enjoy the freedom of drawing, the directness of what I call my “Long Arm Drawing” with a black pastel or an oil stick, where there’s no room for corrections or embellishments – dancing in front of a sheet of paper, keeping a spontaneous line, and if you hesitate, it shows. It’s “unforgiving” drawing and if you’re out of form you lose, and sheets of paper end up in the bin. Like an athlete or a dancer, you’ve got to put in the hours to make the confident mark.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2016

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne' 1998-99

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne
1998-99
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 274.0 cm
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Gualtiero Vaccari Foundation in recognition of services provided by the State Library to the Italian Community, 1999
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“[The] map-like images of the city that I’ve developed – of Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Barcelona – they come out of a fascination with map-making, particularly early map-making … I started to look for an imagined way of painting and drawing actual places like Melbourne or Sydney: not exactly what you see in front of you but what you know to be there … It’s like those early maps, imaginary maps where people were drawing what they knew, not what they saw or measured.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2006

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sydney' 1998

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sydney
1998
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
174.0 x 344.0 (framed)
Collection of McDonald’s Australia Limited
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Felicity Jenkins

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The elated city' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The elated city
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
239.0 x 196.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Figures and heads made from mechanistic and architectural elements was one of Senbergs’s earliest subjects. He returned to this motif recently in several monumental paintings, including Paolozzi’s city, 2010, and The elated city, 2009.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Coastal settlement' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Coastal settlement
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
169.0 x 216.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne capriccio 3' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne capriccio 3
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
195.2 x 184.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation, 2009
© Jan Senbergs

 

In the history of painting, a capriccio refers to an architectural fantasy where buildings and other architectural elements and places come together in imaginary settings. Senbergs’ Melbourne capriccio offers the viewer the pleasure of a bird’s-eye view of familiar landmarks, seen through a rich blend of memory and imagination.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Paolozzi's city' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

As a young artist in the 1960s, Senbergs greatly admired Scottish Pop artist Edouardo Paolozzi’s strange fusions of machine and organic forms, and explored similar ideas in his own paintings and screenprints. In Paolozzi’s city Senbergs has created a fantastical head out of buildings and roads, and pays homage to one of his first artistic heroes.

 

senbergs-paolozzi-detail

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city (detail)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.0 x 255.0 cm
Deakin University Art Collection
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

“One of the rarest qualities in contemporary painting is wit … Jan Senberg’s ‘Geelong capriccio’ is in every way a painting of wit, its single and absurd proposition as to what the world would look like if Geelong had become the capital and the site of Melbourne remained open paddocks … It seems to be a very Antipodean painting: the upside-down world, which Europe imagined Australia to be, a place where anything might happen.”

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Patrick McCaughey, 2010

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash
(a-d) 162.5 x 497.4 cm (framed) (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at top, Extended Melbourne labyrinth and, at left, Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne); at right Melbourne capriccio 3

 

installation-r

installation-s

 

Installation views of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at left, The elated city followed by Paolozzi’s city

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fire and smoke' 1 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fire and smoke 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
48.0 x 70.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

In contrast to the enclosed, almost claustrophobic spaces of the studio interiors, by the end of the 1990s Senbergs had embarked upon a new series of map-like paintings, sprawling bird’s-eye view of cities, which continue to occupy him to the present day. Initially inspired by seeing Melbourne from a high-rise building, these works reflect the artist’s long fascination with early and non-Western map-making traditions. Like these maps, Senbergs’ views are not scientifically measured recordings; rather they are imaginative constructions of place based on observation and memory.

At the same time Senbergs began his most extensive group of landscapes, painting the rugged terrain of the Victorian west coast, an area that he knew well. While some of these works depict untouched wilderness, others include roads and townships and employ multiple perspectives to convey the experience of travelling through the landscape. Senbergs’ recent Heat – Fire – Smoke series is a response to the 2014 bushfires in Victoria, a new subject for the artist, in which he reflects on the cycle of destruction and regeneration. (Wall text from the exhibition)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)' Code Red day 1' 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Code Red day 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
119.0 x 145.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“In January 2014 in Melbourne we had four days of forty-plus degrees of intense heat – with bushfires raging in the countryside casting a pall of acrid smoke over the extended city and all around ominous skies that seemed to portend an inferno that would be all engulfing. That oppressive atmosphere and that sense of threat at the edges of the extended city seemed as if an overwhelming and merciless force was at the gates and ready to break down the barricades.”

Jan Senbergs, 2015

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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26
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 1

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2013 – 23rd March 2014

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This is the first of a two-part posting on the huge Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The photographs in this posting are from the NGV International venue in St Kilda Road. The second part of the posting features photographs of work at NGV Australia: The Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Melbourne Now celebrates the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne.

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Keywords

Place, memory, anxiety, democracy, death, cultural identity, spatial relationships.

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The best

Daniel Crooks An embroidery of voids 2013 video.

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Highlights

Patricia Piccinini The Carrier 2012 sculpture; Mark Hilton dontworry 2013 sculpture.

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Honourable mentions

Stephen Benwell Statues various dates sculpture; Rick Amor mobile call 2012 painting; Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser Melbourne Noir 2013 installation.

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Disappointing

The weakness of the photography. With a couple of notable exceptions, I can hardly recall a memorable photographic image. Some of it was Year 12 standard.

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Low points

  • The lack of visually interesting and beautiful art work – it was mostly all so ho hum in terms of pleasure for the eye
  • The preponderance of installation/design/architectural projects that took up huge areas of space with innumerable objects
  • The balance between craft, form and concept
  • Too much low-fi art
  • Too much collective art
  • Little glass art
  • Weak third floor at NGV International
  • Two terrible installations on the ground floor of NGVA

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Verdict

As with any group exhibition there are highs and lows, successes and failures. Totally over this fad for participatory art spread throughout the galleries. Too much deconstructed/performance/collective design art that takes the viewer nowhere. Good effort by the NGV but the curators were, in some cases, far too clever for their own (and the exhibitions), good. 7/10

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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“Although the word “new” recurs like an incantation in the catalogue essays many exhibits are variations on well-worn themes. The trump cards of Melbourne Now are bulk and variety… It’s astonishing that curators still seem to assume that art which proclaims its own radicality must be intrinsically superior to more personal expressions. Yet mediocrity recognises no such distinctions. Most of this show’s avant-garde gestures are no better than clichés.”

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John Macdonald. Review of Melbourne Now. Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 11 January, 2014

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Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please note: All text below the images is from the guide book.

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“A rich, inspiring critical context prevails within Melbourne’s contemporary art community, reflecting the complexity of multiple situations and the engaging reality of a culture that is always in the process of becoming. Local knowledge is of course specific and resists generalisation – communities are protean things, which elide neat definition and representation. Notwithstanding the inevitable sampling and partial account which large-scale survey exhibitions unavoidably present, we hope that Melbourne Now retains a sense of semantic density, sensory intensity and conceptual complexity, harnessing the vision and energy that lie within our midst. Perhaps most importantly, the contributors to Melbourne Now highlight the countless ways in which art is able to change, alter and invigorate the senses, adding new perspectives and modes of perceiving the world in which we live.”

Max Delany. “Metro-cosmo-polis: Melbourne now” 2013

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Laith McGregor. 'Pong ping paradise' 2011

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Laith McGregor
Pong ping paradise
2011
Private collection, United States of America

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The drawings OK and KO, both 2013, which decorate the horizontal surfaces of two table-tennis tables and contain four large self-portraits portraying unease and concern, are more restrained. The hirsute beards of McGregor’s earlier works have evolved into all enveloping geometric grids, their hand-drawn asymmetry creating a subtle sense of distortion that contradicts the inherently flat surface of the tables.

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Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' 2011

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Ross Coulter
10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1)
2011
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' (detail) 2011

Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' (detail) 2011

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Ross Coulter
10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1) (details)
2011
Type C photograph
156.0 x 200.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2012
© Ross Coulter
Last photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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With 10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1), 2011, Coulter encountered Melbourne’s intellectual heart, the State Library of Victoria (SLV). Being awarded the Georges Mora Foundation Fellowship in 2010 allowed Coulter to realise a concept he had been developing since he worked at the SLV in the late 1990s. The result is a playful intervention into what is usually a serious place of contemplation. Coulter’s paper planes, launched by 165 volunteers into the volume of the Latrobe Reading Room, give physical form to the notion of ideas flying through the building and the mind. This astute work investigates the striking contrast between the strict discipline of the library space and its categorisation system and the free flow of creativity that its holdings inspire in the visitor.

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Rick Amor. 'Mobile call' 2012

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Rick Amor
Mobile call
2012
Private collection, Melbourne

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Best known for his brooding urban landscapes, Amor’s work in Melbourne NowMobile call, 2012, stays true to this theme. The painting speaks to the heart of urban living in its depiction of a darkened city alleyway, with dim, foreboding lighting. A security camera on the wall surveys the scene, a lone, austere figure just within its watch. The camera represents the omnipresent surveillance of our modern lives, and an uneasy air of suspicion permeates the painting’s subdued, grey landscape. Amor’s reflections on the urban landscape are solemn, restrained and often melancholic. Quietly powerful, his work alludes to a mystery in the banality of daily existence. Mobile call is a realistic portrayal of a metropolitan landscape that opens our eyes to a strange and complex world.

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Steaphan Paton. 'Cloaked combat' (detail) 2013

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Steaphan Paton
Cloaked combat (detail)
2013
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Cloaked combat, 2013, is a visual exploration of the material and technological conflicts between cultures, and how these differences enable one culture to assert dominance over another. Five Aboriginal bark shields, customarily used in combat to deflect spears, repel psychedelic arrows shot from a foreign weapon. Fired by an unseen intruder cloaked in contemporary European camouflage, the psychedelic arrows rupture the bark shields and their diamond designs of identity and place, violating Aboriginal nationhood and traditional culture. The jarring clash of weapons not only illustrates a material conflict between these two cultures, but also suggests a deeper struggle between old and new. In its juxtaposition of prehistoric and modern technologies, Cloaked combat highlights an uneven match between Indigenous and European cultures and discloses the brutality of Australia’s colonisation.

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Zoom project team. 'Zoom' (detail) 2013

Zoom project team. 'Zoom' (detail) 2013

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Zoom project team
Curator: Ewan McEoin / Studio Propeller; Data visualisation: Greg More / OOM Creative; Graphic design: Matthew Angel; Exhibition design: Design Office; Sound installation: Marco Cher-Gibard; Data research: Serryn Eagleson / EDG Research; Digital survey design: Policy Booth
Zoom (details)
2013

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Anchored around a dynamic tapestry of data by Melbourne data artist Greg More, this exhibit offers a window into the ‘system of systems’ that makes up the modern city, peeling back the layers to reveal a sea of information beneath us. Data ebbs and flows, creating patterns normally inaccessible to the naked eye. Set against this morphing data field, an analogue human survey asks the audience to guide the future design of Melbourne through choice and opinion. ZOOM proposes that every citizen influences the future of the city, and that the city in turn influences everyone within it. Accepting this co-dependent relationship empowers us all to imagine the city we want to create together.

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Installation view of Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' 2012 (left) and Reko Rennie 'Initiation', 2013 (right)

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Installation view of Jon Campbell DUNNO (T. Towels) 2012 (left) and Reko Rennie Initiation, 2013 (right)

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Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' (detail) 2012

Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' (detail) 2012

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Jon Campbell
DUNNO (T. Towels) (details)
2012

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For Melbourne Now Campbell presents DUNNO (T. Towels), 2012, a work that continues his fascination with the vernacular culture of suburban Australia. Comprising eighty-five tea towels, some in their original condition and others that Campbell has modified through the addition of ‘choice’ snippets of Australian slang and cultural signifiers, this seemingly quotidian assortment of kitsch ‘kitchenalia’ is transformed into a mock heroic frieze in which we can discover the values and dramas of our present age.

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Reko Rennie Kamilaroi born in 1974 'Initiation' 2013

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Reko Rennie Kamilaroi born in 1974
Initiation
2013
Synthetic polymer paint on plywood (1-40)
300.0 x 520.0 cm (overall)
Collection of the artist
© Reko Rennie, courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne
Supported by Esther and David Frenkiel

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Initiation, 2013, a mural-scale, multi-panelled hoarding that subverts the negative stereotyping of Indigenous people living in contemporary Australian cities. This declarative, renegade installation work is a psychedelic farrago of street art, native flora and fauna, Kamilaroi patterns, X-ray images and text that addresses what it means to be an urban Aboriginal person. By yoking together contrary elements of graffiti, advertising, bling, street slogans and Kamilaroi diamond geometry, Rennie creates a monumental spectacle of resistance.

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Installation view of Reko Rennie 'Initiation', 2013

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Installation view of Reko Rennie Initiation, 2013

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Janet Burchill Jennifer McCamley 'The Belief' 2004-2013

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Janet Burchill
Jennifer McCamley
The Belief
2004-2013

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Shields from Papua New Guinea held in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection provided an aesthetic catalyst for the artists to develop an open-ended series of their own ‘shields’. The Belief includes shields made by Burchill and McCamley between 2004 and 2013. In part, this installation meditates on the form and function of shields from the perspective of a type of reverse ethnography. As the artists explain:

“The shield is an emblematic form ghosted by the functions of attack and defence and characterised by the aggressive display of insignia … We treat the shield as a perverse type of modular unit. While working with repetition, each shield acts as a carrier or container for different types and registers of content, motifs, emblems and aesthetic strategies. The series as a whole, then, becomes a large sculptural collage which allows us to incorporate a wide range of responses to making art and being alive now.”

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Janet Burchill Jennifer McCamley 'The Belief' (detail) 2004-2013

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Janet Burchill
Jennifer McCamley
The Belief (detail)
2004-2013

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Melbourne Now is an exhibition unlike any other we have mounted at the National Gallery of Victoria. It takes as its premise the idea that a city is significantly shaped by the artists, designers, architects, choreographers, intellectuals and community groups that live and work in its midst. With this in mind, we have set out to explore how Melbourne’s visual artists and creative practitioners contribute to the dynamic cultural identity of this city. The result is an exhibition that celebrates what is unique about Melbourne’s art, design and architecture communities.

When we began the process of creating Melbourne Now we envisaged using several gallery spaces within The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia; soon, however, we recognised that the number of outstanding Melbourne practitioners required us to greatly expand our commitment. Now spreading over both The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and NGV International, Melbourne Now encompasses more than 8000 square metres of exhibition space, making it the largest single show ever presented by the Gallery.

Melbourne Now represents a new way of working for the NGV. We have adopted a collaborative curatorial approach which has seen twenty of our curators work closely with both external design curators and many other members of the NGV team. Committing to this degree of research and development has provided a great opportunity to meet with artists in their studios and to engage with colleagues across the city as a platform not only for this exhibition, but also for long-term engagement.

A primary aim throughout the planning process has been to create an exhibition that offers dynamic engagement with our audiences. From the minute visitors enter NGV International they are invited to participate through the exhibition’s Community Hall project, which offers a diverse program of performances and displays that showcase a broad concept of creativity across all art forms, from egg decorating to choral performances. Entering the galleries, visitors discover that Melbourne Now includes ambitious and exciting contemporary art and design commissions in a wide range of media by emerging and established artists. We are especially proud of the design and architectural components of this exhibition which, for the first time, place these important areas of practice in the context of a wider survey of contemporary art. We have designed the exhibition in terms of a series of curated, interconnected installations and ‘exhibitions within the exhibition’ to offer an immersive, inclusive and sometimes participatory experience.

Viewers will find many new art commissions featured as keynote projects of Melbourne Now. One special element is a series of commissions developed specifically for children and young audiences – these works encourage participatory learning for kids and families. Artistic commissions extend from the visual arts to architecture, dance and choreography to reflect Melbourne’s diverse artistic expression. Many of the new visual arts and design commissions will be acquired for the Gallery’s permanent collections, leaving the people of Victoria a lasting legacy of Melbourne Now.

The intention of this exhibition is to encourage and inspire everyone to discover some of the best of Melbourne’s culture. To help achieve this, family-friendly activities, dance and music performances, inspiring talks from creative practitioners, city walks and ephemeral installations and events make up our public programs. Whatever your creative interests, there will be a lot to learn and enjoy in Melbourne NowMelbourne Now is a major project for the NGV which we hope will have a profound and lasting impact on our audiences, our engagement with the art communities in our city and on the NGV collection. We invite you to join us in enjoying some of the best of Melbourne’s creative art, design and architecture in this landmark exhibition.

Tony Ellwood
Director, National Gallery of Victoria

Foreword from the Melbourne Now exhibition guide book

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Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

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Destiny Deacon
Virginia Fraser

Melbourne Noir (details)
2013
Installation comprising photography, video, sculptural diorama dimensions (variable) (installation)
Collection of the artists
© Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Adapting the quotidian formats of snapshot photography, home videos, community TV and performance modes drawn from vaudeville and minstrel shows, Deacon’s artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet melancholy comedic and satirical disposition. In decidedly lo-fi vignettes, friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives that amplify and deconstruct stereotypes of Indigenous identity and national history. For Melbourne Now, Deacon and Fraser present a trailer for a film noir that does not exist, a suite of photographs and a carnivalesque diorama. The pair’s playful political critiques underscore a prevailing sense of postcolonial unease, while connecting their work to wider global discourses concerned with racial struggle and cultural identity.

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Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

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Darren Sylvester
For you (details)
2013
Based on Yves Saint Laurent Les Essentials rouge pur couture, La laque couture and Rouge pur couture range revolution lipsticks, Marrakesh sunset palette, Palette city drive, Ombres 5 lumiéres, Pure chromatic eyeshadows and Blush radiance
Illuminated dance floor, sound system
605.0 x 1500.0 x 1980.0 cm
Supported by VicHealth; assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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For Melbourne Now Sylvester presents For you, 2013, an illuminated dance floor utilising the current palette of colours of an international make-up brand. By tapping into commonly felt fears of embarrassment and the desire to show off in front of others, For you provides a gentle push onto a dance floor flush in colours already proven by market research to appear flattering on the widest cross-section of people. It is a work that plays on viewers’ vanity while acting as their support. In Sylvester’s own words, this work ‘will make you look good whilst enjoying it. It is for you’.

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Assembling over 250 outstanding commissions, acquired and loaned works and installations, Melbourne Now explores the idea that a city is significantly shaped by the artists, designers and architects who live and work in its midst. It reflects the complexity of Melbourne and its unique and dynamic cultural identity, considering a diverse range of creative practice as well as the cross-disciplinary work occurring in Melbourne today.

Melbourne Now is an ambitious project that represents a new direction for the National Gallery of Victoria in terms of its scope and its relationship with audiences. Drawing on the talents of more than 400 artists and designers from across a wide variety of art forms, Melbourne Now will offer an experience unprecedented in this city; from video, sound and light installations, to interactive community exhibitions and artworks, to gallery spaces housing working design and architectural practices. The exhibition will be an immersive, inclusive and participatory exhibition experience, providing a rich and compelling insight into Melbourne’s art, design and cultural practice at this moment. Melbourne Now aims to engage and reflect the inspiring range of activities that drive contemporary art and creative practice in Melbourne, and is the first of many steps to activate new models of art and interdisciplinary exhibition practice and participatory modes of audience engagement at the NGV.

The collaborative curatorial structure of Melbourne Now has seen more than twenty NGV curators working across disciplinary and departmental areas in collaboration with exhibition designers, public programs and education departments, among others. The project also involves a number of guest curators contributing to specific contexts, including architecture and design, performance and sound, as well as artist-curators invited to create ‘exhibitions within the exhibition’, develop off-site projects and to work with the NGV’s collection. Examples of these include Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now, curated by Fleur Watson; Drawing Now, curated by artist John Nixon, bringing together the work of forty-two artists; ZOOM, an immersive data visualisation of cultural demographics related to the future of the city, convened by Ewan McEoin; Melbourne Design Now, which explores creative intelligence in the fields of industrial, product, furniture and object design, curated by Simone LeAmon; and un Retrospective, curated by un Magazine. Other special projects present recent developments in jewellery design, choreography and sound.

Numerous special projects have been developed by NGV curators, including Designer Thinking, focusing on the culture of bespoke fashion design studios in Melbourne, and a suite of new commissions and works by Indigenous artists from across Victoria which reflect upon the history and legacies of colonial and postcolonial Melbourne. The NGV collection is also the subject of artistic reflection, reinterpretation and repositioning, with artists Arlo Mountford, Patrick Pound and The Telepathy Project and design practice MaterialByProduct bringing new insights to it through a suite of exhibitions, videos and performative installations.

In our Community Hall we will be hosting 600 events over the four months of Melbourne Now offering a daily rotating program of free workshops, talks, catwalks and show’n’tells run by leaders in their fields. And over summer, the NGV will present a range of programs and events, including a Children’s Festival, dance program, late-night music events and unique food and beverage offerings.

The exhibition covers 8000 square metres of space, covering much of the two campuses of the National Gallery of Victoria, and moves into the streets of Melbourne with initiatives such as the Flags for Melbourne project, ALLOURWALLS at Hosier Lane, walking and bike tours, open studios and other programs that will help to connect the wider community with the creative riches that Melbourne has to offer.

Melbourne Now Introduction

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Alan Constable. 'No title (teal SLR with flash)' 2013

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Alan Constable
No title (teal SLR with flash)
2013
Earthenware
15.5 x 24.0 x 11.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Alan Constable, courtesy Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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A camera’s ability to act as an extension of our eyes and to capture and preserve images renders it a potent instrument. In the case of Constable, this power has particular resonance and added poignancy. The artist lives with profound vision impairment and his compelling, hand-modelled ceramic reinterpretations of the camera – itself sometimes referred to as the ‘invented eye’ – possess an altogether more moving presence. For Melbourne Now, Constable has created a special group of his very personal cameras.

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Linda Marrinon. Installation view of works including 'Debutante' (centre) 2009

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Linda Marrinon
Installation view of works including Debutante (centre)
2009
Tinted plaster, muslin
Collection of the artist
© Linda Marrinon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Supported by Fiona and Sidney Myer AM, Yulgilbar Foundation and the Myer Foundation

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Marrinon’s art lingers romantically somewhere between the past and present. Her figures engage with notions of formal classical sculpture, with references to Hellenistic and Roman periods, yet remain quietly contemporary in their poise, scale, adornments and subject matter. Each work has a sophisticated and nonchalant air of awareness, as if posing for the audience. Informed by feminism and a keen sense of humour, Marrinon’s work is anti-heroic and anti-monumental. The figures featured in Melbourne Now range from two young siblings, Twins with skipping rope, New York, 1973, 2013, and a young woman, Debutante, 2009, to a soldier, Patriot in uniform, 2013, presented as a pantheon of unlikely types.

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Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania
2013
Wood, cardboard, paper, books, colour slides, glass slides, 8mm film, glass, stone, plastic, bone, gelatin silver photographs, metal, feather
267.0 x 370.0 x 271.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Brook Andrew, courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Andrew’s Vox: Beyond Tasmania, 2013, renders palpable as contemporary art a central preoccupation of his humanist practice – the legacy of historical trauma on the present. Inspired by a rare volume of drawings of fifty-two Tasmanian Aboriginal crania, Andrew has created a vast wunderkammer containing a severed human skeleton, anthropological literature and artefacts. The focal point of this assemblage of decontextualised exotica is a skull, which lays bare the practice of desecrating sacred burial sites in order to snatch Aboriginal skeletal remains as scientific trophies, amassed as specimens to be studied in support of taxonomic theories of evolution and eugenics. Andrew’s profound and humbling memorial to genocide was supported in its first presentation by fifty-two portraits and a commissioned requiem by composer Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe.

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Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania (details)
2013

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Daniel Crooks. 'An embroidery of voids' 2013 (still)

Daniel Crooks. 'An embroidery of voids' 2013 (still)

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Daniel Crooks
An embroidery of voids (stills)
2013
Colour single-channel digital video, sound, looped
Collection of the artist
© Daniel Crooks, courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney
Supported by Julie, Michael and Silvia Kantor
Photos: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Commissioned for Melbourne Now, Crooks’s most recent video work focuses his ‘time-slice’ treatment on the city’s famous laneways. As the camera traces a direct, Hamiltonian pathway through these lanes, familiar surroundings are captured in seamless temporal shifts. Cobblestones, signs, concrete, street art, shadows and people gracefully pan, stretch and distort across our vision, swept up in what the artist describes as a ‘dance of energy’. Exposing the underlying kinetic rhythm of all we see, Crooks’s work highlights each moment once, gloriously, before moving on, always forward, transforming Melbourne’s gritty and often inhospitable laneways into hypnotic and alluring sites.

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Jan Senbergs. 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013 (installation view)

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Jan Senbergs
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash (1-4)
158.0 x 120.0 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
© Jan Senbergs, courtesy Niagara Galleries

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Senbergs’s significance as a contemporary artist and his understanding of the places he depicts and their meanings make his contribution to Melbourne Now essential. Drawing inspiration from Scottish poet Edwin Muir’s collection The labyrinth (1949), Senbergs’s Extended Melbourne labyrinth, 2013, takes us on a journey through the myriad streets and topography that make up our sprawling city. His characteristic graphic style and closely cropped rendering of the city’s urban thoroughfares is at once enthralling and unsettling. While the artist neither overtly celebrates nor condemns his subject, there is a strong sense of Muir’s ‘roads that run and run and never reach an end’.

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Patrick Pound. 'The gallery of air' (detail) 2013

Patrick Pound. 'The gallery of air' (detail) 2013

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Patrick Pound
The gallery of air (details)
2013

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For Melbourne Now Pound has created The gallery of air, 2013, a contemporary wunderkammer of works of art and objects from across the range of the NGV collection. There are Old Master paintings depicting the effect of the wind, and everything from an exquisite painted fan to an ancient flute and photographs of a woman sighing. When taken as a group these disparate objects hold the idea of air. Added to works from the Gallery’s collection is an intriguing array of objects and pictures from Pound’s personal collection. On entering his installation, visitors will be drawn into a game of thinking and rethinking about the significance of the objects and how they might be activated by air. Some are obvious, some are obscure, but all are interesting.

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Marco Fusinato born Australia 1964 'Aetheric plexus (Broken X)' 2013

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Marco Fusinato born Australia 1964
Aetheric plexus (Broken X)
2013
Alloy tubing, lights, double couplers, Lanbox LCM DMX controller, dimmer rack, DMX MP3 player, powered speaker, sensor, extension leads, shot bags
880.0 x 410.0 x 230.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Marco Fusinato, courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney
Supported by Joan Clemenger and Peter Clemenger AM
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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For Melbourne Now, Fusinato presents Aetheric plexus (Broken X), 2013, a dispersed sculpture comprising deconstructed stage equipment that is activated by the presence of the viewer, triggering a sensory onslaught with a resonating orphic haze. The work responds to the wider context of galleries, in the artist’s words, ‘changing from places of reflection to palaces of entertainment’ by turning the engulfed audience member into a spectacle.

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Installation view of Susan Jacobs 'Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors)' 2013 with Mark Hilton 'dontworry' 2013 in the background

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Installation view of Susan Jacobs Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors) 2013 with Mark Hilton dontworry 2013 in the background

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In her most recent project, Jacobs fabricates a rudimentary version of the material Hemacite (also known as Bois Durci) – made from the blood of slaughtered animals and wood flour – which originated in the late nineteenth century and was moulded with hydraulic pressure and heat to form everyday objects, such as handles, buttons and small domestic and decorative items. The attempt to re-create this outmoded material highlights philosophical, economic and ethical implications of manufacturing and considers how elemental materials are reconstituted. Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors), 2013, included in Melbourne Now, explores properties, physical forces and processes disparately linked across various periods of history.

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' 2013

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976
dontworry
2013
Cast resin, powder
The Michael Buxton Collection, Melbourne
© Mark Hilton, courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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dontworry, 2013, included in Melbourne Now, is the most ambitious and personal work Hilton has made to date. A dark representation of events the artist witnessed growing up in suburban Melbourne, this wall-based installation presents an unnerving picture of adolescent mayhem and bad behaviour. Extending across nine intricately detailed panels, each corresponding to a formative event in the artist’s life, dontworry can be understood as a deeply personal memoir that explores the transition from childhood to adulthood, and all the complications of this experience. Detailing moments of violence committed by groups or mobs of people, the installation revolves around Hilton’s continuing fascination with the often indistinguishable divide between truth and myth.

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' 2013 (detail)

Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' (detail) 2013

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976
dontworry (details)
2013
Cast resin, powder
The Michael Buxton Collection, Melbourne
© Mark Hilton, courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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