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Installation view of Porky Hefer’s work Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a disposable world 202
Photograph: Tom Ross

Best works to see at the NGV Triennial 2020

There are more than 80 amazing artworks to see at the 2020 NGV Triennial – here are the must-see works

Nicola Dowse
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Nicola Dowse
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Since its inaugural showing in 2017, the NGV Triennial has cemented itself as one of the most exciting events in Australia's creative calendar. The 2020 exhibition (which runs until April 2021) features 86 works from more than 100 local, national and international artists. 

With so many works to see it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But we've strolled through the gallery, gazed at its many wonders, and picked our favourite NGV Triennial artworks that we think you should see. Did your favourite make the cut? Here's our pick of the best works to see at the NGV Triennial. 

Recommended: find out more about the NGV Triennial artist making PPE from food waste and flowers. 

‘Quantum Memories’, Refik Anadol 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Refik Anadol

‘Quantum Memories’, Refik Anadol 2020

You would be hard-pressed not to see Turkish artist Refik Anadol’s massive quantum artwork. Located smack bang in the NGV’s main foyer, this feat of art and technology uses a supercomputer, quantum computing software from Google and more than 200 million images of nature to generate a constantly changing wall of shape and colour. This isn’t a video on repeat, either: ‘Quantum Memories’ uses machine learning to draw from a massive database of images in real time, meaning you’ll never see the same work twice, no matter how long you stare.

‘WeltenLinie’, Alicja Kwade 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Alicja Kwade, courtesy König Galerie, Berlin.

‘WeltenLinie’, Alicja Kwade 2020

You can’t really get a feel for how trippy Alicja Kwade’s ‘WeltenLinie’ is by looking at a photograph. You truly have to see it with your own eyes, walk through it, almost walk into your own reflection, then become paranoid about what’s a wall and what’s a mirror. There’s a distinct feeling of walking down a rabbit hole, or at least through the back streets of David Lynch’s brain. The gently unsettling effect is created by carefully placing paired objects throughout the structure, which is also divided by double-sided mirrors. Walk slowly and watch your feet.

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‘Can we all have a happy life’, Dhambit Munuŋgurr 2019-2020
Photograph: Sean Fennessy. © Dhambit Munuŋgurr, courtesy Salon Indigenous Art Projects, Darwin.

‘Can we all have a happy life’, Dhambit Munuŋgurr 2019-2020

This installation by Dhambit Munuŋgurr is equal parts earthy and alien. ‘Can we all have a happy life’ features 15 bark paintings and nine larrakitj (hollowed wooden poles) practically vibrating in remarkable shades of blue. Munuŋgurr is a Yolŋu artist who created the works at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, roughly 700km east of Darwin. Notably, she’s also the first such artist to use the colour blue, a feat that came about following a car accident that led to her using a wheelchair (while Yolŋu artists painting about Country customarily only use natural pigments and ochres from the land, Munuŋgurr was granted special dispensation due to the accident).

‘Walls 4 Sale: near new and supersized’, BTVV 2020
Photograph: Sean Fennessy. © BTVV

‘Walls 4 Sale: near new and supersized’, BTVV 2020

The BTVV architects have created an installation that is both vindicating to renters and triggering to real estate agents. Inspired by the techniques agents use to best photograph properties, ‘Walls 4 Sale: near new and supersized’ lets you explore what looks at first glance like any other cookie-cutter Melbourne apartment building – and then you realise they’ve played with dimensions to satirise the exaggerated appearance of such buildings when marketed to the public, meaning you're walking around in a painfully white world filled with giant toilets and tiny doors. Wide-angle lenses: you’re officially on notice.

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Tomoaki Suzuki’s sculptures
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Courtesy of the artist and Corvi - Mora, London.

Tomoaki Suzuki’s sculptures

The first thought you have when entering the gallery used for Tomoaki Suzuki’s sculptures might well be “gosh, I hope I don’t accidentally step on them”. The playful work feels a little like entering a page from Where’s Wally, with the intricately carved, teeny tiny wooden people inviting you in to gaze at their every detail. The sculptures and their fashions are all based on real models, who Suzuki commonly sources by people watching from his home in Dalston, London. The uncannily lifelike figures take roughly three months to make, with Suzuki describing his process as “taking photographs through sculpture".

‘Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a Disposable World’, Porky Hefer 2020
Photograph: NGV. © Porky Hefer.

‘Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a Disposable World’, Porky Hefer 2020

Playful doesn’t even begin to describe the works of Porky Hefer. The South African artist is a former advertising creative who left agency life to create fun works of art and furniture using techniques that are indigenous to his home country. In ‘Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a Disposable World’, Hefer takes aim at the most notorious trinkets of humanity – the ciggie butts, the plastic straws and the takeaway coffee cups – and imagines them as the latest step in evolution. Initially, the works were intended as interactive (we certainly want to run and jump into the octopus), but they’re currently all “look but no touch” due to public health restrictions.

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‘Botanical Pavilion’, Kengo Kuma and Geoff Nees 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Kengo Kuma and Geoffrey Nees

‘Botanical Pavilion’, Kengo Kuma and Geoff Nees 2020

This pleasingly tessellated wooden structure uses tension and gravity – not hammers and nails – to hold itself together. Think of it like those wooden dinosaur puzzles from your childhood, except bigger, more elaborate and made from quality wood – namely wood from trees felled in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens during the Millennium Drought (1996-2010), some of which predate European colonisation. Walk through the pavilion to enjoy the genuine tranquility created by the dappled light and faint timber smell before emerging to gaze at the minimalist colour field painting ‘Dialogue’ by Lee Ufan.

‘Miwi Milloo (Good Spirit of the Murray River)’, Glenda Nicholls 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Glenda Nicholls

‘Miwi Milloo (Good Spirit of the Murray River)’, Glenda Nicholls 2020

Hanging behind the NGV’s famous water wall entrance is ‘Miwi Milloo (Good Spirit of the Murray River)’ – a monumental woven net created by Waddi Waddi, Yorta Yorta and Ngarrindjeri artist Glenda Nicholls. Nicholls is a master weaver whose skills have been passed down by the women in her family for generations, and which she has used in this work to create a net consisting of thousands of finger knots and countless feather flowers. Hung in an undulating pose adjacent to the wall of moving water, ‘Miwi Milloo’ recalls the river from which it draws its name, while also reminding us of the cultural heritage and history of the Murray.

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'Salon et Lumière'
Photograph: Tom Ross

'Salon et Lumière'

‘Salon et Lumière’ isn’t a new work as much as it’s a new way of experiencing the NGV’s Salon Gallery. The gallery of course is based off the Paris Salon, the primary way for artists to present (and hopefully sell) their works until the mid-19th century. Like in Paris, the NGV’s salon fills every inch of wall space with art, the stories and themes of which ‘Salon et Lumière’ brings to life through soundscapes and immersive projections. As a whole, the experience hopes to recreate the bustle and excitement crowds would have experienced when viewing the Paris Salon hundreds of years ago. Make sure to check out the NGV’s famous "sad sheep painting" while there.

‘Moja Moja Life: Misaki Kawai for Kids’, Misaki Kawai 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross. © Misaki Kawai.

‘Moja Moja Life: Misaki Kawai for Kids’, Misaki Kawai 2020

Yes, Misaki Kawai does specify this playful, textural and interactive work is “for kids” but she didn’t specify how big or small said kids should be. Kawai has built up a following over the years by creating bold and bright sculptures and paintings that are described in Japanese as “heta-uma” (a term that originally referred to manga that was drawn “badly” but was still visually appealing). Hot pink pup Arty is the main character in this exhibit, which is decked out with all manner of cartoonish dog iconography, as well as interactive mini theatres where kids can use real-life paper puppets to create videos to share via the web.

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‘House of heroines’, Lara Schnitger 2020
Photograph: Tom Ross.

‘House of heroines’, Lara Schnitger 2020

All shall bow before the feminine temple that is Lara Schnitger’s ‘House of heroines’. The large-scale installation features a floor-to-ceiling textile frieze patchworked with shimmery fabric and sequins, as well as text and images championing female autonomy and representation. Schnitger’s choice to use textiles in the work drives home the themes (there’s a long history of textile works not being regarded as true art as they were seen as “women’s work”). In addition to the massive frieze, ‘House of heroines’ also features four soft sculpture columns that further recall feminine body shapes.

‘Megafauna’, Tabor Robak 2020
Photograph: Tobias Titz Photograph. © Tabor Robak

‘Megafauna’, Tabor Robak 2020

Stepping into ‘Megafauna’ is like stepping onto a sci-fi film set. Huge colourful and computer generated creatures (which Robak calls ‘magi’) swim around the blackened gallery, glowing like irradiated boiled lollies. In the centre of the space is an equally iridescent control panel, and inside of that, a projection on the floor that responds to the movement of guests. Robak was inspired by many sources in creating the magi, including from robotics, microbiology, data storage and sacred iconography. There’s certainly somewhat of a consecrated air to ‘Megafauna’, as if you, intrepid explorer, have stumbled into an extraterrestrial church.

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‘The Humming Room’, Adrian Piper 2012
Photograph: Tom Ross

‘The Humming Room’, Adrian Piper 2012

The Humming Room comes exactly as advertised. It is a room filled with humming. Specifically, the humming of all who enter it. This participatory performative work by Berlin-based US artist Adrian Piper aims to get you questioning concepts like authority, as the only way to enter ‘The Humming Room’ is to hum a tune (any tune!) as you pass a security guard. Just go with it and enjoy the fact you're back in a gallery.

Credit: Adrian Piper, The Humming Room 2012. Voluntary group performance: Full-time museum guard, empty room equipped to echo, two text signs, one above and one adjacent to door. Variable dimensions. Collection of the Adrian Piper Research Archive (APRA) Foundation Berlin. Installation view of the NGV Triennial 2020, December 19, 2020 – April 18, 2021, Digital Photograph. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne © APRA Foundation Berlin.

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