NGV's Winter Masterpieces has landed with Van Gogh and the Seasons – but there's plenty of other art to keep your eyes occupied, from the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE festival exhibitions by John Akomfrah and the Cartier Foundation, to the NGV's ongoing Festival of Photography, and fascinating solo shows by Brook Andrew and Christian Thompson.
Melbourne's best art shows
Read our guide to Van Gogh and the Seasons – and find out why you're pronouncing his name wrong. Most people feel they know Vincent van Gogh, even if they’ve never stood in front of one of his canvases. Almost anyone shown 'The Starry Night' or any of those very yellow sunflowers will correctly name at least the painter. And they know about the severed ear, plus possibly more biographical details than any other artist. All of which means that Vincent is arguably the most famous painter in history. But do we really even know him? Blockbuster exhibitions aimed at enticing large crowds to pay high ticket prices to see his now-very-expensive and hard-to-borrow paintings don’t necessarily lead to a deeper understanding of poor Vincent and his struggles; they risk degenerating into a macabre cabinet of trophies to a misfit’s torment. The National Gallery of Victoria is hoping that their new show Van Gogh and the Seasons will get more than just a massive vote of sympathy from selfie-seeking fans. Specifically, the NGV want visitors to experience the artist’s “passionate vision of the circle of life within nature: birth, bloom, maturity and death.” With more than 35 paintings on loan to the NGV, the fraught label of “blockbuster” is perhaps inevitable – but this certainly isn't a reissue of Vincent’s Greatest Hits. You may not have seen any of them before. Over a dozen works on paper are included (Van Gogh was a draftsman as much as a painter) and so are at least 17 works by oth
This exhibition showcases highlights from Christian Thompson's 15-year practice, as well as presenting a major new audio-visual commission that involves "wall-to-wall imagery and sound" and incorporates the endangered Bidjara language of the artist's ancestors. Among the career highlights are one of his 2002 'sculptural knit jumpers', his well-known 2007 Australian Graffiti series (featuring the artist wearing arrangements of native flora), and his acclaimed 2012 series We Bury Our Own (inspired by the Australian photography collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, where he undertook a doctorate of philosophy in Fine Art). Ritual Intimacy is co-curated by MUMA's Charlotte Day and Thompson's longtime mentor, curator Hetti Perkins. In his review of the exhibition, Blak Critic Tyson Yunkaporta writes, "Aboriginal land and language are entwined throughout [Ritual Intimacy], in a seamless symbiosis that transcends notions of cultural hybridity or the lazy juxtapositions of traditional and modern that seem to characterise so much contemporary Aboriginal arts practice." Read more here.
This triptych video installation deep dives into the dark history of the 'sea' as a site for human atrocity, animal cruelty and migration. Ghanaian-born artist John Akomfrah has described his practice as a kind of bricolage, because his works combine found footage from various sources with his own staged film creations. In Vertigo Sea, he uses footage shot on the Isle of Skye, the North Atlantic's volcanic Faroe Islands, and coastal Norway. Taking narrative inspiration from Herman Melville’s 19th century novel Moby-Dick and Heathcote Williams’ 1988 poem 'Whale Nation', the film looks at whaling, migration and the slave trade, among other dark maritime moments. Vertigo Sea is showing as part of the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE festival.
Angelica Mesiti makes video-based installations in which she explores performance and – increasingly – alternative modes of communication; for example, traditional Greek mourning laments, sign language, and the 'whistling languages' of the Mediterranean. Her new installation, Tossed by Waves, is inspired by Morse Code, and takes its name from the motto of the city of Paris (her adopted home): 'Fluctuat nec mergitur' ("Tossed by the waves but never sunk”). Visitors to Anna Schwartz gallery pass through several hanging wind chime sculptures (assembled from dots and dashes) emiting 'distress signals' to approach a screen at the back of the gallery space, where the camera slowly and silently pans in close-ups of the central monument of Place de la République – a site of gathering and protest.
Curated by artist Pia Johnson, this exhibition features her own work alongside three other female photo-media artists of Chinese heritage: Tammy Law, Janelle Low and Siying Zhou. Together, their works reveal the tensions and difficulties in navigating multiple cultural identities from a young female perspective, while also examining the broader context of mass migration and the diaspora. Chinese Whispers and Other Stories previously showed at PhotoAccess at Manuka Arts Centre in Canberra.
This installation combining art and scientific data was part of the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Paris in 2015. The starting point for EXIT was an idea by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio, who was invited by France's oldest private foundation for contemporary art, the Cartier Foundation, to be part of a 2008 exhibition reflecting on the environmental degradation of the planet. Consequently, Virilio worked with statisticians, scientists, UNESCO, the World Bank and design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro (behind New York's popular High Line) to create EXIT, which premiered as part of the 2008 exhibition Native Land, Stop Eject. In a video shown within the installation, Virilio explains the inspiration for the project thus: "In 2008, 36 million people were displaced [globally]. The 21st century will be the century of mass migrations: a billion people in the next 50 years is the figure predicted. The whole world situation will be disrupted." EXIT visualises the data of these mass migrations over the last decade or so, as well as exploring specific causes and consequences – such as war, natural disasters and climate change. The installation was updated for the COP21 conference, where it showed at the Palais de Tokyo. The installation is comprised of a 180-degree video installation on which six themed chapters play out, over 45 minutes. You can dip in for a short moment, or stay for the full duration.
Bill Henson's photography is cinematic and painterly at the same time. The low-lit frames of landscapes and people often feel like they're stills from a scene – part of a greater narrative – while the deployment of chiaroscuro is reminiscent of the 17th century masterworks of Caravaggio. For the NGV's Festival of Photography, Henson is curating an exhibition of 23 works that spans his still lifes of sculpture, his portraits, and his sublime landscapes.
Curator Claire Monneraye, of the Australian Centre for Photography, describes Under the Sun as “very much about how we represent national identity – and the whole point is there isn’t one way. A multiplicity of voices informs that identity.” The exhibition is the result of an ambitious curatorial vision: 15 Australian artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and artistic practices were invited to make new works responding to Max Dupain’s photograph 'Sunbaker' – now iconic as a badge of Australian identity – for its 80th anniversary. The resulting exhibition is a wide-ranging investigation into Australian history, cultural identity, national myths, and the medium of photography. Angela Tiatia inverts just about every aspect of Dupain’s work in a striking image of herself, reclining naked in a tropical grove under a chandelier – breaking a cultural taboo to reveal the Samoan familial tattoos on her legs. Michaela Gleave takes the ‘Sunbaker’ as the quintessential representation of ‘White Australia’ and responds with a work about colonisation. Inspired by colonial-era systems of navigation, her 63 silver gelatin prints show the position of the planets at the time of every significant massacre of Australia’s indigenous population since Cook’s first contact. Peta Clancy also focused on sites of Indigenous massacres, specifically in her home state of Victoria – some of them places she had visited often and thought she knew, but which had hidden histories. “She wanted to draw
It was the decade that gave us Nirvana, eBay, the Mabo decision, John Howard – and some of the best Australian art. Every Brilliant Eye – named for Died Pretty's 1990 album – captures the art of the time (drawing from the NGV collection), but also the issues and societal changes that sparked it: third-wave feminism, identity politics, the history wars of the Howard era, British club culture, American grunge, the World Wide Web, cyborg culture, and so on. Artists presented include Kathy Temin, Ricky Swallow, Kristin Headlam, Melbourne art collective DAMP, David McDiarmind, Patricia Piccininni, Annette Bezor, Tracey Moffatt, Anne Ferran, Gordon Bennett, Juan Davila, Constanze Zikos, Emily Kam Kngwarray, Yvonne Koolmatrie and Judy Watson. There is also a public program of screenings, talks and panels.
This project by Kate ten Buuren and Kat Clarke (from ‘this mob’ collective) is named for the Kulin word for ‘nest’, and is pushing the idea of what an exhibition is; part studio, part gallery, it’s a space where young Aboriginal artists are welcome to come and make work, collaborate or have a conversation for the month of July. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable in the ‘white wall gallery’ space, so we’re trying to shift how people engage in those spaces and the idea of what you can do in them.” There will be tea, a couch, table and desk space, and art supplies – and room to create. Drop-ins are welcome, but ten Buuren notes that the aim is to have a participatory experience, not a purely voyeuristic one. “We don’t it to be a space where non-Indigenous artists just come and watch Indigenous people make work,” she says. As the month progresses, the works within the space will naturally proliferate – so head along near the end if you want to see the results of this experiment.