Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday at the NGV

I like to go to the movies on a Sunday, but given the preponderance of kiddieflicks during the school holidays, I decided last week to go to the NGV instead. They don't replace the Rembrandts and the Van Dycks with Disney and Spiderman during December and January.

First up I had a look at the collection of contemporary New Zealand works on loan from the Queensland Gallery of Art. The exhibition is called "Unnerved" and it does indeed engender a feeling of unease. Among the sculptures, drawings and paintings on display, there were several sets of emotionally provocative photographs:

I was intrigued by a series by Anne Noble of her daughter's open mouth: a piece of string round her teeth, strange objects between her lips or her tongue brightly coloured. (I presume her mum gave her coloured lollies to suck!)

I found Yvonne Todd's series of photographs entitled "The Dark Side of Beauty" definitely disturbing - especially the portrait of a young girl in a slightly tawdry lace gown gazing resignedly at the lens: I thought of vampires and Victorian brothels and the Lolitas forced into polygamous marriages.

Among Greg Semu's pictures I was drawn to a self portrait in which Greg displays his pe‘a tattoo, which is very painfully executed over a period of weeks during the rite of passage to adulthood for Samoan males. Eat your heart out, Mitchell Johnson!

An arresting series of larger-than-life portraits by Lisa Reihana occupied an enclosed space of their own - the enclosure is dimly lit and evokes a place of worship, the portraits themselves dramatically spotlit and imparting a sense of awe. Her subjects portray mythological Maori deities.

Among the most striking is "Maui", a Hercules-like hero, and "Mahuika", the fire goddess who carries flame in her fingernails.
Limited space precludes me from mentioning more works in this fascinating exhibition, but I have to mention Michael Parekowhai's larger than life-size work, "The Horn of Africa" - a seal balancing a grand piano on its nose. I could only think that it references Jane Campion's award-winning NZ drama "The Piano" and the savage tragedy of seal hunting in NZ waters.

Unnerved is still on until 27 February - see it if you can!

The remarkable collection of ceramics, principally Minton, gifted to the NGV by Dr Robert Wilson, is in the long mezzanine gallery overlooking the great hall. I do not know a lot about glass and ceramics, but, as the cliché has it, I know what I like! And there is a lot to like here.

Exquisite Parian ware figurines, a beautiful, asymmetrical Japanese tea service in its decorated case which is a work of art in itself, a chandelier worthy of hanging in a palace, plates and vases magnificently decorated by outstanding designers.

I liked the whimsical teapot shaped like a guy wearing a beret. When I was a little girl in nursery school, we assumed that exact position when we sang: "I'm a little teapot, short and stout / Here is my handle and here is my spout …" 

I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss this collection in detail, but I recommend that you take a look next time you are at the NGV. It is a feast even for the untutored eye, and the notes next to each piece are very informative.

The collection will be on display until 1 January 2012, but don't put off going - time has wings!

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