Australia Travelogue – Day 5 – Canberra! (Art gallery)

We went to the art gallery! It was amazing.

My favourite piece of art in the gallery (and one of my favourite ever):
2015.04.15-12.04.42 - Australia-National Gallery

From the plaque by the entrance:

The Aboriginal Memorial is an installation of 200 hollow log ceremonial coffins from Central Amhem Land. The Aboriginal Memorial was created for the National Gallery of Australia in 1987-88 in response to the Bicentenary of Australia, which marked 200 years of European settlement. The path through the installation imitates the course of the Glyde River estuary that flows through the Arafura Swamp to the sea. The hollow log coffins are situated broadly according to where the artists’ clans live along the river and its tributaries. […]

The project grew to include 43 artists […] from Ramingining and its surrounds in Central Amhem Land.

Comprising 200 hollow log coffins (one for each year of European settlement), and is, in the words of Mundine, ‘like a large war cemetery, a war memorial for all those Aboriginal people who dies defending their country’. […]

While it is intended as a war memorial, it is also a historical statement, a testimony to the resilience of Indigenous people and culture in the face of great odds, and a legacy for future generations of Australians.”

2015.04.15-12.02.45 - Australia-National Gallery2015.04.15-12.06.15 - Australia-National Gallery2015.04.15-12.08.26 - Australia-National Gallery
Details from a few of the poles. I took about a million pictures of these; they were incredible.

A few other really cool pieces:
2015.04.15-12.20.09 - Australia-National Gallery
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Anmatyerr people
Bush-fire II
1972 Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory
synthetic polymer paint on composition board

2015.04.15-12.22.12 - Australia-National Gallery
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Pintopi people
Sunrise chasing away the night
1977 Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory
synthetic polymer pain on composition board

The other really cool exhibit was an overview of Australian art from 1850-1950. Much like in Canada, European settlers were tried to paint a totally new landscape using the techniques and preconceptions they’d learned painting Europe. Much like in Canada, the results range from bizarre to terrible.

2015.04.15-14.01.38 - Australia-National Gallery
If it’s not instantly obvious to you why this painting is terrible, hold on for a few days and I’ll post a side-by-side comparison with an actual Australian rainforest.

Eventually, though, artists started to get the picture (see what I did there? I’m hilarious!). Heidelberg Tradition refers to a group of Australian artists who played a similar role in Australian art as Canada’s Group of Seven (when I say Group of Seven, I’m usually also referring to Tom Thompson and Emily Carr, because their work was so linked). My impression (get it? get it!?) is that Heidelberg tradition seems much less experimental than Group of Seven – the Group of Seven created new visual languages to describe Canada, whereas the artists of the Heidelberg tradition modified existing visual tools. In other news, Arthur Streeton has joined the esteemed ranks of “artists who are my favourite”, alongside Lauren Harris, Emily Carr, and a bunch of other people whose names I can’t recall just now without internet access. Good job, good sir!

2015.04.15-14.25.47 - Australia-National Gallery
Walter Withers
1893 Creswick, Victoria
oil on canvas
2015.04.15-14.25.56 - Australia-National Gallery
J Miller Marshall
Fossicking for gold
1893 Creswick, Victoria
oil on canvas

This was cool. Basically, Heidelberg tradition was just a group of artists who painted together sometimes – they didn’t have any officially alignment with each other as far as I could tell. So there was one place in the museum where you can see two artists’ takes on the exact same scene – they must have been sitting within a few feet of each other to get such similar angles.

Also! Some of the paintings were ridiculously tiny – this was apparently because at points Streeton and Conder were so poor that they went to a relative’s cigar shop and asked for the empty boxes to paint on. This story was told to me by a random security guard at the museum, so it may or may not be true, but (either way) it is definitely awesome.

2015.04.15-15.29.36 - Australia-National Gallery 2015.04.15-15.31.31 - Australia-National Gallery

Outdoor art is cool. Maybe the giant pears are going to be fed to the sheep.


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