Archive for December, 2010

16
Dec
10

Dane Lovett @ West Space, Melbourne

Dane Lovett - Installation View @ West Space, MelbourneThursday, 16 December 2010

Dane Lovett @ West Space, Melbourne

One of the joys of going to galleries such as West Space, which tends to exhibit younger artists, is witnessing the emergence and progress of a new generation of Australian talent. Dane Lovett has been gradually forging a strong career path, exhibiting in experimental yet respected art spaces such as First Draft, TBC, and Linden. His paintings, which are instantly recognisable for their painterly style, fluid brushwork, and sharp, laconic, and perhaps self-referencing narratives, have been popping up in a number of serious art prizes, such as Gold Coast’s Duke Prize, Metro Prize, RBS Emerging Artist and the Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize, showing a wider recognition for this artist’s work.

Dane Lovett - Still Life 1His current exhibition at the West Space features still lifes of potted plants and flowers in glass vases and jars, resting atop of CD covers and vinyl LPs, old television sets and outmoded stereo equipment. The whole is painted rather exquisitely and in lively colours, and his rendition of illusory space and distortion of objects as seen through water is quite masterly. Music albums and stereos which proliferate through Lovett’s paintings are no doubt in reference to his own interest in music and the ubiquitous role it plays in his life. However, these paintings do make one feel quite old. Vinyls and CDs, which were so much a part of one’s adolescence and young adulthood, are now increasingly replaced by MP3 digital players, and the only way to use them nowadays is as coasters or doilies; just like the old-fashioned music equipment and vintage television sets that can only be used as decorative props, or indeed, as pot-plant stands.

The generational change and the constant development of technology are expressed in these paintings subtly yet as poignantly as Ricky Swallows turntables and gameboy sculptures of the early naughties. The juxtaposition of these objects against broken pot plants and cut flowers further emphasises the messages of impermanence and transience in Lovett’s art.

Dane Lovett - Double Feature 1http://danelovett.com/

http://www.westspace.org.au/

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgement.]

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15
Dec
10

A.M.E. Bale Award @ Glen Eira City Gallery

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 1Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A.M.E. Bale Award @ Glen Eira City Gallery

The A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize supports, encourages and celebrates the artists who are working in such traditional styles as realist, figurative and representational. The prize encourages the continuation and perpetuation of classical training, and awards a Travelling Scholarship of $40,000, as well as two separate prizes for a painting and a work on paper at $5,000 each.

I am a self-confessed supported and admirer of figurative and representational art. I seek it out in our top commercial galleries and contemporary art exhibitions; follow and celebrate its progress and achievements in various prizes, articles in art magazines and other popular media, and on the walls of our museums and art galleries. As such, I am familiar with the work of many figurative and representational artists working in Australia today: I have their works in my collection and have discussed their oeuvre within these pages.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 2Therefore, I was rather surprised and astonished to walk around the exhibition of A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize winners and finalists at the Glen Eira City Gallery without seeing or recognising among them any of our top names in figurative and representational art. It is as if this prize, which supports the perpetuation and survival of this traditional and historical art movement, is shunned by the biggest names working in this style in Australia today.

I could not conceive the reasons for it. A Travelling Scholarship to the tune of $40,000 is a serious amount of money; $5,000 each for a painting and a work on paper is also nothing to be sniffed at. In my mind’s eye, there was no rhyme or reason for the absence – or perhaps exclusion – of some of the more prominent artists whose works we may see in our most respected commercial galleries.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 3Granted, the Travelling Scholarship does require an artist to submit four works: a landscape, a painting of a human figure (either a portrait or a figure study), a still life, and a nude drawing. It is possible that some of our top figurative artists may lack the confidence or ability to work simultaneously in such diverse variety of genres. However, without naming names, I can immediately think of a number of younger and mid-career artists, exhibiting with some of our more prominent galleries, whose oeuvre, across all four categories, would have felt right at home on the walls of this award exhibition.

Judging by the display of the finalists’ works, it is indeed very difficult to work across a range of several genres and in different media with the same degree of skill and consistency. Naturally, some excel in landscape rather than the human figure; while for others landscape is the weakest point. Janice Allwood for example can produce a most delicious piece of drawing (such as her Sylvia), but the fluidity, the perfection of line, and the physical sensation of the body are lost when the same artist turns to oils (i.e. In the Studio). While Michelle Molinari’s landscape, View of Avon River, East Gippsland, is s superb representation of the genre in a grand manner, her portrait and still life border on the kitsch.

A.M.E. BALE Winner - Joshua MacPherson

I do agree with the judges’ choice of this year’s winner, Joshua MacPherson. His portrait of Guido Cavalieri is a memorable character study, which is also striking from compositional, colour balance, and overall execution points of view, as is his charcoal drawing, Paolo. Both of these works are strongly reminiscent of the early 20th-century Australian tonalist artists, especially of Hugh Ramsey and the Max Meldrum School. His still life, Pesce con Limone, the muted colours of which are accentuated with bright passages of yellow and green, is another equally winsome piece of contemporary painting, posited somewhere between the Spanish Baroque, Fantin-Latour, and contemporary Australian figuration. The landscape, The Windy White Path, is perhaps the weakest of the four, but, as mentioned previously, it is a momentous task to excel across several genres and diverse media.

A.M.E. BALE - Marcus CallumI would also like to single out the entries by Marcus Callum as the most worthy runner-up in this year’s prize, who I believe would have deserved to win for his striking Still Life with Lion and Buddha and a superb life drawing, Julia. Another noteworthy entrant is Simon Cowell, who is one of the very few finalists to maintain the same consistency of brushwork and execution across all his entered pieces, as opposed to switching between a highly academic, glossy finish in one genre, and a looser painterly technique in the other as can be observed within the works of the finalists in this exhibition.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Right to Left: Kieren Ingram, Marcus Callum, Fiona BilbroughThe traditional representation is also the key in two other Prize categories, Painting and Works on Paper. Once again I find the absence of some of our bigger names puzzling and deplorable. I must also admit the exhibition contains some of the most banal and bland paintings. It is as if, in the pursuit of figuration, such concerns as imagination, originality, and psychological depth had taken the back seat. We are faced with rows upon rows of most ordinary and prosaic portraits, nude studies, landscapes, and interiors, in which majority of the artists made no effort whatsoever to progress beyond the mere rendition of an object or a view in front of them to a more psychologically and narratively engaging work of art. In this sense, the winning work in the Painting category, Kieran Ingram’s Milika, is a worthy choice because of the masterful use of lighting in the picture and his ability to capture the psychological demeanour of the nude model. The slight distortion of the figure’s proportions ads to the sense of the dramatic within the work.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - David CostelloThe biggest pleasure to be drawn from the Works on Paper section of the finalists’ exhibition is the artists’ virtuosity in their chosen media – pencil, pastel, charcoal, or watercolour. The winning work, Regina Hona’s In Repose, is a tour de force in the handling of the pastel medium. I would also single out Marcus Callum’s Foot Study, which is virtually as good as anything that might have come out from the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of David or Ingres.

It is also in this section that artists also seem to be able to escape the ordinary dreariness that is prevalent in the Painting section. It is as if the use of a lighter medium has liberated their thoughts and minds. David Costello’s View Five: Chrysalis illustrates this point perfectly. It depicts a boy running out naked into the world from the ‘cocoon’ of a rather shabby and gloomy interior. However, every item and object within that room is psychologically charged, adding further to the complex narrative of the drawing (David Costello is also among the finalists of the Travelling Scholarship category of the Prize).

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Michelle MolinariSo, in conclusion, it is great to have such an award as the A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize that is dedicated to the support, nurturing, and perpetuation of traditional, figurative, and representational art. The skills displayed by the winners and finalists within this exhibition are considerable. However, most of them do not progress beyond the most prosaic rendition of a landscape, or a mere “mapping” of a human face with hardly any attempt at psychological depth or narrative engagement. The combined prize pool of $50,000 is a fairly significant amount, and it is puzzling that this worthy prize does not attract more high-profile and mainstream artists. Their presence among the finalists would have brought more attention to the award (and its exhibition at the Glen Eira City Gallery), and placed a further emphasis on the importance and continuous preservation of this genre in the contemporary Australian painting tradition.

http://www.gleneira.vic.gov.au

http://joshuamcpherson.com/index.html

http://www.marcuscallum.com/index.html

http://kieraningram.com/

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

13
Dec
10

Frank Mesaric @ Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Frank Mesaric - Loy Yang and 'The Triumph of Bacchus'Monday, 13 December 2010

Frank Mesaric: The Weight of Stone

We are used to absorbing the world around us at a single glance. We accept the incongruity of split images rushing past our eyes as we flick through glossy magazines, surf the ever-increasing number of television channels, or wade through the multitude of still and moving images on our computer screens. They compete with each other for our attention, and through the process of ocular attrition, we have learned to ignore this rapidly changing visual cacophony.

However, the new body of work by Frank Mesaric demands time and concentration. We need to leave the extraneous noise of the world at the gallery’s door, enter without rushing, take a deep breath, and abandon ourselves to contemplation. For it is only after careful consideration and inquisitive examination that semantic links between the seemingly disparate sets of images on the artist’s canvases begin to reveal themselves.

Frank Mesaric - Bridge at Tarraville and 'The Virgin Mourning Christ'Mesaric’s immediate environment in Myrtlebank and the surrounding environs of Gippsland provide the artist with a continuous source of inspiration. Townships and power stations, hospitals, outhouses and derelict buildings are all drawn from the artist’s surroundings. Even the fighter jet and the burning oil field were witnessed by the artist not in the Middle East but from the comfort of his living room couch, which also makes its appearance in one of the paintings in this exhibition.

The Old Masters are another important source of Mesaric’s inspiration. Their ghosts were ubiquitous in the artist’s earlier subject paintings and portraits, whether through a gesture, symbol, or connotative presence. However, for the first time this influence is being emphatically brought to the fore. Quotations from Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez, and others appear almost ephemerally, traced in a delicate shimmer of a white chinagraph.

Frank Mersaric - Couch and 'Judith Beheading Holofernes'Aesthetically and psychologically citizen of the world, yet physically and inextricably connected to Gippsland, Mesaric points out with these paintings that, in our global  egalitarian contemporaneity, everyone is as close to the renowned masterpieces of the world as they are to the nearest art book or computer screen. They posit Mesaric’s works somewhere between the celestial visions of saints in Old Master paintings and collaged social commentaries of James Rosenquist. They are metaphors for the higher aspirations of the artist and universal exemplars of achievements for his art students. More importantly, they are visual ‘thought bubbles’, providing running commentaries on Mesaric’s vignettes of contemporary life.

For example, the juxtaposition of the landscape with Loy Yang power station and Velazquez’s The Triumph of Bacchus could be read simultaneously as the celebration of earth’s bounty through his allegories of mining and viticulture; the critique of our culture of consumption through the depiction of the billowing power station and Bacchus’s feast; and the warning against the abuse of natural resources through his allusions to the prognosed environmental and climatic changes and the later depictions of the God of Wine as a dissipated and obese old man.

Frank Mesaric - Hospital Bed and 'The Anatomy Lesson'Multiple meanings similarly intertwine in Bridge at Tarraville and ‘The Virgin Mourning Christ’. Both images are those of quiet contemplation. At the same time, the sunset heralds the end of one day and foreshadows the beginning of another just like the death of Christ foreshadowed his resurrection. The empty road is lined with telegraph poles which are eerily reminiscent of crucifixes; and if we read the road as the site of fatalities, the image of the Virgin becomes a universal symbol of loss and mourning, and the overall message of the painting as that of rebirth, impermanence, and transcendence.

It is tempting to think that the painting Entry Door and ‘The Inspiration of Saint Matthew’ is self-referential. Opening your mind to inspiration is likened by the artist to leaving the door ajar and inviting that next step to the great unknown, the leap of faith, the feeling that Mesaric has experienced no doubt on numerous occasions when physically opening the door to his own studio or making that first brush mark on an empty canvas.

Frank Mesaric - Entry Door and 'The Inspiration of Saint Matthew'One can continue analysing these paintings ad infinitum. The Anatomy Lesson above a hospital bed is perhaps a simultaneous reference to the faith in the progress of science and the acceptance of the inevitability of death. Velazquez’s older gentleman next to the young boy in The Waterseller acquires menacing overtones placed beside the snapshot of a toilet with the imprints of sickness or blood. The eternal gender battle for domestic dominance is expressed subtly in phallic and vulvic indentations in the couch, and much more graphically in the quotation from Judith and Holofernes above.

At times the correlation between the corresponding images may appear to be tenuous, but the artist always leaves enough visual clues to engage the viewer in unlocking their hidden meanings, create parables of their own, and enrich their viewing experience in the process.

Frank Mesaric’s exhibition, The Weight of Stone, shows that his art is impossible to pigeon-hole. It does not slot easily into a convenient art movement, and cannot be branded with a fashionable ‘ism’. Yet it participates actively in the plurality of postmodernist vision which constitutes one of the cornerstones of contemporary Australian art, and engages the viewer in a discourse about the authorship, sense of place, and the universal aesthetic identity.

But in order to engage in this visual discourse with the artist, we need to leave the extraneous noise of the world at the gallery’s door, enter without rushing, take a deep breath and abandon ourselves to contemplation. I promise the experience will be a rewarding one, for we stand to learn infinitely more about these paintings, and, by osmosis, about ourselves.

http://www.frankmesaric.com/

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment.]

12
Dec
10

Tiepolo Restitution Claims?

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Banquet of Cleopatra - National Gallery of VictoriaSunday, 12 December 2010

Tiepolo Restitution Claims?

Whenever I see The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo at the National Gallery of Victoria, I am involuntarily reminded that it once belonged to the Russian tsars. It was purchased in 1756 by Empress Catherine the Great and remained by descent in the collection of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs, until the Revolution of 1917. After the revolution, all their properties and collections were confiscated and nationalised; parts of it sold off to support the fledging Soviet economy. Cleopatra was among the paintings earmarked for sale, and in 1932 it was secured for the National Gallery of Victoria.

Restitution claims from the descendants of the Russian Imperial Family, aristocracy, and merchant, banking, and industrial elites, whose properties (including art collections) were confiscated and nationalised after the 1917 Soviet Revolution, are a very recent phenomena, and to the best of my knowledge these claims have not been successful yet.

Paul Cezanne - Mme Cezanne 1891 - The MetropolitanThe Australian on Friday reprinted an article from The Wall Street Journal, where a descendant of the rich industrial Morozov family, whose famous collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art were also confiscated and nationalised by the Soviet Authorities after the Revolution. He claims for the restitution to Morozov’s heirs of a painting by Paul Cézanne at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (C. Herring and E. Orden, “Painting’s Troubled Past Revisited”, The Australian, 10 December 2010, Arts 15). The litigation continues.

Let me give you a brief history of expropriation and nationalisation of private property in Europe of the last century. In 1917, Communists swept to power in Russia after the October Revolution. In 1918, the Soviet Government nationalised all private property, which extended to works of art. Most of their former owners, which included the Russian Imperial Family, the aristocracy, and the merchant, banking, and industrial elites were either forced to flee the country or marched to the execution block.

Most artworks were sent to a central collecting point, and the most significant among them were placed with major museums in Moscow and St Petersburg. The rest were gradually distributed among regional museums and art centres throughout the Soviet Union, including its furthest outposts beyond the Ural Mountains. (Of course, inevitably, there was a bit of looting and destruction along the way, especially to the works of art in the former elite’s country estates.)

F.X. Winterhalter - Countess Maria Lamsdorff - Metropolitan (in the Lamsdorff Collection, St Petersburg, prior to 1918)In the 1920s and 1930s, the cash-strapped Soviet Government began to sell off some of its nationalised collections. Their former owners, a number of whom by now were penniless exiles, could do little but watch as their heirlooms, which were in family collections for hundreds of years, were sold off the auction block in European capitals and subsequently popped up in major museums around the world (among them a number of portraits by F.X.  Winterhalter).

In the 1930s, the Third Reich began its persecution of the Jewish population, whose collections were likewise expropriated; their former owners either escaped miraculously by the skin of their teeth, or sent to their death in concentration camps.

In the early 1940s, the Soviet army swept through Eastern Europe, setting up from 1945 onwards Communist regimes in the liberated countries along the Soviet borders. Once again, their former royal, aristocratic, and upper class families fled; their property was nationalised; their art collections were distributed among state and regional collections.

From the late 1940s, the Holocaust survivors and their descendants began restitution claims. Private collectors, public institutions, and whole governments are being sued to this day for the return of confiscated goods to their former owners or descendants.

Maria Altman in front of the restituted Klimt

With the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, members of the royal, aristocratic, and upper class families, who were chased out of their countries, began similar restitution claims, which, in many cases are successful.

To this we may perhaps add the continuous battle of the Greek government for the return of the Elgin marbles; and the energetic efforts of Dr Zahi Hawass for the return of Egyptian antiquities from museums around the world to Egypt.

However, the confiscation and nationalisation of private collections by the Soviet Authorities in 1918 seems to have remained out of bounds; and the restitution claims of Morozov’s heirs hitherto remained unsuccessful.

Fifty three members of the Romanov family were alive at the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Eighteen of them were murdered between 1918 and 1919, including Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, and their five children. The heirs of surviving Romanovs are alive today. If the legal precedent is established by the Morozov claim, the legality of the ownership of the National Gallery of Victoria’s The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo may also be questioned.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

11
Dec
10

Fine Art Auction @ Menzies Art Brands

Menzies - Brack - Double Nude IFriday, 10 October 2010

Fine Art Auction @ Menzies Art Brands

Menzies are bucking the trend again by staging their auction at least a fortnight after their competitors, a week before Christmas, and in Melbourne. It is a tighter than usual selection of only 129 lots, which nevertheless does contain quite a few choice pieces.

There is a striking Little Orange (Sunset) by Brett Whiteley ($750,000-850,000); a large scale John Brack Double Nude I from the 1980s ($1,500,000-2,000,000); a confident though not especially overwhelming William Robinson of Tweed Valley Rainforest ($200,000-240,000); a sparkling little Hillside by Streeton from c.1915 ($55,000-75,000); exuberantly energetic golden-yellow Chinese Restaurant watercolour by John Olsen ($40,000-50,000); and a sharp and delicate little still life by Adrian Feint ($1,500-2,500).

Menzies - Olsen - Chinese RestaurantFor someone with an eye for more contemporary things, there is a most striking deep turquoise Aida Tomescu’s Albastru IV ($20,000-28,000); a delicate and poetical Thornton Walker ($5,000-6,000); and a superbly-executed large scale Tim Maguire ($70,000-$80,000). One Afternoon in Yokohama by Lin Onus is also a good, well-executed work, though the bright orange of maple (?) leaves is rather distracting and throws the entire painting off its otherwise delicately balanced palette ($90,000-120,000).

True, a number of works have been up on the auction block before at least two or three times within the last decade. Hopefully this time round they might find a better home that would keep them for more then two or three years before chucking them back onto the art market.

Menzies - Aida TomescuIf I were fated to walk away with three works from this auction, regardless of their value, I would definitely pick the joyously energetic John Olsen watercolour; the Aida Tomescu painting, which is easily among the better works by the artist (but then I am partial to the colour scheme of this work); and perhaps the Brett Whiteley, once again for the joyous energy contained within. I must confess that I was drawn also to Max Dupain’s At Newport of 1952, perhaps one of the most iconic images by the artist, but its 1970s vintage rubs off a bit gloss from the picture, which is conservatively estimated at $3,500-5,500.

http://www.menziesartbrands.com

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

 



10
Dec
10

Gustave Moreau @ National Gallery of Victoria

Gustave Moreau - Jupiter and EuropaThursday, 9 December 2010

Gustave Moreau @ National Gallery of Victoria

I’ve been fascinated with the art of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) ever since I saw his Salomé from the Armand Hammer Collection as a teenager in the 1980s. His technique, brilliance of execution, and the undiluted goriness of it all, left an indelible impression on me. Since then, I had seen numerous works by the artist throughout the world, and studied him closely for a thesis on the iconography of Saint Sebastian in the nineteenth-century French art.

It was therefore with excitement and trepidation that I’d learnt about Moreau’s forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. I was pleased and excited to be invited to the media preview and the official opening of the show.

The art of Gustave Moreau is impossible to pigeonhole. There are definite echoes of Neo-Classical and Academic influence of Ingres; aspects of renewed interest in religious painting in the mid-nineteenth-century France as witnessed in works of Flandrin and his followers; but also a much looser painting technique akin to Delacroix; pronounced interest in Middle and Far Eastern theologies; and almost decadent, mystical symbolism and obsession with death and suicide, which would only become the staple of French and European art in the late nineteenth century.

Gustave Moreau - L'Apparition (Salome)Another astonishing aspect about Gustave Moreau is the sheer depth of knowledge of religious and mythological texts on which his works are based. It is as if the artist attempted to depict, illustrate, and interpret every word, syllable and punctuation mark of the story; a meticulous interest and attention to detail, which, once again, would only attain its heyday in art as well as literature (think the detailed descriptive writings of Proust and Huysmans) towards the end of the century.

The exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria comprises of roughly one hundred and twenty paintings and works on paper. It is drawn entirely from the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris, the artist’s former residence bequeathed to the nation, which is reputed to have in excess of 20,000 items in its collections.

Titled Gustave Moreau & the Eternal Feminine, the exhibition surveys the artist’s complex attitudes to women in his art and as well as in his life. The display is thematically separated into several sections, which focus on Moreau’s main female protagonists – Europa, Deianira, Helen of Troy, Galatea, Sappho, Batsheba, the Sirens, and others. A separate section in the middle of the exhibition space is dedicated to Salomé, perhaps the most haunting heroine in the artist’s oeuvre.

Gustave Moreau - The SirensEach of these women was responsible in some way for the physical and psychological fall of men. Messalina summarily ordered execution of her lovers; la belle Hélène was the cause of the Trojan War; the Sirens lured seafarers to their death. Omphale emasculated Hercules by making him wear women’s clothes, while Deianira caused his death by unwittingly presenting him with a poisoned cloak from a jealous lover. Last but not least there is Salomé, whose request of St John’s severed head as a price for her famous striptease has been described by psychoanalysts as the ultimate fear of castration.

Each section of the exhibition is anchored by a significant painting, such as Jupiter and Europa, The Sirens, Death of Sappho, The Unicorns, L’Apparition, and numerous others. Each of these seminal paintings is surrounded by a number of studies, sketches and modellos in oil, ink, or pencil, providing a rare insight into the working mind of Moreau, his painstaking research, his pursuit of an ideal vision, perfect composition, the most aesthetically and narratively complete visualisation of a story.

Gustave Moreau - Sheet of Studies for L'ApparitionGustave Moreau is known for his complex textured canvasses, teaming with thickly-applied impastos, dollops of luminous pigments, which make his painted surfaces resemble an exquisite tablet lusciously pavé-set with shimmering precious stones. Jupiter and Europa is the only “highly finished” painting in this exhibition to illustrate this point. The rest are in various states of completion, providing once again an invaluable insight into Moreau’s painting practices, such as underpainting, tracing of compositional details, and building up of hues and colours. Yet despite the unfinished appearance of these works, the emotional drama within them – and especially within his smaller works – is palpable. Witness for example the verve and vitality of his small sketch for Jupiter; the vertiginous gravity and emotional abandonment of Sappho’s suicidal leap; or the numerous reworkings of Salomé, where the haunting apparition of St John’s bleeding skull is the culmination of the human and psychological drama.

Gustave Moreau - The Death of Sappho

Questions were raised on the opening night regarding the relatively small scale of the exhibition space, which snugly fits all one hundred and twenty works; the absence of larger and more important works by the artist; and an almost vanilla concentration on the female nude. The latter was seen as a veritable “heterosexualisation” of the artist, whose oeuvre is renowned for the eroticised heroic male, as well as the conceptualisation in his art of the androgyne or ephebe, which, prior to Hirschfeld’s revolutionary studies into human sexuality, was perceived as the embodiment of the “third sex”.

For a Moreau aficionado like myself, these are all but minor, unimportant issues as compared to the sheer pleasure of seeing these works in Australia. The ability to penetrate beyond the gloss of his finished paintings in order to examine Moreau’s complex artistic journeys towards the ultimate and final composition through innumerable studies and sketches (which are normally hidden from pubic view) is likewise invaluable.

I have discussed in my previous posts the sheer expense of bringing international exhibitions to Australia, which may have been the decisive factor in the size and content of this show. It is also possible that the exhibition is designed as a gradual introduction to Moreau’s oeuvre. In case the exhibition leaves the visitor wanting more, a Musée Gustave Moreau DVD is played enticingly on one of the television screens. It shows the sheer extent of the museum’s collections, where the artist’s works are hung floor to ceiling, and ensures that a visit to Moreau’s house-museum will be on all future Parisian itineraries.

www.ngv.gov.vic.au

www.musee-moreau.fr

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment. I am grateful to the National Gallery of Victoria for providing me with exhibition images.]

Gustave Moreau @ the NGV - Installation View

Musee Gustave Moreau - Interior View





Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

December 2010
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