26
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12

Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Max Dupain Doom of YouthTuesday, 26 June 2012

Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Controversy: The Power of Art at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery unites over a hundred works that reflect, inspire, or engage in a public debate and / or a controversial issue. The breadth and variety of works on display is quite astounding, and includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, installation, multimedia, and even fashion. Although by its very nature and the fact that most of the works come from Australian public and private collections, the exhibition is heavily weighted towards contemporary Australian art, it does encompass art from the sixteenth century to the present day, and includes works by Hans Baldung, Francisco Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, William Dobell, Ron Robertson-Swann, Steve Cox, Kristin Headlam, Tom Alberts, Brook Andrew, Huan Zhang, Juan Davila, Patricia Piccinini, Damian Hirst, and many, many others.

Norman Lindsay Pollice VersoAmong the works that drew my attention was an unusual photograph by Max Dupain, Doom of Youth (1937) featuring a male nude. While nude males are quite rare in Dupain’s photographs, they are usually engaged in a sporting feat. This image features a crucified beefcake, a very prescient image for 1937. Next to it is a rarely seen Norman Lindsay’s Pollice Verso (1907), a pen drawing of extraordinary dexterity. It shows a group of Greek and Roman deities turning their thumbs down at a scene of Crucifixion. The drawing laconically illustrates Norman Lindsay’s criticism of the restrictions imposed by the Church and State on cultural and intellectual freedom. The section devoted to female nudes include another Norman Lindsay; the monumental La Cigale by Jules Lefebvre; Bertram MacKennal’s Circe; and a full-length studio nude by Freda Robertshaw, which I never knew was a self-portrait, a quite astounding and liberating act for the era.

Angela Ellsworth’s Seer BonnetThere is a startling and revealing photographic double-portrait of topless Mike Parr and his wife – his with amputated arm; hers with drastic mastectomy. Lisa Roet is represented with one of the most touching and original works I had seen by this artist, Mother and Child, that combines her characteristic sculpture of a baby chimp resting in palms of its mother’s hands, situated against a stained glass window decorated with chimps and traditional religious motives, inveighing onto the Creation versus Evolution debate.

The recent controversy over childhood nudity in art is addressed through works by Sandy Edwards, Polixeni Papapetrou, Peter Kingston, and the most effervescent and joyous painting by Amie Swynterton, and obscure but most fitting find for this exhibition. Trans / sexuality is examined through the works by Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe; the inclusion of Barry Humphries’ alter ego, Dame Edna Everage, complete with a full-size gladioli gown, is most fitting within the context of this exhibition.

Anne Zahalka Girls II Cronula BeachHauntingly evocative Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnet, which is decorated with pearls on the outside and pins on the inside is a embodiment of the oppression faced by women not only within the Mormon community, which it directly addresses, but, to me, is also illustrative of women’s oppression throughout history. The though-provoking photograph by Anne Zahalka, The Girls II, Cronula Beach makes one rethink the changing face of Australia’s beach culture. It is interesting to juxtapose it with Emma Phillips’s most striking photograph of Pauline Hanson, imagined as a 1950s house wife, an Australian Marianne, a national icon, a tough country woman, hand-washing a load of Australian flags…

Ex de MediciLast but not least I was arrested by a most detailed drawing from the talented pen of ex de Medici, the details of which become apparent once the eye sight becomes accustomed to the intricacies of her design. The work represents the intertwined Swastika and the Star of David, bringing forth multifarious, uncomfortable, problematic, and emotionally conflicting connotations.

The strength of the exhibition lies in the fact that the curator, Vivien Gaston, did not go down an easy route and populate the gallery with images of pornography or gratuitous violence, but rather with works that much more strongly reflect the subtitle of the exhibition: THE POWER OF ART. The sheer breadth and variety of works on display show an almost omniscient approach, which bears evidence of Gaston’s long-standing interest in the subject, breadth of knowledge, and painstaking research. Despite the wide heterogeneity of works on display, the exhibition keeps the momentum going, for each image is a revelation that evokes a memory of the associated event and / or provokes a fresh reaction from the viewer. As the result, Controversy: The Power of Art is erudite, visually challenging, memorable, and thought-provoking.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

Emma Phillips Pauline Hanson

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2 Responses to “Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery”


  1. 1 Anton Vardy
    June 27, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Hi Euguene,

    Great article. Just looking at the side bar with your listing of the top galleries in Melbourne, any plans to list the top regional galleries?

    Kind regards,

    Anton


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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

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