The National Gallery of Victoria, thinking ahead

From The Australian, 19 December 2017
by Matthew Westwood


The NGV Triennial, which opened at the National Gallery of Victoria on Friday, marks the culmination of several years of planning and is a sign of the strategic course the institution is on.

Its forerunner was the Melbourne Now exhibition, which opened four years ago and brought together contemporary art, architecture and design in an exuberant survey of Melbourne creativity. Held across two venues, with free admission and a lively program of events, Melbourne Now involved almost 400 artists and attracted 700,000 people.

The Triennial is smaller in scope — it comprises about 100 artists and occupies just the one venue, NGV International — but in many ways it is an even stronger statement of intent.

The NGV has the greatest collection in the country and is the closest we have to an encyclopedic art museum. But as director Tony Ellwood puts it, the NGV was never much interested in commissioning and could not be said to have a strong collection of international contemporary art. The Triennial shows the gallery’s ambition to be a serious player in the global art of our time and to make a convincing case for its potential expansion to a third site with a contemporary art gallery.

“This kind of scale and ambition was not in the DNA of the institution; it just never had been,” says Ellwood, who started his ­career at the NGV and returned as director in 2012. “Certainly not contemporary, and certainly never design, and commissioning wasn’t done. We were trained that we didn’t commission at the NGV because you don’t know what the outcome will be and you needed to keep more control.”

The Triennial is arranged into five themes: movement, change, virtual, body and time, of which the first has elicited some powerful artistic statements.

South Africa’s Candice Breitz and Ireland’s Richard Mosse have produced video documentary works about the long and perilous journeys people will make to flee violence or persecution. Breitz’s work comprises interviews in which refugees tell their own stories, such as young Syrian woman Sarah Ezzat Mardini, who describes her 25-day journey from Damascus to Berlin, and videos featuring actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore as celebrity stand-ins for the refugees. Mosse uses military-grade thermal cameras at refugee landing points such as Lesbos, producing otherworldly images that depict the flow of humanity but which cannot represent skin colour or race.

In a late amendment to each of their artworks, Breitz and Mosse have drawn attention to the presence at the NGV of Wilson Security, because of the company’s involvement in the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.

Wilson Security last year ­announced that its contract to provide “subcontracted security services” would end this year. Breitz’s installation, formerly called Love Story, has been retitled Wilson Must Go and Mosse has included a statement in his work that reads: “It is not acceptable that an art organisation like NGV has signed a contract with a company whose hands are so bloody.”

The stance echoes a dispute at the Biennale of Sydney in 2014, when artists attacked the sponsorship of Transfield Holdings, which held a minority stake in the company that managed Australia’s offshore detention centres. The Biennale eventually cut ties with Transfield and its managing director Luca Belgiorno-Nettis stepped down as ­Biennale chairman, ending a 41-year relationship between the art show and his family.

The NGV Triennial is at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 15. Matthew Westwood travelled to Melbourne courtesy of the NGV. 

Article link: here

Pictured: CANDICE BREITZ, Wilson Must Go, 2016 (stills).