The Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria, think­ing ahead

Matthew Westwood
The Australian, 19 December 2017
Excerpt: 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).
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