My youngest child is walking her feet off for the Oxfam 100km Trailwalker today. And was I there to support her? Why, no – I was off into town to catch one exhibition before it closes and to see two others that I’ve promised myself I must see. I’ll do supportive mother tomorrow.
The first exhibition, which closed today, was ‘Learning from Surfers Paradise’ which was displayed in the lobby to RMIT’s Design Hub at 100 Swanston Street (corner of Victoria Street).
Architectural photographer John Gollings, along with three others, arrived in Surfers Paradise in 1973 to undertake a project photographing Surfers Paradise. Forty years later he returned and took the same photographs again from the same spot. So what do we learn? Many of the buildings in 1973 that had been cutting edge in the 1950s and 1960s were looking a little tatty by then. There’s a sameness about many of the buildings that have replaced them. Certainly there is more greenery in the streets. Some buildings from the 1950s and 1960s quite frankly were no loss at all. Others, however, were a loss- especially the Surfers Paradise Hotel which had such a distinctive outline and was replaced by a very ordinary entrance to a shopping centre. We used to holiday up there from about 1975 onwards, so many of the places were very familiar. There were a couple of places in the recent photographs that I recognized that are still there.
Then off to the Ian Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne.
They have an exhibition ‘Secret Lives, Forgotten Stories: highlights from Heritage Victoria’s Archaeological Collection’. I was attracted to this exhibition (which is on until 12 October) because it has artefacts that were collected from excavations at Viewbank Homestead. Viewbank, which was demolished in the 1920s, was situated close to Banyule Homestead, and there was a close association between the two houses through Robert Martin and his family. There have been several digs at Viewbank which have uncovered pottery, crockery, toys, bottles etc. One rather amazing find: a cup with ‘Robert’ written on it. All of a sudden, these jagged shards of crockery seemed very personal.
Most of the material came from Viewbank, but there are other archaelogical digs featured as well: the coffins shifted from the Old Melbourne Jail to Pentridge that included Ned Kelly’s bones; Cohen place near the Little Lonsdale Street excavation; the Eureka lead; a Chinese brick kiln from Bendigo; the Sorrento settlement, and two shipwrecks.
Finally off to the NGV for their Blake exhibition. Plenty of time to see this one too- it closes 31 August.
Did you know that Melbourne has the largest share of the 102 watercolours created by Blake to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy? They were purchased in 1918 by a consortium arranged by Robbie Ross (Oscar Wilde’s close friend) that comprised the National Gallery of Victoria, The British Museum, the Tate Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and two private collectors. The watercolours were to be sold as a set and there was much anxiety that they remain ‘within the Empire’.
The National Gallery of Victoria was a major player amongst these illustrious organizations because it had been recently enriched by the Felton Bequest. The prosperous Melbourne businessman Alfred Felton had left 383,000 pounds as an investment fund, with the earned income to be divided equally between nominated charitable causes and the NGV for purchases of art. So, all of a sudden the little art gallery from the bottom of the globe, with all its wealth, was welcomed with open arms.
Dividing up the set was conducted through a carefully pre-arranged system, whereby the watercolours were divided into three categories depending on how finished they were (because some were still very rudimentary sketches). Depending on their contribution, each consortium member could select in turn from the three categories in a round-robin arrangement. National Gallery Victoria and the Tate each ended up with 36, the British and Birmingham museums six and the Ashmolean and private collectors three each. Despite the plan to keep them within the empire, twenty three ended up at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University.
Melbourne’s thirty-six are on display in a large darkened room on the ground floor. In fact, you can see them all here on your computer but they’re much, much better in real life. There is also a digital display of the whole 102 watercolours at the exhibition, along with a brief description and explanation of the scenes from the Divine Comedy that they are illustrating. I felt a little guilty looking at the digital version while the real thing was hanging just a few metres away, but I really didn’t know much about the Divine Comedy, and I appreciated them more having seen the whole collection. I find it amazing that Blake was working in the early decades of the nineteenth century: they are striking pictures.
All these exhibitions were free. How blessed we are. Along with a good coffee or two, a tasty lunch while resting our feet, it’s been a lovely day. Speaking of resting one’s feet, I wonder how that daughter’s getting on….