Category Archives: Exhibitions

Exhibition: Cold War Games

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Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 239 A’Beckett St ( cnr. William St opposite Flagstaff Gardens) Closes 4 June 2019 Open weekdays 10a.m-4.00 p.m. Gold coin donation.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympic games were promoted and remembered as ‘The Friendly Games’, but they were permeated by political currents that are perhaps most easily seen at a distance. Of course, 1956 was right in the midst of the Cold War, when communists were supposedly hiding under our beds and secret services on all sides were active. 1956 was a politically febrile time and several countries boycotted the games over global incidents: Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted in response to Israel’s invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis; and Netherlands, Cambodia, Spain, and Switzerland boycotted the games after the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution. Communist China withdrew just two weeks out from the Games because Taiwan was attending.

Quite apart from any rivalry in the sporting arena, there was rivalry between the various secret services. Australia did not want Russia and its large contingent to boycott the games, and so America was asked not to send CIA. They did, of course, with the aim of encouraging defections to America, with all the attendant propaganda benefits.  The Australian secret services were active too, keeping a close eye on the leftist groups here in Melbourne, and rather futilely using the Petrovs (who had at this stage defected to Australia) to identify various Russian political actors and spies.

But the political tension did spill over into the sporting fields as well, most particularly in the swimming pool in the Hungary vs. Soviet Union water polo teams. It was an ugly game, culminating in a Hungarian player leaving the pool with blood streaming from his face (making sure that the newspapers got good pictures) until the game was called early with a 4-0 Hungarian victory.

Given the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, American Cold War agents particularly targeted Hungarian athletes with blandishments to defect. There’s a curious cable sent from Melbourne to New York, talking about a VFL team touring America to play an exhibition match after the Games, but being reluctant to do so because they were being watched by fans and followers. Given that the VFL season was well and truly over, and the MCG filled to pussy’s bow with Olympic spectators, this might seem strange.  But this is a coded telegram: the ‘Aussie footballers’ were in fact Hungarian athletes and the ‘fans and followers’ were the KGB minders. Many of the Hungarian defectors joined the American Freedom Tour, which travelled America under the sponsorship of Sports Illustrated Magazine: a real propaganda coup.

There’s the story of a romance between American hammer throw champion Hal Connolly and Czechoslovak discus throw champion, Olga Fikotová, and the defection of a female Ukrainian ship steward from the Russian team ship the Gruzia. These stories, which are featured in this exhibition, provide a narrative thread and a human interest to a topic which might otherwise be weighed down with diplomatic and clandestine machinations on the one hand, or sporting hoop-la on the other.

The exhibition, researched by Harry Blutstein who has published a book of the same name in 2017, is fairly print-heavy and thus takes a bit of attention. I first saw half of it in April but had to leave it half-way through because a talk I was attending was starting, then today a grizzling four-month old granddaughter didn’t share her Nana’s enthusiasm for an exhibition (thanks to the other Nanas who emerged from offices and reading rooms for a cuddle!) Baby asleep, I was able to return and finish reading, and it was well worthwhile. It does have a Melbourne focus, with images of the buildings specially constructed for the Games and some memorabilia, but the exhibition has a much broader focus.  It’s a completely different view of the Melbourne Olympics, and one that you think “Well, of course…” when you remember the political influences of the time.

If you’re interested in hearing Harry Blutstein talk about his book (which forms the basis of the exhibition), he was interviewed at the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival and can be heard on Big Ideas here.

 

A day at Bendigo Art Gallery

It was stinking hot – again- but because Bendigo was forecast to be much the same temperature as here in Melbourne, we decided to go up to Bendigo Art Gallery.  It’s an excellent gallery, housed in a former Volunteer Riflesmen building, with multiple extensions in the late 1990s and early noughties.

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The three exhibitions we went to see will all finish on 10th February. The first ‘Frida Kahlo, her photos‘ is a collection of photographs from Casa Azul that includes personal photographs of her family and Frida herself across her life, photographs of her friends and a cache of historical photographs that informed and influenced her work and political ideas.

The second exhibition, ‘Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller and Klytie Pate’ features two Australian women artists, Christian Waller and her niece Klytie Pate (originally spelled Clytie but changed for esoteric theosophical reasons). I had heard of both artists, but confess that I didn’t realize that they were related. Christian Waller often worked with her husband Napier Waller, and each one’s work influenced the other. Waller’s work reflects her interest in spiritualism and theosophy, and there are examples of her painting, linocuts and stained glass. Most of Klytie Pate’s work was ceramics. I was particularly interested in the mentions of nearby Fairy Hills and Napier Waller House (aka Dr. Blake’s house).

 

The final exhibition ‘Gothic Beauty: Victorian notions of love, loss and spirituality’ was a mixture of 19th century and contemporary works. The 19th century component examined ideas and practices of  death, grief and mourning while the contemporary works were a reflection and subversion of these older ideas. And check out the hearse- I wonder if it’s for hire?

 

The rest of the gallery has a very fine permanent collection, but we’ve seen much of it previously and our parking meter was ticking. Besides, it was these special exhibitions that we really wanted to see, and if you want to see them, you’d better get your skates on!

And yes, the art gallery is beautifully airconditioned. Just thought you’d ask.

Exhibition: Colony (NGV)

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NGV Ian Potter, Federation Square, closes 15 July.

I had decided that it was too late to blog about this exhibition, as it closes on 15 July. However, I notice that the Monthly is publicizing its review of it today, so I’ll jump in right at the end.

The exhibition is in two parts. The first, on the ground floor, displays documents, paintings and artefacts relating to British colonization in Australia.  The second, located upstairs, features contemporary indigenous artists’ responses to that colonization, both over 200 years ago and in an ongoing sense.

It seemed strange that it should be an art gallery that displayed the ground floor exhibition, and it was not clear whether articles were included for their artistic or historic merit. In many ways, the display would have been better placed within a museum. It took me some time to work out the order of the exhibition. It was only when I happened to look up, right at the roof level (probably 3 metres up) that there was a sign indicating that the display was grouped by colony (i.e. Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Queensland etc),  arranged chronologically by date of colonization. This is just one example of the way that the mounting of this exhibition annoyed me, and detracted from my enjoyment.  Whole panels of works arranged along a large wall had only one small sign, to the extreme right or left, and you had to go back and count to figure out which work you were interested in.  For objects in glass cases, the placement of lighting above the cases rendered the the contents completely invisible. The mechanics of an exhibition should be invisible, but that was certainly not the case here.

Even though I am fascinated by historical documents and artefacts, I far preferred the art exhibition upstairs, which was much more straightforward in its intent. They were thoughtful, provocative works that spoke to the material downstairs.  The exhibition is worth seeing, but for the upstairs gallery, not the confused display downstairs.

Museo Italiano, Carlton

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In January we had a day off from caring for Dad. It was a stinking hot day (41 degrees) and coming out of the air-conditioned comfort of Cinema Nova, we weren’t quite ready to head home yet but didn’t want to relinquish our undercover car park. What could we do? Then I remembered the Museo Italiana at the CoAsIt building in Faraday Street, which I’d promised myself I’d visit one day.  Was it open? Yes! open Tuesday to Saturday.  Was it air-conditioned? Yes! Beautifully!

It’s a good little museum, documenting the Italian migrant experience right back to convict days and the gold rush, but focussing on post-war migration.  During the 1950s and 1960s, Carlton was known as the Italian part of Melbourne, a small remnant of which remains in Lygon Street today.  The displays are professionally mounted, and there’s good use of music and video.

And if you need any further encouragement- it’s free!

Exhibition: Brave New World at the NGV

There’s an excellent exhibition on at the moment at the NGV at Federation Square called ‘Brave New World‘. It’s on until 15th October. It includes art, commercial art, documentary, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to give an overview of the 1930s in Australia.

I was amazed that the dress on the left was from the 1930s!

The exhibition space is divided into two halves, with one half celebrating the advances and newness of the 1930s; the other half documenting the poverty and greyness of that same time.

Perhaps more than any other exhibition I’ve seen of this type, women have a very strong representation in this exhibition as wearers, inspiration and most importantly, creators themselves.

I did buy the catalogue (which looks excellent) and was thinking of waiting to post this after I’ve read the catalogue but the exhibition may well close by then! So, Melburnians, hurry along and catch it before it closes.

Exhibition: States of Being- The Elemental Importance of Water

There’s a nice little art exhibition currently on show at the HATCH Contemporary Arts Space in Ivanhoe until 9 September. It’s called ‘States of Being- The Elemental Importance of Water’ and it features the work of nine artists, including the curator, that explore the concept of water in its various forms- river, sea, ice, cloud etc.

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There’s a series of paintings on glass that capture the ‘glimpse-like’ nature of the Yarra River as you walk along its banks in Heidelberg and Ivanhoe.  You rarely get a sense of the whole river here, because the trees and bends of the river break up your view of the water.  There are a couple of installations that play with water in its liquid form, and a series of tapestries that capture the sight of water seeping through the inland desert as seen from the sky. I was very taken with a video that overlapped still photographs of Iceland, watching clouds form and dissolve around a mountain-ringed lake.  Quite mesmerizing.

The HATCH gallery is at 14 Ivanhoe Pde Ivanhoe, and the free exhibition is open Tuesday-Saturday 10.00 til 5.00 until 9 September. There’s a flyer about the remaining activities associated with the exhibition at https://www.banyule.vic.gov.au/Arts-and-Events/Hatch-Contemporary-Arts-Space

Some Rare Book Week exhibitions

Melbourne has hosted Rare Book Week between 30 June and 9 July 2017 (an extended week, it seems). As is my usual practice, I missed most of it. It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day on Friday so we popped into the city to see two of the free exhibitions associated with Rare Book Week. Both exhibitions continue beyond 9th July for a few weeks.

First, down to Docklands library to see By a lady: the world of Jane Austen. Docklands is a strange, strange place. It is an urban renewal project built on the site of the old Victoria Dock which itself was built on the drained West Melbourne swamp. The Docklands Authority was constituted in 1991 and several attempts were made to get development off the ground.  Although a number of large companies have moved there, it’s generally regarded as a bit of a dud and a template for what not to do in urban renewal.  I’ve only been once or twice, each time on a cloudy, cold, windy winter’s day.  So how would it shape up on a beautiful winter’s day?

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Well, here we are just after lunch on a Friday afternoon, on the corner of Bourke and Collins Street.  Melburnians will howl “But how can it be on the corner of Bourke and Collins when they run parallel??” but apparently they meet in Docklands.  The city proper was heaving with people- but not a single pedestrian here.

The Docklands library opened in 2014. It’s a beautiful building but with barely a person in it. There was a conference of some sort being conducted in the community room, but other than that, it was very very quiet.

The exhibition itself combined multimedia with displays of different versions of Austen’s works. Of course, the books themselves are precious and so you can only gaze at the beautifully-crafted covers, especially of those of the early 20th century, with their Arts Nouveau influences. The multimedia renderings displayed various pages and their illustrations, which helped you get inside the books more, although one or two of the displays moved through the images too quickly to really appreciate the text and illustrations. It also highlighted for me the Austen family ‘industry’ that has coalesced around the books, with publications of her letters, unpublished works and spin-offs arranged by various Austen relatives.  The exhibition is open Monday to Friday 10.00 – 5.00 until 23 July 2017.

Then back to the real world with people in it, and up to the University of Melbourne.  The exhibition Plotting the Island is on at the Noel Shaw Gallery, Level 1 of Baillieu Library and it closes on 16 July 2017.  Drawing on books, maps and artifacts from the University of Melbourne’s rich archives and collections, it explores the idea of the ‘island’ in both an imaginative and geographical sense. Although there is a focus on Australia, as might be expected from an Australian university, the exhibition also deals with mythology, literature, geography, mapmaking, collecting and anthropology. There was a fascinating film ‘Too Many Captain Cooks’, made in 1988 which combined indigenous artwork with story-telling of the ‘first’, loved,  Captain Cook before all these other Captain Cooks came and took the land.  It’s well worth catching before it closes.

The warmth was draining from the sun as we headed back towards the tram, passing the new Arts West building. We were too close to it to be able to make any sense of the patterning on the outside of the building.  You can see it better in this rather grand video. Fair enough. It’s a stunning building.