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.

 

Exhibition: Love – Art of Emotion 1400-1800

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Hurry! The excellent ‘Love: Art of Emotion’ exhibition closes at the NGV on 18 June 2017. Yes, once again I’ve failed to blog about something until it’s about to close – sorry. This free exhibition is on the ground floor of NGV International, and if you’re waiting around while seeing the Van Gogh exhibition, why not go see this one too. Most of the works are from NGV’s own collection, and are arranged around various perspectives on love.

It’s been on since February, and it closes this coming weekend. Perhaps I should rename this blog “Oops- Last Days”.

This Month in Port Phillip: May 1842 (Pt.1)

In May 1842 the talk of the town was BUSHRANGERS!  There had been reports filtering into the newspapers from late April about a spate of holdups and invasions and by early May it was clear that the same gang was involved. They were dubbed the Plenty Valley Bushrangers.  I wrote about them at length here, (complete with map!) so follow the link and read about their spree and capture before coming back here to follow up with the trial.

Reenactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road

Re-enactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road. Photograph taken by J.W. Lindt 1845-1926, State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/290418

Are you back?  On 3rd May an inquest into Williams’ death was held and the three surviving bushrangers were committed to trial.  Willis scheduled a special sitting on 11 May (even though the usual criminal session would be held on 16th anyway).

Rather controversially, Willis wrote to La Trobe immediately following the committal hearing but prior to the bushrangers’ trial, noting that should the death sentence be passed, “it would have a much more effectual example were that sentence carried into execution within a very short period instead of delaying it until the proceedings could be sent to Sydney and returned”. He suggested that La Trobe request permission from Governor Gipps to make the arrangements at the local level, and that Willis would announce the time and place from the Bench.[1] Governor Gipps in Sydney, however, would have nothing of it.  A terse letter reiterated the necessity, under the Queen’s instructions to the Governor, to bring every sentence of death before the Executive Council.[2]

The courtroom trial itself was unremarkable, beyond Willis’ alacrity in scheduling the  unnecessary special sitting on May 11.  His opening comments congratulating the captors for their services to the community do not seem to have attracted attention or criticism at the time. [3]  The three surviving prisoners faced twenty-four counts, all related to the shooting and wounding of Henry Fowler, the leader of the “gay and gallant Five”. There were other charges that could have been laid from the five-day outbreak of violence but only the charge of shooting with intent to maim, disfigure or disable carried the death penalty.  Given that the wounding occurred during a shoot-out, there was a heavy reliance on forensic evidence and crime reconstruction to prove that it was the bushrangers, and not the captors, who had fired at close range and at particular angle to cause the injuries sustained by Henry Fowler.  The prominence given to scientific evidence is striking, given the usual reliance on character evidence and eyewitness reports that was usually tendered to the courts. [4] The jury retired for an hour and returned with the guilty verdict.

Willis then held sentencing over for two days until the following Friday, perhaps in the expectation that a reply to his request to announce the date and time for execution might arrive.  The audience for the sentencing was more than sufficient: the crowd rushed into the courthouse as soon as it was opened and “both ingress and egress were forcibly prevented”. In the tumult a window was broken, and Willis threatened to clear the court if a “more discreet and distinct silence were not maintained.” [5] He ordered the three bushrangers to remain in jail “until such day as His Excellency the Governor shall appoint for your execution”.

This, however, was not the end of Judge Willis’ involvement with the bushrangers. The Port Phillip Herald of 24 May carried a startling report that Ellis, Fogarty and the now-deceased Williams had planned to murder Judge Willis as he crossed the creek on the way into Melbourne, but had been dissuaded from the plan by their colleague Jepps.  News of this reached Judge Willis, possibly through petitions that were forwarded to him by three settler victims of the bushranger, each mentioning Jepps by name as instrumental in restraining his partners in crime.  No doubt relieved at his reprieve from the fate of being a kidnap hostage, Willis wrote to La Trobe, enclosing the petitions of the settlers and submitting them “for your serious consideration, and that of His Excellency the Governor.” [6]

But too late, too late – the report had gone up to Sydney and now everyone just had to wait until June when the bushranger story met its sorry end.

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You can see an exhibition about Victoria’s Bushrangers, including the Plenty Valley Bushrangers at the Old Treasury Building Museum in Spring Street in the city.  It’s called Wild Colonial Boys:Bushrangers in Victoria and it’s on until August. It’s closed on Saturdays, but it’s open every other day of the week between 10.00 and 4.00 and entry is free.  While you’re there, check out the terrific ‘Melbourne Foundations of a City’ exhibition and the Melbourne Panorama- a display to spend hours looking at.

 

 

Notes

[1]Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842, PROV 19 Unit 31 Encl to 42/1163

[2] E. D. Thomson to La Trobe 16 May 1842 PROV 16 Unit 31 42/1163

[3] Port Phillip Herald 13 May 1842

[4] Especially the evidence of Dr Charles Sandford, Judge’s notes enclosed in Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31  42/1163

[5] Port Phillip Herald 17 May 1842.

[6] Willis to La Trobe 25th May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31 42/966 enclosure to 42/1163.

 

Exhibition: Something Borrowed

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This fleeting exhibition at Victoria’s Parliament House would have to be the closest-held secret in Melbourne!  It’s only on for a week (i.e. 15-19 May 2017) and there’s not a single sign or indication outside Parliament House that it’s even on.  You need to walk up the steps and ask the person on the door to let you in, then go through X-ray security before going to reception and signing in. Even once you’re inside, there’s nothing to let you know that the exhibition is on.  But enter the beautiful Queens Hall, you’ll see it, and an interesting little exhibition it is, too.

Now that Canberra has been Australia’s capital city since 1927, we tend to forget that the newly-constituted Commonwealth Government first sat in Melbourne. Why Melbourne? First, it may have been a bit of a sop to Victorian pride, given that the decision was made to locate Canberra in New South Wales.  Second, thanks to the Gold Rush, Victoria had suitably grand buildings available- probably more so than in the older capital city of Sydney.

So, like a guest that lingers too long, the Commonwealth Parliament sat in what was then, and is again now, Victorian Parliament House. It was anticipated that they might squat there for four or five years, but it ended up being 26 years.  The Victorian parliament was booted up to the Exhibition Building where they took over one wing while the Exhibition Building continued with its usual functions- including a huge hospital ward for the Spanish Influenza (I bet the pollies weren’t too keen on sharing the premises then!)

The Victorian pollies didn’t particularly like being shunted off to the Exhibition Building. It wasn’t right in the centre of the city like Parliament House was, and they had to leave behind their Parliamentary Library for the use of their federal colleagues.  To add insult to injury, there were 1400 volumes missing from the library when they finally moved back in 1927. The exhibition shows the correspondence back-and-forth between the state and federal librarians, each blaming each other for the disappearance of so many books.

The Exhibition Building was hot too. During the hot summer of 1902-3 the Commonwealth Government took pity on their sweltering state counterparts and allowed them to use their own Parliament House for thirty sitting days, but that was a one-off.

Meanwhile the Federal politicians made themselves right at home, with our first Prime Minister Edmund Barton taking up residence in the attic, and Billy Hughes building a man-shed on the roof of the north building, complete with a microphone connected to the parliamentary chambers so that he could hear what was going on.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Melbourne during WWI, and it was good to remind myself that the wartime Federal Government was located right here. Melbourne was the centre of all the action. Nonetheless, I suspect that the worthies of the Victorian Parliament were glad to pick up sticks from Exhibition Building and head back to their ‘real’ chambers once the Commonwealth government moved to Canberra on 9 May 1927.

So, an interesting little exhibition- but you’ll need to be quick!