The AGNSW After Dark

April 5, 2007 at 12:13 am (Uncategorized)

All that talk about art yesterday put me in the mood for a bit of ‘cultcha,’ so Llew and I fronted up to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to take advantage of their Wednesday night ‘After Dark’ program. It works out well – Llew works downtown anyway, so it’s just a short walk from Martin Place to the gallery, and I just meet him out the front of the State Library and we walk across the park together. It also means avoiding the weekend crowds. Every Wednesday, you see, the gallery is open until 9pm.

The permanent exhibition is free, too, and given that includes some wonderful Jeffrey Smarts (including the portrait of Clive James, which I love and think is hilarious) and Brett Whiteley’s virtuoso work Alchemy, there’s really no excuse for anyone not to go and check it out one day. In fact, as I said to Llew after we were forcibly moved along by security at 9 o’clock, ever the last to leave as any host will attest, we should do it much more often than we do. It’s right there, just for us.

But last night we were there for a couple of specific reasons. One was the Archibald Prize for Portraiture. It’s an annual visit to the gallery for the Archies, plus the Wynne and Sulman prizes which are decided and exhibited alongside the Archies. The other was the Tezuka Osamu exhibition upstairs. The king of Manga, Tezuka brought the world Astro Boy and Kimba, but many other lesser known and more subversive, complex characters besides. He even did a graphic interpretation of Crime and Punishment, just in case you’re thinking it’s just kids stuff. No, it’s really not.

Anyway, we kicked off with the Archies. I like the winning portrait of Janet Laurence by John Beard. Apparently the subject herself is not so enamored, but I like its contemplative quality. It seems very still, in its own atmosphere, and I think there’s something very calming about that. I liked a bunch this year, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes I struggle to find one to vote for in the People’s Choice. But this year voting took me forever.

I loved Del Kathryn Barton’s portrait of Vasili Kaliman (‘and contained familiar together within the Dreaming’) – it’s vibrant and mesmerising and highly unusual. Then there’s Bill Leak’s portrait of Paul lePetit, complete with Balzac’s shadow. LePetit is so haunted and hounded looking. Those eyes. That brow. And what’s not to love about anything Bill Leak does? I am a big fan of everything that comes out of his mouth and spills from his hand. Then there’s Daniel Henderson’s portrait of his daughter Lily-Rose. It’s so striking, and one guy stood behind me saying “Oh no, that’s creepy, that’s just creepy, that is so wrong,” but I doubt he still would have thought so had he read Henderson’s own thoughts on the work. I couldn’t help but be buoyed by his love for his daughter. Oh yeah, then there was Jasper Knight’s cool, almost pop art portrait of The Honourable Bob Carr. It’s great, the particular placement of yellow squares of perspex backing having such a huge impact on the final expression of the subject. And then there’s the unassuming, deceptively dull self-portrait by Zhong Chen. I nearly walked past it. But then something made me pause and turn toward it, and once I stood properly facing it, I was drawn in by all the mysterious, unsaid, almost painful modesties of it. Finally, Abbey McCulloch’s eerie, otherworldly portrait of Toni Collette. At first it almost reviled me, but it stayed with me, and I went back to look at it again, and now it’s one of the portraits I like best of all.

That’s the Archies for you.

(I’ll tell you about the win at the Wynne, the Sulman, and about Tezuka tomorrow).


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