My literary week (12), some art, a film, and an unseen play

Much as I’d like to, I don’t have time to write full posts on the three “events” I’m writing about today, but I do want to at least document them. I don’t, in fact, document every film, show or exhibition I attend but I have particular reasons, which will hopefully become obvious, for wanting to share these three.

MoMA at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria)

For a very exciting reason – Mr Gums and my becoming grandparents for the first time – we made a flying trip to Melbourne last weekend, and, as we couldn’t spend all our time gazing at the adorable newborn, we took ourselves off to the current exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria during our long weekend. Titled MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, it comprises a selection of MoMa’s world-famous collection. About 200 pieces the website says. The works are organised pretty traditionally – that is, in chronological order, but within this order there are themes, mostly relating to specific art movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and so on. The website says that “the exhibition traces the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to the digital and global present.” It’s an inspiring exhibition, but like all such big, dense, exhibitions, we had tired by the end, despite breaking for lunch in the middle – so my concentration, not to mention my feet, did start to fail, affecting what I remember.

Anyhow, the exhibition opens with a wall comprising a work each by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, who, the audioguide explained, are deemed to mark the beginning of modern art.

Salvador Dali, The persistence of memory, 1931

So, what did I enjoy? Of course, I liked seeing famous works by well-known artists, such as Dali’s “The persistence of memory” (the famous melting/dripping clocks painting). Who knew it was so small? Well, you do know it, if you read the small print in art books, but you don’t tend to remember that – at least I don’t always. It’s only seeing the work itself that makes this stick. This is partly what makes going to exhibitions so worthwhile. I also enjoyed seeing lesser known works by well-known artists, and works by artists I barely know or didn’t, until last weekend, know at all! And, I appreciated the inclusion of women artists, such as photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) who was apparently looked at askance for photographing machines.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle wheel, 1951 (original was 1913)

There is so much more I could say, but, this being a litblog primarily, I’m going to end on one idea that particularly tickled me. Early in the exhibition is a work by Marcel Duchamp, the originator not only of Dada but of the art of “readymades“. The audioguide argued that one of Duchamp’s contributions to modern art was the idea that a work of art is not complete until it is joined with the viewer’s perception and questions (even if, the guide said, that question is, “is this art?”) This got me thinking once again about reading, and the fact that a book has as many meanings as it has readers, because each of us brings our own perspectives to it. An old hat idea, now, I guess, but I liked that Duchamp’s ideas resonated for me beyond the visual arts.

Gurrumul (Cinema Nova, Carlton)

Another exciting event in our lives – one still to come – is that in a few days we’ll be heading off to Australia’s Top End, to tour Arnhem Land and then spend a few additional days in Darwin. I can’t wait for the warmth – nor to experience Arnhem Land which has been on my must-visit list for some time now. Luckily for us, two friends have just returned from the same tour, and they advised us, in preparation, to see three films: Ten canoes (which we’ve seen before, but looked at again, via DVD last week), and two recent documentaries Gurrumul and West wind: Djalu’s legacy.

Gurrumul Yunupingu

Dr G Yunupingu @ Fremantle Park (17/4/2011), By Stuart Sevastos, using CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately we’ve missed West Wind on the cinema circuit, and it’s not available on DVD until later this year, but Gurrumul is still screening. So another time-filling activity for us in Melbourne was to see it at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. For those of you who don’t know, the film is about the recently deceased indigenous Australian musician, Dr G Yunipingu (the name used for him since his death in respect of indigenous Australian funerary practices. Permission was given, by Yunipingu himself the film says, for the film to be released, despite another indigenous practice of not showing images of deceased persons for some time after their deaths.)

Dr G Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island, in Arnhem Land, and was discovered early in his life to be blind. He taught himself to play music, and was clearly gifted – though it was his voice (“the voice of an angel” some said) that really captured attention. He wrote his own songs, which he sang mostly in language. The film chronicles, primarily, his musical life, but given his close connection to his culture, that couldn’t be done without reference to his family and culture.

It’s a traditional documentary, style-wise, but it’s the content, the subject himself, that makes this such a moving film. I was quite wrung out by the end – and not only because it had been an emotional couple of weeks leading up to it. One of the issues underpinning the film is an age-old story for indigenous people – the challenge of moving between two opposing cultures. It was a challenge that brought indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, undone in the end. Dr G Yunupingu managed it better overall – partly because of his own sense of self and strong attachment to his country and culture, but partly also because his non-indigenous mentors had learnt from history and were respectful of Yunupingu’s wishes. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t tense times! The film will, I’m sure, enhance our Arnhem Land trip – but it’s worth seeing regardless.

Tourmaline (The Street Theatre)

Randolph Stow, TourmalineAnd, well, this last stop in today’s post is exciting too – but disappointing also, as I will be missing it. Yes, I am concluding this post by discussing something that not only have I not seen, but won’t be seeing either. I have a very good reason though for this strange behaviour, and it’s that the production, an adaptation of Randolph Stow’s novel Tourmaline, was written by Emma Gibson, one of the bloggers I mentored in last year’s Litbloggers of the Future program. Emma, in fact, wrote a guest post for this blog on Stow and the novel.

It is part of a double bill of adaptations of sci-fi-futuristic texts, the other being HG Wells’ War of the worlds. In her guest post, Emma said that the book has been described as an “ecological allegory”. This would slot nicely into Emma’s main interest, at present anyhow, which is writing about place. According to the promotions, the adaptations are made for radio – which is great to see in itself – but are being performed on stage at the Street Theatre. I am so sorry that I will be missing it – but I wish playwright Emma, and The Street, the best success with it.

Do you have any cultural outings to share?

27 thoughts on “My literary week (12), some art, a film, and an unseen play

  1. LOL you know all about my cultural activities on Norfolk Island, and this is a good time to thank you for your encouraging comments on my travel blog. Compared to ANZLitlovers I get very few comments there and it’s easy to feel that no one is reading it at all.
    Now, as to this post of yours…
    I have been totally slack and not seen the MoMA yet, even though it’s in my backyard, so to speak! But I have just joined a U3A art gallery group which visits galleries around Melbourne and went on my first one in the week before our holiday. We went to Tacit Galleries which was exhibiting The Exquisite Palette, artworks rendered on artists’ palettes. (You can see one here
    I haven’t seen the Gurrumul film, but I’ve read the bio by Robert Hillman which is what introduced me to his music. Beautiful. There’s a link to a YouTube performance in my review and I’m listening to it again now. See
    Oh, but I would love to see that performance of Tourmaline – I’ve read it via audiobook, but I didn’t really understand it which a performance of it might redress. Perhaps the show will come to Melbourne?

    • PS You can get a better idea of the artworks if you google images for The Exquisite Palette, and #doh! I meant artists’ palettes not easels…the things they mix the paint on.

    • Thanks Lisa. I’m glad you enjoyed my comments on your travel blog. I enjoy reading other people’s travel experiences, particularly people I know. And I haven’t been to Norfolk.

      A U3A art gallery group sounds like a wonderful idea. Does it meet weekly? Or monthly? I guess you’ll get to travel all over Melbourne. (I think MoMA only opened in June didn’t it? So you are excused for not getting there yet. I haven’t been to Cartier at the NGA in my back yard and that’s been on for a while.)

      Who knows about Tourmaline travelling? Whether plays get taken up seem to be partly a matter of luck. Or, maybe it will be produced by the ABC.

  2. Hi Sue, congratulations on being a grandparent. A wonderful experience, you will fall in love all over again. I am in Hobart and went to Mona on Saturday. I just love the art inside and outside. Then I went to a Rosny Schoolhouse Gallery. Here I saw paintings of clouds. The mobiles hanging display was unique and beautiful. The exhibition is known as Blue Dot by Claire Pendrigh, I have seen Gurrumul, and have the ABC book with his CD. What a wonderful voice. When I return to Melbourne in late July I will visit NGV. Friends of mine went over the weekend and raved about their experience. Enjoy your trip to to tour Arnhem Land.

    • Thanks Meg for all this. I think you are right about falling in love all over again.

      I haven’t been to Rosny Schoolhouse Gallery. Must ask my brother about that next time we are down there. You will enjoy NGV, I’m sure. I’d be tempted to go again, though it’s not cheap so maybe once will have to do.

      Gurrumul had a wonderful voice didn’t he.

      • Hi Sue the Rosny Schoolhouse gallery is very small and promotes Tasmanian art. This month Tasmania is promoting Festival of Voices and you cannot help admire Tasmanians for pushing their own home grown talent. I have also visited Fullers Bookshop and spent some of my money. Tonight on the ABC, is Back Roads, and it is about Scottsdale in Tasmania.

        • Oh yes, I knew that Scottsdale program was on tonight, Meg, and forgot! I will have to watch it on iView. (I think I’ll be off on holidays when they repeat it on the weekend – I think it is?)

          Thanks for the link for the gallery.

  3. Firstly – Félicitations! Grand-parents! A significant point in your journey through life. Marvellous.

    Recently saw the documentary on Dr G Yunupingu – “Gurrumul” – marvellous tribute – as it became. Makes one feel pride in being Australian. An inclusive kind of feeling – no “them” and “us” divisiveness.

    Recent Cultural outing? Four galleries around the Hunter Valley have exhibits under the title: Hunte(R)ed. Back in early May we viewed its “Razzamatazz” part at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery – and to-day we took in the other three: Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Newcastle Art Gallery and The Lock-Up (Gallery) – the old Police Lock-up in Hunter Street. At the LMCAG: “Re(A)d Earth” political, social, linguistic – and cultural (including dance) aspects of Indigenous Australia – local regional and other parts of Australia – Yirrkala, Nhulunbuy, Central Australia, WA – stunning. At the NAG: “Corpus” was the title – Abjection, Vanitas and Loss. Including works from Patricia Piccinini – and from Selena Archibald & Donna Biles-Fernando (movingly . Andreferencing Awabakal language). At The Lock-up: “Seeing Red” – Protest and activism. In a Room filled with Protest Placards and following the direction on one of the tables – I came up with my own slogan and added it to the booklet provided:”I’m an aspirational for the demise of neoliberalism – NOW!”

    It was an inspirational kind of day – social justice and environmental protection issues along with the religiosity of Indigenous artistic/cultural representation! >

    • Thanks Jim. We are looking forward to this new stage in our lives.

      Gurrumul did have a lovely inclusive feel – with a lot of love and mutual respect. If only that could be more universally replicated.

      Hunte(R)ed sounds like a wonderful concept. And I like your slogan.

  4. Big congratulations on becoming grandparents. That’s such a happy & exciting time for you. Would love to see that documentary but will have to wait for a DVD release I think and then buy it on import 🙄 I recently saw the “Monet and Architecture” exhibition at the National Gallery here in London and it was rather brilliant to see so many of his paintings that I knew from books (and merchandise!!) but had never seen in the flesh and I think that’s what makes art really come alive, when you can stand in front of it and see not only the size but the actual brushstrokes and the true colour of the paint.

    • Thanks kimbofo. It is exciting. Many books to share in the years to come. I look forward to reacquainting myself with children’s literature once more.

      And yes, art exhibitions – as you say, not just the size but the brushstrokes, and the “real” colour too given reproductions never get it quite right (notwithstanding of course that the “real” colour on the work changes over time.

  5. C0ngratulations on becoming a grandparent, Sue. And you will definitely be doing a refresher course in children’s literature!

  6. I go to galleries when I can, have some Aboriginal art, don’t like plays. Saw NGV’s Monet exhibition a few years ago, his water lily phase – they were much bigger and coarser than I expected

    • A succinct but informative response Bill! Thanks.

      PS I think with Monet you realise they are meant to be seen at a distance, but it’s great also to be able to get up close and see how he creates his effects isn’t it.

  7. I need to learn more about art. With that, I enjoy visiting art museums. Gurrumul sounds very good, I tend to like documentaries about musicians. Dr. Yunipingu sounds like he was an interesting person.

    • He was Brian — and he was a self taught left-handed musician who played a right handed guitar upside down. He also sang most songs in his language (or did I say that above?) He was a member of a musical family, which includes the band Yothu Yindi (of which he was an early member.)

      Plenty of time to learn about art! It’s one of those things that we can keep learning throughout our lives at our own pace I reckon.

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