UnReview: Triennial

I’ve visited the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial twice now and I can firmly say I’ve not experienced everything. There is so much to see some art is skipped, but on the other hand, the scale of many works means that much is simply unmissable.

This is unmissable.

So yes, reclining Buddha, check. Giant skulls filling a gallery, check (after a long wander). The darkened room filled with Guo Pei’s dream-like impossible dresses that I call Gowns of Wow. Yes, I found them. Twice.

Pictures are good, but can’t convey the scale of this.

Because of the immensity of this exhibit I’m less inclined to attempt to sum it up or theorise in a meandering and ultimately pointless review. I mean even the book of this event is huge.

Even the details are epic.

But I can share a few impressions and some pictures. Plus other things continue there, like the Language of Ornament too that is worth a look.

Painting on glass to illustrate a point about glass, painting & illuminated books.

Impression One: messing with your head

A central idea to some installations is how they mean to induce a perspective shift. By playing with colour and line, darkness, light, movement and sound, they are basically messing with how you look at and feel about the environment you inhabit at that moment. And it works.

Is it crinkled foil? No. Is it digital? No. A painting? No. Look closer. 

It is dizzying and amazing. I will cite the a giant embroidery that looked like a digital picture of a metallic substance, and a painted room of coloured wool thread.

Perspective shift

Other works don’t make this intention a prominent feature but it happens any way because of the how they are presented in the space they inhabit.

Let them haunt you.

Glass sculptures like the heads of aliens or slices of brain matter presented in perspex are in a darkened room and encased so that you don’t just look at one piece, you see them reflected and refracted under spotlights, and lined up so they are echoes of each other. Let them haunt you.

Let the works haunt you.

Impression Two: Materiality

There were many fine works, many framed sketches, or large paintings, but the works that had the most effect on me were sculptures, like the giant mass of microphones – a deep-sea blob squatting in a black room, towering above all viewers.

Most of the sculptures were completely arresting and overwhelming and yes I mean the room of skulls by Ron Mueck, but also the hanging figure after the microphone-mass, the faceless suits, and the aforementioned alien-organic shapes. And of course the Greek figures scampering over the reclining Buddha.

Interactivity old/new.

Then there was the luscious and detailed landscape carpet you could lie on and become a part of, weird sculptures out of everything from artificial flowers, buttons and bronze, as well as thread and wool.

Carpet landscape interactivity.

Again, I will mention the costumes (not mere dresses) by Guo Pei. Ecclesiastical, ephemeral, and over the top, the effect of the gold tinted mirrored back drops, in the darkened space with a whirling projection made the entire room into a fantastically dressed dream world.

Thirties inspired moodily lit gown.

Or, each bejeweled dress represented an aspect of a nightmare-scape of entitled consumerism fused with a vision of religious awe of the physical indicators of ridiculous wealth. Depends. See above on perspective.

Gowns of wow.

Impression Three: Digital/Interaction 

It wouldn’t be a cutting edge, new works art show without technology. Art commenting on technology, art using technology and art consisting solely of technology.

Trust me, you have to be there for this.

There are films and photography, but a (dark) highlight was the room of swirling light. It is a visual and interactive wonder. It is nothing but a blackened box of a space, with mirrored walls, but people stay and walk and skip around it in circles. Most importantly the light is interactive. People change the projections streaming onto the floor. You can speculate on the meaning for art, humanity and tech if you like, but this is deceptively simple and quite magical.

Yeah, I don’t know either.

Impression Four: Art together

This is big. I’ve never worked so hard to cut people out of my photos.  I’ve not  witnessed so many people willing to hang around a gallery on a late Sunday afternoon, as the food truck vendors outside sold out of items and the street market closed. People wanted to stay. They wanted to interact with the art, the gallery and each other.


Drop by Drawing was full. I had to wait for a seat, which didn’t happen last year. As an experience of itself it was overwhelming. People don’t call Melbourne the cultural capital of Australia for nothing. And the NGV is the most visited art gallery in the world by local inhabitants.

Probably a local.

Other galleries may get more tourists (as they should) but Victorian locals love their gallery. Sunday proved it. It was positive to see so many people wandering casually, or walking with intent, families replete with prams, couples, all ages, all walks of life, from any background you cared to name.

Then there are people who are art.

Writing is usually a solitary, alone time thing, and art often is as well, but the enjoyment of it doesn’t have to be. It’s why classes work, even the one on Sunday, amid the frenzy of the busy gallery.

Want to call this: Angel Escaping Carbonite.

Everyone is either looking the art, or admiring the sketches of those in class. Then again, much of the art, especially the digital creations, only work with people, much like a drawing class only works with attendees.

Oops, looks like I did kinda review the Triennial anyway.

Go see it. It is free, and there will also be events, music, lectures, performances, and plays as well for Triennial EXTRA.

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