It’s cold and wet, in the way that winter days used to be. Three years ago, in the midst of drought, I was wondering if I’d ever see one of these wet days from my childhood again- the ones where you wake up to the sound of rain that just goes on and on. But here a rainy day is back, although I note from the weather segment that once again this rain is courtesy of low pressure troughs moving down from the north, quite unlike the across-the-Nullabor weather patterns that I’ve been used to all my life.
Weather notwithstanding, off we toddled to the National Gallery of Victoria to take advantage of the members’ free entry today to the Fred Williams exhibition. I really don’t know why I keep going back to the Fed Square gallery (other than being forced to if I want to see particular exhibitions) because it always enrages me. My chagrin starts with the cobbled, windswept forecourt. It is bleak in winter and baking in summer, uneven, and slopes upwards onto an artificially created hill that ensures that the whole Federation Square complex completely blocks any sight of the river. It amuses me that the so-called ‘accessibility’ markers that denote a slightly smoother path are themselves virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the cobblestones.
Then, how to get into the damned gallery? You’ve got to hand it to the NGV- in both the Fed Square and the International Galleries, the doors are squirrelled away out of sight- I mean, you wouldn’t want anyone to come IN would you?
Having solved the mystery of getting in to the gallery, and having passed the highly prominent and clearly-sign posted shop (the only thing, along with the ticket box, that is clearly signposted in the whole building) your next task is to work out how to get upstairs, as the exhibition you want is most certainly upstairs. Ah- there’s the escalator- a little single-file, one-way escalator tucked away in a corner. You want to go down again? I’m yet to find the down-escalator, but I have found the wooden staircase that has the steps sawn off at an angle like spiral steps, but in a squared, boxlike structure. Or there’s another staircase that just goes on and on and on upwards- oddly I’ve never found how to get down again. Isn’t there some regulation about landings in staircases??
Exhibition seen, now for coffee! There’s the cafe with a narrow window that looks out onto the river- well, it would if it weren’t covered with artistically hung black mesh. What goes in, must come out-so where ARE the toilets? Ah, there’s a subtle little sign over in the corner, virtually indistinguishable. The door opens into a stygian darkness, which lifts slightly over the cubicles, but barely enough to detect the flush buttons that are mere engravings on the stainless steel walls. The whole place is so damned impractical and must break every possible regulation in terms of accessibility and safety. I have no idea how they could evacuate the building in an emergency. It’s architectural pretension run amok.
Am I in a bad mood today? Perhaps I am. Let’s just say that I’m glad I had free entry to the Fred Williams exhibition. I’m with Robert Nelson on this one- his review Dogged dabs of a blobby dazzler pretty much sums it up for me.
Fortunately my rainy day at the NGV was saved by “Intimate Landscapes”, the Fred Kruger exhibition of photographs– no, not the Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy Krueger, but instead the German photographer who worked in Victoria between 1860s-80s. He was a travelling commercial photographer who was contracted, among other things, to photograph the Aboriginal people living at Coranderrk mission, near Healesville for the Aborigines Protection Board. His photographs, intended to highlight the industry of the inhabitants, and the success of the mission, are freighted with all the “dying race” and “clean and useful” philosophies of the time. He also took photographs of bridges, reservoirs, and rivers, often with small human figures alongside. In a feat of organisation, he took a large group shot of literally hundreds of school children outside Flinders Primary School in 1880- you can see it here. There are street shots of Queenscliff, Geelong and Ballarat as well. Fascinating, and well worth the cobblestones and steps, clammy umbrellas and wet socks.