Sunday in Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I need this day off to recover from yesterday, something is hurting deep in my gluteus maximus. Walking helps and a day exploring art in the city starts with the National Gallery of Victoria. One of my American swimming friends has recommended the Keith Haring/Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition there and without knowing anything about them, I get a ticket.

Basquiat graffiti – he wrote/painted on anything he could find
Haring graffiti -chalk on the subway

At first it looks as if it’s the story of two graffiti artists in 80’s New York. Haring developed his style on blacked out advertising space awaiting the next poster. Using white chalk, he worked quickly but didn’t always avoid arrest. Basquiat was black/latino and drew, painted or spray painted on anything. The exhibition unfolds to display dramatic and moving images.

They were both gay and their deaths in the late 80’s suggests they succumbed to AIDS. They were of course part of the group around Andy Warhol. Their work becomes stronger and more political ending in really moving work around HIV and AIDS towards the end of their lives. There’s an eleven-page hand-written eulogy from Haring for his friend Basquiat, who died first. I’ll just let the images speak for themselves.

Haring signature figures with a X = death
Basquiat -untitled figure
Haring
Three Haring in a row makes an impression
‘The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realised that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.’ In this 1982 painting the figure wears a three pointed crown – a prominent symbol in Basquiat’s visual lexicon.
Haring – huge mural. Can you see the map of the US?
Basquiat – the anger here is powerful
Basquiat the Fat Man
Basquiat the irony of a Negro Policeman
Haring – the end of apartheid in South Africa
Haring, Warhole & Basquiat

After a coffee break, I venture upstairs to the rest of the gallery to look at beautifully curated oriental and Indian art. Ceramics, carving and textiles of great quality. There’s an excellent selection of 17th, 18th and 19th Century British and European are, with most of the important painters on display. I spend a little more time on the impressionists. On the top floor there are dramatic black and white films by an Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and New Zealand’s Colin McCahon’s painting using letters and numbers have a room to themselves. Finally, there is a huge display of fashion by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons dating from 1981. Time for Lunch.

State Library Victoria

The State Library of Victoria is reputed to have an art collection, so jumping on the ever-efficient Melbourne tram system, I am there in no time. The dome of the reading room – reminiscent of the reading room at the British Museum – has been recently restored and is worth a look. On the way down there are interesting displays on the changes in the state of Victoria over the years.

The reading room
Ned Kelly death mask

Here I happen to observe a father pointing out Ned Kelly’s death mask and explaining to his young daughter that after a hanging, a plaster mould of the head was made. The next floor down is devoted to the world of the book, beginning with books donated to the library which were not deemed suitable for the public to read.

William Strutt Black Thursday Feb 6th 1851 – a devastating fire threatened to consume Victoria

I find the Cowan Gallery and am immediately drawn to three painting of horrific fires in the state. They seem relevant to the recent fires.

Julia Davia – Churchill National Park 2009. Victoria experiences the worst bush fires in recorded history.
Molly Tjami – Waru 2009 ‘I have painted a bush fire that is consuming our land’

Outside, it is still hot and the rally in support of Julian Assange is coming to close. The small group listening is exhorted to join in the march.

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