Art / Get you to the summer NGA exhibitions

Columnist PAUL COSTIGAN takes a break from berating planners and governments for the state of the city to spend a little time looking at a lot at the National Gallery…

The Old Masters returned to the walls of the NGA. Photo: Paul: Costigan

GIVEN that it has been six months since Nick Mitzevich took on the NGA’s leadership, it was interesting to observe how the gallery looked during a recent visit.

Two major changes are to be celebrated. The lower gallery used to be a fantastic space for sculpture but under the last leadership it was taken over for fashionable contemporary art. The news for lovers of sculpture is that it has reverted to sculpture (more or less) with a few other things thrown in under the guise of an exhibition titled “Bodies of art: Human form from the national collection”.

Paul Costigan.

The space was designed for sculpture, so let’s hope it is used more for this purpose.

It is the “few other things” that got attention. A while ago the NGA banished its modest “Old Masters collection (medieval, baroque and renaissance art) out on extended loans to state galleries. This removed that whole era from the collection displays. Not good for people who enjoy art of any era.

Some have reappeared downstairs among the sculpture collection. People were paying them attention, particularly the medieval triptych. Are the others to return soon?

Upstairs there was a small queue for Yayoi Kusama’s “The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens”. I peered in but left that for another time. I suspect it will be the most popular spot in the gallery for selfies.

Nearby the David Hockney “Grand Canyon” is looking better every time I see it. But the Brancusi birds are looking a little out of place being in a small room that denies the chance to stand back and enjoy the beautiful sweep of the wings.

There are many special collection exhibitions that alone are worth the visit to the gallery and provide an alternative to lining up for the special “blockbuster” – and they are free.

Among those on now are “California Cool – Art of California” (upstairs), “Australian Impression, Earth/Sky”, “Art Deco and Art Nouveau” – and not listed online is a wonderful “Ballet Russes” medium-size exhibition of costumes and prints (next to the book shop).

There’s a lot to see.

Which brings me to the paid exhibition – “Love & Desire – Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces”. This is a large and very impressive exhibition.

People who have previously visited Tate London where most of the works come from should not hold back. The difference is that when wandering through Tate London there are so many eras of works to consume. It is hard work to take in the art of any particular era.

Summer at the NGA. Photo: Paul Costigan

With this NGA special exhibition there’s the chance to see those works again in the context of others from collections both in Australia and elsewhere in the UK. This is a well-curated exhibition with heaps to take in – including a nice room full of William Morris works from the NGA’s own extensive collections.

The recommendation is that the NGA’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition is well worth the visit now so that you will have time to return in February or March. It is a must-see exhibition.

On the second visit you will have knowledge of the whole exhibition and be able to take time with particular works especially those that have travelled from places you may visit and those from private collections.

The bottom line is – how much to visit the UK to see these works later if you get the chance? Quite a lot more than the price of tickets now at the NGA.

The gallery is looking good and there is not too much in the way of change courtesy of the new director – maybe that is still to come.

The NGA has a fantastic national collection and with the collection exhibitions being free (besides parking fees – except on weekends) it is definitely worth visiting often to meander through the collection spaces – as well to take in the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition once or twice before it leaves.

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