Last week was mostly about rehanging the twentieth century galleries on level 2 at NGV Australia. We have only been making minor changes to accommodate light sensitive works such as the Fred Williams prints that need to come down as they have reached their light exposure limit. We put them up in conjunction with the Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons exhibition, and are replacing them with another selection of his post-1950s prints.
Other works recently installed that have a major impact include one of my favourite works from the collection, Tony Tuckson’s Untitled – yellow (1970-73), which although we have had it on loan since 1986, we only recently acquired it with the help of the Loti Smorgon AC and Victor Smorgon AC fund. Tuckson’s late Abstract Expressionist style is about gesture, and you can see the confidence with which the artist applies the paint, or indeed, where he doesn’t. There is a wonderful harmony between the brown of the raw masonite board, the white, cream and yellow paints. His understanding of composition is incredible, reduced here to blocks of paint. However there are also accidents present from the production of other works in his studio: splatters of red and black paint which Tuckson has left to become part of this work. This too takes confidence.
Tuckson was also influenced by Aboriginal Art which he collected and curated during his time at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He was struck by the raw timber and uninhibited brushstrokes of the pukamani poles on Melville Island, and the influence is certainly evident in Untitled – yellow. It is wonderful to be able to display this painting alongside hollow logs from Arhnem Land in the NGV’s Indigenous collection.
This is one of those works you have to see – I remember art historian Daniel Thomas explaining how paintings such as this need to dwarf and overwhelm you, and this large two panel work certainly does that.
Another work which I am quite excited about is Christian Waller’s Destiny 1916, a new acquisition for the collection of Australian painting. Ever since I first set eyes upon Waller’s prints I have admired their wonderful Moderne/Art Deco style. She also produced stunning stained glass windows. Due to their scarcity, until recently I have not been well acquainted with her painting. Waller studied at the National Gallery School under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall, and married fellow student Napier Waller. The National Gallery of Australia has his portrait of her from 1932 entitled Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills.
Waller’s Destiny is quirky to say the least – it reflects her interest in Mysticism and Theosophy and provides quite a stark contrast to the other works in gallery 7. I think this is a fascinating work, however I encourage you to come in and decide for yourself.