Saturday, October 16, 2010

What I did on the weekend - a visit to the National Gallery of Australia

The National Gallery of Australia has recently opened a new entrance and new Indigenous galleries. It's quite the innovation. Until the new door was completed, you had to kind of park at the back, wend your way through either a) a carpark or b) a sculpture garden then either up a) two sets of escalators, b) very steep steps, c) a very steep ramp or d) push a button and wait for a security guard to come and let you use a lift. Options a) to d) were all Very Bad Options should you be with someone a) in a pusher, b) in a wheelchair, c) using a walking frame or d) generally a bit rickety. Not helped by the attitude of the staff and volunteers of the gallery, who after you actually made it inside, would rush upon you if you happened to be assisting someone (eg carrying a child or having someone hold on to you) to tell you loudly and aggressively that you weren't allowed to do that in the gallery, because you might damage the Art. They say Art with a definite capital. At which point a fairly large part of my brain would have liked to, quite loudly and aggressively, tell them to take their Art and stick it up their A***. But I never did, because I do believe people generally should not fling children or people recovering from cancer at Art, because it does neither the people nor the Art any good whatsoever, unless you are an experimental performance artist but not a very nice one.

So today, the new door way was quite astoundingly at ground level, so you could park your car and, you know, walk to the door and then walk in. There appeared to be parking for people with disabibility stickers actually right next to the bit of footpath nearest the door. You'd almost be forgiven for thinking that they really actually wouldn't quite mind if some people went in and looked at the Art. So we did, and the new galleries at the front are really very fabulous, with such other innovations as Enough Light to See the Art*, Enough Space to See the Art, and Art that You Actually Might Enjoy Seeing. A+ to the person who told the gallery folk that Art can, in fact, be a Fun Thing to See and that people might like to actually see it.

I am willing to admit I have been utterly spoiled by the attitude of the Queensland Art Gallery and its new off-shoot the Gallery of Modern Art. I like old-QAG better than I like the new-QAG/GOMA art complex, ironically because I think the new set up has a teensy bit too much light on a sunny day. There's also the minor problem about how you either get wet or sunburned when walking between the two galleries, but that's a nice excuse to stop of and see what's going on in the kid's space at the Queensland State Library, so no biggy.

The thing about QAG is, they give every impression of wanting people (including children, rickety people and people who are not likely to speak in Hushed and Awed tones of the impasto or the impetigo or whatever) to, you know, look at the art. They also like to encourage people to make art, laugh at art, think about art, buy art in the art shop and generally be as art-friendly as possible. I suppose if you are a person who thinks that art is only there to be discussed in hushed and awed tones, this is probably very annoying. But for those of us who think that publicly funded art galleries have an obligation to include the public, it's definitely a plus.

*Before any of you get all curatorial on my bottom, I know that some art does need very low light for very good reasons. I applaud the care they take in looking after such art. But in other galleries such as the Musee D'Orsay or the Ian Potter Gallery you can generally tell if you are looking at flowers or a face. This being able to tell the difference oddly enhances the art-viewing experience for ignorant art goers such as myself. I also like knowing what colour of something I am looking at and being able to have a punt at what it might be made of without having to read the didactic panel. I also like being able to read the didactic panel. I love saying 'didactic panel' as well, in case you hadn't already noticed. It's didactic and it's a panel!


HannesB said...

My impression of the (old) National Gallery was that it looked like backstage at a football stadium, you know, the echoing, dark concrete chambers underneath the rafters - it would be a pleasant a surprise if they've improved the lighting and accessibility a bit.

Ampersand Duck said...

I took the Aged Poet to the new bits a couple of weeks ago and it was actually fun, not the usual slog. I have a couple of comments re. wheelchairs & the NGA: once you are on the 20th century Australian floor, there is a dead end which forces you to backtrack all the way around, which is a pain in the pushing person's back.
Also, if you are in a wheelchair, or short like a child, much of the glass-framed work (like the whole Ned Kelly room) suffers from spotlight glare at that height. Which would kill the joy for little tuckers, methinks.

But on average, it's a big improvement, isn't it? The Indigenous galleries are spectacular.

Jacqui said...

Doesn't sound like a good place for myself and the tribe. My boys love the ramps at the QAG. Plenty of room to run up and down them and when they scream at the top of their voice - it echoes.

GMT+10 said...

Thank goodness they did something about the NGA's entrance - entering a museum should never feel like entering a rather unfriendly, unremarkable office block. All those marvellous works in the collection deserve better. There is no reason why an impressive 'approach' cannot be wheel-friendly and children like a sense of occasion as much as anyone else! Both QAG and GoMA have good threshold moments. NGV not so much.