Cave of Forgotten Dreams

On Monday night I finally saw the new Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). It’s a film I was most disappointed to miss at MIFF due to scheduling so the opportunity to see it at a MIFF preview screening was promptly taken up.

This 3D documentary takes a look at the Chauvet Cave in Southern France, discovered in 1994 which contains the oldest known cave paintings dating as far back as 30,000 to 32,000 years. This film’s subject matter is fascinating. The art history and archeological significance of the cave is astounding. Add the expected Herzog quirkiness and you have 90 minutes of wonder.

I was utterly captivated. It seems implausible that with so little available footage (the crew was small, 3D cameras are sizeable and the allowable footprint in the caves is very limited) that I could remain intrigued for the length of this film. The same paintings were shown more than once but through different expert’s eyes. Each with their own passion for the piece.

I’d been conditioned to think of cave drawings as just one thing but these drawings are enchanting. They are such perfectly realised images, with feeling, depth and motion. The shading, texture and shapes of the surface have been accounted for in the placement of the drawings and the 3D allows the viewer to see this more clearly. I was completely drawn into this film.

I can understand those who see the flaws in it. How it could have easily run for half the time, how the characters chosen could have been more selectively pruned, but then it wouldn’t be a Herzog film – would it? And you either enjoy his style of documentary film making or you don’t. I for one do.

Another thing. The music. The minimalist soundtrack by cellist Ernst Reijseger is beautifully haunting and a wonderful accompaniment to the drawings and the film. It’s available on Winter & Winter. Do track it down.


In the frame

One of the things I am most guilty of when looking at art is getting lost in the frame. I mean that literally. Most of the time I will first look at the painting, photograph, print etc but eventually my focus will divert to the square surrounding it. The frame.

I will become completely lost in this square of timber, fabric, paint, embellishment. I am absorbed in the craftsmanship, intricate detail, variety of material, colour, scale, the volume of work that has gone into this ‘encasing’ of the artwork, yet is given so little acknowledgement and recognition.

You can understand then that I was so very happy this week to discover that recently the NGV Australia has started to amend its information plates to include detail on the frame. In the 19th century Australian art galleries on the second floor of the Ian Potter Centre select works now contain information about the frame. Whether it is original or a reproduction, who the maker is or otherwise ‘maker unknown’, if it is a reproduction when it was reproduced and based on what timeframe etc. I haven’t yet checked across the road at the NGV International to see if it too is doing the same but would be very excited to find that it was.

Now me being me I couldn’t just leave it at that. I had at ask about why some of the information plates contained frame detail and others didn’t, and what informative and helpful responses I got from the lovely NGV staff. If I’d thought about it for a minute or two I would have figured it out as it’s pretty obvious really. If research has been undertaken on a frame then it can be labelled with what was discovered. I did say it was pretty obvious. I was also directed to an interesting book on the frames in the NGV Collection, titled Framing the Nineteenth Century by John Payne.

One of my favourite frames in this gallery is fitted to Ugo Catani’s Lovers’ walk, Mount Macedon. It is rich, dark, layered, full of detail and fits perfectly with the painting without detracting from it. The frame maker is John Thallon of Melbourne and there are quite a few of his frames in this gallery.

Ugo CATANI Lovers' walk, Mount Macedon, 1890 Melbourne. Frame: original, by John Thallon, Melbourne

Detail of John Thallon's frame around Lovers' walk, Mount Macedon by Ugo CATANI

A frame you can’t miss due to the scale of the work (285.7 x 433.0 cm) surrounds John Longstaff’s Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861 (1907). The frame is mammoth but when you get up close the workmanship is beautiful. I stare in wonder and think of the hours involved in creating each of those leaves and buds, and that’s just the outer layer of the frame.

The enormous original frame by an unknown maker around John LONGSTAFF's Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861 (1907)

The works in the Joseph Brown Collection do not contain frame information as they came from a private collection and as I was reminded collectors commonly re-framed works to fit with the appearance of their existing collection. A nice example of this is Rupert Bunny’s Mermaids dancing. Although the painting is from 1896 it’s paired with a clean mid-century frame. Very nice.

Rupert Bunny's 19th C Mermaids dancing in a 20th C frame

Many thanks to Vicki at the NGV library and MaryJo in the Furniture and Frames department for their helpful responses to my email.

My favourite place (in the city)

Last year I used to visit at least once a week but it’s been far too long now. I’ve become lost in that haze of searching for work to fit within my very specific needs that I haven’t been to my happy place – the NGV!

When I worked off Flinders Lane, right near Degraves St I would visit the NGV Australia, the NGV International or both weekly. I could spend my lunch hour listening to something wonderful on my iPod while admiring the art. I highly recommend this if you work nearby.

To be specific the NGV Australia Level 2 is one of my favourite places in Melbourne’s CBD. It houses the 19th and 20th century Australian art components of the NGV Collection, The Joseph Brown Collection plus the current exhibitions of the Australian fashion & textiles gallery and the Australian photography gallery.

Since I’d last visited the Jreissati Family Gallery (gallery 8 ) has had a complete facelift. I guess it’s part of the new hang of the 20th Century Australian Art Galleries for the NGV 150th birthday celebrations and I adore what’s been done.

Because I love it so much I’m going to walk you through the beautiful new space – the artwork as well as the slight movement of fixtures which help direct you through the gallery. Here we go!

I could easily walk you through the entire space but I’ll behave and only point out a few highlights. On the right hand wall when you walk in there are now seven lovely John Brack pieces. Joy Hester’s (Untitled) (Head of a woman with hat) splits the Bracks from a mass of Sidney Nolan works, the bulk of which are on the back wall in an interesting new display.

A wall of NOLAN

Tucker, Boyd, Percival are all still here with the ceramics case now splitting the space in two. Around the corner there’s a nice placement of Jeffrey Smart’s Kapunda mines (1946) next to three Russell Drysdales.

Continue along and a wall of abstracts follow. My favourite piece in this section is Godfrey Miller’s Still life with musical instruments (1958). This piece appeared in the Heide exhibition ‘Cubism & Australian Art’ but I don’t recall seeing it. Unfortunately my photo doesn’t do it justice but the colour in this work and the light and shade I find much more striking than his two pieces across the corridor in the Joseph Brown Collection (Trees in quarry 1961-1963 & Still life with jug 1949-1954). Visit, then you be the judge.

Godfrey MILLER Still life with musical instruments (c. 1958)

Gallery 7 had also undergone a re-hang but not as heavily as gallery 8. There are some lovely new pieces but the bulk is unchanged. I may write up a new post on these changes soon.

The 19th Century Australian Art collection in galleries 5 and 6 next door was closed, possibly in the middle of a new hang, on the day I went in. – which is in itself exciting.

If you’re available at 12.30PM on Thursday 17th March 2011 I’d recommend attending a Floor Talk: The NGV Collection – 20th century Australian art. It’s a free event occurring in my favourite place. Enjoy it on my behalf, I’ll be at Uni at a film screening…