Friday, January 14, 2005

Canberra

Went down to Canberra for a few days – about a 3 hour drive away. Spent Wednesday at the National Gallery and the Museum of Australia. Skip to the end now if you want to avoid yet another museum review ;-)

The gallery was the most interesting example of a National Gallery that I’ve seen in the past few years. Modern building, bright and well laid out, no imposing Victorian rooms with dark paint and heavy gilt frames. The international section is fairly wide ranging with the usual suspects all represented, but the primary focus is on Australian art, as it should be. The first space is given over to contemporary Aboriginal art practice – having studied some of it last year on AA318 it was great to see what’s happening now – I spent the guts of an hour in there alone! That led into the room with Pollock’s Blue Poles – that kind of juxtaposition happened a lot – really interesting hanging throughout – reminded me a bit of the Tate Modern except not so exhausting and ott. The main floor is all Australian art, from colonial through to contemporary works. No real hierarchical priority given to painting either – craft work and furniture on display in the same rooms. It’s a relatively new gallery and has to compete with the state galleries that have been collecting for a long time, so the acquisitions policy seems really successful.

The Museum of Australia is an all-singing all-dancing modern museum, spectacular building, thematic displays rather than chronological, mixture of objects and technology. Great fun. Divided into ‘Land’, covering everything from dinosaurs to the rabbit-proof fence to a modified 1999 Toyota 4WD used for catching feral buffalo (I thought the bionic arm would be a useful addition to the south Dublin school run ;-)); ‘People’, dealing with the First Australians through the European invasion to recent struggles for land rights and citizenship; and ‘Nation’ covering modern history and the many contested accounts of what it means to be an Australian. Quite poignant displays of personal artefacts from families of ANZAC soldiers killed in the WW1 right through to the personal account and smoke-damaged clothes of a survivor of the Bali bombing. We noted the space left at the end that will probably soon hold a record of the tsunami disaster…

Oh, and both museums were free admission. Even better!

Canberra’s a lovely city – my memory of it from last time is of getting lost on the endless roundabouts and circular routes and fighting in the car about my poor navigation skills (although it was the only time that I got us lost in our entire road trip!). This time I got a much better sense of the place – it feels like a city has been hidden in a national park, there’s trees everywhere, wide streets with no high rise developments. Still, lovely and all as it is, there’s very little character to the place and it all looks the same – what sort of capital city needs a (very) large sign (on the equivalent of O’Connell St) to tell you that you’ve reached the city centre? Normally it would be stating the bleedin obvious but in Canberra the centre would be easy to miss!