Left cold by burnt umber, warmed by a ceiling of suns.
When I floated the idea of visiting the Hockney show at the National Gallery of Victoria with Dad, he was hesitant. Not because he doesn’t love Hockney (he has over two dozen books devoted to him) but because he figured everyone else and their dog would be similarly afflicted and thus jostling in a mammoth queue on my day of choice – opening day.
Funnily enough, the show was pretty much empty; cavernous rooms painted in burnt orange, alternatively covered with iPhone screens and digital projections. As we entered the security guard stepped forward to inform us that photography was not just permitted but most welcome, which perhaps should have been taken as indicative of the place of technology in the show.
Really the name should have clued me in but I must have been in some decaffeinated fog when I read the words ‘David Hockney: Current’ - for of course Hockney’s latest (if, sadly, not greatest) foray has been into the world of digital art.
I made many notes trailing through the brightly lit and coloured rooms. (If nothing else, the show is festooned with colour though, tonally; it all reads straight from the tube – no messing around mixing a desired hue here.) But looking back through my images, I get a little morose at the gap between my expectation (and believe me, I take full responsibility for grabbing the wrong end of the paint brush on this one) and the reality.
What I will say is this. You should visit if you like traditional painting digitally done (or are at all interested in the intersection of such) but if, like me, you like traditional Hockney, you should probably give it a miss. The joyous, perspective-defying colour and the intriguing – sometimes disconcerting – flatness so achieved is missing in this form where, instead of paint and brush, fingertips (or stylus) stroke an inherently flat screen that is forever compressed.
Really, it feels like cheating.
When I was very small, maybe 6 or 7, my mum and then-step-dad took me to Canberra for a massive Matisse retrospective. I remember overhearing, as I wondered among immense bare concrete rooms filled with vast coloured cut-outs, the mutterings that Matisse in his old age had grown lazy, had in some way regressed from his innovative prime to seek comfort in the known - the reduced forms and accepting (nay, clamouring) audience.
Some might argue that Hockney, in adopting digital means of art production at such a grand age, is a pioneer – constantly innovating and developing (this is what the NGV, and Hockney’s press-pack, would have you believe) but I suggest that his current work no more challenges or excites him than brushing his teeth. It is, I think, this sense of rote that I think I found slightly distasteful throughout the show.
If the creator can’t be bothered, why should the viewer?
Fresh off the back of such questioning, the stroll through Olsen’s ‘The You Beaut Country’ at the NGV’s Federation Square branch (is it just me or does this space always feel like a discount outlet mall?) was an equally surprising but gently soothing balm to a slightly troubled soul.
I have never considered myself to be an especial fan of Olsen’s work. Mostly, I knew it from those tacky Sydney Morning Herald ads proclaiming the chance to win a print with every new subscription.
Probably this lack of expectation enhanced my enjoyment of the show. A lack of expectation is a valuable thing.
It is beautifully hung – with collage walls and contrasting colour compositions nestled both side-by-side and above-below. The ceilings have also been used, in a surprisingly charming room where the viewer is invited to sit on a series of angular modular sofas and, so reclined, gaze up at the Olsen beneficently mounted above; exploding suns and red tentacled forms binding them back together. A lovely experience and one I thoroughly recommend.
Hockney is on at NGV St Kilda Road until the 13 of March 2017 and will cost you $26 for an adult - which is 10 dollars more than Olsen will cost you down the road at Federation Square (on till 12 February 2017). It doesn’t look to be properly advertised on the site but there is also a combo ticket for both shows, which is what I did, and from vague memory you save 10-15 bucks. Naht bad.