West of the Divide: Brett in Benalla
Benalla is not somewhere I’ve been before. Even with my recent enthusiasm for small town trippin’ - coinciding marvellously with my automobile acquisition - it’s somewhere I’ve always passed on by. If you, like me, are committed (for both nostalgia & Oliver’s green-bean reasons) to refuelling at Gundagai then a Benalla breather seems indulgently soon.
Also… and I know this is silly… but I do not like to detour from the highway when driving. And Benalla, to the assured relief of residents & the town, is a hefty way off the main drag. It is also rumoured (by this I mean my Dad told me) to have a really rather brilliant art collection, housed in a really rather lovely building. And so, this time, we took the plunge and went to check it out for ourselves.
Benalla is a sweet but regular town – although for some reason Benalla was hosting some sort of festival when we visited, which added a lovely carnival air – but the gallery is a true gem. Set amongst the town’s Botanical Gardens, it nestles in shrubbery overlooking a lake-ish-pond-sort-of-puddle. The whole thing is delightfully free and if you, like us, are cheap travellers, the Gardens are perfect for a picnic of whatever has been rolling around in the passenger’s footlocker for too many hours.
At this point I feel rather bad. My distinct delay in recording this enchanting visit means it is now impossible for you to recreate our experience, entering to find their then current show was ‘Whiteley: West of the Divide’. By god it was good.
It felt so fresh; an entire Whiteley exhibition with not a single work I’d seen before, everything at once Whiteley and well, not. Not an azure blue harbour in all the rooms but that same dramatic sweep of line, which just as well expresses a rolling hill as a buxom bottom. Dedicated to Whiteley’s landscapes, the exhibition included both very early schoolboy works and later, more developed pieces. There were explorations of perspective, collages with platypuses affixed and paintings where it was not immediately clear if the tail feathers leaping off the wall towards you were so effused with Whiteley enthusiasm as to transcend their 2-d form or were in fact 3-d.
Comprising only two rooms, it was nevertheless a show one could have spent hours in, though of course in true impatient spirit I made a determined 15-minute circle, pulling myself away repeatedly from the luxurious quality of the landscapes. (Aware of my own unimpressive attention span and committed to the notion of visual fatigue, I am always inclined to see more, briefly.)
Circling out of the Whiteley show I headed towards the back room, where throngs of children and parents-with-prams congregated - an ill omen if ever there were. It was the concurrent show of ‘street art’ (neatly framed on stretched canvas) by artists ‘found and fostered’ (their words) by some two-bit visually illiterate twit fixated on the idea of discovering the next big thing (my words, my eye-roll). I mention the show only as a sort of curious comparison; in terms of calibre and quality they were unadjacent but in terms of patronage? The latter was definitely the fuller space, with, I observed, more people gazing for longer at the mish-mash of cotton-candy hair and botox-bratz-doll lips. Curious.
Sadly you can’t now see either of these shows, but I saw I do still highly recommend stopping off in Benalla should you be in the vicinity – indeed, you can let me know what’s showing now.
Benalla Art Gallery is located at Botantical Gardens, Bridge St, Benalla VIC 3672 and is opened everyday except Tuesday, 10am-5pm.