What’s in a name?

Where better to spend a very cold, and windy, day in Canberra than at the National Gallery of Australia and the nearby offshoot NGA Contemporary and the National Portrait Gallery. But the journey between them was not one for the fainthearted, or faint-legged, especially down by Lake Burley Griffen where the contemporary gallery sits below a grassy rise, facing the full force of the wind across the water.

The main gallery is big, and impressive, but sometimes I think just a little too big.

NAB Sculpture Gallery
NAB Sculpture Gallery at NGA

I couldn’t help but compare it to my favourite gallery, the Art Gallery of South Australia, which, because of director Nick Mitzevich and his staff, is a vibrant gem of an art space. Its human size probably helps as well.

The NGA is currently hosting James Turrell, A retrospective. I’m not sure what I think about the bulk of this retrospective, though it’s an instructive study in development and the vision of an artist. Numbers of visitors are strictly limited but (yes, I am an introvert) many of the major light-space works could have done without other people coming and going. They are meant, I’m sure, to be contemplative, meditative, experienced without distraction.

More by accident than design we entered the immersive piece last. You can’t fail to be impressed, transported even. Well, maybe you can but then there’d be no reason why you would be in an art gallery. Only about 10 people at a time are allowed in and even with others it is a sensory challenge that I would have liked more of.

Then out to Within Without, James Turrell’s skyspace at the front of the gallery. I was reminded at first of entering a Neolithic tomb on Sanday, Orkney, but the experience was altogether different. Sublime, within and without. Please visit one – he’s done many skyspaces around the world.

I’ve never had a preference for portraits but the National Portrait Gallery captured me more than I thought it would. It seems the portrait is as variable an art form as any other and, from a historical perspective, the gallery is full of interest.

But the highlight of the day was not an artwork, it was the title of one: Honestly, my head is completely full of cobwebs. I clearly have found a soul mate in artist John Loane, who was born in 1950, the same year as me. Wonderful.


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