Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Curious Colony: the best exhibition the NRAG has had EVER!

On Sunday I went to see the latest exhibition at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Curious Colony. The name alone had me snared when I read it in the exhibition guide at the start of the year... you could say I've been waiting a while for this one, and I was not disappointed.

First thing I saw on walking up the stairs was a glittery tackorama by Kate Rhode called "Live Forever No. 3". I couldn't decide whether I loved or hated it. It's like a terrarium, but filled with stuffed birds and a bedazzled sugarglider. I think the irridescent pastel fish around the outside of it swung me over into love. It's hideous, but it has a point... if you can move past the glitter and hot glue to get to it.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was the specially commissioned chest. An ode to the Maquarie chest, a treasure trove of dead creatures and awesome wildlife paintings that we were not allowed to have back because it is too fragile. I could try to explain this, but honestly, it is so cool I think you need to go there yourself to see it. Suffice to say, it is excellent and well worth the hype.

An artwork/sculpture that I really didn't like, sadly I suppose, was "The Native's Chest" by Danie Mellor. It was supposed to be an interpretation of our coat of arms. But it seemed to me a bit slapped together and derivative, a dead kangaroo and emu with a coffin and a few Damien Hurst skulls for good measure. Oh, and some branches spray painted gold. Not a fan. Even it's description seemed a bit cut and paste, which is strange because they are usually excellent at NRAG.

In a back corner of the gallery is a little table with books on it. Was particularly besotted with "Rare and Curious" by Elizabeth Ellis. It catalogues the Maquarie Chest, its beetles and butterflies, birds and corals.... so beautifully presented. I want it. I need it. I really need to get a part time job.

There was also a good selection of paintings by the covict artist Joseph Lycett. He came to Sydney for forgery, forged again and was sent to Newcastle where he somehow made friends with Macquarie and became an artist. His paintings are luminous, so different in real life than in a textbook. He seemed particularly fond of painting tiny little hunters in his work, must find out why.

Such a fascinating exhibition. Many things to look at, please don't let the cultural cringe put you off... if you are that way inclined.

So that's what I think of Curious Colony. It is AWESOME. Twenty eight gold stars. Go see it.