A modern masterpiece

I’ve not long ago returned home from a quick trip to Ballarat, where I was lucky enough to have a sneak-peak at the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s upcoming exhibition, Australian Modern Masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Modern Masterpieces is an incredible collection of pieces from the superstars of modern Australian art. Carefully curated and thoughtfully arranged, the show includes works from the likes of Margaret Olley, Margaret Preston, Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Grace Cossington Smith, William Dobell, Donald Friend and Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and one of my favourites, Brett Whiteley.

“This exhibition provides a unique insight into the history of Australian modern art from the 1910s to the 1970s, recognising the extraordinary ability of Australian artists and the pivotal role they played in capturing the lives and moments of Australians in recent times.” 

Image: Jeffrey Smart

I was incredibly impressed by the calibre of the works included in this show. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has been incredibly generous in providing some really stand-out pieces, which have been skillfully blended with works from Ballarat’s own stella collection. The show also includes a piece from the collection of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, which is where the exhibition will move to next.

I was entranced by Dobell’s wistful portrait of Margaret Olley (1948) – the piece made all the more meaningful for Olley’s recent passing. This portrait marked Dobell’s re-entry to portraiture, and won him his second Archibald Prize. The sensitivity behind this portrait is obvious, and it is beautifully whimsical and just a little cheeky.

There are a number of really haunting pieces in the exhibition, such as Drysdale’s Sofala (1947) and Boyd’s The Mockers (1945). Jeffrey Smart’s more recent work The Listeners (1965) is stunning and more than a little ominous.

The absolute highlight for me personally were the Brett Whiteley works, inparticular the inclusion of Remembering Laotse (Shaving off a Second) (1967).

...with Director, Gordon Morrison

We have a print of this piece at the end of our hallway at home, and it’s a favourite. The image is for me at once confronting and comforting, and the handwritten text included in the top left-hand corner of this work on paper, delivered forcefully by pointed finger is both a warning and a reassurance:

Remembering  Laotse …….

He is to be made to dwindle (in power)
Must first be caused to expand
He who is to be weakened
Must first be made strong
He who is paid to be low
Must first be exalted to power
He who is to be taken away from
Must first be given
This is the subtle light
Gentleness overcomes strength
Fish should be left in the deep pool
And sharp weapons of state should be left where none can see them!!!

In my humble opinion, this piece is in its own right worth the trip to Ballarat and the (very affordable) cost of entry to this impressive exhibition.

Australian Modern Masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales will open at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street North, on 5 October, and run until 27 November 2011. Check the gallery website for full details, and for some great tips and discounts regarding travel and accommodation.

Further, Rushcrowds currently have some special offers (including free tickets!) – well worth checking out here!

I can honestly say I loved this exhibition, and I’m hoping to get back at least once more before it closes. I can highly recommend it, for both locals and others who feel like a trip to one the best regional galleries around.

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