I arrive hot off the bike to see Ai Wei Wei and Andy Warhol at the NGV this weekend and somehow get cranky in the queue at the cloak room. Behind me, there’s a young one describing her recent visit to the WWW exhibition. “I didn’t really get into it at first but I lo-oved the Blossom work….blah blah blah.” Really? It’s like queuing to see the Sixth Sense and having the person behind say loudly, “Oh yes Bruce Willis turns out to be a ghost too ha ha ha…”
Still cranky, I see the Members’ cashier desk empty of patrons and dive straight to it, happy not to have to queue again. A tall grey haired chap comes at me in a jog and berates me with, “There’s a line here you know!”
I then notice there is a tightly held queue about three metres behind me which starts further back from the check in desk than the queue for immigration at the airport. Now I’m both cranky and aghast (which is weird feeling to have) that I, as a fledging Gallery Member on my first proper visit, just pissed off someone who might knock me up later in the Member’s lounge over tea and biscuits for queue jumping.
So then, clutching my ticket because the cashier insists I have already collected my complementary member’s ticket despite my protestations and then insists I pay with a card which actually has money deposited into an account, I obediently join the long queue into the exhibition in a way that won’t attract further attention. But the bright, helpful staff do their best to keep me moving along just as briskly as if I was being jammed into a Japanese express train for which I am the only late arrival.
Suddenly I’m in at last, swept along in the last wave of visitors into the first gallery space with no mental preparation – and there before me are all those pieces I’ve waited a lifetime to see and from nowhere the mean old spinster aunt part of my brain kicks in with, “Why are there so many people in here with their three year olds? What do the three year olds care about portraits of Elvis and Liz Taylor and paintings of soup tins?”
To add to this annoying noise in my head I start going on an anticlockwise route and realise it’s quite hard going because the great mass of the art viewing public is going around clockwise.
So I stop in front of the God of Rock and Roll and take stock. “Please Elvis, Why am I feeling so disoriented? and What is all this about? and Why have they put you up over here?”
“It’s about observation,” Elvis explains,”Like all Art – these two guys (Wei Wei and Warhol) – they just look and when they look they see and when they see they take those objects and put them back in front of you and say look at this tin, this box, this vase, this bottle, this artefact, these people, these places. So you have to just look and see too.”
“And it’s about making and the substance and craft of making and meaning.” Elvis goes on, “Look at me in my full length beauty, grey and black with my slim hips and gun in my hand and there on the other wall is Ai Wei Wei, digitised in grey and black lego dropping his vase. And then you’re looking and seeing and feeling that we’re a dangerous pair we are. We are what good art is, something familiar at first but then, unsettling.”
And from there everything changes around me and the mean old aunt disappears.
And I start to look and see the space and see the people at the exhibition. And it’s exciting to be in here with the buzz of everyone – eager to make their own sense of these works; the young, the children, the parents, the couples, the old and the middle-ish slightly cranky, people like me.
Even the annoying woman in the cloakroom queue is forgiven when I look over the vast Blossom work laid out on the floor of the second gallery enclosed by walls of Warhol and Wei Wei’s flowers – representing his days in effective house arrest – a true masterpiece of curation as much as the works themselves are mesmerising.
My small acknowledgement to Wei Wei and Warhol, their mentor Duchamp and thanks to Elvis – trying to look and see the space between. Could these be art too?
I did not get roughed up in the Member’s Lounge by the tall grey haired man. The most amazingly sweet lady reinstated my complementary ticket so I could come along to another exhibition and I had the most delicious coffee and little bickies. When I road home the sun was setting and Melbourne was in a blaze of orange and finally it was dark on the last leg through the park – and that was a bit unsettling too – but the day was absolutely superb.