This year the NGV launched the largest display of contemporary photography in the gallery’s history.
But it’s not just a collection of photos. There are the greats on display, including Bill Henson and William Eggleston, but there are also shows about photography. Zoe Croggon’s collages are about cutting up images and building new perspectives. Ross Coulter’s room turns the camera on the audience. And Patrick Pound doesn’t take a single photo himself, preferring to collect thousands of other people’s snaps and collate them into themed series.
Here’s a complete rundown of this unmissable show.
Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most respected artists, wields a lot of control over how his work is exhibited. The gallery in which his new works hang brings out the gothic murk in this group of photos. This series was taken all over the world, over several years. It covers somewhere off the coast of Capri; a field near Agrigento in Sicily; the British Museum; New Zealand’s Milford Sound; and Henson’s studio in Melbourne. You’ll see the landscapes, sculptures and nude portraits for which he’s best known, they’re all tied together by a sense of some romantic, eerie haze. “They speak to each other in my head,” Henson told Broadsheet earlier this month. “It’s as though I’m using words to make a new sentence. They have strange concordances.” Sublime.
Bill Henson is on until August 27.
Zoe Croggon – Tenebrae
Zoe Croggon takes the violent act of collage (“tearing things up, destroying other people’s work and violating copyright,” as she put it) and draws something beautiful from it. Her simple compositions combine architecture and the human body to bring a new life to both. Each piece is about the crossover between cuts: the curve of a limb becomes the bend of a staircase; the line between living flesh and concrete is blurred. The still works here are taken from the past few years of her practice, but Croggon also presents a hypnotic new five-screen video work built from archive films.
Tenebrae is on until July 30.
William Eggleston Portraits
This is the first Melbourne solo show for Memphis-born Eggleston, and the work on display mainly dates from the ’60s and ’70s. The subjects are numerous and often unspectacular. Eggleston snapped what other photographers might’ve dismissed as the ugly detritus of modernity: hotel rooms, car parks, airports, strikingly candid portraiture, cars, bars, TV sets, burgers and breastfeeding. Eggleston extracted beauty from the mundane. There are a number of black-and-white works, but it's the colour that will drag you in and not let go. For a lot of these, Eggleston used a colour-processing technique usually reserved for commercial photography, which gives these works their rich, dreamy and quintessentially American feel.
William Eggleston Portraits runs until June 18.
Ross Coulter – Audience
For this show, Melbourne artist Ross Coulter blurs the line between audience and subject. Across four years, Coulter photographed visitors to more than 70 galleries. The photos (there are more than 400) are all staged, and the invited subjects were asked to pretend they were watching some kind of performance piece (subjects explain how they were directed in an accompanying video). Coulter catches the audience with their “looking at art” faces on, somewhere between dead-eyed and ponderous. It’s an interesting exercise in looking at people looking.
Ross Coulter: Audience runs until July 16.
Alongside the big names, the NGV is presenting two rooms of new acquisitions from local and international photographers. Irish photojournalist Richard Mosse offers a striking portrait of a Congolese man perched atop a tree in a pink forest, holding an assault rifle. This is an acquisition from Mosse’s show of a couple of years back, which was all shot on military-grade infrared film stock that renders foliage in psychedelic colour. From China, Hai Bo juxtaposes portraits from China's Cultural Revolution with portraits of the same people now, decades later, their dress and general demeanour freed from a harsh communist grip. French artist Thomas Jorion captures spectacular abandoned spaces, like a bowling alley and a mansion, in all their faded grandeur. All this, and dozens more.
Patrick Pound – The Great Exhibition
Patrick Pound doesn’t take photographs. He collects them. His process involves scouring op-shops and Ebay for pictures, then grouping them together. Lamps; twins; people reading; shots blighted by the photographer’s shadow; people who look dead, but probably aren’t. The culmination of years of this practice is *The Great Exhibition, an ironically named showcase of an obsessive collector’s catalogue. By repeating the unremarkable ad infinitum, Pound creates something captivating and new. The helpful NGV also opened its archives to Pound, so expect to see priceless artworks alongside family polaroids.
The Great Exhibition runs from March 31 until July 30.
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