“It looks like some weird sports shop that just sells tennis balls,” says David Shrigley of his latest work, Melbourne Tennis Ball Exchange. Visually striking, fully interactive and ever-evolving, the exhibition has taken over the NGV’s Great Hall as part of Triennial Extra, the late night program that runs for 10 days as part of NGV Triennial. Showcasing the work of over 120 artists, designers and collectives, with nearly 100 projects including 25 world premieres, the NGV Triennial runs until April 7, with Triennial Extra running until January 28. Shrigley’s exhibition is only running for as part of Triennial Extra, closing on January 28.

Known for having a darker sense of humour, Shrigley creates artworks which reflect on the banality and absurdity of everyday life. For this exhibition, he’s lined three walls with over 8000 tennis balls in a bright, all-white space. Visitors are invited to take a ball home with them, so long as they trade it for an old one they brought from home. The inspiration? Shrigley’s dog.

“I was interested in that strange relationship that animals have to objects,” he says. “Animals don’t have possessions. And the cliche, which is true, is that animals teach us a lot about behaviour, and what’s important in life. And possessions, I guess, aren’t that important.”

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A previous iteration of the work, Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange, premiered in London in 2021 at Stephen Friedman Gallery, with thousands of visitors participating over three months. Shrigley originally expected that people would bring their old, chewed up and broken tennis balls in exchange for a new one. To his surprise, many brought fresh ones, which they had drawn, painted and decorated in every way imaginable.

“I wasn’t anticipating that people would make artwork on the tennis balls, which they are doing,” he says. “So that was interesting.”

While the London presentation was shown in a smaller commercial gallery, Shrigley is excited to see how the piece will differ at the NGV, with a much larger audience.

“So in theory, it could be exchanged many times over, which would be interesting. So we’ll see what happens. And that’s part of the privilege of seeing it here,” he says.

Melbourne Tennis Ball Exchange is not the only work Shrigley is exhibiting now at the NGV. As visitors arrive at the NGV International, they’ll be greeted by his enormous bronze sculpture, Really Good. Sculpted in the shape of a thumbs up, with a disproportionately long, seven-metre-high thumb, the work was created in the wake of Britain’s decision to exit the EU, and was first exhibited in Trafalgar Square. While London’s mayor Sadiq Khan referred to the work as a symbol of optimism, many consider it to be a sarcastic reaction to Brexit.

The sculpture took weeks to ship to Melbourne, during which time visitors to Shrigley’s website could track its journey across the ocean. “I’m really, really excited because it’s the first time it’s been shown since it was in Trafalgar Square. So it’s having a holiday,” he says.

This is Shrigley’s first original work at the NGV since 2014 for his solo exhibition, David Shrigley: Life and Life Drawing. Fittingly, when he’s not popping into the NGV, he’ll be surrounding himself with tennis balls elsewhere, with a visit to the Australian Open.

“I’ve never actually been to a tennis tournament before,” he says. “So it’ll be exciting.”

NGV Triennial Extra takes place from January 19 to 28, 2024 until 11pm, while NGV Triennial 2023 runs until Sunday April 7, 2024. Entry to both is free.

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