Fight the good fight

By Rhonda Dredge

There was an uncertain re-opening of Southbank’s Arts Precinct in the last week of June, with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) leading the pack with some prominent posters and recent acquisitions.

As much of the city went back into lockdown, other arts venues were more cautious about letting in the public.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Buxton Contemporary and Margaret Lawrence galleries remain closed.

And Arts Centre Melbourne announced the “ghost lights” would stay on because of the worsening health situation, with scheduled re-opening events put on hold.

It’s now time for artists to register for The Fringe Festival and that organisation is optimistically inviting proposals for “Pants On” events in November.

“Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t (safely) share your art face-to-face,” a festival spokesperson said.

It would take a brave artist to come up with a proposal in this climate. Most arts organisations are focusing on fundraising, recession strategies and mental health issues.

So it was with a good deal of trepidation that visitors approached the NGV to see what it had in store for them in terms of an art experience.

Just a few people moved timidly towards the fortress-style building to talk to the security guard.

Miraculously, everyone was let in even if they hadn’t booked – a friendly gesture by gallery management.

A guard at the gallery exit was unobtrusively clicking a counter as people left to maintain a limit of 600 visitors in the gallery at any one time.

Gone are the long queues and rabbit warren interior of former days. There are no blockbuster exhibitions and what appears to be a new, wide ramp takes visitors steadily up through the floors.

Art in the time of corona is quite a different problem for curators. The last big exhibition, Haring & Basquiat, with its importation of famous works and copious interpretations, was aimed at attracting crowds.

Now galleries want to keep them under control. The Winter Masterpieces has been cancelled and instead visitors are encouraged to use their own imaginations to hunt through the regular exhibits.

A recent acquisition is a drawing by Francoise Gilot, a girlfriend of Pablo Picasso’s, entitled Adam Forcing Eve to Eat the Apple, which is displayed in front of a stylish portrait of a woman in 1950s Paris, also by Gilot.

Picasso has obviously influenced Gilot. They lived together for almost a decade. But in this amusing parody of his work she has rejected his overbearing presence.

The NGV bookshop has also re-opened with new spacious displays, including some encouraging posters for the COVID-19 era and what appears to be an influx of radical books.

It can be difficult for artists working alone. The Victorian Collage of the Arts (VCA) is still devoid of students and the spark is difficult to produce in a vacuum. Artists generally need something to push against to produce work.

With some predicting a more middle-of-the-road approach, the posters “Don’t Give in to the Fear” and “Fight the Good Fight” show what Kelly Doley learned in 2014 from feminism •

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