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NGV’s 'Triennial' highlights art’s changing landscape

Updated: 5 days ago

As the curtain falls on the 2023-24 Triennial exhibition at the NGV, it left most guests perhaps overwhelmed by everything on display. Yet it should reveal modern arts importance in today's divided world.


Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan's 'Comedian' 2019 on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 - 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy.

The exhibition has much to take in, with the work of 120 artists and designers on display. This includes the now famous banana on a wall in Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’, and the ceiling-high woven sculpture ‘Nowhere to go’ by Sheila Hicks.


The 2023-2024 season of the ‘Triennial’ featured more than 75 different installations and projects, and it's clear that much of the work is intended to challenge the minds of newcomers and classical art fans alike.


To begin with, it was noticeable that much thought had gone into the layout of the exhibition with some NGV staple pieces making way for modern, eye-catching material. English artist Yinka Shonibare’s Picasso infused, ‘Modern Magic’ took centre stage on level 2 of the gallery.


Picasso’s original ‘Weeping Woman’, which normally has its very own wall in the heart of the gallery, was moved to an adjacent wall, muzzled in with the other artwork.


“Picasso was interested in appropriating from another culture, and I also appropriate from European ethnic art,” Shonibrae explained.


These choices explain the essence of the Triennial. These are bold artistic choices that respect and take influence from the art that has come before them and challenge the values of thousands of years of artistic history.


A perfect example of this comes from Australian Prudence Flint’s paintings, which analyse femininity and the representation of women throughout art history. Flint's paintings, which depict a number of different women, are placed in stark contrast against 17th-century Dutch portraits of middle-class women.

Installation view of Prudence Flint's work on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 - 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy.

 This juxtaposition reflects how the art world is changing the way it involves everyday women, throwing symmetry out the window and instead serving up collections full of what the NGV describes as “psychological richness”.


Another contemporary standout is ‘Conflict Avocados’ by Fernando Laposse. A 40-metre-long tapestry draped around an entire room rendering the degeneration of the environment, twined with racial injustice and Indigenous resistance.

Installation view of Fernando Laposse's Conflict Avocados on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 - 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy.

Upon closer observation, it becomes evident that each piece of material used for ‘Conflict Avocados’ is coloured with avocado dye. The subtlety of this choice goes nearly unnoticed when walking past.


Creations from artists and designers who decades ago may well have been overlooked because of their lifestyle.  The exhibition features the bold fashion design of drag queen Raja Gemini, who made their name on ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’. Raja’s work blends classical high fashion with contemporary drag influences and creates a spectacular piece of clothing.


Not often would you see audacious fashion design in a Gallery known for its classical artworks, but this is much of what Triennial attempts to debunk.


When attending the exhibition, it was also interesting watching people interact, analyse and react to much of the work.  It is only when you stand back to observe patrons coming and going to take selfies with Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’ that his intention comes to light. The work sparks debate around the nature and value of art.


On his work, Cattelan argues that “‘Comedian’ is exactly like an apple for (Paul) Cezzane: the minimum common denominator everybody recognises. But you need to alter its condition. Cezanne does it with brushstrokes, I do it with gaffer tape.”


 In conversation with the security guard watching over the installation, we asked, “So who replaces the banana once it’s old?”, to which he replied, “One of the staff did it”.


So in time, somebody else is sticking a fresh banana on the wall with gaffa tape. This poses the question, whose sculpture is it now?


 The Triennial wants us to ask these questions and think about modern art from a deeper and personal understanding. This is not evident to the everyday person.


When a gallery such as the NGV can be used to “pick up chicks” (Confession from a Triennial Installation), the intricacies and significance of art can be overlooked.


Not to find fault in those viewing the Triennial from their phone camera, but there is a clear difference in takeaway from those who choose to do so.


So it’s important that next time you visit a gallery, not to turn away from modern art that might seem overly radical or pretentious, but instead focus on how open-minded the art world has become.



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