Melbourne in one day: food, writers, art, music

Yesterday’s touch of summer, and spring, and winter, and oh, yes, well, autumn, fine, it IS Melbourne, but at least it didn’t rain, was just dandy for a day in the city.

First, there was lunch at Time Out in Federation Square — the staff there are amazingly efficient and efficiently friendly and the food is tasty and well-priced, though a wine will set you back the best part of $10 a glass — with a Brisbane contingent (including two of us expats and one wannabe). The sun was warm, the wind chill, the quesadillas suitably chilli, the friendship warm. This is what weekend afternoons are all about, hey?

vienna art and design at ngvFrom there, I wandered off to the Vienna: Art & Design exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibit showcases the Secessionist movement. Here, I again learnt that I do like Klimt (I never knew he drew erotica, so those drawings were educational), that I want to know more about Schiele and Kokoschka (awesome portraiture!), and have sadly little interest in tea pot design.

The exhibit kicked off with architecture (loved the Die Zeit facade re-creation in aluminium and glass, all very Metropolis*) and ran through visual art, including wicked posters and a couple of exquisitely processed photographs, furniture and cutlery n stuff. In those heady days, the architect was not just designing the building, but the entire fit-out. This was perhaps most strikingly presented by having two sets of furniture on either side of the same room, both products of the era but showcasing the two directions that design took: decorative and pragmatic (in my layman’s terms).

I also ducked upstairs to check out the Deep Water exhibition: a small collection of photographs ranging from creeks and waterfalls to icebergs and people swimming. Makes you appreciate the power of a black and white landscape, and indeed of nature itself (fingers crossed for those in the path of Hurricane Irene, who would, I’m sure, be happy just with photographs).

melbourne writers festival 2011

There followed a long coffee — there may also have been a beer, the day being turned to summer again — and scribbled notes (ink slashing akin to wrist slitting; infernal story, I hate you as much as you hate me) — and then, as the dial turned to a shady phase of winter, my first Melbourne Writers Festival event: Kim Scott, Marie Munkara, Arnold Zable (chair) and John Bradley talking about indigenous language and politics.

My summary: language is an important if not essential plank of cultural identity. So this move to herd folks from their country and teach them exclusively English: don’t. (What year is this again? Have we learnt nothing?)

Bradley made one of the most striking comments of the panel, when he described the Aboriginal language he’d learnt as ‘rising up from the country’, or words to that effect.

Powerful stuff, language; dangerous, too.

PEN International sponsored this panel, and an empty chair on the stage represented writers who have been killed or jailed for daring to not only have an opinion, but to air it.

To balance out this heavy topic, a short walk up Swanson St, the Toff in Town was hosting Stories Unbound. At the Toff, I’ve learnt, it pays to order two drinks at a time, especially when the house is packed. And it was, with punters turning up to hear Tishani Doshi, Brissie’s Nick Earls, Leslie Cannold, Anna Krien, Michael Robotham and MC David Astle share, without notes, an unpublished anecdote from their lives.

Doshi: her love for the woman who introduced her to dance and so freed her to pursue an artistic life; Earls: how the Pope helped him pass medicine — funny stuff, involving testicles and Gaviscon; Cannold: a Jewish mother having to decide whether to get her sons circumcised; Krien: a tonguey from a 90-year-old man in the name of journalism; Robotham: separate misadventures involving pornographers and a redneck. All with sign interpretation. So a good mix of serious and humorous in a convivial atmosphere.

Oh, the music: on the train, there was a guy strumming his guitar, but it was kind of dull so I plugged in my mp3 player. And then got home to the awesome announcement of friend Sarah’s solo album deal with ABC Classics. As Night Falls is the name of the album: can’t wait!

* speaking of Metropolis, it’s as good a throw as I could come up with with to preview the upcoming exhibition of Modernity in German Art 1910-37: it’s hip to be square!

Things to do in Melbourne #2 — Moreau at NGV International

Gustave Moreau has turned out to be something of a surprise package. I rolled up to NGV International for its Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine exhibition expecting a bunch of, well, second-tier oil-rendered classical views of some cool myths, and was pleasantly enlightened.

Mr Moreau, painting in the 19th century and not someone whose works I was acquainted with, might have started in such terrain, but his use of wide-ranging cultures, abstract elements, patterns and different media, proved there was a lot more going on.

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

I loved his Salome series — sadly, this exhibit of more than 100 of his works did not include a couple of key pieces referenced with working sketches — and two exquisite pieces, one showing three sirens as the vaguest of shapes lurking on the shadowed shore, the other a featureless Lady Macbeth roaming the gloomy castle with a taper. There were others, of course, ghostly renderings, emotive splashes of bright oil amidst the dark, textures of oil and inlaid pieces of coloured stones. This article from The Australian gives a much more informed overview.

The Apparition by Moreau, showing Salome encountering the ghost of John the Baptist

Also showing, and free, is Unnerved, a survey of modern art from New Zealand on loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. There are a lot of photographs, a striking sculpture of a seal balancing a piano, and some audio-visual presentations, as well as paintings and installations. Post-colonial themes abound. I particularly liked Lisa Reihana’s large digital images reflecting Maori heritage.

It’s impressive that a collection such as this is free.

I can also recommend lunch at Persimmon, a restaurant tucked away at the rear of the gallery flanked by water features and offering a view of the gardens. For $55 a head, we enjoyed two courses — we had a prawn salad each for starters and lamb backstrap and pork belly for mains, with a glass of chianti and coffee, and tickets to Moreau. The food was delicious — note that the kitchen shuts at 2.30pm, though the restaurant hours are till 4pm, and the gallery’s till 5pm.

Note that you’ve got till the end of February to catch the Rock Chicks exhibition at the nearby Arts Centre: free, and a wonderful introduction to the history of women in Australian rock and pop.