Yesterday we visited The Tao of Now, the new exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, and had a very good time. The wonderful bright red pig car whose tongue soars to the ceiling and has another, golden pig and two other figures hanging from its tip – that and other pieces that were in the foyer previously are still there, but the three upper floors have had a complete makeover and the works are as fresh and surprising as the last lot.
As we were chatting over a display catalogue of Qin Fengling’s work, a tall silverhaired woman with a chihuahua on her arm (‘He will bite,’ she said later) joined our conversation, saying, ‘We have her red piece, though not in this exhibition.’ She flipped through the pages and showed us the piece she meant, and then went on to say that the Guggenheim had been interested in it, but she’d beat them to it because she didn’t have to secure a committee’s approval.
Aware of my solemn responsibility as blogger cum citizen journalist, and sharp as a tack as always, I said, ‘You must be … the owner.’ Those three dots represent the moment in which the name ‘Judith Nielson’ didn’t get past the tip of my tongue. She didn’t seem to mind. ‘Not the building,’ she said. ‘That’s my husband. But yes, I own the artworks.’
We chatted for a couple of minutes (there were five or six of us in the room – that citizen journalist thing was definitely a joke), and she said something that explained part of the appeal of the gallery: ‘I never buy something because of the explanation. If I need to read about a work to be able to enjoy it I’m not interested in acquiring it. But once we’ve bought it and have it back here, we have a whole machinery that swings into action to fill in the background.’ and it’s true: whether it’s the motorbike and sidecar crocheted out of bright blue wire, the interactive screens based on classic Chinese watercolour scrolls, or the giant painting of a headless Mongol archer looking out over Tien an Minh square, the works in this exhibition grab the attention first, ask questions later. It’s a bonus that there are attendants on every floor who are keen to raise and answer the questions.
I don’t suppose Ms Neilson and her tiny, dangerous dog are always there, but clearly they sometimes are, as an extra special bonus.
This afternoon we visited the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, and then went on to Object Gallery to see their part of the exhibition Menagerie.
The White Rabbit Gallery has been open for exactly three months. In a converted Chippendale warehouse, a couple of very rich Sydneyites have set up a space to share with the public their collection of contemporary Chinese art. Admission is free, and gallery staff members are on hand on all four floors to answer questions, point out things you might have missed, offer a word or two about the biography of the artist. From the meticulously shredded Mao suits of Sun Furong’s Tomb Figures, through the spectacular trompe-l’oeuil draughtsmanship of Ma Yanling’s four images of opera singers, to Chen Wen-Ling’s over-the-top sculptures (guaranteed to make a pig-lover smile, and maybe even a pig-hater) this gallery is fabulous. Thanks, Judith and Kerr Nielson.
Menagerie: Contemporary Indigenous Sculpture is, according to the Australian Museum web site, ‘a groundbreaking exhibition featuring animal sculptures by 33 established and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists’. Part of it is at the Museum, part at the Object Gallery up the hill (The site uses flash but irritating Flash: click on Explore on the side and you’ll get details of this exhibition). We’ve yet to visit the former. The latter occupies the single room of the Main Gallery, with a 20 minute video on six of the artists playing on a loop in the small upstairs space. It’s magic. I particularly loved ‘Red, White and Blue’ by Danie Mellor. This consists of three kangaroos, about a metre high, with front paws covering respectively mouth, eyes and ears. They’re made of mosaic tiles (respectively red-patterned, white and blue-patterned), except for their paws and ears, which are made of kangaroo skin, creating the impression that living animals have been encased in unyielding shells made from the detritus of settler society. They’re beautiful, poignant, and made by a man of Mamu heritage (I was born in Mamu country). I just googled Danie Mellor and found out that he won the Telstra Aboriginal Art Award this year, and that he had a solo exhibition at Elizabeth Bay that closed yesterday. I have terrible timing.
The White Rabbit exhibition stays up until January, when it is replaced by other contemporary Chinese works from Judith Nielson’s collection. Menagerie closes on 15 November.