Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Insite 23 Summer 2009 Contents 90 INSITE SUMMER
If you were to draw up a set of criteria for
an Australian blockbuster exhibition
it would probably look a lot like the
promotional material for Masterpieces
from Paris: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and
beyond, at the National Gallery of Australia.
To be successful, blockbusters need to
be a triumph of both curatorial skill and
marketing acumen -- and on that basis it
looks like the National Gallery has a winner.
With a list of artists to make your eyes water
and the added cachet of the Musée d'Orsay in
Paris, not to mention the fact this exhibition
will have only one venue before it returns
home, then it is likely Masterpieces from Paris
will rewrite the record books for attendance
and income earned.
Anyone who has flicked through an art
book and then seen the original on a gallery
wall will have experienced that tingling
excitement when the image held so preciously
in their memory morphs into a oil painting in a
heavy gold frame before their eyes.
One of the great moments in any gallery
visit is this final meeting after so many
titillating promises. It is the core promise
offered by the blockbuster and with the works
included in this exhibition, there will be one
set of electric zaps of excitement after another
as the long lines of visitors wind past the nine
frequently reproduced works by van Gogh, the
nine Gauguins, eight Cézannes and 11 Seurats.
Apart from that thrill of recognition there
is the additional realisation you are standing
where van Gogh, Cézanne or Gauguin stood
to lay a brushstroke onto the canvas.
Standing in their shoes it seems so
different, much larger or smaller than you
thought, more intensely coloured or dull in
comparison to the four-colour reproduction
With 114 paintings in the exhibition,
including some of the best-known works of
modern art in the world, it is foolhardy to
identify any individual works.
But that said there are some artistic and
cultural magnets such as van Gogh's Bedroom
at Arles, Gauguin's painting Tahitian women
and several of Cézanne's iconic paintings of
Mount Saint-Victoire, which will be on every
visitor's radar. All these extraordinary works
were painted within a few years of each
other from 1889 to 1891, and only the Musée
d'Orsay has such a remarkable collection of
the key works of European modernism.
At a time when we've all become wary
of the hype associated with the marketing
of exhibitions, this is one example where
the words exceptional, extraordinary and
masterpiece and the catchphrase "once in a
lifetime" are accurate and appropriate.
December 4 -- April 5, 2010
National Gallery of Australia
FRENCH CLASSIC: Paul Cézanne Mount Saint-Victoire c 1890
Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BELOW: Vincent van Gogh Van
Gogh's bedroom at Arles 1889 Musée d'Orsay, Paris
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski.
The blockbuster was once the domain of movies. But a new exhibition at the National Gallery
of Australia combines the masters to create art which packs a punch. T E X T: Ted Snell
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