The National Portrait Gallery seems to be floundering. That may be unfair but the announcement of the next exhibition left me perplexed. It is Australian Love Stories: Celebrating love in all its guises. It’s a fairly twee idea for a Commonwealth-funded institution. The double portraits of ‘some of Australia’s favourite couples’ include the usual suspects: Bob and Blanche, Jimmy Barnes and his partner. The portrait of Kath and Kim seems to be stretching the description of ‘Australian love stories’; two actresses who depict fictional characters, great fun though they may be.
The perplexing part of the announcement has the NPG commissioning a glass sculpture ‘to celebrate the new exhibition’. Portraits, in whatever media, are the core business of the NPG, not sculptures made of glass or anything else. The description of the sculpture commissioned from Harriet Schwarzrock is a surpassing example of that particular language used by gallery curators in which strange words are juxtaposed in mostly successful attempts to obscure all rational meaning. Were I to quote the media release at any length, the reader may think I’m making it up.
In a financial year in which the Gallery will have suffered a significant loss of earned revenue due to the pandemic, expenditure on a work that is not relevant to its core business is odd to say the least. Cross the road to the NGA to see Botticelli to Van Gogh; Masterpieces…, instead.
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