It’s a little-known fact that art galleries and museums have in their calendars a season known as Meh. It’s little-known because…well…I just made it up, but it’s true nonetheless. Meh usually falls just after a large blockbuster exhibition closes and before another one opens, when an art institution gives their curatorial staff a break from using their imaginations and pulls together a show from their permanent collection – kind of like a palate-cleansing sorbet served between courses in a degustation. Harvest: Art, Film + Food currently at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is one such example.
Shirana Shahbazi, Iran/Switzerland b.1974; Still life: Coconut and other things 2009/Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
Harvest is, I think, based around the premise that food is a symbol of prestige. Or perhaps it’s that food is worthy of celebration. Or was it that food is political? I’m not really sure. I know there’s definitely something about it coming from the land, but whether that’s good or bad I can’t remember. There was definitely a point about the labour involved though.
*sigh* This is the problem with Harvest. I’ve been three times now and, while it’s pretty, I’m still not entirely sure what the point of it actually is. I’m not convinced curator Ellie Buttrose and her team are too sure either. The intention to provoke discussion of serious issues is definitely there, but unfortunately that intent is stretched across far too many worthy topics.
There are some highlights. Rivane Neuenschwander’s Contingent films ants gravitating towards honey, creating a world map as they gather that is simple, direct and clever; Robert MacPherson’s Mayfair (Swampbait) is quirky and eye-catching, though as weirdly disconnected from the artworks around it as everything else in this show; and Simryn Gill’s Forking Tongues is a visual feast of chillis and cutlery that immediately evokes the spices and traditional silverware of an Indian buffet. It’s just a shame the immense spiral of colour is positioned over two grates in the floor, somewhat ruining its impact.
As for the rest…most of it just feels at best tired and at worst pretentious. The rest is just absurd. Don’t even get me started on Emily Floyd’s installation of building blocks Permaculture Crossed with Feminist Science Fiction. That is one work as tedious as its title.
I know I’m being harsh, but I’m just so disappointed. GOMA have proven themselves to be better than this in the last few years. I thought we’d moved beyond pineapples as a motif for Queensland. Harvest is a slipping back to when Brisbane was the poor cousin of Sydney and Melbourne, not the worthy successor it had begun to seem.
There is hope though. An exhibition currently on at University of Queensland’s Art Museum in St Lucia is an absolute knock out. Conflict: Contemporary Responses to War is a vibrant, challenging and tightly curated look at art created since September 11, 2001 but does not limit itself to artwork created solely around the themes that event raises. Conflict has been widened to include artists dealing with problems closer to home, including issues of colonisation and the historical confrontations that continue to impact on generations of Australians.
Baden Pailthorpe, MQ-9 Reaper (2014). High Definition 3D animation, reproduced courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.
I wish UQ Art Museum would relax their draconian rules on photography, because there is so much in this exhibition I would love to share, but perhaps the names of some of the artists involved are enough to encourage crowds to make the trip out – Gordon Bennett, Ben Quilty, Fiona Foley, eX de Medici, Richard Bell, last year’s artist in residence at the Australian War Memorial Baden Pailthorpe, Daniel Boyd, Noel McKenna, Dadang Christanto, Fatima Killeen and recipient of this year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Tony Albert.
It’s a high class field, and encompasses an exciting mix of artistic styles and practices incorporating prayer mats, sculpture, photography, painting, printmaking and video installations. Curator Samantha Littley has taken an awkward space, and an even more difficult topic, and pulled together an exhibition that is timely, emotionally satisfying and, streets ahead of anything else on offer in Brisbane at the moment.
I’m as much an opponent of war as the next person (unless that person is an extremist) but this is one occasion where I’d encourage you to choose the drama of Conflict over the bland serenity offered by Harvest.
Harvest: Art, Film + Food
Until 21 September
Conflict: Contemporary Responses to War
UQ Art Museum
Until 7 September