A recent trip to Maldon, Victoria in ‘Chugger’ the motor home saw me take advantage of an opportunity to visit Ballarat Art Gallery. As usual there was only limited time, however I did get to see two exhibitions that could be described as representing opposite ends of a spectrum.
The first exhibition was ‘Wow – Look At That!” bringing together the colourful art of Anne Chibnall and Tim Sedgwick. The second exhibition was ‘Into Light: French Masterpieces from the Musee de la Chartreuse.
Alfred Sisley, Meule sur les bords du Loing (detail) 1890, oil on canvas, © Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai
It could be argued the exhibition by Chibnall & Sedgwick is simply a natural evolution of art movements that commenced during the 19th Century when France was considered the epicentre of world art. Works in the French Masterpiece exhibition cover a period of 100 years, over the 19th and 20th centuries, a period when artists were beginning to question the rigid approaches of the art academies.
The Chibnall & Sedgwicks exhibition is bright, playful, fun whereas the French Masterpiece exhibition is dark, moody and just a little bit depressing. At least that is how the two exhibitions made me feel at the time.
‘Wow’ is an exhibition of painting and sculptures. Tim Sedgwick makes wonderful found-objects sculpted creatures and Anne Chibnall creates bountiful and colourful paintings of flowers. Compared to the highly artistic technique of the French Masterpieces, the work of Chibnall and Sedgwick appeared almost amateur, though clearly that isn’t the case as both are veteren artists, each with an established exhibition portfolio. As a viewer I was drawn back again, and again, to a piece or a collection of pieces, looking from a distance, then being drawn into a closer examination. Their works made me smile, sometime I even laughed. I wanted to reach out and touch and play with Tim’s sculptures. There were paintings by Chibnall that I wanted to be the first thing I saw when I walked into work each day! They would brighten my day.
French Masterpieces is a very different display of art. Collectively the pieces on display illustrate a movement and evolution of artistic endeavour over a century of time. There are works from the Romantic and Realist movements, and the Barbizon School of painters, which influenced Impressionists painters. This is classical painting at its peak, covering a period where artists witnessed the birth of the paint tube, the evolution of plein air painting and the influence of photography. These pieces demand close inspection and leaving aside my limited time, I felt I hadn’t done the exhibition justice by not remaining there longer. This is not a small exhibition, there are more than 40 pieces on display spread over a number of gallery rooms and the exhibition is unique to Ballarat Art Gallery. The show includes a rich collection of painting and drawings from France, from Ballarat Art Gallery’s own collection and from the National Gallery of Victoria, the Bendigo Art Gallery, the Castlemaine Art Museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the City of Whitehorse.
Like all art, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash. I am not a fan of re-purposed art and I didn’t want to like Sedgwicks work – and I loved it. I wanted to enjoy Chibnall’s work and mostly I did, I wanted something from French Masterpieces and I came away underwhelmed, but feeling that that were the opportunity to present itself I would return, sit down, reflect and take in a lot more.
As for you? I would recommend you visit Ballarat Art Gallery, view the exhibits for yourself. The exhibitions are so different they become challenging. I feel French Masterpieces is a bit of a coup for a regional art gallery and that alone deems it a must visit. Wow, is just that, Wow.