Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bleak midwinter

My pagan sensibilities swing me between wanting to eat, drink and be extra merry or to hibernate at this bleak time of year.  I've been doing a bit of both recently.  Celebrated winter solstice last month by warming my hands at a massive bonfire while warming my insides with a beaker or two of mulled wine, but this month - with the days feeling even wetter, colder, windier - I think the bonfire and the beaker would need to be twice as big.

Instead, I headed to Melbourne last weekend for a bit of Culture 'n' Cuisine - oh, and to catch up with the offspring. A matter of savouring life.

First stop was NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) to see Vienna: Art & Design - Klimt, Schiele, Hoffmann, Loos.  The exhibition traced, in part, the development of Vienna during the second half of the 19th century, so it was interesting to learn about architect and designer Otto Wagner, but my main interest was the work of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, whose work I've long admired.

The exhibition highlighted for me the difference between the quality of original works and how they appear when photographed for books, posters, the internet, etc.  Klimt's work was much the way I'd imagined it to be - grand, ornate, sensual - although the colours seemed more muted than they appear in books, and perhaps the originals have indeed faded with the years.  However, Schiele's work - well, the pieces on display - didn't present those qualities I was expecting to find.  Through plates in art books, I've long been drawn to the raw simplicity of his drawings, and how these seem to capture a gritty if not seedy element of humanity, but many of the pieces I thought I was familiar with seemed almost cartoon-like instead.  Rather than astute and haunting, they seemed frivolous and superficial. Maybe, at the end of a four-hour drive, my eyes or brain were too weary.  A fact not remedied by the early closure of the Viennese cafe.

On Sunday, we drove to the Yarra Valley, to the TarraWarra Museum of Art, to see the 2011 Archibald Prize Exhibition.  Renowned for its vineyards, I'd never been to this area before, although I've truly acquainted (and frequently reacquainted) myself with its produce. I was stunned by how much it reminded me of Europe - France in particular - with its avenues of poplar trees, the long driveways leading to each cellar door, kilometre upon kilometre of grape vines along the broad valley, and the unremitting cold and rain.

If I'd been a tad disappointed by the variation between copy and original in the Viennese exhibition, the opposite was true for the Archibald exhibits.  I'd visited the website and viewed the digital images of the successful paintings as soon as the finalists were announced, but almost every piece was considerably more impressive in actuality.  There were numerous stunning paintings on show, but a couple of my favourites are Adam Chang's portrait of J.M.Coetzee and Alexander McKenzie's portrait of Richard Roxburgh.

As for cuisine, we didn't get to eat out as much as we'd anticipated - every restaurant and cafe in Healesville was packed on Sunday - but we did get to a fine Indian restaurant on Saturday: Madras Banyan Tree (924 Nepean Highway, for Melburnians).  The service was disorganised, as we were promised it would be, and dishes were forgotten at each course, but the food (when it finally appeared) was heart-warming.  Exactly what was needed to chase away those winter blues.

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