Newsletter 296

Published July 22, 2019
Brett meets the Queen

It’s been a long time since I was able to do a commercial gallery exhibition for the Saturday art column but the Herald’s recent policy of doubling up weekly reviews meant that a gap appeared in my calendar! There was no shortage of reviewable material but I settled on Tracey Moffatt and Kartika Kain at Roslyn Oxley9 because it was too good a combination to go past: something familiar, something new.

Since she returned to Australia in 2010 Moffatt has recaptured some of that spirit that made her work so popular in the 90s and early 2000s. Kain is a young artist of Indian extraction who has already attracted a lot of attention. Is she another Tracey in the making? I suspect there’s only room for one.

The film this week is – inevitably – Apollo 11. It was serendipitous to be able to publish a review of this documentary 50 years to the day that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The anniversary of the Moon landing has generated a degree of enthusiasm that I find a little hard to comprehend. Why are many people getting so excited about this birthday? The Apollo 11movie has been the beneficiary of the hype. It’s good, but not exactly action packed.

The most unusual art event of the week was the premiere of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Whiteley, surely one of the most unlikely operas ever written. Musically it was incredibly lively and inventive, but one wonders how an overseas audience would respond to this strange tale of an Aussie prodigy who has his moment of international fame, before becoming the Legend of Lavender Bay. The libretto by Justin Fleming had its awkward moments, but the way Brett Whiteley spoke was inherently so bizarre that perhaps it sounds better when sung.

It wasn’t good history but it was an engaging night at the opera, partly because of the voyeuristic element of peering behind the curtain at the Whiteley household. After various books and memoirs, including Ashleigh Wilson’s biography of 2016, there’s not much left to reveal, but it still has a lurid magnetism. It’s pretty clear that whatever we see or read it remains a sanitized version of the truth. When life gets turned into art it usually looks a lot tidier.