Thursday, 2 July 2009

NOT: John Brack, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

I'm afraid that I will be made a pariah but I cannot tell a lie; I really disliked NGV Australia's John Brack exhibition.

I'm Australian, I live in Melbourne and I like to think that I know something about art appreciation. He's apparently one of Australia's foremost artists - I'm supposed to like his work. But I was completely unmoved by his brown, flat and stiff style and I whipped through the extensive retrospective in 3o minutes. The paintings didn't particularly speak to me of facades or of a stoic, everyday life and despite quizzing RM at great length I couldn't work out what it was about his work that made it quintessentially Australian. For me, the army of identical office workers in the famous painting Collins St 5pm could have been Fleet Street 5pm or Wall Street 5pm, bar the Bank of New South Wales sign in the background. His other famous work is the companion painting, The Bar, which is an ironic reference to Manet's gorgeous Bar at the Folies-Bergere. Ironic reference or not, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked by the glowing beauty and detailed skill of the original when I saw it at the Courtauld Institute, which is in stark contrast to my bored reaction to The Bar.

And in his later period he turned to pencils???

I'd be really grateful if anyone can explain his appeal to me. And if he wasn't Australian, would his work still be considered just as good by Australian audiences?


  1. john brack gave us something so unspoken - so far ahead of his time.collins street 5pm is one of the great harmonies and ironie in australian art - go there! 5pm monday -the feeling - the emotin has not changed! are a fool!

  2. Long live difference of opinion!
    I like Brack's works of the 1950's but he was not alone in the use of a drab, flat palette after WW2. I agree about the pencil fetish. An idea that went nowhere.
    As for anonymous' derogatory closure, this is typical of aussie "debate", put down the individual (play the man, not the ball!).