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LETTER FROM PERTH: VAN GOGH, DALí, AND BEYOND: THE WORLD REIMAGINED AT AGWA

Letter from Perth: Van Gogh, Dalí, and Beyond: The World Reimagined at AGWA

I’ve just returned from the other side of the world—Perth is our antipodes, at exactly 12 hours ahead of New York—where I was installing the exhibition Van Gogh, Dalí, and Beyond: The World Reimagined at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, along with AGWA curators Gary Dufour and Glenn Iseger-Pilkington. The third installment in a six-show partnership between the two institutions, this exhibition looks at how modern artists have reinvented the traditional genres of landscape, still life, and portrait. A selection of 134 works from MoMA’s collection—paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and a media work—made the long journey to be enjoyed by a new audience from June until December.

Visitors to AGWA will see how the definition of landscape has evolved from 1889, when Vincent van Gogh painted his iconic The Olive Trees, to 2006, the year of Tacita Dean’s neo-Romantic photogravure installation T&I.

Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees. June-July 1889. Oil on canvas28 5/8 x 36" (72.6 x 91.4 cm). Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest

Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees. 1889. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest

They’ll observe how the meaning of a still life has expanded from Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges (1902–06), to Michael Craig-Martin’s Folio (2004), a portfolio of 12 brightly-hued screenprints depicting ordinary objects like a sneaker and a cell phone.

Michael Craig-Martin. Untitled from Folio. 2004. Portfolio of twelve screenprints. Composition and sheet (each approx.): 12 7/8 x 39 3/8" (32.7 x 100 cm). Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Advanced Graphics, London, 40. © 2013 U. Streifeneder, Munich / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Michael Craig-Martin. Untitled from Folio. 2004. Portfolio of 12 screenprints. Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Advanced Graphics, London, 40. © 2013 U. Streifeneder, Munich/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

And they’ll perceive how the possibilities and priorities of portraiture have shifted from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge (1891–92), to the 2011 installment of Nicholas Nixon’s annual portraits of his wife and her three sisters, The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts.

Nicholas Nixon. The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts. 2011. Gelatin silver print. Gift of the artist. © 2013 Nicholas Nixon

Nicholas Nixon. The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts. 2011. Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2013 Nicholas Nixon

Used to the 90-degree angles of MoMA’s galleries, it was first a challenge—and ultimately a great pleasure—to install in AGWA’s galleries, which are shaped like hexagons, and whose walls follow the angles of a ceiling composed with triangles. These angles create long views that encourage visual connections across galleries, many of which were unplanned but fortuitous. Standing in front of Matisse’s The Blue Window in the exhibition’s still life section, for example, you can look back into the landscape gallery and see Milton Avery’s Sea Grasses and Blue Sea, another painting that tests the border between representation and a blue monochrome.

While hardworking registrars carefully planned the transport of these masterpieces, two works didn’t have to be sent at all. Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks, a 1988 installation by the artist Lawrence Weiner, describes a landscape only in words, and is remade each time it is installed to fit the exact dimensions of the venue. Below is the version designed in collaboration with the artist’s studio for AGWA.

Lawrence Weiner (American, born 1942).  Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks, 1988. Language + the materials referred to, dimensions variable.  Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust.  © 2013 Lawrence Weiner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  Installation view, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2013

Lawrence Weiner. Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks. 1988. Language and the materials referred to, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust. © 2013 Lawrence Weiner/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Installation view, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2013

And Urs Fischer’s Untitled sculpture from 2000 consists of half an apple and half a pear, screwed together and suspended from nylon filament. The work was not only constructed anew for this venue, but will be remade regularly throughout the course of the exhibition. A kind of postmodern still life, it takes Cézanne’s desire to express the tangible “thingness” of a piece of fruit to a whole new level.

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