Cover image of the review

Every Brilliant Eye

1 Jul 2017
2 Jun - 1 Oct 2017

Walking through Every Brilliant Eye—a large survey of the NGV's holdings of Australian Art from the 1990s curated by Jane Devery and Pip Wallis—I was struck by how much it look like parts of Melbourne Now, the NGV's sprawling 2013-2014 snapshot of contemporary art practices in Melbourne. It is not only that many of the same names reappear, sometimes with work little changed by the twenty years separating the pieces currently on display from what was shown in Melbourne Now. More notable is the impression generated by this exhibition that the overarching tendencies or styles that appeared to jostle with one another for space in Melbourne Now are essentially unchanged since the 1990s: fussy installation art, political work of varying degrees of explicitness, video, John Nixon & Company, deliberately shoddy and makeshift 'grunge'.

Every Brilliant Eye, installation view, NGV Australia.

On closer inspection, there are period markers everywhere, reminders of just how long twenty years is in terms of both technology and taste: baggy jeans, clunky 3D animation, the fact (coming in the form of a review in the pages of A Constructed World's Artfan magazine) that at the height of 'French theory' ACCA put on a show of Baudrillard's photography. Some of what has dated is obvious (Patricia Piccinini, whose work now seems barely legible as art; the lugubrious kitsch of Susan Norrie and Stieg Persson), while the work of some artists surprises in how little it has withstood the test of time. Ricky Swallow's early work, represented by his floor standing Darth Vader sculpture (Model for a sunken monument, 1999) and by two miniature science fiction scenes (from the series Even the odd orbi, 1999, originally shown in the one and only Melbourne Biennial of 1999), now seems like a period piece. Was it Charles Green who once referred, somewhat dismissively, to Swallow and some of his peers as 'funky'? The 'funkiness' of these impressively crafted little objects, so friendly in their invitation to peer into their fantasy world, now looks cute and mannered, a display of skill that ultimately rings hollow. While Swallow deliberately riffs on the aesthetics of action figures and Warhammer 40,000, time seems somehow to have closed the gap between his work and its models.

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