Museums for me are a bit of a hit or miss. Will I leave feeling educated and cultured?  Will I leave bored, entertained, or confused? Will I “get it”? All of these feelings are valid because like literature, dance, and other forms of art the beauty is in the interpretation. It is ours to make, keep, feel, and explore. Maybe we’ll feel what the original artist intended, perhaps not. Not sure what I was in for, I hit up the The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It left me with a bit of a… meh kind of feeling. It is super hard to compete with The Met which is my favorite museum. I do not recommend going there, it may ruin all other museums for you. If I was able to find info on NGV’s website, the title also links to more info about the piece.

Outside entrance and pool to National Gallery of Victoria
Museums are obsessed with large pools of water outside their space.

Let me start the scene, okay, “Two New Yorkers walk into a museum….” Well, pause. One New Yorker born and bred in Brooklyn, my wonderful friend Gianna. I was an honorary NYC-er with years of trips to Chinatown and Cats on broadway (I still have my program!) plus 3 years of living with family in Fort Green Brooklyn. So when my friend told me that “Australians make art but try too hard.” I couldn’t tell if I agreed because we’re both not a fan of contemporary art. Perhaps it was our American sense of art. Perhaps it was too hard to understand what was being said without context. Perhaps I had to try too hard to see it and decided to forgo the effort. I’m not sure. In general, art galleries are a large set of archery targets for my eyes. With eyes for bows, my interest shoots like an arrow with a hit or miss. However, here’s a short collection of my favorites and that which I fell in love with, or left me completely Puzzled.

Semicircular Space

This was a fun installation to see people walk in and out of from above.

Metalic reflective panels in the shape of a spiral, people an walk inand out of

Divination Book

Batak Indonesia Divination Book at National Gallery of Victoria Text description of Indonesian divination book

Indonesia is the top out of country vacation destination for Australians. So I was pretty excited to see a little bit from home hanging out under this glass display case. A really huge reminder of the fragmented and varied culture of Indonesia. I’ve never heard of a divination book.

Snuff Bottles

Row of Chinese snuff bottles at National Gallery of Victoria

I did fall in love with this gorgeous tourmaline snuff bottle from the Chinese Qing dynasty. They used it to hold powered tobacco. The clarity and sharpness of the stripes were super beautiful, I’ve never seen a gemstone quite like this. The online collection has hundreds of really neat snuff bottles to look through. I never realized how common it was to inhale ground tobacco.

 

A Question of Propriety

Closeup of the gypsp performing in the painting A Question of Propriety by Edwin Long Text description displayed next to A Question of Propriety by Edwin Long at the National Gallery of Victoria

I must have starred at this gypsy for a good 20 minutes. She’s about the size of my hand, but the level of detail that Long was able to pour into his canvas was mesmerizing. I always have ample room in my heart for realistic painters. It’s not a style we adhere to today with photography and film doing the trick. Still, light is a really tricky thing and there is a wonderful softness, yet clarify that I cannot technically comprehend. By far, A Question of Propriety was my favorite as I have often been called out in my own life for dancing too much, and even accused of leading good (read: religious) people astray with a firm appreciation for earthly goods. I never grew up with a firm, organized religion in my background and when confronted with the joys of reading Harry Potter against my Jehovah Witness friends, or enjoying sex before marriage in the eyes of my Christian cousin or Muslim husband it can cause a lot of clashes. Despite these challenges, this woman seems to be displaying the power of dance, pleasure, and performance. Things I can all relate to on this stage called life.

 

Queen Esther

Queen Esther by Edwin Long at the National Gallery of Victoria
She has a pretty sad story. I read about it later inspired by this painting.

Another Edwin Long painting. Queen Esther is a biblical figure appearing in both the Jewish Tanakh and Christian Old Testament, the latter being a source which Long often pulled from for inspiration. I don’t know religious texts very well but it does make for very compelling stories from time to time. This painting was enough to get me to read some summaries later on. I really felt her eyes were asking me for help, while simultaneously knowing there was nothing I could do for her. It’s true, I’m roughly 2,450 years too late.

Wooden Crib

I’ve always been an admirer of Edwardian furniture and style. The edginess of Art Nouveau disrupted by the suppressed Victorian style. Never really seeing furniture as art, this struck me as a beautiful and elegant baby bassinet. Gianna said it reminded her of the animated movie Thumbelina and her bed. I’d be so excited to have this myself if I could! What a shame this is sitting up in a museum. While delicate, I’m sure it’s functional.

 

Mount St Michael, Cornwall

Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield at the National Gallery of Victoria

 

I’ve done some painting in my time, but Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield really blew me away. The textures and light are lost here in the translation of photography, but I would come back just to see this painting again. It reads incredibly well from afar, and up close which is no easy feat. By far my favorite piece and had I not been with company, I may have spent a good 30 minutes just rolling my eyes over this piece. I could pick a 1″x1″ spot and find so many small details, stories, movement going on as engaging as stepping back and looking at the whole. I have tried to draw waves. It didn’t work very well.

The Great Hall at National Gallery of Victoria. Colorful triangles of stained glass from the ceiling.

The Great Hall at National Gallery of Victoria. Colorful triangles of stained glass from the ceiling.

If you’re lucky you can also get a glimpse of The Great Hall. Doubled as a rental space, this gorgeous stained glass room has a religious feel without actually being a church.Beautiful in the sunlight, obviously. The upper rampart also holds a collection of ceramics while you can look down below.

Outdoors statue of Gorilla with plastic objects at the National Gallery of Victoria

Falling in love is not actually what I did with this piece. But it is odd, colorful, and definitely catches the eye. It stands outside in the garden area where one may sit by the pool, sit in one of the many lounge chairs, and smell some of the beautiful herbs growing nearby for the on site restaurant. There were plenty of busy bees on the lavender, children running around, and a few nappers in the garden. When I came over to look at this I just got this “Oh?” feeling, which is what both travel and art can do for us. Puzzled indeed.

Text describing free entry, good for solo, family, couple, and business travelers

I’d encourage anyone who is in the area and interested to go and check it out! It’s free, has a well rounded collection, hopefully this means something for everyone. Classic, medieval, contemporary, western, eastern. One thing I really commend the National Gallery of Victoria for accomplishing is having a clean, beautiful, and above all welcoming art museum. While I did toot The Mets horn earlier, I have large problems with their misleading ticket “Prices”. In fact, The Met holding is resting on a beautiful collection that doesn’t belong to the country it resides in but pulls from all sorts of history, culture, and context over the last 5,000 years. Should you contribute? If you can. When I can, I do. NGV was very kind to its guests and made me feel welcome. As if I had the right to view and participate just like anyone else. Have you ever had a Puzzling experience with a piece of art before?

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