Out and About: Art in the ACT

December 27: I’m not much of a museum person –  I don’t regularly seek out museums or particularly enjoy myself when I’m at them. Sure, I’ve been to the Louvre, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Vatican Museum, and the MoMA, as well as others, and I’ve seen works of art, masterpieces, and things people steal.  I don’t know that I really learned anything at these places, though – I just looked at the pretty pictures and the naked sculptures.  However, I will say that I enjoy learning new things and that I like art, thanks to the art teachers in Winneconne and to my parents who kept almost everything I’ve ever drawn, painted, or sculpted (so it must’ve been good, right?).  I’ve also learned to appreciate more modern art, thanks to the students and faculty at Albion College.  So, while I’ve been here in Australia, I’ve taken time to LOOK at sculptures around Canberra and GO to museums to see original works of art.  Through this art, I’ve also LEARNED a lot about the Indigenouse peoples and the settling of Australia.

Art in Civic: Canberra is a planned city and part of that planning is the support of art for display around the city.  In fact, 1% of the capital works budget is spent on public art, a consequence of the Government’s Per Cent for Art Scheme. Unfortunately, budget cuts are being made, and it’s unclear how much longer public art will be funded.  On my daily walk through Civic, though, I have to say that I appreciate the art that already exists there – the many sculptures were the first things I noticed.

Icarus, Jan Brown (2009)


Running dogs (Canberra). A new installation that has no description yet. Are they dingoes?


Cushion, by Matthew Harding. It's not as soft as a real one! (Garema Place, Canberra)


Fountain in Civic (Canberra)

My favorite sculpture is “On the Staircase“.  It used to show four fat men, in decreasing size, with books in their hands, climbing the staircase.  The caption reads “The more I read, the smaller I feel”.   As a voracious reader, I love this caption. I love reading and escaping into other worlds – real or fictional. I’ve just finished reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, which tells of a trek into the Himalya to search for the blue sheep in order to determine if they descend from sheep or goats.  Eyes are always on the lookout, too, for the elusive snow leopard, whose siting would be a bonus. But I digress – read the book for yourself!  Unfortunately, the “Staircase” sculpture is slowly shrinking; two of the men are missing.  I hope they find them soon.

National Gallery of Australia (NGA): Celine and I went to the NGA in September and spent several hours wandering among the halls.   I really liked the large sculptures outside the gallery; unfortunately, I can’t remember what they are all called and I couldn’t find anything on-line about them.  If you know their names and the artists, please let me know in the “Comments” section below.

In front of the sculptures at the NGA (Canberra).


More outdoor pieces from the NGA. The glass ball appears to be handing mid-air, but it is tethered to the building by thin wires.


We spent most of our time inside looking at the Aboriginal art, most dating to 1970, which further indicated to me that even though Aborginees have lived in Australia for over 50,000 years, they have not been acknowledged by the rest of Australia until recently.  Only 35% of Australians think they have a high level of knowledge about Aboriginal culture; how much do you know?  I have to say that I really like the artwork and found myself mesmerized by the dot painting and trying to discern the Dreaming meaning in the pieces.  I also finally learned what “the Dreamtime” actually means – it’s the Aboriginal understanding of the world, its creation, and its great stories, along with the beginning of knowledge.  Each “country” has a different word for it, too, along with different stories.  With over 200 languages in existence before 1788 (and only 60 alive today), you can imagine how difficult it is to get these stories recorded before they are gone forever.

The creation story of the Seven Sisters (Pleaides) (NMA, Canberra).

The Big Draw was happening while we were there, so there were lots of hands-on activities to encourage visitors to draw more.  We added our own dots!

Creating Aboriginal "art" with sticky dots.


National Museum of Australia (NMA):  I think this was my favorite museum in Canberra. It was dense with information about the history and settling of Australia, as well as with stories about each of the major towns and notable people (such as Lindy Chamberlain and Harold Holt). I went there twice and still didn’t see everything.  My favorite exhibits were Biotaim and Resistance in the Gallery of the First Australians because of their historical perspective. 

Aboriginal batiks and art (NMA, Canberra).


Bogong Moths at the NMA (Canberra). They represent the Aborginal group of traditional landowners who used to live in this area.

Finally, though not technically a sculpture or art, the National Carillon sits on an island in Lake Burley Griffin, with concerts held regularly. On my bike rides around the lake, I was able to hear a few of the tunes and see it in different lights.

Lake Burley Griffin: James Cook Memorial Jet, with the National Carillon in the background.


Carillon at Night (September).


Of course, if I’m mentioning museums I’ve visited, I would be remiss to leave out the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, the Sydney Observatory, and the Discovery Museum at The Rocks, but these places are really more museum than art gallery. And most of them are not in the ACT. However, you can click on the links to learn more about them.
Other links:
Guide to a walking tour of the art in Civic (Canberra)
More on trying to find the missing men from “On the Staircase”
Fantastic page with more pictures of Canberra’s sculptures
Information about the Aboriginal culture
National Gallery of Australia website
National Museum of Australia website
Learn about the Torres Strait Islands and Islanders here.
Read more about the Bogong moths here and here
January 1, 2012 (Update): And sometimes art is in the eye of the beholder and how you frame up the picture. I just found this picture as I was looking through the lot of them. It’s a picture of me and Flat Bucky in front of a few sculptures (and the mall) in Civic.

View of Civic, from London Circuit to Canberra Centre.