Art As Therapy NGV

Review: Visual Arts Book
Art as Therapy: Works from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Art-as-Therapy-bookThis soft cover book is the guide for the special labels placed around the State Art Gallery of Victoria’s St Kilda Road Venue.

As a first comment I have to say that I was disappointed and was in fact a little taken aback by the style and contents. I am not so sure about how this effort enhances the gallery visit within the NGV*.

This is the book published by the gallery using its collections on display within the St Kilda Road venue. I suggest that the gallery has not done the issue of gender and art form equity much good through this publication.

To start with the book does not include one photograph from their vast photographic collection. This probably reflects the current exhibitions within this gallery and points to a problem that has surfaced recently with their exhibitions. (The management have closed their former dedicated photo gallery)

The next problem is that the works discussed are almost all by men. In fact I have yet to spot even the token the female artist, but there may be one there somewhere. So much for equity in the 21st Century!

The gallery cannot avoid this problem by saying that these were the works chosen by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. The gallery must take responsibility for the finished product as it is branded as a gallery publication. Therefore they should have guided this exercise to a better outcome.

The mystery is that the gallery curatorial staff on this project were women. Seems the equity issues no longer matter to the gallery management.  Now that’s either a huge mistake or something that needs to be addressed. The gallery management must take responsibility for this untimely bias.

As to the tone of the book I found it a bit too much like a protestant preacher in style. It was if we were being lectured on how to see and react to the works. Yet I thought that this whole exercise was about moving the viewer away from the usual curatorial labels to ones that would act as better catalyst to engaging the works.

I found that after reading the labeling in the book that I lost interest and stopped taking them very seriously at all. In a couple of cases, I am not so sure that the authors actually knew the background to the pieces being discussed.

Please note that I enjoy most of Alain de Botton’s work and his books. I did not enjoy this one.

I will reserve any other comments for Art As Therapy till after I have read the full book by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong on this whole exercise. This larger book has just arrived so hopefully I will comment on this later.

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* National Gallery of Victoria – For some reason this Australian state gallery still hides behind a colonial ‘national’ title. That is, this art museum is still called the National Gallery of Victoria, NGV.  It is indeed strange for a 21st very successful state gallery to maintain its former colonial title. Have they not noticed that the Australia Federation happened and they are no longer ‘national’?

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My recommendation: Art as Therapy: Works from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Recommendation: Rating 3/10

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Paul Costigan, 20 May 2014

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