National Gallery of Australia – Versailles exhibition
The 2016 summer exhibition at the NGA in Canberra is Versailles Treasures from the Palace – until 17 April 2017.
In the words of the NGA: Be seduced into a world of power, passion and luxury this summer. This sumptuous exhibition is a once in a lifetime chance to see and experience here in Australia a mesmerising period in French history. Included are more than 130 paintings, intricate tapestries, gilded furniture, monumental statues and other objects from the royal gardens, as well as personal items from Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette.
I approached this exhibition with some hesitation as I had trouble imagining how a selection of objects, no matter how wonderful, could provide the experience of viewing the enormous palace of Versailles, its immense gardens as well as all the extraordinary decorations within. To think nothing of what this palace represents.
So let’s start with positives. The marketing people have done a fantastic job of letting people know that this exhibition is on and that they are to see a selection of objects from the palace. Anyone with an interest in the visual arts and/or the NGA exhibitions would have to have been under a rock to not know about this event. (4 out of 5 for marketing)
The other team that has done a wonderful job, as usual, is the installation crews and exhibition designers at the NGA. Yet again, they have taken what ever they have been provided with in the way of an exhibition, and installed it beautifully. The exhibition looks great – that is most of it – there some exceptions. (4 out of 5 for installation – ignoring the silly stuff)
The problem is not the job done by all involved. The problem is the concept of this exhibition. I just cannot imagine how anyone thought that a selection of objects from the palace and some clever installations could somehow provide anyone with anything near to the experience of visiting the palace and its gardens. It doesn’t.
If you have visited any number of significant palaces in Europe, you have seen the equivalent of this exhibition many times over already. Except for a few of the items on exhibition, there are no extraordinary pieces here.
If you would like to ignore the marketing about the Versailles experience and would like to see some period pieces, art and objects and sculptures, then this exhibition is probably of interest. In fact if they had concentrated less on the ‘experience’ and simply promoted this as a collection from Versailles and the era – that would have been fine.
I went to see the exhibition a couple of days before Christmas – when it was quiet and there were few people about. I am not sure that the experience would be good if the place was packed. There would not be a lot of room to move if too many visitors were sharing the ‘experience’ with you.
I did not visit the exhibition as if it was some form of museum show that was to educate me about Versailles. I can read about that any time. I saw this exhibition as a visual arts experience.
I found the fake fountain (the sculpture was real but the water was a video), the fake maze (being a corridor of an amazing amount of plastic vines) and even the fake entrance ( more on this in another blog) at the front of the gallery were all a complete waste of time and money. in fact that entrance deserves a blog of its own – it is so bad.
So what did I think of the works. Not bad. Some were very interesting. Others were OK.
Recommendations: If you are in Canberra, resident or visiting – maybe go if you can pick a reasonably quiet time – and are prepared to pay the entrance fees.
If thinking of coming from interstate, then I suggest timing the visit to coordinate a visit to the National Library exhibitions and maybe something else. I could not recommend the Versailles exhibition as being the sole reason for a visit to Canberra- unless this period is of high interest and/or you really would like to see some royal period pieces and works of art. Then go for it.
IAs I said above, this exhibition could have been far better with less of the pretend stuff, do away with that fountain without water – and maybe bring in some more artworks from elsewhere from the period. It’s an art gallery – show art – and leave the museum history lessons to others or to online resources.
Here’s few images – a walk through – with of some of the works.
This display was as good as they could do – but it just did not work.
It is very hard to mimic a maze. Not sure why they tried.
I have posted on this exhibition earlier – click here.
and there’s another follow up – click here.
Final recommendation (ignoring all the silly stuff): Rating 3/5