The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has assembled more than 200 artworks from 67 lenders in 12 countries for their most ambitious exhibit ever: Degas: A New Vision, an event exclusive to Melbourne.
The massive show is part of the Victorian government’s annual Melbourne Winter Masterpieces initiative, which has drawn 2.8 million visitors since 2004.
This year, it features a global effort to assemble priceless works from Edgar Degas, one of the most celebrated artists in the French Impressionism movement.
Degas: A New Vision includes pieces spanning 50 years of Degas’ career as a painter, printmaker, sculptor, and photographer. It’s the largest Degas display to ever come to Australia – and the most comprehensive retrospective of his work in decades.
Visitors will take part in special events like the NGV’s Friday night series, Drop-by Drawing sessions, and live performances. There will also be free film screenings, as well as food and beverage offerings referencing key themes of the exhibition.
We talked to the gallery’s Senior Curator of International Art, Ted Gott, to find out more.
It’s the largest Degas display to ever come to Australia – and the most comprehensive retrospective of his work in decades.
This is a massive exhibition spanning more than 200 of Degas’ pieces. Walk us through how you pulled this exhibition together.
“This exhibition is indeed massive, being drawn from 65 public and private collections worldwide. You can imagine the logistics. The exhibition has been curated for the NGV by the world’s pre-eminent Degas scholar, Henri Loyrette, who has devoted the past 40 years to researching the life and art of this extraordinary French artist.
“The layers of dialogue and diplomacy that Henri has been engaged with over the past three years have been Byzantine in complexity, involving not only the distillation and selection of 200 works that represent every aspect of Degas’ life and career from 1855 to 1910, but also persuading so many lenders to support and contribute to this gargantuan project.”
Degas was clearly a prolific and eclectic artist. Tell us about the challenge you face as a curator to display such a wide arrays of styles (including sculpture, painting, pastels, photography and prints) without visually overwhelming visitors.
Visitors will gain a sense of Degas’ constantly restless looking as an artist, both forwards to new work and ideas, and backwards to inspiration from works created in his past.
“Henri Loyrette, as curator of the exhibition, asked for an installation design that allowed visitors to gain a sense of Degas’ constantly restless looking as an artist, both forwards to new work and ideas, and backwards to inspiration from works created in his past.
“This inspired our head exhibition designer, Ingrid Rhule, and her team to conceive a porous skin for the exhibition’s internal walls, which allows Degas’ artworks to both float and co-exist with minimal architectural distraction.
“Primacy of the visual experience for the exhibition visitor is given to the artworks themselves, allowing for unique combinations of styles and media to be considered prima facie, as it were.”
In your expert opinion, what makes Degas a unique and special artist?
“Degas’ art can be appreciated anew today as open-ended, ‘a work in progress’, rather than the sum of individual and isolated works. This is the distinctive genius of Degas, which makes him both a precursor of modern art in the twentieth century and particularly relevant today.
“In his mature years, Degas worked and reworked compositions in a fluid manner that made the process of making his art as valid a subject as narratives and observations of contemporary life had been earlier in his career.”
As the Senior Curator of International Art, tell us about the reputation NGV has established globally as being a leading Australian venue to host exhibitions of this magnitude and quality.
“Degas: A New Vision is the 13th consecutive exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria’s phenomenally successful Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series. Each of these has contributed exponentially to the NGV’s global reputation for presenting cutting edge exhibitions of world-class scholarship, visual sumptuousness and immensely broad popular appeal.”
Is there a particular Degas piece that stands out as a favourite of yours? If so, why?
Just when I think I have understood what Degas seems to have tried to do in one work, I am challenged by a fascinating new conundrum in another.
“To be honest, my favourite work of art in Degas: A New Vision changes every day! Just when I think I have understood what Degas seems to have tried to do in one work, I am challenged by a fascinating new conundrum in another.
“Today’s favourite is his compellingly modern portrait of his fellow artist and friend Victoria Dubourg from the late 1860s, a portrait that is as radically compelling in its depiction at this time of the sitter as an absolute equal despite the era’s gender prejudices, as it is in its provocative combination of ‘finished’ and ‘unfinished’ compositional areas.”
Degas: A New Vision will be on display from June 24 to September 18, 2016. Pro tip: get your tickets early as large crowds are expected to come and witness this must-see exhibit. You can find out more about this event here.