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The National Portrait Gallery – reviewing a salute to influence

By johnboy - 6 December 2008 5

It’s not every week a new national institution opens.

Shoe-horned in front of the High Court we now have a National Portrait Gallery. It’s a beautiful example of the new school Australian modernist architecture and, as a building I’ll confess to falling in love with it.

On the other hand we have a National Gallery of Art, why another one just for portraits? Do we have a landscape gallery? A sculpture gallery? Other than Janette Howard’s dislike of abstract art (and make no mistake, this new building would not exist today if not for that) what’s so special about portraiture?

On closer examination all becomes clear.

The most important part of how to get your face in the National Portrait Gallery is that there has to be a portrait of you. Certain sorts of people tend to have more and better portraits of themselves done, and they’re inevitably going to be better represented in a portrait gallery.

As a result possibly the best and most striking portrait in the place (for mine) is of Tom Uren. While a titan like Lachlan Macquarie is relegated to a miniature and a dismissively cursory note.

The Fairfax family, by way of another example, has made sure several generations are represented, and there’s a gallery named after them.

So the whole thing is a celebration of power, money, and celebrity in Australian life.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as you take it with a grain of salt.

While the vagaries of art make it patchy there’s a lot of Australian history to be learned browsing the well curated galleries.

If you have an interest in art, history, or preferably both and how they collide, then it’s a must see. And for foreign visitors probably a more rewarding insight into this country than the National Museum.

While I’m not entirely convinced we needed it, I take my hat off to the excellence with which it’s been done.

(slideshow of the opening weekend festivities below)

What’s Your opinion?


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5 Responses to
The National Portrait Gallery – reviewing a salute to influence
Holden Caulfield 11:18 am 08 Dec 08

Ahh, so they take you into the High Court parking. I’ve never been in there, I think you used to need a pass to get in???

Thanks for that.

shanefos 10:17 am 08 Dec 08

Holden Caulfield said :

To anyone who has been to the NPG is there a more sustainable long term plan for public car parking there? The main entrance seems a bit odd, the way it siphons you straight off towards the High Court/National Gallery.

I think that part of the construction work going on at the NGA is increasing car parking capacity, isn’t it?
The underground parking at the NPG is okay (head down towards the High Court and turn left to go underneath), but there seem to be far too many “Small car only” parks.
And the concrete is so shiny and new that the squeal of car tyres can get a bit irritating when it’s busy!

Holden Caulfield 9:54 am 08 Dec 08

To anyone who has been to the NPG is there a more sustainable long term plan for public car parking there? The main entrance seems a bit odd, the way it siphons you straight off towards the High Court/National Gallery.

poptop 7:54 am 07 Dec 08

Alternatively, if we do a quite large portrait of, say, Lachlan Macquarie we might get our work hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

ant 10:41 pm 06 Dec 08

So, if we go off to Circular Quay and get one of those blokes to do a portrait of us with their crayons, can we get it in the gallery?

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