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.
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)