It’s good to stay at home on weekends. And if you’ve been working hard and using up lots of noggin-juice, it’s positively necessary to ensconce yourself on the couch, under a rug, with a book or DVD boxset to hand, ignoring the world and recouping your thoughts. Other times, you might feel like your soul’s a-sickening for fresh ideas- that your thoughts are somehow not glittering as bright as it ought.

When I’m feeling less-than-sparkling on the inside, I choose to invigorate my spirit with a few hours at one of Melbourne’s galleries. I like to go by myself, safe in the selfish knowledge that I can spend as long (or as little) in front of paintings or sculptures. Occasionally I don’t even go to the gallery spaces, instead preferring to sit in the quasi-religious quiet of the Great Hall, looking at its giant-jewel ceiling. Reader, there’s lots for you to do at the National Gallery of Victoria this winter. Here’s a snapshot of my solo-sweet adventure to the NGV St Kilda Rd last weekend, where you’ll find the beautifully curated Italian Masterpieces, dancing feathery bears and a giant-sized crayon adventure for children of all ages.
Have kid? Will travel. Pastello – Draw Act by Erika Zorzi and Matteo Sangalli is an immersive space which invites you to engage with drawing using different parts of your physicality. Pop on a helmet studded with giant dalek-like crayons and use your head to draw on a huge canvas of wall. Rub paper against cactus-like nobbled crayon pods, seeing the unusual texture that weight, speed and movement makes of pattern. Super fun for everyone.
You Started It… I Finish It is a delightful installation by artist Paola Pivi, consisting of eight feathered neon bears in various positions of play, affection and repose. Punters took grinning selfies in front of them. Children danced around them, and others mimicked their frozen poses. It’s pure theatre and fun.
Some criticize the NGV’s focus on entertainment (and these humorous, silly and lovely bears) suggesting that our arts institution has become ‘all bread and circuses’, and that it is base to offer easily digestible fun to the masses in a home of high art. I understand their criticism, particularly of the hugely popular Melbourne Now project – that a hodgepodge of crowdpleasing entertainments doesn’t improve anyone’s cultural understanding or ask much of its audience. As funds for the creative industries dwindle and galleries/cultural institutions have to reach to wider audiences to justify their existence, promoting and unpacking high art or installing challenging exhibitions falls swiftly to the wayside. This means that ‘bums on seats’ becomes the mantra of management, and that the gallery space can  no longer afford to be the environ of the few most cultured. Thus develops a doubled-edged requirement on both the relevance of the institution creating new and quality exhibitions, whilst conforming to the economic imperative of being servant to culture which has no language for explaining the success of a cultural project (except for the brutish KPI of numbers through its doors). I acknowledge that the PR stunts and imported ‘blockbusters’ aren’t going anywhere for any Australian cultural institution, but I can’t bring myself to abhor this fact. I feel that state institutions such as galleries should be welcoming, inclusive and democratic. Art and its possibilities should be enjoyed and pleasurable for all kinds of people, and a high-low mix is important in achieving this goal.
My favorite exhibition at the NGV of the moment is Italian Masterpieces From Spain’s Royal Court Museo Del Prado. Years ago, I visited the Museo Del Prado with my parents. It was undoubtedly the most memorable element of this initial international sojourn, with the ridiculously contemporary El Greco Christs, scary coven nightmares by Goya, Franco-era Picassos. It is a pleasure to see this exquisite collection of Italian Renaissance-era paintings so close to home. A large exhibition which is enhanced by interactive music/documentary stations throughout, it is also benefited by a match cultural programme which I document here (you’ll find vision of it on the Ruby Assembly Instagram account @iolantherubyslipper).
Typified as a ‘Performance Intervention’, BalletLab‘s Phillip Adams choreographed a set-piece in the Italian Masterpieces gallery space which was a rumination on Saint Sebastian. Featuring a muscular, blonde San Sebastian and an androgynous Christ Figure in Mama Alto‘s counter-tenor, it was exciting to see contemporary dance before Renaissance painting.
I will certainly be re-visiting this show again the in coming months – perhaps attending one of the Friday night food-and-music-fuelled showings. Post lazy Sunday wandering the gallery at a perfect-for-me pace, I felt renewed and well. I so encourage you to forgo an afternoon on the couch for an afternoon at your local gallery to water the garden of your mind.