Sunday 29 January 2012 – Reconciliation Place and the Portrait Gallery

Billie suggested meeting at the Portrait Gallery for a cuppa, as we often do. I asked whether I could join her beforehand for part of her walk round the bridges – could she stand to go that slowly? She said to meet her at the National Library at 0930 (by which time she’d already done her walk).

When it’s already hot at 0930, I know I’m in trouble. Nevertheless, it wasn’t going to be a long walk, so I didn’t even wear my visor.

We set off across Reconciliation Place, a promenade of artworks opened in 2002, which links the library with the High Court. It would be possible to spend hours investigating what’s there, but we kept up a steady pace through the growing heat.

Sculpture ''Fire and Water'' (2007) by Judy Watson

Sculpture ''Fire and Water'' (2007) by Judy Watson. Photo by Gerardus d. 30/12/2011

This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Two problems occurred to us as we passed through: the state of disrepair of many of the works, and the predominance of sound recordings.

The National Capital Authority is responsible for the maintenance of Reconciliation Place, as it is for the whole Parliamentary Triangle. It’s had its budget slashed in recent years. Letting the national capital aspects of Canberra degrade is a wickedness, but who cares? As long as the media insists on calling the federal government “Canberra”, no one much.

Reconciliation Place was only opened in 2002: it’s not auspicious for reconciliation that its displays are left broken.

I hadn’t come across sound recordings attached to outdoor exhibits before. Somewhere online I read that the recordings were motion-sensitive, but Billie and I thought they were going continuously. As a musician (once upon a time, anyway) I’m sensitised to sound, and I vehemently believe it should be opt-in. If I could hold an umbrella, I’d carry one at all times in the hope of poking out the muzak speakers in lifts, for example. 🙂

One of the displays was in fact opt-in, but when I tried to press the button, it was broken.

After a quick look at the newly-repaired High Court fountain (one of my favourite things: the water looks like tartan) we walked straight into the cafe at the Portrait Gallery (called, quaintly enough, Portrait Cafe) and settled down at our usual table for morning tea.

High Court fountain

Fountain II: Outside the High Court of Australia by Justin Knol

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Gallery was showing a special exhibition called Impressions: Painting light and life, consisting of portraits by, and of, artists at the heart of Australian impressionism. It was lovely but, even though we sat down when we’d finished the first room, we had to go back to the cafe for a rest after the second room. By the time we’d been round all three rooms, I was feeling quite exhausted.

Hugh Ramsay - The Sisters, 1904

Hugh Ramsay - The Sisters, 1904

Painting on loan to the exhibition from the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Nevertheless we had to walk back across Reconciliation Place. The heat had increased, as it was the middle of the day. Almost in sight of our cars, outside the Questacon, I had to stop in the shade for a while.

Billie took some photos of us holding the Danish flag, for a project she’s doing for the 70th birthday of her brother-in-law in Denmark. Then we said goodbye and I came home in time for a late lunch. I was so flattened by the heat that I spent the rest of the day in my chair. My left arm ached and I worried I was having a stroke, but I kept telling myself it was more likely to be the result of lugging my handbag over what had added up to a considerable distance!

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4 Responses to Sunday 29 January 2012 – Reconciliation Place and the Portrait Gallery

  1. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    Were the sisters dressed as angels? They had character-filled faces, not angelic at all. Must see the Portrait Gallery one day.

  2. valkyrie1 says:

    I didn’t notice the wings at the time, but I read about the sadness.

    The handbook from the Art Gallery of NSW (where the picture normally lives) says:

    Beyond its veracity as a double portrait – in fact a composite of the artist’s three sisters – and its specification of fashion and femininity at a precise historical date, this canvas is imbued with an unsettling subtext. Ramsay identifies in his sisters’ eyes the watchful cognisance of his own ill-health. His death soon after surprised no-one, certainly not these satiny seraphs, one of whom even has wings. The poses derive from the canon of melancholy and mourning. A bravura production from a painter not yet thirty…

  3. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    Yes, they knew he was dying. There was an item in this Saturday’s Australian about the Heidelberg School which said Hugh Ramsay persuaded them to pose in their white ballroom finery. And the cloaks on the back of the chair? No accident they resembled wings, I suppose, but that’s just my guess. What struck me was not the overlay of sadness – I thought that was boredom – its the sensuality of those faces. Long, full noses. English horsiness transmuted by the Australian warmth of climate? English noses tend to be fine (the better to breathe cold air, perhaps?), but Aussie noses have breadth (so as to cope with warm air? Again, that’s just my guess.

  4. albertine says:

    yes – I saw the wings, too. And at first the painting looked almost like a photograph – was it the clarity of focus? or the light?
    I think my broad Aussie nose may have Scottish origins – all my mother’s side of the family have them, and I have seen ancestral portraits with the same. How long does it take to change a nose enviro-genetically, do you think?
    Thanks again Val – love the observation. And the dedication to your own art, against the odds of heat and muzak.

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