An afternoon at the gallery and cinema

The Gallery of New South Wales sits just a short walk from the Royal Botanic Garden, so it was a convenient (and gloriously air conditioned!) next stop in our explorations.

The gallery’s collection was impressive — two rooms, in particular stood out:

The first was a room of 19th Century landscape paintings in the European style, but which depicted Australian landscapes. It was an example not only of how people (the artists) and their ideas (a particular view of landscape) traveled, but also of how important it is to look closely at art: from a distance the paintings looked like any other landscape paintings that can be found across Europe and America; but when viewed in detail, you realized that the colors and textures and shapes could only be Australia. I loved it.

The second room that stood out to me was a room full of representations of women. These were paintings and statues depicting women; sometimes idealized, sometimes not; sometimes created by women, sometimes not. More remarkable than any individual work was the impact of the curatorial choice to group so many works by and about women in a single room. In a world where the default is so often to walk into rooms full of men, this was a refreshing and notable change.

In fact, I’ve never been in a museum where I have appreciated more the hand of the curator. In nearly every room I visited, I was impressed with how the collection of paintings, their placement and proximity, enhanced my experience of the individual works. It helped me see themes that I might otherwise, and consider patterns and images in new ways. The effect was thrilling, and it elevated what I had worried might be a second-tier collection into a really fine and thought-provoking museum experience.

Alas the gallery closed before we had visited all the rooms, so we went back to the flat for a quick dinner, and then set out for the cinema in nearby Paddington neighborhood. Amanda had found an artsy little cinema that was showing Collette, a new film about an early 20th Century French author.

I had studied one of Collette’s books in one of my French Lit classes in college, but I hadn’t known much of her story. The film told of her coming of age as a writer and a person, and it made me want to pick up more of her books.

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