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European Masterpieces still have us queueing out the door


Having arrived from New York just over two months ago to be hung on the walls of QAGOMA, the European Masterpieces have been met with queues around the block every weekend – proving Queensland’s appetite for art in the absence of interstate travellers.

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The collection contains 65 works from Raphael, Monet, Vermeer, Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Renoir beginning with 1420’s absolutism, through the Renaissance and up to twentieth century post-impressionism.

The exhibition exists in three movements: Devotion and Renaissance; Absolutism and Enlightenment; and Revolution and Art for the People.

While the halls of the State Gallery may not be filled with tourists from other states as lockdowns are turned on and off, Queenslanders are still queueing round the block, two months after its opening.

Simon Wright, GOMA’s Assistant Director for Learning and Public Engagement, said typically The Met may lend out one or two art works at one time.

“To have 65 pictures travel to one city is just unheralded, and it’s basically taken the freakish timing of a major redevelopment in their gallery that gave us the opening for it,” Wright told InQueensland.

‘European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’ 12 Jun 2021 – 17 Oct 2021 Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (Image: Chloë Callistemon, QAGOMA)

“What we’ve learned from the show so far is where we think we’re speaking to broad audiences about different elements within the show, local audiences respond just as much, and it has been really gratifying to see the strength of local audience attendance in the show.

“We’re getting great numbers each day, there’s queues at the start of each day on the front of the gallery, which is a beautiful sight for me.”

The Gallery’s commitment to activations is a huge draw card, elevating the exhibition with careful and joyous daily programming which invites musicians, artists, and art teachers to activate a dedicated studio space located within the Gallery.

The latest of these is the Met Mega Weekend, due to open on 9 and 10 October which will host life drawings, costume models, and live music performances throughout the Gallery.

Wright said there is also digital technology which adds elements of interactivity with the works, providing depth to the viewing.

“You can blow up the smaller works and actually see individual lines in stroke of paint from the bristles that finally photograph so you really get into work and see things that you just won’t be able to see with the naked eye,” he said.

‘European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’ 12 Jun 2021 – 17 Oct 2021 Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (Image: Chloë Callistemon, QAGOMA)

When viewed in conjunction, the Masterpieces are a distillation of human life, of transition, and of perception over the course of half a century.

Wright said it was fitting they should arrive during some of the most turbulent periods of the last few decades.

“I think what really brings these works into a collective consciousness are our filters from today. People are being barraged by isolation, introspection, a new sense of care for community wellbeing,” he said.

“When you track the lineage of European masterpieces in The Met, you do get a sense of memento mori everywhere.

“Some of these pictures bring into sharp relief, what faith does to you in those last moments of life, or what a special connection between a mother and a child, or what the plague does, what we did for leisure back in the day when we didn’t have to socially distance.

“There are themes, and certainly sensibilities, that makes much more sense today as we look backwards.”

The European Masterpieces exhibition runs until 17 October, for more information visit QAGOMA’s website.

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