A few pieces of European Baroque and Rococo art I saw on my very wrecked, post-season, post-bumpout afternoon in the NGV National Gallery of Victoria. Saw out of chronology, ’cos I saw this stuff before the Mediæval art.
Dispensing with my whinging first, the NGV is one of those difficult museums to photograph in, heaps of light bouncing of old glaze, plates of glass between artwork and mob, all the usual. The works I ended up blogging are the ones I could both photograph reasonably easily and scrubbed up ok in Photoshop.
Art I’m surprised got out of Europe: Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Finding of Moses and The Banquet of Cleopatra. Mattia Preti’s Sophonisba receiving the poison. Especially when there were tiny, not very good Canalettos and tiny, not very good Rubens. I’m spoilt for both of them, pretty much every large-ish museum in north-west Europe has a few Canalettos, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin alone has a quartet of huge ones, and Rubens, after the surprise of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes I’m a snob. Rounding out the stash was Derby Porcelain’s The Four Continents.
As usual, a lot of what I photographed was with Medieval POC in mind, and not having much time or energy meant I’m really not representing the NGV so well. It’s not Louvre-sized, probably more like Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België in Brussels. There’s a lot more there than old European art, just that’s it’s also a strange place, and trying to make sense of how Australia sees itself in relation to Europe — not just England or historically to the British Empire, but Europe as a single entity wherein ‘Europe’ in fact denotes the western half only, and how Australia uses the art from that peninsula-continent to create a historical identity for itself … Australia has little to nothing in common with this. It’s part of Asia-Pacific, South-East Asia, Pasifika; it’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land. The idea of the museum, imported from Europe as it was, doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging that.
A few pieces of European mediæval art I saw on my very wrecked, post-season, post-bumpout afternoon in the NGV National Gallery of Victoria. Considering how long I lived in Naarm / Melbourne, and considering I spent five years across the road at Victorian College of the Arts, I’m pretty sure I went inside a total of maybe once, and that for a special exhibition which I can’t remember — the permanent collection and the building itself I never wandered through. Mainly ’cos I wasn’t into museums then.
So, mediæval European stuff, ’cos I am into it. Weird to go to Australia to see bits and pieces of back home. I was looking for Saint Mauritius (of course), because somehow I got it in my head they have a rather nice painting of him. Didn’t find it. Might not be on display. Didn’t find it on their website either, but that’s a horror to search so … Did find exactly one Biblical Magi / Heilige Drei Könige / Aanbidding der Wijzen (it’s from Antwerpen, let’s go with that last one), very buried in the bottom right corner of a retable, which I shone my phone light on to get some illumination to photograph (then butchered it in Photoshop — is not my best work).
The first room, with the wooden sculptures reminded me of Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu (still one of the best mediæval collections and museums I’ve seen), but the dissonance of German next to Spanish next to Italian next to Flemish made for an odd journey. A small collection, lack of space, prioritising newer art and temporary exhibitions can justify the jumble somewhat, yet it proposes a strange, fantastical idea of the history of Europe, a Europe that is monolithic, singular, consistent. Yeah, I’m spoilt here. I can go to small cities like Magdeburg and see a thousand years of history from just that region of central, northern, Germanic Europe all in the original church, and the depth and detail imparted shapes a massively different reality for Europe’s history.
But still, they have a Hans Memling, some Dürer etchings, and a pile of other works that are pretty solid examples of what was going on in Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. The German pieces are solid and heavy and dark; the French all flowing in International Gothic style; the Italian ramping up for the Renaissance. Most of the pieces aren’t brilliant, though pretty much all are solid pieces by renowned artists, and nothing is of the poor, regional copies that litter museums over here. And occasionally there’s a work I’m frankly surprised got out of Europe, which speaks of the kind of money backing the NGV.
Favourite piece? Jaume Cascalls’ St Catherine, from around 1350 in Spain. Not just because she’s my favourite saint, patron of unmarried girls, spinsters, archivists, jurists, librarians, mechanics, scholars, and fucking knife sharpeners.
Unexpected sighting of a Turner in Melbourne’s NGV. I was there for the mediæval art (kinda disappointing) and after stumbling through the Triennial in my quite delirious post-performance season state (wildly variable from brilliant to ew — the NGV I mean), took it upon myself to see Art. European Art. More on that another time, when I deal to the images. Turner I like. Especially his later work like this, where my eye and self goes in and drowns in the depths. It reminds me of Australian landscape from space.
This is when Strada Bianche became the classic it always was. Everything I love when I ride: cold, wet, snow, rain, mud and gravel, cobblestones, hours of enduring suffering, becoming one with the earth and weather, winter and spring. And watching women’s racing excel in the last couple of years.
My glorious Fulcrum Racing 5 CX wheels needed the front wheel’s cones tightened. Break out cone spanners and all the usual mess for a hub-gutting. But, no! All I need is a 2.5mm hex key to spin the pre-load ring tighter. Could probably be done without even removing the wheel. Out-farking-standing.
I only went to Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years to see the F40, so I could make a post quoting Kathryn from Iain Banks’ novel, The Business. I worked it all out in my head in the middle of the night. I would photograph the mad rear wing with ‘F40’ on it and have that right below, “‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Brutal.’” Brutal. I thought I was so fucking clever. It was worth it.
But if you’re coming here looking to perv on an F40, you’re in the wrong place: the F40 got its own, brutal gallery post, plus an extra special post ’cos it’s just so bonkers. You can find it here though, in the background of at least seven photos, if you’re desperate for some rear wing action; playing Spot the F40 is going to keep youse happy if all the rest of Ferrari hoonage does not.
I like the smell of Autoworld. I like the smell of cars and engines, fuel, brake fluid, oil and other lubricants and hydrocarbons, and the smell of all that being roasted and cooked when it gets raced. The biggest disappointment was no open engine bays. I could tolerate the lack of access to gated shifters — at least there’s glass to look through, but all those glorious engines and transmissions hidden away under metal and composite? Nope. I also wanted more supercars of the Enzo, LaFerrari or FXX K type — and they really should have just called it FUC K and be done with it. Ferrari FUC K. Probably more of a Lamborghini name. Also more track hoonage. Yes, it’s only 45 or so cars, but I’m petty and love seeing GTs slammed and grimed. I got some of my jollies with the burning yellow 430 GT 3 Scuderia and more with the intimidating red-and-white striped 308 GTB4. Also the silver Ecurie Francochamps 250 GT SWB with fat yellow number circles, which had pride of place in the hall.
I always — obviously — associate Ferrari with the colour red, Italian Rosso Corsa. It’s as beautiful and recognisable as British Racing Green or Bleu de France (of course Germany’s colour is silver, which is why I only remember it as an absence of colour amidst these other three). But Ferrari also does an unholy yellow, a black like the existential void itself, and occasionally, infrequently, sublime metallic browns, blues, and silvers, more often in the ’50s and ’60s, but occasionally returning later, like on the Testarossa with its ’80s dark, metallic steel-grey idea of a science-fiction future. And all this colour is so dense and deep. Light doesn’t bounce off the surface, it goes through the layers and comes back changed. It’s one of the signifiers of high-end cars, this paintwork, like the difference between laminate wood flooring and butchering an endangered, 1000 year-old Kauri for planks.
On light, Autoworld is a vast, arched, skeletal hanger full of natural light. Most of this is diffuse, and with the exception of some pockets on the wings, ridiculously easy to photograph in. The Ferrari exhibition though, at the far end where all the windows are curtained off, relies on artificial light, and being Ferrari, that meant bombing all that paintwork and metal with red LEDs, which rotated through a faintly sick yellow and lugubrious blue. Lucky, enough natural light flooded in, but it occurred to me that unlike art museums, where — in the best examples — light is so sensitively considered as to allow the work itself to be seen as it is, car museums seem to take the post-techno rave / chill-out room approach to lighting, as if all this monstrous and awesome machine art is in need of a boost. Which human eyes amazingly can adapt for, but cameras tend to freak out. So the reds sometimes look like a bloodbath dipped in a bloodbath, and the yellows lost all hope.
Unlike my usual museum-ing — which I admit has gotten way out of hand, and I’ve been trying to find ways to reel in while still giving large collections their due — I decided to do little to no editing of the photos. For a long time I’ve been committed to the camera doing the work, but accepting the necessity of post-processing to deal with lens distortion and off-kilter stuff, along with sometimes painstaking cleanup of glare and colour balance. Here, I’ve done some minor, rapid colour adjustments (yellows, I’m looking at you), on some photos, and left it at that. I’m not claiming the results are faithful to Ferrari or the museum, but it’s more-or-less what my camera and I grabbed on the day.
Speaking of yellow, the Dino 246 GT rotating on a turntable is beyond glorious, and I might even have designs on coveting it more than the F40. But the car that impressed on me the truly hellish nature of Ferrari and these kind of cars in general is the deep metallic night-blue 275 GTS from 1965, first owned by Raquel Welch. It’s a front-engined convertible, with a V-12 throwing out 260 bhp at 7000 rpm to the rear wheels for a top speed of 250 km/h. The photos don’t really convey how diminutive and delicate it is, a rag-top roof with seats that barely come up to shoulder-height, slung low on wide tires, how easy would it be for those rear wheels to cut loose and utterly destroy driver and car. “250km/h in that!” I laughed nervously. I’m still looking at it, 250 km/h an hour in that. It strikes me that the kind of driver capable of doing that to a car would never attempt it (outside one of those ‘… controlled conditions …’ type warning prefaces), and the kind of driver who would, has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Glorious hoonage.
I admit, if it had been Lamborghini 54 Years, I’d have been way more excited than Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years. But I’m in Brussels, and Brussels has a car museum, and it’s been a while since I visited the church/temple/synagogue/mosque of hoonage. Plus there was a pretty high likelihood I’d get to see what all the fuss was about with those F40s.
There were plenty of pretty cars, from the curves of the ’60s to the wedges of the ’70s, the hyperbole of the ’80s, and the mad angles since then. All that’s for another post (as are the pair of oddities I saw in the revolving motorsport collection — no GT40 this time!). This one’s for the red, 1987 F40.
Ferrari doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in me. They strike me as the province of rich show-offs who aspire to being classy, but don’t get that in that price range, there is no classy, it’s all about fucking arrogance. Hence my love of Lamborghini. But hoons seem to have a requirement to love the F40. Like the GT40, it wasn’t until I saw it there that I really got it. They’re kinda similar, both hammers in search of a nail: for the GT40 that was Le Mans; for the F40, it’s not so succinct. Maybe to say that as Enzo Ferrari’s last car it had to represent Ferrari the man and auto designer and Ferrari his company.
It’s a beautiful, rough, violent, messy masterpiece. It’s fucking terrifying. It’s the kind of car that would kill you way before the limit, if it hadn’t already rattled you apart with its spartan expression of engineering. I would do quite a few questionable things for a passenger seat.
I went to Autoworld Brussels again today, to see the Ferrari 70 Years exhibition. I spent a lot of time on my knees before the F40. (Ever since I planned to see this exhibition, I was hoping there’d be an F40 there so I could quote Iain Banks as Kathryn on it in The Business: ‘Brutal.’)
‘I’d love a shot,’ I said between corners. ‘Would you let me drive? Just for a bit.’
‘Well, I don’t know. There’s the insurance …’ It was the most worried he’d sounded so far. ‘I’d love to, Kathryn, but—’
‘But, Kathryn, this is a Ferrari.’
‘I’ve driven Ferraris. Uncle Freddy used to lend me the Daytona when I was staying at Blysecrag sometimes.’
‘Oh? Well, yes, but that’s front-engined, you see, quite different handling characteristics. The 355 is mid-engined. Much trickier on the limit.’
‘He let me loose in the F40, too. And, of course, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near the limit.’
He glanced at me. ‘He let you drive the F40?’
‘A couple of times.’
‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’