Monday, September 24, 2012

Canberra, Capital of Art

Aussies tend to complain about their capital city, a lot. Canberra is viewed as a rather boring compromise, which has been reached mainly to avoid choosing between Sydney and Melbourne. Visitors however, tend to appreciate the city’s open spaces and the sights, of which there are quite a few. But what Canberra does really well is art, and here are a few reasons why it’s worth checking it out on that account.

National Gallery of Australia

This is a huge, representative and ultramodern space with all the bells and whistles, but what this particular gallery does best is bring some of the most spectacular artworks from overseas for exhibit in Australia. To give you an example, from 14 December this year you’ll be able to appreciate an extensive collection of works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as he documented the world of turn of 19th century Paris. Previous exhibitions included the fabulous impressionists and art of the renaissance, and there are ongoing exhibits of local artists as well as interesting symposia and lectures. What the NGA is not so good at is sharing; so get your cheap flights to Canberra as either you come here to see it, or you miss out completely.

National Portrait Gallery

It may look a little like a bunker, but the NPG offers a great insight into Australia, through the focus on individuals that helped shape the country’s history, politics, social policy, culture and the arts. There are over 400 portraits here, ranging from centrepieces, like John Webber’s 1782 portrait of Captain James Cook and Ned Kelly's death mask to Howard Arkley’s iconic depiction of musician Nick Cave. You can also catch excellent temporary exhibits at the gallery, like the current “Elegance in exile: Portrait Drawings from Colonial Australia.”

National Museum Australia

If you are more interested in Australia’s history, visit the National Museum Australia, which offers a well rounded perspective on Australia’s social history. Here you’ll be able to not only have a look at art from different periods, but also discover various colonial artefacts, including 19th century clothing, as well as domestic items and even beautiful historic cars! There is also an extensive focus on the country’s indigenous culture, including exhibits of work by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Canberra Glassworks

This is a lovely and unique place perfect for those, who like their arts more hands-on. Situated in the historic Kingston Powerhouse, the Glassworks offer not only exhibits from professional glass artists, whom you can see actually at work, but you can also take entry-level glass making classes yourself and create your own piece, be it a bird, a bauble or the more traditional paperweight. Free tours are available on the weekends at 11 am.
The short list above is just the tip of the iceberg of course, as there is plenty more to explore, including Canberra Museum and Gallery, The Gallery Of Australian Design, Contemporary Arts Space, many private galleries and for the little ones…the National Dinosaur Museum, whose animatronic dinosaurs can probably pass for art of its very own kind!

Patricia Bieszk is a freelance writer, who is very fond of travel as well as the arts.

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