I’m afraid that I will be made a pariah but I cannot tell a lie; I really disliked NGV Australia’s John Brack exhibition.
I’m Australian, I live in Melbourne and I like to think that I know something about art appreciation. He’s apparently one of Australia’s foremost artists – I’m supposed to like his work. But I was completely unmoved by his brown, flat and stiff style and I whipped through the extensive retrospective in 3o minutes. The paintings didn’t particularly speak to me of facades or of a stoic, everyday life and despite quizzing RM at great length I couldn’t work out what it was about his work that made it quintessentially Australian. For me, the army of identical office workers in the famous painting Collins St 5pm could have been Fleet Street 5pm or Wall Street 5pm, bar the Bank of New South Wales sign in the background. His other famous work is the companion painting, The Bar, which is an ironic reference to Manet’s gorgeous Bar at the Folies-Bergere. Ironic reference or not, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked by the glowing beauty and detailed skill of the original when I saw it at the Courtauld Institute, which is in stark contrast to my bored reaction to The Bar.
And in his later period he turned to pencils???
I’d be really grateful if anyone can explain his appeal to me. And if he wasn’t Australian, would his work still be considered just as good by Australian audiences?