Today was one of those days when several of my paramores adored me.
We started at the National Gallery of Victoria and the joint exhibition of the work of Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol. You walk in past a wall of water, constantly running patterns down a sheet of glass. Children stand with their hands in the flat stream and giggle as it runs across the backs of their hands; all the adults nearby, whether connected to those little hands or just observing their glee, wish they could do the same.
Moving inside, you will find the first of the remarkable Ai Weiwei's artworks, a chandelier meant to represent the cultural and financial exravagance.
After cloaking our bags, we were in a darker, narrower space between the light filtered through the wall of moving water and the chandelier and a tall, almost cavernous hall which is sunlit by skylights. Filling the space is Forever Bicycles 2015, another amazing artwork from Weiwei - an installation of 1500 silver bicycles symbolising freedom using the most common means of transport from his homeland of China. He grew up is Maoist China, where freedom was a concept and a right crushed in a bizarrely named cultural revolution. It towers above you and glints in the sunlight, making it hard to look at almost any angle. This is a key concept of his art: the feeling of need to avert you gaze but being compelling drawn to the message behind it, despite the confrontation.
We were lucky enough to pick up a guided tour of the exhibition, led by the informative and passionate Pam. These days, exhibition tours with their headphones which isolate the guides voice from the surrounding noise, allow you to wander each individual gallery and look for yourself, while the background information is absorbed. You don't have to necessarily focus your attention on the guide. Well that's the way I do it at least. It often leads to a better look at the artworks not being talked about at that moment.
The first room's floor was dominated by a collection of two thousand year old ceramic potts dipped in industrial paint by Ai Weiwei: this seeming act of vandalism intended to offer a commentary on the vandalism of the Chinese people under Mao. A tapesty in triptych on one wall, shows him deliberately dropping a similar pot. This confrontational approach is a hallmark of the artist.
On opposing walls were Warhol's Campells cans - six of them at least - and the iconic irridescent Marilyns. Warhol was besotted by famous people and an almost pathological desire for his own fame, yet he was a shy, almost reserved man: an observer not a participant. His art space, The Silver Factory, was a Mecca for anyone who was a name or wanted to be one, for twenty years from the mid 1960's. It was a place of anything goes: a place where participants were free to express and experience. Yet the artist himself was famous for not participating, just watching. He is reputed to have obstained from drugs, alcohol, sex and the other compulsory distractions of a pop culture dominated New York, in the great period of social change that were the early years of the Silver Factory.
Both artists use repetition and appropriation as a device to express their art but their motivation comes from opposite places. Where as Warhol desired fame for personal gain and status and used pop culture to achieve that end, Weiwei uses it to make strong sociopolitical statements opposing power, whether it be derived from wealth or position. He has been one of the great opponents of the suppression of the Chinese populous. His use of social media is fanatical. During his recent 600 days of house detention in China, he posted a new picture every day of his incarceration. Each time, it was the bicycle of a Dutch disodent who had disappeared. It leaned against his fence outside his accommodation and everyday a supporter put a new, different bunch of flower in the basket on its handlebars, took a picture of them with his smartphones and tweeted it to the world. He wanted to meet the oppression symbolised by the guards outside with the beauty and freedom of the flowers. Significantly, the day of his release, the basket was left empty.
These tweets were some of the more than six thousand he sent during 18 months.
Warhol used to film the famous in what he called his screen tests. It was part of his fascination with film as a genre. In one darkened gallery, ten monitors showed faces from the 1960's many of them icons in their own right, looking at the camera and about the room: a shy Bob Dylan; the piercing eyes of Edie Sedgwick; the wild mop of a young Alan Ginsberg. Also showing on one wall is Empire, Warhol's six hour film featuring the Empire State Building shot at night from a single camera in one static shot. Our guide called it the most boring film ever made.
The artworks of both are symptomatic of their time and a change in social consciousness. They are spectacular, compelling and engaging. By the time we reached the final gallery, despite Sue's disputing back, we had both been totally captive of their creativity. As comment on the motives of both artists, the final gallery was a culmination. To the left, a small theatre screening Blow Job, Wahol's 1964 film which shows the facial expressions only of a man receiving oral sex. To the right, an entire wall covered in wallpaper designed by Weiwei which has the name and address of the more than 5000 children killed in Sichuan province in 2008.
It was not hard for us to form a strong affection and admiration for Ai Weiwei.
We ate lunch beside the fountains outside the NGV and eventually, still in a soul-fulfilled stupor, caught the bus to our other initialised destination for the day, the MCG. Melburnians, of course, abreviate even the abbreviated and Australia's largest sporting stadium is simply referred to as "The G" ... which ironically uses more letters and more space!
As a kid, there were three cricket grounds I had set myself to see: the Sydney Cricket Ground, the mammoth stadium which towered above us off Jollimont St and Lords. I had achieved the third back in a previous tour of 2012, so this was a revisit. Despite having the opportunity to attend a game yesterday, thanks to a generous offer of tickets from my brother, I chose to visit in quieter times. My first tour had been with my father when he and Mum had been domecilled in Melbourne during the eighties but the stands had been torn down and rebuilt since then.
Our guide, a fifty year member, had a dry humour and impatience with those not paying attention but was full of information and anecdotes but they had to be drawn from him. It was his last tour of the day, so he kept us moving at a decent clip, which was unfortunate as the chance to soak up some areas was lost. However, he was happy to chat and answer questions and as a volunteer, what more could be asked of him. We stood at high points which afforded us the amazing vista of this vast ground and on the boundary of the AFL games which four teams play here in their shared home ground advantage. Despite entering the arena, I can't say we actually stood on hallowed turf, as beneath our feet was astroturf, inserted into the surface to avoid the damage the tracking of strangers would make. The Long Room was different but the advantage of which it reeked was the same. The long wait to reach this spot and be welcomed was clear: it takes an average of 36 years to reach full membership.
It was still a place of worship for me and I gained enormous credits with Sue for not even once calling the guide's information into question on the matter of accuracy. I had done so in Sydney and London so my restraint was applauded.
I chose not to go through the attendant museum as Sue had endured enough and a long day walking and standing was taking its toll. It was enough that she joined me for the tour. How much love can one woman have?
The afternoon was hot and late and there was cold beer waiting at our digs.