Arrivals & Departures Rebel with a KAWS and world photography

Photo of William Yeoman

There are two very different exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria for those travelling to Melbourne. Just allow plenty of time. I spread my viewing over two days and still struggled to take everything in.

KAWS: Companionship in the Age Of Loneliness (until April 13) website

Contemporary American artist Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, plunders pop culture icons and other paraphernalia, from supermodels to The Simpsons, for his incisive, witty, moving but, above all, fun artworks. His art — from fashion bill poster interventions and a line of collectible merchandise to paintings, sculpture, murals and more — has a massive appeal for young people.

I was lucky enough to attend the launch party and following opening day and was astonished at the queues of teens, 20 and 30-somethings. These were later replicated up town at Melbourne’s flagship Uniqlo store, where a new KAWS clothing line was attracting unprecedented attention. This is an exhibition that will appeal to the whole family, and the kids activity area in particular is just a great place to hang out for aspiring artists of any age or skill.

Civilization: The Way We Live Now (until February 2) website

Thousands of Muslims kneel and bow in prayer in Jakarta. High school seniors apply make-up in front of a two-way mirror.

A pelican’s rotting corpse reveals a mass of ingested plastic waste.

Loaded coal-train cars in Vancouver mimic circuitry writ large. A teen in her underwear snaps a selfie in her bedroom.

The sweep and grandeur of this exhibition, curated by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell, assisted by Juliette Hug, is hard to convey.

There are more than 200 photographs, many displayed in massive formats, by more than 100 photographers from around the world. Together they form a portrait of the way we live now, from intimate private moments to huge communal gatherings; from village to megapolis; from times of peace to times of war; from the natural world to technology gone mad.

How good, too, to see photography as it should be seen: not on a screen, but on a wall. Not as noise, but as art.


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