Saturday afternoon Joadja and I went down to the Art Gallery to take
in Michaelangelo to Matisse: Drawing the Figure. I have always
been fond of drawing. It has a purity and rigour that other media lack.
was a good crowd at the Gallery. Bob Debus was there, hiding from the
park rangers, and also the maritally-challenged Peter Collins.
Capon has done well with this show. They say it is the finest exhibition
of drawings by the great masters of Western art ever held in Australia.
Michaelangelo and Raphael are on show and so are Tintoretto, Rubens,
Rembrandt, Guercino, Fragonard, Goya, Delacroix, Cézanne, Degas,
Renoir, Pissarro, Picasso and Klee. There are bold nudes in a few lines
by Kirchner and little gems of draughtmanship by Leonardo da Vinci.
A tiny piece by Albrecht Dürer sent a frisson of wonder down my
tail. It was a miraculously lifelike portrait of a fashionably dressed
negress. She must have been an exotic figure in 15th Century Germany.
What was her story? how on earth had she got there?
was a drawing of a hefty bearded man by Camille Pissarro titled Study
of a male nude posed against a wall, seen in profile, facing Right,
which bore a striking resemblance to Paddy McGuinness and Joadja reckoned
that a 1900 study of a haughty young toff by George Lambert reminded
her in some curious way of Mike Carlton after a long lunch.
the Renaissance, the nude came back into fashion, carrying the banner
for a new secular art. It crossed my mind as I gazed at endless triumphal
sketches of the male nude that the oiled bodies of the Gay Mardi Gras
might represent the final baroque flowering of this drift in history.
Perhaps, one day soon, there will be a new bio-diverse Renaissance,
one in which species other than Homo sapiens take centre stage.
It is the kind of genial thought a possum can have in a fine and civilised
place on a Saturday afternoon in summer.
we left the gallery we walked through the splendour of the Botanic Gardens
and down to Circular Quay where the sad figures of the homeless
huddled in corners against the walls to catch the train home.
It was there we found ourselves confronted not with "the figure"
but its post-modern equivalent, "the body". CityRail had sold
the advertising rights to the whole station to Asics, the Japanese sports
gear corporation, and they had turned it into a gallery dedicated to
their brand name and the fitness obsession.
were a huge model running shoes over the station entrances and big colourful
banners with images of athletes stretched over the curved ceiling panels.
Hidden projectors threw the Asics logo on the walls. Even the escalators
had been decorated. It must have cost a fortune.
it's harmless, I suppose, and CityRail can do with the money. Asics
will probably get their money back, especially with the Olympic crowds
expected next year, and a lot of kids will badger their parents to buy
them Asics rather than Nikes, but I reflected that high-tech running
shoes and the other paraphenalia of the fitness obsession are pumped
out of grim sweatshops in Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and China by
people who don't have much choice.
on the platform, a bag lady sat among her possessions on one of the
seats near the escalator. Her pants were pulled down and she was urinating
through the slats of the seat. Our eyes met in a moment of mutual shame
and embarrassment, but we both looked away. The fleeting moment of high
civilization had passed, and we were back to Asics.