Escher x Nendo / Between Two Worlds // 2 December 2018 – 7 April 2019
There are certain occasions throughout the year when the intriguing dialogue between art and fashion assumes surreal proportions. Cue the National Gallery of Victoria’s annual Gala on December 1st; a sumptuous celebration of the Escher x Nendo / Between Two Worlds exhibition. Australia’s art connoisseurs, fashion elite and even a glimmer of Hollywood’s brightest descended on the NGV in a swathe of sculptural gowns, sleek tuxedos and a flurry of anticipation for what has quickly become Melbourne’s – if not Australia’s – ‘night of nights’.
With memories of last year’s Gala and blockbuster Dior exhibit still vivid in people’s minds, one may have pondered just how the NGV would curate an experience equally as scintillating. What are the essential elements involved in staging a high-profile exhibition opening to rival any other in the world? Perhaps a touch of Hollywood helps.
Actress Natalie Portman and model Poppy Delevigne made their red carpet entrances with signature grace – poised in the face of frenzied cameramen – lending the occasion that touch of something (extra) special. Portman was an ethereal vision in Dior, while Delevigne dazzled in a silver custom couture gown by Australian designer Paolo Sebastian, who drew his textural and tonal inspiration from the American Express Platinum Card. A gown fit for a Gala, in every sense.
Arriving in a recontexutalised tuxedo jacket, Australian pop singer and social media sensation Troye Sivan (now based in LA) was also a vision of bold artistry, enthralling guests during his performances later in the evening. With not one, but two sets of A-list arrivals featuring actresses, politicians, models and social media stars, it seemed that this year’s Gala was shaping up to rival the last.
Glitz aside (momentarily), one must reflect on the real reason guests were gathered within the orchid-lined walls of the Gallery’s foyer. There was an exhibition to launch; a rather fascinating one at that. Between Two Worlds presents a comingling of two spatial universes situated in both past and present, in east and west, in lightness and dark.
Curating an extensive folio of works from Dutch graphic artist M.C Escher within the sculptural creations of Japanese design studio Nendo (founded by globally acclaimed designer Oki Sato), the exhibition is complex in its geometric and often paradoxical aesthetics situated in the illusions of surrealist art and design. But why Escher? Why Nendo?
It seems that – as design practitioners – both creators approach their work with the intention of challenging the viewer’s perception of space and perspective. Through a palette of grey, white and black, the spectator is encouraged to favour the lingering ‘look’ over the ephemeral ‘glance’ when comprehending the dynamic and often playful optical images before them. Both Escher and Nendo urge the spectator to open their mind to the possibility of consuming art and design with an enquiring eye, never being afraid to ask ‘why?’, or rather, ‘why not?’. Key works in the exhibition include Escher’s iconic Sky and water woodcut (1938), and his Hand with reflecting sphere lithograph (1935). Such works exemplify the interrogation of perception via a spirit of playfulness. The artist himself reflected on this notion in 1965, commenting:
‘I cannot help mocking all our unwavering certainties. It is, for example, great fun deliberately to confuse two and three dimensions, the plane and the space, or to poke fun at gravity. Are you sure that a floor cannot be a ceiling?’
NGV Director Tony Ellwood also notes the extent to which the exhibition challenges the conventional practices of viewing art and design from a social and cultural perspective, especially for younger generations who frequent the gallery:
‘…Between Two Worlds marks an important step forward in our conception of the museum experience. This project transforms the museum into a truly contemporary, imaginative and creatively democratic space.’
Curated by Cathy Leahy, the exhibition facilitates an immersive journey. Traversing the twists and turns of its monochromatic terrain, viewers are encouraged to reflect upon the significance of their own body as an object in space. Nendo’s three-dimensional forms constitute literal ‘houses’ for Escher’s sketches, lithographs and woodcuts, interconnecting spaces, cultures and generations of creative intellect.
‘When I thought about the invitation to design a space for Escher, I thought about a shape that can contain and convey all the layers and complexities of this exhibition…’ reflected Nendo’s Oki Sato on his use of the ‘house’ as a reoccurring motif.
Ultimately, the Japanese designer appears to defy both time and gravity in his sculptural works, giving the spectator a sense of existing in a nameless, ageless universe in which anything can happen.
‘It’s about trying to make the impossible, possible,’ Sato says.
Amidst a feast of sensory stimulation, other spectacles from the evening included the David Jones design initiative in Australian designers were commissioned to produce bespoke gowns for the evening inspired by Escher’s work. Models wearing the creations by Aje, Bianca Spender, CAMILLA AND MARC, Carla Zampatti, LYN-AL and Romance was Born posed for photos in ethereal still-life scenarios, showcasing the notion of wearable art through dramatic silhouettes and immaculate technical precision. The art and fashion were complemented by exuberant cocktails served in the Bombay Sapphire Gin Garden, and a meticulous menu designed by acclaimed Australian chef Andrew McConnell.
As the evening drew to a close, guests sauntered from The Great Hall, awed by the expressiveness of art in its various sensory manifestations. Indeed, the Gala was a fitting celebration for one of the most innovative exhibitions of cross-cultural creative practises ever seen in Australia.
Special thanks to the National Gallery of Victoria
For more information, visit: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/escher-x-nendo-between-two-worlds/#home