Camembert and Synergy: an outsider’s impression of the QAG’s Up Late gig

Queensland Art Gallery

Friday July 31st

The Art Gallery’s idea for joining the visual arts with live music has lots of potential for drawing in new crowds and cross-fertilising others, but the mechanics still need work.

The exhibition is mostly drawn from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection with some Australian artists rounding out the display, and the performers on the night were the magnificent Dave Graney and Kim Salmon.

As I understand it* Impressionism ekes from an actual image the essence of the movement, vibrancy and moment.  By manipulating colour, light, perspective and motion of a still life, the artists take away the life and leave the stillness behind.

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+

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= Impressionism

In the landscapes and cityscapes, this style reached straight into my internal thermostat, tweaking it down with the European frosts, while the heat from the Australian bush beat out from the canvasses despite the chilly night outside.

Images from Australia’s past, usually glimpsed in funereal sepia, came to life in rioting colours and motion – the unfinished arc of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the lost street cars of Brisbane and beach scenes from 1940s Coogee became real in a way that realism fails to convey.

Small, sad but beautiful European towns missing all signs of life and movement except for the trees and waterways, seemed to be waiting for the next war to come rolling across the hills.

To give all the impression of the author you need, one of the paintings featured some Greek ruins which perfectly mimicked an Imperial Walker from Star Wars (albeit with a sandstone veneer).  I immediately shared this with the friend I was there with, thus gleefully ruining the picture for him too.

The rooms of portraiture concentrated on personalities and character traits over exact features.  You feel you could recognise these people in conversation, but not be able to pick them out of a line-up.  Some of the characters depicted are frankly, a bit creepy, even half a century later (I’m talking about you Catweazle-looking guy whose eyes followed the little girl around the gallery).

Most of the patrons abandoned the paintings as soon as the music began, but unfortunately didn’t abandon their conversations.

The QAG has added a small stage in the middle of the reflecting pool that takes up most of the floor space of the main hall with only a narrow walkway adjoining it.  But the three inch deep moat couldn’t protect the musicians from the bombardment of chatter from the crowd at the shoreline.  And the stripped-down acoustic sets didn’t provide enough volume to quite drown them out.

At an event mixing visual art and music some people came not to see or head but to talk.  I half-expected Kim and Dave to pull up their gangplank and sail off in a huff.

The marriage between the two different crowds being attempted by the QAG here demands a more stringent pre-nuptial agreement for the good of us kiddies – the audience.

Either you let the musicians play louder, or you ruthlessly enforce some manner of “shut the hell up” policy amongst the crowd.  I think dangling one of them into the pond by their spats until they’ve drowned should do it, but if a second one needed to be offed, I’d be fine with that, too.

That being said, if you could tune out the sound of a few score people chanting “camembert and synergy” to each other in an ecstatic frenzy, the music was great.

Dave Graney had the persona of the better class of raconteur you might find telling lies in the front room of a pub, interspersing them with pared back songs from his more recent albums and a couple of covers.  Kim Salmon kicked off his set with “Come On Spring” that had me bolting out of the second last room of the exhibit before I could finish the rounds.

All in all, I’d rate it a success but despite the melding of a concert I’d want to go to and an exhibit I’d feel slightly bad for not getting out to see, I’d say the result was more like art + a bit of music or music + some art, rather than the hoped for multiplication of the two.

I’m not sure how you take the wind out of some of the gasbags who might show up in the future, but I think handing out mandatory flannelet shirts when people check their coats might be a workable solution.

I got a spare wristband to the event from Jody Macgregor, who writes this kind of stuff for a living, and wrote a review with the benefit of editing and talent here.

* very little.

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