NGV Triennial opens

The NGV Triennial is a large-scale exhibition of international contemporary art, design and architecture that explores some of the most globally relevant and pressing issues of our time, including isolation, representation and speculation on the future. Featuring 86 projects by more than 100 artists, designers and collectives from more than 30 countries, the NGV Triennial opens at NGV International on Saturday 19 December 2020, presenting the first opportunity for audiences to visit the reopened gallery.

Featuring works by Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia) Alicja Kwade (Germany), Cerith Wyn Evans (Wales), Dhambit Mununggurr (Australia), Faye Toogood (England), Fred Wilson (USA), Hannah Brontë (Australia), Jeff Koons (USA), Joi. T Arcand (Canada), JR (France), Kengo Kuma (Japan), Liam Young (Australia), Misaki Kawai (Japan), Patricia Urquiola (Spain), Porky Hefer (South Africa) and Refik Anadol (Turkey), the NGV Triennial includes more than 30 major new world-premiere works especially commissioned by the NGV for this exhibition.

Offering a visually arresting and thought-provoking view of the world at this unique moment, exhibition highlights include: an entire floor dedicated to works concerning light and illumination presented in dialogue with the NGV’s historical collection; a monumental video work by Refik Anadol spanning 10 metres high and wide, which uses artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and quantum computing to visualise our digitised memories of nature; and a larger-than-life mirror-polished sculpture of Venus, Roman goddess of love, by American artist Jeff Koons.

Further highlights include a comprehensive display of works by Yolngu woman Dhambit Mununggurr, the first Yolngu artist working at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre to depict Country in signature shades of acrylic blue paint. Comprising 15 large-scale single sheet bark paintings and nine larrakitj (hollow poles), some of which stand more than three metres high, the works have all been painted with the artist’s non-preferred left hand after a car accident left her with limited mobility.

Kengo Kuma, one of the most respected figures in Japanese architecture, has collaborated with Melbourne artist Geoffrey Nees to create an architectural pavilion that acts as a sensorial walkway through which to approach and contemplate a newly acquired painting by South Korean artist Lee Ufan. Botanical pavilion is constructed from timber harvested from trees that died during the Millennium Drought at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, some of which pre-date European colonisation.

Exploring the themes of daylight, candlelight and moonlight inspired by and within the context of the NGV’s seventeenth and eighteenth century Flemish, Dutch and British collections, interior designer Faye Toogood has curated several gallery spaces creating a considered salon-style interior featuring newly commissioned furniture, lighting, scenography, sculpture and large-scale tapestries.

Also making its world premiere is a work by renowned French artist JR, which brings global attention to the ecological decline of the Darling River. The work comprises a simple scaffold structure erected in the NGV Grollo Equiset Garden replete with a printed façade to house five large-scale stained-glass windows that depict orchardists who have been forced to remove and burn their families’ commercial orchards, and a senior Baakandji Elder and spokesperson for the Darling (Baaka) River. The portraits are based on photographs taken by JR when he visited the Sunraysia agricultural region of Victoria and New South Wales.

The exhibition is underpinned by four themes – Illumination, Reflection, Conservation, and Speculation – that invite audiences to embark on a journey of exploration and to discover the intersecting ideas through the works on display. The four thematic pillars have emerged from the collective work presented in the NGV Triennial, illuminating the pressing concerns that preoccupy the artists, designers and architects of our time. Drawing on intimacy and awe, sadness and beauty, ruination and inspiration, these themes present a microcosm of the current world.

Free and exclusive to Melbourne, this is the second instalment of the NGV Triennial, which is held every three years. The inaugural exhibition, held in 2017, remains the NGV’s most attended exhibition to date, with 1.23 million visitors.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria said: “The NGV Triennial offers visitors a significant opportunity to explore how we use art to express ourselves, communicate and consider the world as it is, while also asking how we would like it to be. Artists, designers and architects of the twenty-first century perform a vital role in giving form to our collective imagination, fears and aspirations. We are all living in a world in flux: there has never been a more important moment to celebrate human capability than now.”

Major commission and acquisition highlights from the NGV Triennial 2020 include:

  • Adam Nathaniel Furman (b. England) and Sibling Architecture (Australia): This new commission transforms the NGV’s Gallery Kitchen café by drawing on the design vocabulary of the boudoir, the salon and the night club. Through its flamboyant scenography and décor, the work aims to create an environment that is especially welcoming to those that may not feel comfortable or safe in the public realm.
  • Aïda Muluneh (b. Ethiopia): Drawing inspiration from the bold colours and patterns of traditional African body adornment, this work by the contemporary Ethiopian photographer is characterised by its powerful portraits of women in surreal settings.
  • Alice Potts (b. England): Potts has created a set of speculative bioplastic personal protection equipment (PPE) facemasks made from food waste and dyed using flowers she has collected in London’s parks during the COVID–19 lockdown. The work seeks to highlight the acceleration of single-use plastic for COVID–19-related PPE and highlight the need for a shift to sustainable alternatives.
  • Alicja Kwade (b. Germany): Double-sided mirrors and carefully placed, paired objects are used to achieve the optical illusion of sudden and surprising material transformations in this aesthetically beautiful and contemplative walk-through installation by one of the world’s most prominent contemporary artists.
  • Angela Tiatia (b. New Zealand): In this large-scale video work, Tiatia who is Samoan/ Australian re-imagines the Narcissus myth for the twenty-first century with a chorus of 40 actors performing various acts of self-worship, ritual, love and despair. Their shared and contrasting emotional acts serve to highlight society’s preoccupation with the ‘self’ over pressing global issues.
  • Atong Atem (b. Ethiopia): Incorporating bold colour and pattern inspired by her South Sudanese background, Melbourne-based Atem’s photographs explore the experiences of young immigrants, especially women, and the ways in which the diaspora knit together the different cultures that surround them.
  • BTVV (Switzerland and Finland): A topsy-turvy, full-sized display apartment that deliberately plays with scale in order to interrogate the architectural vocabulary ubiquitous, low-quality property development. Created by winners of the Venice Biennale of Architecture’s Golden Lion, BTVV, comprising Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg and Ani Vihervaara.
  • Cerith Wyn Evans (b. Wales): Spanning more than 10m in length, Wyn Evans’ new work, C=O=D=A 2020, is a large-scale, suspended neon light installation that offers visitors an ever-changing composition of lines and forms as they move around the work and alter their perspective.
  • Daniel Arsham (b. USA): Hidden figures 2020 comprises four human-scale sculptures that appear to be draped with a white cloth. Drawing attention to notions of representation in art history, the poses of the sculptures are drawn from the painted characters in two masterpiece paintings in the NGV Collection, Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra (1743–44) and Nicolas Régnier’s Hero and Leander (c. 1625–26).
  • Fecal Matter (Canada): Skin heel boots 2020 is a culmination of the fashion house’s interest in non-surgical forms of body modification to imagine a post-human identity. The boots comprise a hyper-realistic silicone ‘skin’ featuring exposed toes, ankles, knees and leg muscles that are counterbalanced by short sprouting horns at the heel and shin.
  • Fred Wilson (b. USA): To die upon a kiss 2011 is the second in a trilogy of Murano glass chandeliers and examines the history and presence of Africans in Venice. Through its title, which is drawn from Shakespeare’s seventeenth-century tragedy Othello, and in its gradation of colour, the work evokes themes of transformation.
  • Glenda Nicholls (b. Australia): Comprising thousands of hand-woven finger knots, this expansive net is suspended and adorned with masses of feather flowers. Representing the Murray River, the work celebrates the skills and knowledge passed down through generations of Indigenous artisans, as well as illuminating the central role of Aboriginal women in traditional fishing practices.
  • Julian Opie (b. England): Outside NGV International, more than 20 LED screens positioned along St Kilda Road depict animated birds drawn from Australian species. Opie’s unique style, inspired by hieroglyphs depicted in ancient Egyptian art, returns to the NGV following his 2018 exhibition, in this installation, commissioned by the City of Melbourne and the NGV.
  • Liam Young (b. Australia): Based on extensive research by a global think-tank of advisors and collaborators, including costume design by Ane Crabtree (The Handmaid’s Tale), Young’s Planet city 2020 is a 15-minute animated short film that depicts an alternative urban future in which the world’s population lives densely together as an antidote to the climate crisis.
  • Misaki Kawai (b. Japan): The Japanese artist presents Moja Moja Life: Misaki Kawai for Kids, an immersive environment d featuring a display of colourful, furry dog sculptures alongside a puppet studio and multimedia experience. Kawai is known for her   playful approach to making art and has created installations but good) i made from papier-mâché fabrics and craft materials.
  • Patricia Urquiola (b. Spain): The architect and designer will present her first major installation in Australia. Recycled woollen island 2020 features upcycled textile furnishings hand crafted in India in the form of humorous super-sized socks, enabling visitors to pause and reflect on the NGV’s Great Hall ceiling. Urquiola was inspired by NGV visitors taking off their shoes to lie down and gaze up at the Leonard French ceiling.
  • Pierre Mukeba (b. DRC): A refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now based in Adelaide, Mukeba’s work explores his cultural heritage and African identities through a sophisticated use of portraiture and textiles, utilising  a brush pen on unprimed cotton cloth and applying patterned wax print fabrics commonly perceived as being ‘African’.
  • Porky Hefer (b. South Africa): This major new work consists of a series of large-scale handmade environments populated with imaginary sea creatures from a dystopian future that the artist describes as “the Plastocene”. The collection, including a 14 metre-wide octopus constructed of giant hand-felted cigarette butts, draws attention to ocean pollution by imagining mutant sea creatures evolved from plastic bags, straws, and coffee cups.
  • Scotty So (b. Hong Kong): Drawing from the artist’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and SARs crisis in Hong Kong, China masks 2020 is a collection of beautifully rendered porcelain facial masks and photographic prints that highlight the ideological fragility of this piece of personal protective gear (PPE), as exemplified by the rise in anti-mask wearing sentiment.
  • Tabor Robak (b. USA): Megafauna 2020 is a new​ly commissioned work by Tabor Robak, which takes the form of an immersive installation comprising digital animations that surrounds the viewer on video screens and projections.  Glowing and cavernous, Megafauna evokes both a sacred space and a sci-fi dystopia reflecting the mythology and deity-like importance we place on AI in our present trajectory as a society
  • Tromarama (Indonesia): Featuring a neon curtain that pulses with the images of super-sized jellyfish, the work takes inspiration from the unique environment of Kakaban Lake on Kakaban Island – a ‘petri dish’ of evolution that is home to the stingless jellyfish. The work is ‘gamified’ and the ebb and flow of the depicted jellyfish is influenced in real time by the weather forecast on the Indonesian island.
  • Tomoaki Suzuki (b. Japan): Suzuki is best known for his scaled-down, full-body sculptures of individuals, carved in wood using traditional Japanese techniques. The works depict friends or acquaintances that the artist met has met in his hometown of London, offering a snapshot of contemporary and urban culture as well as modes of individual expression.

The NGV, the largest art book publisher in the southern hemisphere, has produced a large-scale and highly illustrated publication to accompany the exhibition, which features over 50 authors from around the globe presenting discourses from a variety of perspectives, including those of academics, journalists, literary figures, social commentators, artists and curators. The NGV Triennial publication comprises five removable paperback books housed within the single magnetic case. Four volumes speak to a different theme explored in Triennial, while the fifth volume acts as a dossier on NGV Triennial and will include biographies of artists and authors, and project descriptions.

The NGV will present virtual exhibition tours and programs as part of NGV Triennial associated programming.

NGV Triennial runs 19 December 2020 – 18 April 2021 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Further information is available via the NGV website

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