Another Horse exhibition

We recently travelled to Melbourne, in part to see The Horse exhibition at the NGV. This exhibition holds a vast array of objects and images, displayed across three rooms and delineated loosely by theme. Ultimately, it was an exhibition featuring pretty pictures of horses, with little to no critical content.

IMG_8614

The first room of the Horse exhibition, NGV

For me, the first section, on “Myth, legend, and miracle”, was the strongest, possibly because the theme is so clearly articulated in the works. While the thematic structure here was strong, this first room also incorporated the greatest diversity of material, from the tiniest Wedgwood vase….

Tiny Wedgwood vase, c. 1880

Tiny Wedgwood vase, c. 1880

…to a 20 metre depiction of the Duke of Wellingtons funeral that ran the length of the room (for those interested Copenhagen predeceased the Duke, so the horse that is depicted in this scroll as ‘The Duke’s Horse’ is not Copenhagen).

Depiction of the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington, 1850s

Depiction of the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington, 1850s

It also included a range of religious depictions of the horse, from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to St George, and, outside the Christian canon, a variety of images from India, Iran, and Asia.

"Kalki, the tenth incarnation or avatara of Vishnu", 1830s, Tamil

“Kalki, the tenth incarnation or avatara of Vishnu”, 1830s, Tamil

The seven-headed horse of the Sun God Surya, 19th century, India

Detail, showing the seven-headed horse of the Sun God Surya, 19th century, India

Albrecht Durer, "St George slaying the dragon," c. 1500s

Albrecht Durer’s depiction of St George slaying the dragon, c. 1500s

It was good to see the horse framed as an animal of symbolic power across a number of cultures and civilisations. My head is so set within the Australian context that it’s easy to forget that we are not the only ones who worship the horse!

Objects ranging froan Iranian cheekpiece c. 700 BCE (top left) to 20th century Mexican stirrups (below, left and right)

Objects ranging from an Iranian cheekpiece c. 700 BCE (top left) to 20th century Mexican stirrups (below, left and right)

Having said this, the exhibition also included the obligatory Drizabone and Akubra. It was at around this point that I felt the show lost some of its focus, and devolved into a sequence of separate items whose only unifying theme was the horse,  which for me wasn’t enough to create cohesion.

Drizabone and Akubra

Drizabone and Akubra

However there was one highlight within this, and that was an artwork by Angelina Pwerl Ngal, which addressed the role that horses played in the dispossession of Australia’s first people. This is a significant topic and could have been addressed in greater detail, especially as the Aboriginal voice was notably absent from the section that dealt with humanity’s oldest myths and legends relating to the horse. This absence is in itself telling, and could have done with some more fleshing out.

Angelina Pwerl Ngal, "Whitefella killing blackfella", 1998

Angelina Pwerl Ngal, “Whitefella killing blackfella”, 1998

Detail

Detail from “Whitefella killing blackfella”

The Australian context featured within the latter part of the exhibition, with a heavy focus on horse racing (not surprising, given one of the sponsors is Racing Victoria, and the exhibition coincides with the Spring Racing Carnival here in Melbourne). The Melbourne Cup believed to have once been won by Phar Lap is on display, as is this gem, which I have read of and written about so often that it was lovely to see it at last:

Eric Thake, "Gallery Director, or, This Way To Phar Lap," 1954

Eric Thake, “Gallery Director, or, This Way To Phar Lap,” 1954

I was, however disappointed that “Phar Lap before the Chariot of the Sun” was not also on display! Speaking of Phar Lap, footage of the 1930 Melbourne Cup is projected upon part of one wall, and you can see the horse himself thundering down the straight and then returning to the scales. Having written about Phar Lap being divorced from his horse-ness, this was actually a marvellous sight, and I watched the three-and-a-half-minute reel play through a couple of times, wanting to see it again and again.

All of the horse-pictures! Among them is footage of the 1930 Melbourne Cup, projected onto the wall.

All of the horse-pictures! Among them is footage of the 1930 Melbourne Cup, projected onto the wall.

Ultimately, this exhibition struck me as something of a filler, not too serious, and an easy way to fill the temporary galleries for a few months. I have no doubt that it is the tip of the iceberg as far as depictions of horses in the NGV collection goes, however it could have easily been strengthened by a more focused approach to the latter sections of the exhibition, and a greater emphasis on Australia beyond the world of horse racing.

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One thought on “Another Horse exhibition

  1. Really enjoyed reading this. A thoughtful response… and terrific pics of the various exhibits. I really like ‘This way to Phar Lap’ a great comment on the adulation, and so delightfully understated.MXOXOXO

    Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2015 00:37:44 +0000 To: mimika99@hotmail.com

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