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If you’re pussy-footing around GOMA these holidays, keep an eye out for a cat

Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art has teamed up two of Australia’s leading artists for their winter blockbuster which includes kids activities, making the exhibitions attractive during the school holidays, writes Phil Brown

Jun 27, 2023, updated Jun 27, 2023
A vast wall mural by Michael Zavros, towering above you at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), is a feature of a new Blockbuster exhibit at the gallery. (Image: Supplied)

A vast wall mural by Michael Zavros, towering above you at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), is a feature of a new Blockbuster exhibit at the gallery. (Image: Supplied)

While you are marveling at the splendor of the vast wall mural by Michael Zavros towering above you at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), keep your eye out for a cat.

It’s a kind of Where’s Wally moment – the celebrated Brisbane artist has rendered an amazing vision of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis (sans a few things purloined by a certain Lord Elgin) and has added the family cat. It’s a Burmese by the name of Mars, a suitably mythological name although admittedly Mars is the Roman God of War rather than Greek.

“There are cats around the Parthenon but they are probably not Burmese,” Zavros explains with the mural rising behind him, a mural entitled, cheekily, Acropolis Now. I missed Mars on my first viewing but once Zavros revealed to me his little secret personal motif I went back and found it. I won’t say where though. That’s for you to find out.

It’s a nice familial touch and one thing I love about Zavros’s work is that he brings the whole family into it, especially his children. He and his wife Alison Kubler, a respected editor and curator, are parents to Phoebe, Olympia and Leo. Zavros is well known through his exhibitions at Philip Bacon Galleries.

His most famous work featuring one of his children is the classic Phoebe is dead/McQueen which won him the $150,000 Moran Prize. That work encapsulates two of his major themes – fashion and mortality. It seemed a tad confronting at the time and it features in Michael Zavros: The Favourite, the largest state gallery exhibition of his work to date tracing his artistic trajectory since 1999.

The exhibition is on at GOMA until October 2 running alongside another major show, eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness, a selection of more than 100 works by the celebrated Canberra artist and tattooist who is no stranger to Queensland art lovers.

The two shows are separated by GOMA’s long gallery which features the Zavros mural on one wall, cat included, and another by Ex de Medici on the other, hers being a little more confronting and involving firearms. Exploring violence by humans is one of her themes after all.

In launching the exhibition Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch pledged that QAGOMA would get an extra $2.2 million per annum from 2025 – 2026 to keep the blockbusters running.

Blockbuster funding has enabled QAGOMA to present exclusive exhibitions like the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art and recent blockbusters including The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire and European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Air.

I would have preferred to have them pledge more so that we didn’t have to pay to see these exhibitions but I am perhaps being unrealistic. And admission to see these two is only $16 or $14 concession so it’s not too onerous. And I can say it’s worth it. Two for the price of one?

Having covered Michael Zavros’s career since its inception I have an abiding admiration for his work and his work ethic. His stunning portraits (one of Dame Quentin Bryce sits in the collection of the National Portrait gallery in Canberra), his fashion plates, his exploration of the world of luxury and its relation to aspiration and mortality have always resonated.

In his introduction to the catalogue for The Favourite, QAGOMA director Chris Saines talks about the artist’s “unapologetic yet knowing love of beauty”.

Saines also refers to Zavro’s public life which tends to “amplify the mystique of how his life intersects with his art”. Which brings me back to family, something that is of paramount importance. That’s part of his Greek heritage and that heritage runs deeply throughout his oeuvre.

One of my favoruite of his works featuring his children is a painting of his son Leo as a centaur. Zavros explores the artistic selfie and fatherhood in classic works such as Bad Dad, the artist gazing at his own reflection while floating on an inflatable in a swimming pool. In Narcissus (Greek mythology is a recurring reference point) he is admiring his own reflection in the gleaming bonnet of a Mercedes.

There is humour and irony in such works. There are more than 90 pieces in this shows which begins with a series of early paintings including Man in a wool suit painted in 1999 and Ferragamo painted in 2000, exquisite miniatures inspired by luxury advertisements in men’s magazines.

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The exhibition also includes his dramatic equestrian series of paintings drawings and sculptures which show the power and vulnerability of thoroughbred horses. Zarvos is a talented equestrian himself and a horse owner.

The there are those family works including a video of Zavros working in his studio with daughter Phoebe dancing around beside him.

EX de Medici’s show couldn’t be more different and yet somehow the two artists dovetail nicely. Both are meticulous and hard working and they explore serious themes with Medici perhaps a little less subtle.

She wears her heart and political views on her sleeve and in her work.

She explores the value and fragility of life, global affairs, greed and commerce and the universal themes of power, conflict and death. She’s an avowed environmentalist and activist and while her often large-scale watercolors seduce the viewer with their beauty once you get close up, they reveal themselves as quite confronting.

“Her artworks conceal surreptitious yet razor sharp barbs among lush arrangements of historical and contemporary emblems of excess,” according to Chris Saines. This exhibition was curated by QAGOMA’s Samantha Littley while the Zarbvos show was curated by Peter McKay and both exhibitions look stunning.

QAGOMA’s design team do amazing work. And if you want to make a visit a family affair this school holidays both artists have developed a free program of hands-on artmaking and online interactives for the Gallery’s Children’s Art Centre

 

Michael Zavros: The Favourite and eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness, until October 2, Gallery of Modern Art, Stanley Place, South Brisbane

qagoma.qld.gov.au

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