NGV’s show is so rare you won’t even see it at MoMA

Gina Fairley

Persuasion and patronage unlocked the doors of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and set the stage for NGV’s latest Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition.
NGV’s show is so rare you won’t even see it at MoMA

Christian Rattemeyer, The Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of Drawings and Prints, MoMA inside the MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art exhibition space at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Photo: Eugene Hyland

Christian Rattemeyer says he was not in the room when the National Gallery of Victoria’s Director, Tony Ellwood pitched the idea for an exclusive Melbourne exhibition to Glenn D. Lowry, Director of New York’s iconic Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), but notes: ‘Clearly, the NGV have a very persuasive director.’


Rattemeyer is the Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator in the Department of Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and one of the team responsible for creating the exhibition, MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, which opened in Melbourne last week.

The tailor-made NGV exhibition won’t be seen anywhere else in the world. ‘You won’t even see it at MoMA,’ added Rattemeyer. ‘The works will be reintegrated straight back into the MoMA collection, so it is a rare moment.’

Nearly half the artworks that have made their way to Melbourne have never left the museum since they were first acquired.

MoMA curator calls NGV staff ‘unflappable’

Rattemeyer described the NGV staff, who have been developing the exhibition with MoMA’s curators for the past three years, as “unflappable”, and noted that the partnership was a great meeting of collegiate minds.

Seeing MoMA at NGV unveiled this past week was an incredible experience, he added, and one that can’t be replicated by viewing reproductions of the work.

‘There are many ways you can gain knowledge about art – you can describe the theory and the history, or you can tell the story of its making – but the experience you have being in front of these actual objects, and how they sit in dialogue with other artworks – is incredibly visceral,’ said Rattemeyer. ‘That experience cannot be substituted on screens or publication or television.’

Exhibition image of MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2018 on display at NGV International from 9 June – 7 October; Photo: Tom Ross

MoMA at NGV is full of those bodily moments of connection for audiences, from the moment they enter the gallery.

‘The very first exhibition at MoMA was staged in 1929 and had four artists included – Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Seurat – and the very first wall you engage with in this exhibition at the NGV has one work by each of those artists. It is paying homage to the very beginning of MoMA, and how the Founding Director positioned these four as the patron saints, forefathers, or pillars of modern art in the 1880s,’ explained the New York curator.

Rattemeyer told ArtsHub that the exhibition ‘serves as a model for, and an argument on behalf of, the NGV’s recent decision to build NGV Contemporary, but also some of reasoning for their activity in this area of cross-discipline collecting and exhibiting for the last 90 years.’

From its foundation, MoMA aimed to break down silos in the art world, he continued. ‘This NGV exhibition has been designed to reflect that original unity that was the founding model of MoMA – and points to some of the strategic reorientations that NGV want to do.’

MoMA at NGV is currently on display at NGV International from 9 June – 7 October 2018. Tickets are available via NGV.MELBOURNE

Across the 230 works on show, Rattemeyer said that it was impossible to pick what will be the exhibition’s ‘Mona Lisa moment’, where people cluster with a kind of euphoric awe.

‘Ten curators at any one moment would give ten answers. There is a great Cezanne still life with apples on the front wall, which is truly iconic. For others it will be the conceptual masterpiece of Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel – one of the great thinkers of modern art; while for some it will be the Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory. It is only the second time that it has ever left MoMA. And then there are great works by Lichtenstein and of course Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe  – images that we are all familiar with and can see for the first time,’ he said.

Salvador Dali’s The persistence of memory 1931; oil on canvas 24.1 x 33.0 cm; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Given anonymously, 1934 © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / VEGAP, Spain. Copyright Agency, 2018

Bringing the exhibition up to the present are works by many significant 21st century artists including Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Olafur Eliasson, Andreas Gursky, El Anatsui, Rineke Dijkstra, Kara Walker, Mona Hatoum and Camille Henrot.

Rattemeyer said that curating an exhibition of this capacity and scale captures ‘the agony and the ecstasy of being a curator.’

When faced with the incredible holdings of artworks at the MoMA and tasked with creating a story of Modern art for Australian audiences, he said that you start by coming up with certain cornerstones – ‘pivots that tell the story’.

‘And then you fill in and enrich that story. It is like writing a novel - you work out plot and then fill in the detail,’ he added.

MoMA at NGV moves across eight loosely chronological thematic sections to tell that story, examining how artists at the dawn of the 20th century responded to the world around them.

‘This exhibition is very much a MoMA model, to have its collection seen and out in the world,’ concluded Rattemeyer.

MoMA at NGV is now showing at NGV International until 7 October 2018. Tickets and information are available via the NGV website: NGV.MELBOURNE

Tickets: Member $23 | Adult $28 | Concession $24.50 | Child (5–15 years) $10 | Family (2 adults + 3 children) $65.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years.

She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW, and you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.