Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Julian Opie at the NGV

We often like to go to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to see their summer exhibitions.  This year the free exhibition by Julian Opie seemed a bit less exciting than in previous years.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Julian Opie was a young British artist in the 1980s and has made his mark with minimalist pictures (which I recognised from the Best of Blur album).  We met my sister and niece there a few days ago and were greeted with these electronic pictures of people running outside the gallery. 

First stop of course was the waterwall at the entrance.  I have been going there since I was a kid and still can't resist reaching out to touch the water falling down the wall.  Sylvia was straight over to it.  Unlike most visits, there were Julian Opie carp swimming down the wall.

Inside the foyer were Opie figures of people walking and also some clues as to how the fish were put on the water wall.  If you look to the left of the photo above you can see the electronic screens on the window.

Opie's work is almost cartoonish and yet there is a seriousness to it that sets it apart from many cartoons.  It is more a stripped down simplicity that represents the very basics of people or scenes he has observed.  The kids had great fun with these characters.

Walk towards the Great Hall and you will see his skyscrapers.  I didn't stop long as they had security guards here trying to check bags to see if they should direct you to the long queue at the cloakroom.  I had an extra bag with some lunch in it so I didn't want it checked in.

We took our picnic of cheeseymite scrolls and cherries into the back garden of the gallery.  Behind us was an electronic picture of a horse running.  Sylvia pointed out it was a gif.  This was one of the fastest of Opie's electronic artworks.  There were some points of view from cars going along roads but I liked the more subtle ones like water rippling in the moonlight.  Many movements were hardly such as a sigh or a blink on portraits.

We really liked these walls of black and white figures.  It was fun with the kids to talk about the figures and which they liked.  I really liked that they were all portraits of people in Melbourne.

This wall looked quite similar to the other wall but as we chatted to a security guard he pointed out that all these people were at the beach.

I think these walls of figures were more impressive in the museum than in a photo.  As you can see with my niece in the photo above, the figures are pretty much lifesize so we could see much more detail in the gallery.

This is another Walking in Melbourne picture that I liked.  Then we missed a room as we were running after the kids.

In the next room were some large portraits. 

Then we went around the corner to the Julian Opie Kids Studio.  Let me tell you a secret.  I think it is called the Kids Studio to keep the numbers down but I think it was equally attractive to the adults.

Firstly there was a little felt station with lots of felt parts you could use to make a face or a picture.

But the main attraction was the photo drawing software.  So you could take a photo, draw a line around your face and hair.  Then the photo was removed from behind and you were left with a simple line drawing and then added colours.  It was brilliant.  This is a photo of Sylvia and I doing a double portrait.  I showed a friend today who said it did not look like us at all.  (I really don't look that pretty and Sylvia looks prettier!)  But the general outlines are there.

I think it would be great fun to watch everyone else doing it but it seemed a bit private.  My niece did one with my sister and insisted of adding a unicorn horn to her picture.  Such a cutie!  Some of the kids pictures were hilarious.  It is not as easy as it looks.  We had to redo our lines many times to get it looking ok.  I could have sat there for ages doing these pictures.  (There is a note to ask people to only do one portrait during busy times.)

Then we headed outside to get an ice cream.  Old English toffee.  And can you see the horse running behind the ice cream. 

It is really worth going out the back for some of the best parts of the exhibition.  We loved these birds.  My sister said they were her favourite sort of birds.  They pecked at the ground in their little electronic boxes but did not fly anywhere near her and were not bothered if we ate nearby!

We also loved the sheep in the garden with the skypscrapers behind them.  Kids loved climbing on them and this was a rare moment when it was not crowded.

Then we found the place I had read about and given up seeing.  Apparently Julian Opie did a version in his own style of the famous Mannekin Pis (translated at Little Pisser) in the Brussels fountain.  I had expected to see it out the front of the gallery in the fountains.  However it is hidden away in a corner of the back garden, perhaps so as not to shock those Melburnians with a delicate sensibility!!!

We found it very amusing.  It was a good end to a fun gallery visit.  If you are looking for some free fun over the summer / school holidays, I highly recommend Julian Opie at the NGV.

Julian Opie at the NGV
NGV, St Kilda Road
Free entry
9 Nov 2018 – 17 Feb 2019
Open 10am–5pm daily


  1. I love exhibitions with a sense of fun and this looks like it has bag of it. The mannekin pis made me laugh and the drawing software looks like such a good way to spend some time in the exhibition. Could you print them out afterwards? I'd be upset if I couldn't take the pic home!

    1. Thanks Joey - you could email the pictures to your address - but I thought it was interesting to share the photo to show the software.

  2. I ashamed to say that I have not been to a museum or art gallery for years, I used to go lots when I lived in Scotland. I do love public art and enjoyed your photographs. Its a shame the photo drawing software did not even depict a likeness of either of you or Sylvia, still a bit of fun I guess.

    1. Thanks Shaheen - I am surprised to hear you don't go to museums or art galleries. I know how quickly the time can go between visits. When we went to the museum at christmas I couldn't remember how many years since my last visit. You seem to do lots of interesting stuff anyway. And the photo software is meant to be an impression rather than a likeness - I really liked it. It did have the shapes right!

  3. Wow, I like the look of that exhibition. Now I know what the waterwall figures are about. Love the horse in particular.

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - love that Julian opie was able to have fun with the waterwall!


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