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Love, Loss & Intimacy

I finally got around to seeing the Love, Loss & Intimacy exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria last weekend. Yes, it’s been open since February and it closes soon, but whatever. It was the title that both drew me towards it and made me think I should stay away. Love, loss, intimacy- the three things I’m most preoccupied with, but isn’t everyone? When love is the one thing that can cause the most happiness, and, as anyone who has been as badly scarred by a lost relationship as I have knows, the most debilitating despair, of course it’s going to be a rich subject for art.

Love, Loss & Intimacy brings together a selection of drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures from the NGV collection, moving fluidly from 17th and 18th century European works to those of contemporary Australian artists like Albert Tucker and Joy Hester. The common thread is this idea that the drawn line can express the intricate layers of the deep, intimate bond that occurs between an artist and their subject. The marketing material for the exhibition sums it up better than I can: ‘Mothers and lovers, sons and muses – the exhibition explores how the human emotions of desire, grief and affection tie the observer to the observed.’

It’s gorgeously curated, with soft mauve and dusky pink walls, and each image displayed in a simple, delicate gold frame. The theme of romance, even for someone as currently bitter and cynical as I am, is poignant without becoming maudlin. Edvard Munch’s The Kiss IV (pictured), for example, captures a moment of pure joy and passion, letting us witness an intimate portrait of unbridled desire. And then there are the more tender tributes, like Rembrandt’s fluid etchings of his mother, father and wife.

There are lots of famous names in the exhibition- like Munch, Rembrandt, and Picasso- but it also shows an intimate glimpse of lesser-known Australian artists. The work of Joy Hester, for example, is presented alongside a fascinating history of her relationship with Albert Tucker and Gray Smith, adding new layers to the passion and intensity of her lines.

There’s a sort of quiet, subdued feel to the whole exhibition that I kind of like. It’s no blockbuster- there are no flashing lights or melting clocks or any show-off tactics. It’s just a collection of relatively small images, hanging patiently on the warmly-coloured walls. But there is something intriguing and- for lack of a better word- sweet about it, so that whether you’re madly in love or horribly heartbroken or somewhere in between, you’ll probably find something in there that touches you.

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