NGV TRIENNIAL: DOWNTIME
Words: Glenn Adamson
Photography: Philip Sinden
Daylight, Candlelight, Moonlight
Light and dark. Time’s passage. Still life – and life, stilled. These are the evocative themes of Faye Toogood’s re-imagining of the NGV’s 17th and 18th century galleries, devoted to Flemish, Dutch and British art. Toogood plunges us deep into a period sensibility – which witnessed the birth of capitalism and the emergence of the “enlightenment” – using her own cutting-edge designs as a connecting device to the past. A curated selection of recent works from her studio is presented alongside artworks from the museum collections, in three discrete spaces alluding to the domestic interiors of the period. Like the acts of a play, they take us on a psychological and narrative journey, one in which objects themselves are the leading players.
The first space, on the theme of Daylight, presents an impression of clarity: landscape paintings in which the world is laid out to view, as well as historic glassware, juxtaposed to Toogood’s crystalline furniture. A custom-designed monumental tapestry sets the scene, with forms tumbling against a grand backdrop of land and sky.
Candlelight, the second thematic space, is the most ambitious of the three interiors while also remaining intimate in feeling. Wall drawings in tones of gray and ochre establish a Surrealist architectural environment, quickly sketched, as if in a dream state. Monumental Family Busts, conceived at the vertiginous meeting point of abstraction and figuration, occupy center stage. Executed in sketching materials such as cardboard, wire and calico, these are possessed of tremendous speed and immediacy, like thoughts captured in the act of their formation. Chiaroscuro lighting effects play off the surfaces of these powerful sculptures, projecting the sensibility of period portraits by Rembrandt and other Old Master painters, many of which line the room.
The third and final space – Moonlight – brings the experience to a luminous and reflective close. An oversized lamp, based on a quickly made masking tape maquette, fills the room with its warm glow. A second tapestry, pendant to the one in the Daylight space, acts as a saturnine backdrop to a collection of historic silver, furniture, and works on paper.
As its title suggests, Downtime also offers an opportunity for relaxation and the discovery of new ideas: public lectures in the Daylight gallery, informal discussions held in Candlelight, and illuminating debates staged in Moonlight. These moments of exchange the ancient description of poetry’s dual purpose - “either to please or to educate.”
Glenn Adamson is a curator and writer who works at the intersection of craft, design history and contemporary art. Currently Senior Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art, he has previously been Director of the Museum of Arts and Design; Head of Research at the V&A; and Curator at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee.
He is the host of Design in Dialogue, a triweekly online interview series co-presented with Friedman Benda gallery.
Downtime is open at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. December 19 2020 - April 18, 2021.