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The Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art at NGV

Home > Melbourne > Galleries | Free | Exhibitions | Cultural Events | Art
by Peter Dewar (subscribe)
Businessman and writer. Peter nurtures a special interest in Korea and Japan.
Published April 5th 2013
I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so
It seemed to take forever. Finally, in October 2012 - to the applause of Japanese art lovers - the NGV opened their dedicated Japanese Gallery, the most important collection of Japanese art in Australia.

NGV Entrance
Touch the NGV wall and get into the mood.


After finishing with the water wall and inside the NGV, the escalators take you to level one. To get to the Japanese gallery, you'll need to resist the temptation of the Tea Room and avoid getting lost in the Asian Gallery. Stroll past the Chinese and South East Asian display and you've arrived.

It's worth travelling halfway round the globe.

An authentic cultural experience
Although there has been a long-standing, 150 year-old cultural connection between the NGV and Japan, it's only now that Japanese art has been given a space of its own thanks to the generosity of some well-heeled benefactors.

And it's not just any space. NGV pulled out all stops to provide an authentic Japanese experience rather than a bamboo filled, cliche-driven imitation.

You can feel it as you walk in. The first thing you see is a lacquered wooden replica of a Noble lady's carriage. It's a stunning piece that stops you in your tracks as if to say, "Slow down, you're stepping into Japan". Deeper into the gallery, if you stand and pay attention, there's an unmistakable feeling of stillness.

Statue of Buddha
Early Japanese statue of Buddha.


Japan fans recognise this as the defining feature of Japanese style - a collision of precision and beauty - hi-octane Zen. The interior designers incorporated a subtle use of timber, screening and height to play with light and space and create an authentic cultural experience.

Art aficionados will want to see the tea ceremony display and notice the exact traditional positioning of utensils. The rest of us might want to head down to the back of the gallery for a look at the drawings by Katsushika Hokusai. These delightful sketches of every day, seventeenth century Japanese life are the forerunners to Manga.

Early Manga
Hokusai's books of the first Manga.


Another standout is the outspread Noh theatre robe hanging in the centre of the floor, refusing to go unnoticed.

Noh Theatre display
Noh theatre robe - look at me.


The curator
The curator - Wayne Crothers - is an Aussie who, as a young adult, fell in love with Japanese wood-block prints, Ukiyo-e. You may recall the Great Wave, the Mona Lisa of Japanese art, you've seen in any number of Japanese restaurants.

Wayne spent twenty years in Japan as an academic. Not too long ago, he joined the NGV with the advantage of bridging two cultures and had this to say when asked about how visitors should approach the exhibition. 'With an open mind ... expecting to get a fresh perspective of Japanese culture.'

He's right, with a patient attitude and curious eyes, new things are to be discovered each visit.

Wayne's headaches didn't finish with the opening of the gallery. Many of the pieces are light-sensitive and will be taken from display in a matter of months. This is where Wayne comes in handy; his bonds to Japan enable him to source unique pieces. It's a process that can take years.

While I'm no art devotee, I'll confess to an affliction for Japanese style. There's times, in need of a Japanese fix, I've been known to head to the Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art.

And after twenty minutes or so, I return to the world a little more settled.

To learn more about Japanese Art:

NGV have sent all Victorian Schools a comprehensive education kit on Asian art, which includes a teacher's guide and DVD.
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Why? The most important Japanese art collection in Australia
Phone: (03) 8620 2222
Where: 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank
Cost: Free entry
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