Before discussing amazing art from around the world, I want to introduce TravelMustard. It’s a travel planner I use and have used really regularly to organise and plan my trips. Visit them at www.travelmustard.com.
Great works of art should move you – and not only in a metaphoric sense. Sometimes they prompt us to travel, too, to seek out the very place that so inspired the artist. With that thought in mind, Traveller asked seven Australian gallery and museum directors and curators about their favourite works of art that showcase a particular place, why the works speak to them so strongly and to share their advice on what they, as a traveller, love to do there.
Brendan Nelson, for instance, is a frequent traveller to the battlefields of Belgium. The former politician, who became director of the Australian War Memorial in 2012, chose a painting that acted as a surrogate headstone for bereaved Australians in the interwar years. He shares his favourite hotel near the Menin Gate – and which Belgian beer is his favourite.
From Brisbane comes a story about a much-loved painting of a jacaranda tree while others unpack their connection to works depicting Spain, Tasmania, Paris, New York City and America’s stark desert landscapes. Great art, it turns out, sometimes imitates life – and quite often stimulates great travels.
Ted Gott, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne.
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, morning, cloudy weather (1897)
I LOVE IT BECAUSE it just captures the magic of Paris and the way that, after the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870s, the boulevards became the theatre of modern life in Paris. An incredible cafe culture grew up in the wake of the war. The area is still full of jumping restaurants, bars and great shops.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS on the border of the 2nd and the 9th arrondissement in Paris. It’s a boulevard that was built in the 18th century. The streetscape has the classic six-storey buildings with mansard roofs – nothing has changed.
I WENT THERE IN 1982 for the first time – I now often stay in this part of Paris.
IF YOU VISIT THIS PART OF PARIS, YOU REALLY MUST drop in to Galeries Lafayette (galerieslafayette.com). It’s fantasyland. It’s one of the great department stores of Paris and the food hall is out of this world. You might also pass one of my favourite shops – I’m a bit of a piggy, I’m afraid – and that is Comtesse du Barry (english.comtessedubarry.com). They’ve got stores all over Paris but this is one of their biggest. They sell dozens of varieties of tinned pate, foie gras and terrines. You can buy these little tins for a couple of euros and take them back to your hotel if you want a picnic. There are also two wonderful arcades near the Grands Boulevards Metro stop. Passage des Panoramas (en.parisinfo.com) is one of the first covered shopping malls in Europe.
It’s a funky little place full of shops selling stamps, antique photographs and postcards. Passage Jouffroy (en.parisinfo.com) is also absolutely beautiful – it’s made entirely of glass and steel and it’s just exquisite.
On Rue Bergere, Les Diables au Thym (lesdiablesauthym.com) serves the most fantastic regional French food. Here’s what I would order – duck foie gras cooked in a terrine, with walnut and gizzard cake. One mouthful of gizzard tastes like an entire chicken distilled into that mouthful.
For dessert at this place once, I had camembert baked in calvados with crusty bread – that was to die for. My favourite chocolate shop is A la Mere de Famille (lameredefamille.com, branch at 35 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre). I normally buy The Squirrel’s Madness – it’s shaped like a nut but it’s a soft chocolate fondant coated in dusty chocolate like a truffle.
THE DETAILS See Pissarro’s painting at the NGV (ngv.vic.gov.au). In Paris, exit the metro at Grands Boulevards to explore Boulevard Montmartre. Stay at the TRYP by Wyndham Paris Opera (tryphotels.com) or, a little further away, the funkier Art Deco-style Les Jardins du Marais where rooms are wrapped around a central garden (lesjardinsdumarais.com).
Kyla McFarlane, Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane.
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS R. Godfrey Rivers’ Under the jacaranda (1903)
I LOVE IT BECAUSE people come and put jacaranda petals underneath it during the season [jacaranda trees reach peak bloom in Brisbane in October]. It’s totally central to the gallery and it gave me a fresh understanding when spring came around in Brisbane – it was all about the jacarandas. The whole place just blooms. It’s really brief and then the wind comes and all the flowers get blown off, which is really beautiful as well. Jacarandas are one of the few examples of seasonal change in Brisbane so this painting has helped me understand the city. This is one of the most loved paintings in the gallery. It’s got a delight to it that’s outside the work and inside the work as well.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha and what’s said to be the first jacaranda planted in Australia [the tree succumbed to a cyclone in 1979].
I MOVED TO BRISBANE IN 2015 from Melbourne. Because I moved here so recently, I have a fresh relationship with the city.
IF YOU VISIT BRISBANE, YOU REALLY MUST see New Farm Park, which is full of jacarandas. You can put together a picnic from the New Farm Deli (newfarmdeli.com.au). Across the road from the gallery is Julius Pizzeria (juliuspizzeria.com.au) – a really great pizza and pasta place – and next door to that is Gauge (gaugebrisbane.com.au), which serves more experimental Australian food.
For coffee, I like Sourced Grocer (sourcedgrocer.com.au) in Teneriffe and John Mills Himself (johnmillshimself.com.au), which is a stand-up coffee place that’s unexpected and small. It does cocktails as well so it’s a good place for a drink.
Drop in to the Institute of Modern Art (ima.org.au) – it’s a contemporary art space that’s been around for a long time. Avid Reader (193 Boundary Street, West End, avidreader.com.au) is a really smart bookshop – it’s an interesting place to hang out.
THE DETAILS See Rivers’s painting at the Queensland Art Gallery (qagoma.qld.gov.au) at South Bank, across the river from Brisbane’s CBD. Stay at ibis Styles Brisbane Elizabeth Street (accorhotels.com).
Brendan Nelson, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS Will Longstaff’s Menin Gate at midnight (1927)
I LOVE IT BECAUSE it’s a painting that gave a sense of meaning where there wasn’t any. [When I look at it] I feel very emotional. I see and feel immense grief and bereavement.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS Ypres in Belgium. In the First World War, there were three great battles including Passchendaele – a series of battles over three months in Flanders in Belgium around the city of Ypres [now known as Ieper]. At the end of the First World War, the British were grappling with this issue of how to recognise those who were killed and missing, and had no known grave.
They decided to build this magnificent stone arch over the medieval wall around Ypres. Inside and all around it are inscribed the names of nearly 55,000 missing British and Commonwealth soldiers [including more than 6000 Australians]. They had the official opening on July 24, 1927 – among the throng of humanity that was there that day was William Longstaff. He can’t sleep so at midnight he goes back and stands under the gate and has this sense that the ghosts of the fallen are with him.
He went back to London and in a single sitting painted this painting. It came to Australia in 1928 and toured Australia for about 18 months. Our population was 6 million people – 1 million people went and saw the painting. The reason for that is this was the closest they would ever get to the dead and lost husband, son, brother, father. The painting became the surrogate memorial and the surrogate headstone.
I FIRST WENT THERE IN 2006 when I was the federal minister for defence. The next occasion was in 2010 when I was ambassador [to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO]. I’ve now visited the Menin Gate more than 80 times.
IF YOU VISIT YPRES/IEPER, YOU REALLY MUST attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, which is at 8pm every night. You can take a wreath that you buy at one of the florists in Ypres. Just identify yourself as wanting to lay a wreath to one of the officials at the ceremony and they will put you in the area to do that. It’s best to get there around 7pm.
[Another thing to do is to] get up reasonably early and, as you approach the Menin Gate, turn right and walk along the medieval wall. After about 900 metres, you will come to the most beautiful cemetery that’s right on the water’s edge of the moat called the Ramparts Cemetery.
The other place I would go to is Polygon Wood – the Australians had a victory there in 1917 – and there’s a beautiful cemetery there. I would also go to Tyne Cot Cemetery – it’s the largest Commonwealth war grave cemetery in the world and has a very good interpretive centre. In Zonnebeke there’s the Passchendaele museum (passchendaele.be) – there’s a significant Australian component there about how Australians lived underground for three months in the dreadful winter of 1917.
[In Ieper], there are also lots of great restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops – and lots of Belgian beers to drink. My favourite is Tripel Karmeliet. My favourite place to stay is the Ariane Hotel (ariane.be) – terrific little hotel, food’s good, warm hospitality. It’s a 10-minute walk to the Menin Gate from there.
THE DETAILS See Longstaff’s painting on the mezzanine floor of Anzac Hall, Australian War Memorial (awm.gov.au), Canberra. Ieper is about a 90-minute drive from Brussels.
Bree Pickering, Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), NSW
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS Anna Kristensen’s Desert Window (2014)
I LOVE IT BECAUSE the artist works in a photo-realist style but at the same time uses techniques that destabilise that.
WHAT IT DEPICTS IS a woman looking out a window onto a sagebrush desert landscape in the United States – it’s a landscape that’s very particular to the west. That landscape houses an artwork that I always wanted to visit.
I WENT TO UTAH IN 2015 to see a piece of land art at the Great Salt Lake – Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. It’s just around the top of the lake from Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty – Nancy and Robert were partners. Nancy purchased the land so you’re welcome to camp there, which we did.
The work is in this crazy desert landscape, which is reflected in Anna’s painting. Sun Tunnels is an extraordinary work that captures this landscape that’s almost incomprehensible. You’re out there with these four giant concrete tunnels that have constellations of the sky drilled into them. Spiral Jetty is incredible as well.
IF YOU VISIT UTAH, YOU REALLY MUST do this mini art trip around the top of the lake, which is very salty and glows pink. You can drive around the lake in one day but I’d say camp – you can hire camping gear in Salt Lake City. Near the salt flats is Antelope Island State Park (stateparks.utah.gov), which has bison on it.
You can also swim in the salt lake, which we did. It’s filled with these tiny brine shrimp and it stinks, because they rot, but you’re incredibly buoyant in there. There’s also this very strange, austere town called Wendover [on the Nevada border]. For food in that area, you can expect to eat American-style diner food. There is a really good diner called the Salt Flats Cafe, which is ma and pa Mexican-American food (85 East Skyhawk Drive, Wendover).
THE DETAILS See Kristensen’s painting at The Commercial Gallery (thecommercialgallery.com) in Redfern, Sydney. Flights from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City take less than two hours (delta.com). From Salt Lake City, hire a car to drive to the Great Salt Lake (utah.com).
Justin Paton, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS Philip Guston’s East Tenth (1977)
I LOVE IT BECAUSE it’s a strange and epic painting by one of the greatest painters of the 20th century. He’s one of the great artists’ artists – his influence on contemporary art just gets larger and larger. This is a wonderful city painting – it evokes the gritty underside of city living. He’s a great painter of the colour red – the red that pumps through his work is evocative of blood pumping through a body.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS East 10th – a street in Manhattan, New York City.
I WENT THERE IN 2015 to the area depicted in the painting. I love the painting so much I walked there from midtown. You can walk along the river’s edge and it’s quieter than many parts of the city. It’s an unglamorous and in some ways quite ordinary – yet storied and rich – part of the city. To walk through those streets with Guston’s painting in your mind, it’s a reminder of the lives of struggle and pathos that were lived there too.
IF YOU VISIT MANHATTAN, YOU REALLY MUST visit the New Museum (newmuseum.org) – a wonderful contemporary art gallery that was designed by SANAA – the Japanese architects who are designing Sydney Modern [a new wing at the Art Gallery of NSW].
There are new dealer galleries that dot the terrain between East 10th and the Bowery – Nicelle Beauchene (nicellebeauchene.com) and Rachel Uffner (racheluffnergallery.com) are wonderful galleries. A stalwart cafe is Cafe Habana (cafehabana.com) – you can buy a grilled corn cob there.
If you love painting as a one-on-one encounter, then it’s essential to visit the Frick (frick.org). It’s an intimate experience that won’t exhaust you. There are a relatively small number of paintings and you’re invited to get up close and personal with every single one of them. It’s an art oasis in the middle of Manhattan.
THE DETAILS Guston’s painting will be part of the Something livingexhibition at the AGNSW (artgallery.nsw.gov.au) from August 19, 2017-February 11, 2018. In Manhattan, stroll to East 10th from The Standard, High Line (standardhotels.com).
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney.
MY FAVOURITE ARTWORK FEATURING A PLACE IS Joan Ross’s video animation Colonial Grab (2014).
I LOVE IT BECAUSE her animations are hugely visually engaging but they also deal with very serious subject matter. I love Colonial Grab because it has all her signatures in it – the woman in the 18th-century garb with the big fancy hat and the long dress as you would imagine in an English landscape but here made fluoro to emphasise how out of place this character really is within an Australian context.
As the video goes on, you see her playing with a slot machine and essentially winning the jackpot, which is to take over this land, which is a beautiful landscape in Tasmania. Ross calls on that colonial landscape tradition of someone like John Glover who painted those beautiful landscapes from a Western perspective.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS Tasmania.
I WENT THERE IN 2002 and have since been about every 18 months.
IF YOU VISIT TASMANIA, YOU REALLY MUST explore Hobart, which is now pretty groovy. The food culture has completely transformed it – Templo (templo.com.au) is terrific – and there’s the whole thing around MONA (mona.net.au). To arrive there by ferry is such fun. I also love the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (tmag.tas.gov.au) for the weird and the wonderful. One of my favourite places is up on the Freycinet Peninsula – I stayed at Saffire (saffire-freycinet.com.au) and it was absolutely amazing. The views, the landscape, the drive up from Hobart – it’s very special.
THE DETAILS See Ross’ video at the Museum of Contemporary Art (mca.com.au), Circular Quay. In Tasmania, stay at MACq 01 (macq01.com.au) on the Hobart waterfront or at Pumphouse Point (pumphousepoint.com.au) at Lake St Clair.
Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Canberra.
MY FAVOURITE PAINTING FEATURING A PLACE IS Joan Miro’s Paysage (Landscape) (1927).
I LOVE IT BECAUSE surrealism hits a number of buttons for me. In this particular case, it’s the austerity of the painting. He’s done something really dramatic. You get a sense of it being a landscape with very few signals of landscapes.
The blue and the red suggest sky and earth – the soil in this part of the world is renowned for its red colour – but it’s also a very personal image. Miro’s family had a second home in Montroig and he often retreated to that. There’s an almost flag-like quality to this work. There’s also a rather intriguing, balloon-like cloud – he refers to it sometimes as a flower – but he also wants the interpretation of the work to be fairly open-ended. It’s a work of art that allows the imagination a great deal of freedom.
THE PLACE IT DEPICTS IS Montroig, south of Barcelona in Spain.
I WENT TO SPAIN IN 2008 when I was living in southern France.
IF YOU VISIT THIS PART OF SPAIN, YOU REALLY MUST head to the Miro Foundation (fmirobcn.org) in Barcelona – that’s fantastic and they do wonderful exhibitions as well. There’s also Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia [another Gaudi work, Casa Vicens (casavicens.org), will open to the public as a new museum in October].
[If you’re driving, you’ll discover that] the roadhouses are chock-a-block with the most exquisite cheeses and salamis and other wonderful things. You can also explore the beaches [of the Costa Brava] and the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres (salvador-dali.org).
OUR PANEL CHOOSE FIVE SCULPTURES IN SPECTACULAR PLACES
TE TUHIRANGI CONTOUR, KAIPARA, NEW ZEALAND
Gibbs Farm, located at Kaipara Harbour, North Island, New Zealand, is an incredible North Island landscape across which curves this colossal, serpentine wall of rusted steel. The surface of Richard Serra’s Te Tuhirangi Contour provides the most amazing contrast to the rolling green countryside. See gibbsfarm.org.nz JP
THE KROLLER-MULLER MUSEUM, THE NETHERLANDS
The Kroller-Muller Museum, 100 kilometres from Amsterdam, features a sculpture garden where you can get bicycles and ride around the 160 sculptures. It was originally a private institution but then the property was given to the Netherlands. My colleague has done it and I’ve explored it in-depth remotely – it’s on my wish list. See krollermuller.nl LW
KENTUCKY VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL, FRANKFORT, US
The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Frankfort, the state capital, honours the 125,000 Kentuckians who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975. The memorial is a unique design where a sundial’s shadow touches each man’s name on the date of his death with 1103 Kentuckians killed in Vietnam. See kyvietnammemorial.net BN
THE LIGHTHOUSE, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
I love the comedy of Michael Parekowhai’s The Lighthouse – this little suburban weatherboard house – sitting at the bottom of Queen Street [on the wharf] in Auckland. If you look inside, there’s a statue of Captain Cook. The Art Gallery of NSW has acquired the Australian version of that sculpture and ours looks out over the harbour and Woolloomooloo. See aucklandcouncil.govt.nz JP
ANGEL OF THE NORTH, GATESHEAD, ENGLAND
My favourite is Antony Gormley’s piece, Angel of the North, which you can see from the train on the way from London to Scotland. It’s one of these pieces that was highly criticised when they first talked about it. Then Gormley worked with people who’d worked in the shipyards and got them to help him make it. It became this extraordinary moment of transformation for a community that had suffered from the end of shipbuilding. See gateshead.gov.uk EAM