The Queensland Cultural Centre is a cluster of cultural institutions housed in hulking concrete behemoths. I like a good solid concrete building, so I was delighted to explore these structures.
I first paid a brief visit to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and saw an exhibition of ballet costumes. Expertly crafted costumes, that are designed to both look amazing on stage as well as last the wear and tear of daily performances, are a treat to see up close, but there was one thing I wasn’t quite expecting to see in detail. I gazed up at some Swan Lake tutus suspended from the ceiling and came face to face with a sea of beige gussets.
The Queensland Museum had a very strong emphasis on natural history, including a long tableau of taxidermied animals. This seems to be the challenge of modern museums – what to do with all those stuffed animals, without looking like a weird Victorian-era cabinet of colonial oppression.
It was an adequate museum, but it seemed like they were desperate for some more space to really bust out and expand beyond the olden times collection.
Next door is the Queensland Art Gallery, which was just grand. It’s a really big ol’ concrete building with high ceilings and they allowed photography in most areas, which is really pleasing. My fave was stumbling across a dark alcove playing Martha Rosler’s uber cool domestic performance videos “Semiotics of the Kitchen” and “The East is Red, the West is Bending”.
And the QAG has a really enjoyable expansiveness to it. It involves a lot of walking around, but there’s the sense the the art is allowed to just hang out and be itself without any obligation to necessarily be fun or educational.
A little further along the river is the Gallery of Modern Art, which is the largest contemporary art gallery in Australia. Yes, even bigger than the actually-not-all-that-big-when-you-come-to-think-of-it Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
The GOMA was in the midst of a retrospective exhibition of Valentino, so the place was swarming with ladies who lunch, and there was a huge queue for tickets. I couldn’t be bothered queuing, so I went off to look at all the free bits.
I stumbled across the finalists in the Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award, a competition for art that uses “video, digital animation and gaming, robotics, sound and interactive technologies”. #nerdgasm. These included a series of clever mash-ups of hip hop culture with B-grade sci-fi movies (this is known in the biz as Afrofuturism); a robot that spookily danced around a dimly-lit room; and a fruity woodland animated adventure that uses the viewer’s face as the main character.
By the time I’d finished with the free part of the gallery, the epic Valentino queue had shrunk to a lone dude, so I bought a ticket.
The centrepiece of the exhibition was a room full of frocks, and all around the room, ladies were buggin’ out over the dresses. It was amazing to feel the buzz of excitement in that room. Now, I appreciate that Mr Valentino has an eye for design and has designed many fine feathered frocks, but while I was all #nerdgasm at the new media art, I wasn’t quite feeling it for the gowns.
The exhibition was a carefully designed labyrinth of commerce, with an exhibtion-access-only restaurant halfway along, and an exit through a massive giftshop, with all sorts of lovely frock-related souvenirs. And I’m just going to confess this: I bought a Moleskine notebook. Ok.
Finally down this end of the river was the State Library of Queensland. I tried to do some sightseeing, but it’s a really serious proper research library. It was really quiet and I even felt that the simple act of walking around was grossly instrusive. Not wanting to disturb anyone’s serious study, I left.
But there is a library that welcomes mucking around. Across the river in the CBD, Brisbane Square Library is the central branch of the city library. It’s a bright, bold new building that’s really fun to be in.
If you’re returning a book, you can follow its progress via conveyor belt to the sorting room, with the help from mirrors and CCTV. The building is full of fabulous mood lighting, and there’s free wifi for all members. It just feels like a good place to be, but despite all the attractions, at its core is books, books, books.
It’s really tempting to compare the fine cultural institutions of Brisbane with those of New Zealand cities, but it’s hard to fairly compare them. For a start, Brisbane has money. It’s a boomtown with that little bit extra to add the final polish. A library doesn’t need to have a fun CCTV and conveyor belt. A performing arts centre doesn’t need to have a museum. It’s nice when they do, but it’s more important that a library has books and that a performing arts centre has good performance spaces.