I knew I’d love Patrick Pound’s The Great Exhibition because what’s not to love about a room full of found photos? Pound buys his photos from eBay and I suppose where the art comes in is that knows what he’s trying to source, or maybe the art happens after the photos have arrived and connections arise. I’d seen in the advertising of this exhibition a photograph of stacked up editions of The Collector by John Fowles and was hoping that there would also be books and other objects artfully arranged, but it was just photos. They were mostly arranged in massive frames in the smallish space – and I’m not sure why but many were set way too high for the human eye – were they worried about the crowding the space?
One group showed photos where the shadow of the photographer is present – the pictures ranged from old-old-old to pre-smartphone 90s – in one photograph the shadow of a man in a hat swamps a black pram and looks quite malevolent. In another Weegee-ish snap a couple appear to be in a romantic grapple on the ground in some woods – but it could also be a double suicide. The collection of damaged photos were stories waiting to be written: the spandex-panted disco diva whose head seemed to have exploded; the photo of the mother and children at Mount Rushmore where the mother’s face has been pin-pricked beyond recognition; a black and white headshot shows a blonde bowl cut with an almost perfectly -torn circle where the face should be. When I was a child I had a moment of trying to erase myself from every family photo – Mum could never get the Xs off.
The selection of photos that have been written on were similarly story-ifying. On one, the line: This is the Jew. On another, crucifixes above the heads of subjects who are presumably dead. Overall I thought it The Great Exhibition was playful, curious, nostalgic, and thought-provoking. I also enjoyed listening to the comments of punters – one woman kept declaiming, “It’s just a thing, isn’t it?”
And on the subject of things I am finally reading Ruth Quibell’s The Promise of Things, a collection of essays about our attachment to objects, the cult of decluttering, why we love the things we love and what they say about us. I’m really enjoying this and finding lots of names to look up and books to re-visit (note to self: Witold Rybczynski). Quibell’s writing is warm and clear and she constantly circles back and makes intriguing links, like when she connects the final position of her much lugged Edwardian wardrobe to a painting by Grace Cossington-Smith: “An ordinary suburban bedroom becomes a Grace Cossington Smith painting. And this makes me feel good. I feel at home here.”
Patrick Pound The Great Exhibition, NGV Melbourne
Ruth Quibell The Promise of Things, MUP, 2016