July 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Albrecht Dürer: Master of the Renaissance’ NGV International

By Justin Clemens

If the gap between PR claim and reality is notoriously vast, this is one promo that tells it like it is: the National Gallery of Victoria really does have a stunning collection of Dürer’s work. A smirking maiden is embraced from behind by a wild man, the fate of their unnatural coupling emblematised by a grotesquely swollen skull. A disconsolate angel sits and stares, a hand under its head, while behind it, by an angling shaft of light, the legend “Melencolia I” is inscribed on the lining of a bat’s wings.

These prints are not the glamorous renaissance of the Catholic Mediterranean, but the hammer blow of an abstemious reforming north. They don’t trumpet with the grandeur of marble or bronze. They are not unique masterpieces under lock and key in a noble’s palace, but multiples, designed to travel and be copied and to mutate. Dürer deployed a new technology – woodcut printing – and his dedication to self-improvement throbs between the lines of his animals, demons, maidens and Jesuses. All this from a guy who looked like a minor Los Angeles death-metal guitarist, complete with glistening spiral perm.

Dürer’s magnificent Apocalypse – allegedly the first book in Western history to be fully designed and published by an artist – rocketed out of Nuremberg in 1498. They were heady days. Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, the same year Ferdinand and Isabella destroyed the Moors in Spain, and converted or expelled the Jews. An apocalypse was literally on the cards – but not for the fat burghers who ate up Dürer’s book like honey. In 1499 the good humanists forced the Jews out of Nuremberg too, and occupied their houses. Winners seem to enjoy imagining their own destruction.

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens writes about contemporary Australian art and poetry. He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Cover: July 2005

July 2005

From the front page

Image of Buzz Aldrin next to flag on the Moon

Shooting beyond the Moon

Reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission as Mars beckons

Six years and counting

There is no hope in sight for hundreds of people on Manus Island and Nauru

The Djab Wurrung Birthing Tree

The highway construction causing irredeemable cultural and environmental damage

Detail of 'Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Two Eagles', by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘The Transient Landscape’ and the Terracotta Warriors at the National Gallery of Victoria

The incendiary Chinese artist connects contemporary concerns with cultural history


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Comment

Fragments of a swooping mind. Raw tissue, ragged editing

Jonathan Caouette’s ‘Tarnation’
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Street talk

Twist & whisper

Perth shyboy Richard Nicoll has come a long way from green polyester flares

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