NGV Triennial

NGV Bethan Laura Wood Kaleidoscope-a-rama 2023 photo by Kate ShanasyWhat’s the NGV Triennial got on offer this time? Obviously, a massive show. 120 artists, designers and collectives. 100 “extraordinary” projects on “critical global issues of our time.”

More art than you can see on a summer’s day heaving through the crowds. Or, per NGV Director Tony Ellwood, “a compelling snapshot of the world as it is.” 

All vague pointers, but the mega-gallery has a monolith on Australia’s cultural attention. They hardly need to define their offering to get millions through the doors.   

Though, it’s just as broad-sweeping when experienced. Three themes – Magic, Matter and Memory – anchor the Triennial as somewhat more thought-provoking beyond the basic stamp of “global issues.”

Across the four floors, though, buzzwords (environment, population, identity) bind the works together in a way that elicits “hm interesting” without much else. 

On the whole, the Triennial’s premise doesn’t feel very fleshed, just kind of timely. For instance, Fernando Laposse’s Conflict avocados reads like a simple introduction to a subject – the West’s unsustainable avocado obsession – we’ve all seen in the media in one form or another.

It’s like the institution lacks trust in the public’s digital literacy. They need the NGV to initiate them on the state of the world via cool art installations. 

It’s not that the Triennial’s subject matters aren’t suitable, but that their framing undermines public awareness. It’s always hard to toe the line for major public events and how accessible they need to be without infantilising an audience.

But they likely already discussed these topics at a dinner party last week or seen it on their social media feeds many times. They’re coming for something more. But the curatorial finger is a little too left of the pulse.

Looking at the artworks independently doesn’t always pose the same problem. The line-up delivers big fun to resonant encounters. For visceral moments, see Franziska Furter’s Liquid skies/Gyrwynt with infrared satellite images on a carpet under thousands of glass beads, or Mun-dirra, a one-hundred-metre-long fish fence woven in Arnhem Land. 

For true art fans, there’s access to the most iconic, like works of British artist Tracey Emin recently acquired by the NGV. There’s also an entertaining lightness with the silly taped banana of Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian or Bethan Laura Wood’s Kaleidoscope-o-rama, a playful reimagining of the bookshelf. 

Intimate works pull with an emotive energy, like Ezz Monem’s Mohamed, Keith Wikmunea and Vernon Marbendinar’s Tee’wiith yot-a! and a generous installation of Prudence Flint’s paintings.

Sometimes, with the Triennial curated amongst the permanent collection, old pieces outshine the new despite their own merit (how can a table like Brodie Neill’s ReCoil compete for attention next to Salvidoor Dali?). It’s worth visitors coming with the intention to locate less loud pieces amongst the noise. 

But don’t water down art and wear yourself out thinking you need to see it all to get it. Like anything in life, it’s perfectly fine to spend time with what you like. It’s a large offering, better taken per artwork than as a whole – no renewing feeling or epiphany about “the world” is waiting on the other side. 

NGV Triennial
NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 7 April 2024
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Installation view of Bethan Laura Wood’s work Kaleidoscope-a-rama, 2023, for the MECCA x NGV Women in Design Commission on display in NGV Triennial at NGV International, Melbourne – photo by Kate Shanasy

Review:  Tahney Fosdike