The NGA’s soft rabbit/soft duck problem

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If you haven’t seen it yet, the exhibition Soft Sculpture, curated by Lucina Ward, at the National Gallery of Australia until 12 July, is full of surprises. This work Duck/Rabbit Problem 1991, by Kathy Temin, says it all, with a cute reference to a famous visual conundrum. But it’s a show without a theory, without a style, without a coherent historical reference point, without a thesis even, but with a theme which reveals the degree to which the NGA’s collection has been builtĀ  on inspired (if intuitive) aesthetic criteria. Iconophilia enjoyed bringing the Rauschenberg to life, just by walking past it! Yet it’s a show with which it’s difficult to engage. Sadly, the NGA website trivialises some great works with kiddywinks humour. So, is its significance as an exhibition (rabbit), or as a populist crowd-puller (duck)?

Perhaps the problem is the title. SOFT? In most cases, the works are anything but soft, especially given the prohibition of the tactile sensorium. HARD or SPIKEY would be equally relevant titles for some of the works on show. So the title is a tease! And “please don’t touch the artworks” is the poor guards’ mantra for the next month. Lucina Ward is on firmer ground when she writes about plasticity and anti-form, but it’s almost as it the NGA’s publicity machine has stolen her show…

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