An ephemeral white wall meanders through the sculpture garden of a Melbourne art museum, gradually revealing aspects of the garden. Conceived as an ‘anti-pavilion’, the wall manoeuvres around the garden’s existing features and landscaping in order to create a new experience of what was already there, heightening encounters with artwork and furniture, trees and planting, paving and lawn.
Designed by Sydney architectural practices Retallack Thompson and Other Architects, the temporary installation consists of 119 self- supporting steel frames arranged in a zigzagging line through the garden. The frames are clad in a woven polyethylene mesh, typically used in greenhouses, which changes in opacity, colour and re ectivity according to the light. Vanishing and reappearing as they navigate the installations’s maze-like spaces, visitors encounter a matrix of outdoor ‘rooms’ which reframe features of the garden. In one of these rooms, Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture Draped Seated Woman (1958) is inundated by a sea of native grasses, while in another a timber deck provides a place to snooze beneath the shady canopy of a stand of pin oaks. Auguste Rodin’s Balzac (1898, cast 1967) peers wistfully over the wall, while a passageway terminates abruptly in a pile of fragrant eucalyptus leaves. Carefully positioned axes, doorways and openings encourage movement from one room to the next and invite exploration of the garden’s furthest reaches.
Selected as the 2017 winner of the NGV’s annual Architecture Commission, Garden Wall is currently on show as part of the inaugural NGV Triennial. A reflection on the unprecedented global proliferation of walls, borders and detention centres, Garden Wall’s repetitive and minimal enclosure evokes the stark monotony of the ubiquitous security fencing employed in Australia and around the world. The installation was commissioned by the NGV in dialogue with other Triennial works that explore current dynamics of migration, displacement and control, especially the x-ray like thermal images of gridded refugee encampments in Richard Mosse’s Heat Maps photographic series. The nature of the installation deliberately walks a careful line between the hedonistic enjoyment of the idyllic garden and covert political commentary.