Mercedes-Benz helps elevate modern art

Mercedes-Benz helps elevate modern art

MODERN motoring met with modern art when the all-new Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe made its Australian premier at an exclusive preview of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) this week. 

'The exhibition is the culmination of three years of planning and highlights the impeccable credentials, network and vision of NGV director Tony Ellwood.’

More than 600 Mercedes-Benz customers gained entrée to the exhibition three days ahead of its public opening as part of a longstanding sponsorship arrangement between the German auto maker and the NGV. 

Unveiling the car, Mercedes-Benz Australia-Pacific Managing Director and CEO Horst von Sanden said the four-door Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe was the first Mercedes-Benz model to reach Australia featuring new futuristic EQ Boost technology designed to save fuel.

“This is our humble interpretation of contemporary art,” von Sanden told assembled media. But it wasn’t the star of the show on this night.

More than 200 masterpieces from some of the greatest names in contemporary art - think Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollack - have travelled from New York to feature in “MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art”. The culmination of three years of planning between the two powerhouse art institutions, the exhibition further highlights the impeccable credentials, network and vision of NGV director Tony Ellwood.

Ellwood says this is the largest Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition the NGV has ever done. It traces the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to today’s digital world. 

It’s the first time many of the works have touched down in Australia, and that they made it to Melbourne for this exhibition is part luck, part good timing. The revered  New York museum is expanding, and to facilitate construction, some existing exhibition space had to be quarantined and the artworks within it stored. Rather than lock them up for an extended period, however, MoMA agreed to share them with the NGV.

The transfer of the selected pieces from New York to Melbourne involved the largest offshore shipment MoMA has been involved in since a 2002 collaboration with the Kunst-Were Institue for Contemporary Art in Berlin. It was a massive undertaking getting it all - along with an army of minders - to Melbourne, requiring 13 different shipments in order to meet strict insurance restrictions capping the value of individual cargo lots at $US20 million. For this reason, one work - reportedly van Gogh’s painting of a postman friend in Portrait of Joseph Roulin - travelled solo.

The van Gogh is the first piece on display as visitors enter the first of eight thematic sections arranged chronologically throughout the NGV’s ground-floor gallery space. The earliest work, which hangs nearby, is a post-impressionist painting of a beachside by French artist Georges-Pierre Seurat dating from 1886. 

There are at least two directly car-themed pieces in the show - a crushed car sculpture by John Chamberlain, and a quirky film by Kenneth Anger documenting the gear-head custom-car culture of California in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Look closely, because there are apparently two cars in the film - a 1931 Ford Model A, the other a 1927 Ford Model T. 

Juliet Kinchin, a curator of modern design from MoMA’s department of architecture and design, says visitors might explore the exhibition as if they were “taking the dog for a walk”. 

“You'll start out in one direction, but, you know, you'll be pulled along some of the highways and byways of this journey as we crisscross between continents and different parts of the world,” Kinchin says. 

MoMA’s associate curator of drawings and prints, Christian Rattemeyer, says the diversity of the exhibited material sought to honour the vision of MoMa's founding director, American art historian Alfred Barr, who felt that modern art should be as varied and exciting, and as radical and progressive, as contemporary life itself. 

“We hope that the diversity of the material on view, and the moment from which it stems and when it was made, will speak to that,” Rattemeyer says. Look not only at the cubist painting by Pablo Picasso, he says, but also at the railway spring  made in almost the same year. Start to compare those two elements, and see this not only as a collection of some of the most impressive art in the world but also something which educates viewers to be modern citizens in the world.

“MoMA at the NGV" is the 15th iteration of the gallery’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, and Mercedes-Benz customers got to see it first because the brand has been the NGV’s principle partner for the past 12 years.

“It’s part of our effort to continually provide our clients money-can’t-buy events,” a Mercedes-Benz spokesman says.

Madam Wheels has a Sydney girlfriend who would move to Melbourne just to access the NGV and everything it contributes to Australian cultural life. Family commitments prevents her from doing so, however, so she has until October 7 to see the MoMA exhibition before its precious artworks head back to the US. 

The Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe, meanwhile, will be available to Australian buyers from August.