If you go down to the woods today … you’ll find yourself at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art. But not for a teddy bear’s picnic.

GOMA summer blockbuster Fairy Tales journeys into scary forests where witches and wolves lurk. It also journeys into the imagination of artists and filmmakers who have mined the rich ore of the fairy tale tradition.

We were all brought up on stories that were sometimes interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes enchanting and sometimes just downright scary. Gustave Dore’s painting Little Red Riding Hood, which dates from about 1862, depicts the latter.

That isn’t Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother next to her in bed. Yikes! This gorgeous painting was borrowed from the National Gallery of Victoria for this show (nice of them) and other works are drawn from near and far and from within QAGOMA’s own rich collection.

The exhibition takes up the ground floor at GOMA. I had reservations as I often do when I heard the theme. I thought it sounded, well, a bit cheesy.

It is, however, anything but. It’s actually a very strong show and one suitable for all the family. One of its strengths is the intellectual rigour applied by lead curator Amanda Slack-Smith, curatorial manager of QAGOMA’s Australian Cinematheque, and her assistant curator Sophie Hopmeier, who is also assistant curator of the Australian Cinematheque. Working together and with their shared cinema expertise they have created something special.

Using fairy tales in film to inform the curation is a stroke of genius, as scattered throughout the exhibition are filmic elements. There’s also a fascinating film program running alongside the show.

Fairy Tales features the work of artists Abdul Abdullah, Del Kathryn Barton, Destiny Deacon, Gustave Dore, Rachel Feinstein, Trulee Hall, Carsten Holler, Anish Kapoor, Yayoi Kusama, Ron Mueck, Tracey Moffatt, Henrique Oliveira, Polixeni Papapetrou, Patricia Piccinini, Kiki Smith, Jana Sterbak and many others.

It includes original papercuts by Hans Christian Andersen, a 19th century photograph by Lewis Carroll and a costume designed by Henri Matisse for the Ballets Russes’ adaptation of The Nightingale.

Also featured are film costumes and props from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete (1946), Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970), Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (2009), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror (2012), Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (2015) and more.

The free curated film program in the gallery’s Australian Cinematheque has screenings of Jim Henson’s late ’80s television series The StoryTeller throughout the season.

The exhibition features more than 100 works of art encompassing sculpture, installation, painting, photography, printmaking, papercuts, animation, video art, augmented reality, film props and costumes.

As director Chris Saines points out, fairy tales have changed form through different eras and societies but “their themes have remained universally resonant”.

“This exhibition transports visitors into the faraway land of magical stories that cast an enduring spell and on adults and children alike,” Saines says.

Returning to the theme of “going into the woods”, which people often do in fairy tales (often when they shouldn’t), Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira was commissioned to create Corupira, which envelops visitors in a twisted forest fashioned from tree branches and salvaged timber. My first thought was, where is my chainsaw when I need it? Don’t worry, I don’t have one.

Oliveira has been here working hammer and tongs on this massive work, a fitting beginning that entices you into this weird and wonderful world.

Inside, it was amazing to see costumes and props from Jim Henson’s iconic film Labyrinth, which starred none other than David Bowie. There he is on a screen as I pass by. It makes me feel a bit sad. We miss Bowie.

American artist Trulee Hall’s darkly theatrical Witch House (Umbilical Coven) is a treat. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview and to witness her completing construction of this amazing sculpture, which you can enter and watch a séance on a screen inside.

The exhibition is divided into sections – Into the Woods, Through the Looking Glass and Ever After.

There are so many interesting pieces. I want to give a nod also to Timothy Horn’s Mother-load (2008), a sumptuously embellished stagecoach created from crystallised rock sugar. (Presumably it was once a pumpkin.)

Horn, who went to school on the Gold Coast and later studied at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, now lives at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the US. He was here for the exhibition opening.

One of the slighter series of works is also one of the most impressive – a group of papercut works from the middle of the 19th century by none other than the fairy-tale maestro himself, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Amazing that we have borrowed them for this exhibition.

I should mention that there are some intriguing works across the exhibition by a GOMA favourite, Patricia Piccinini, like the gorgeous video work The Nightingale and the Rose (based on a story by Oscar Wilde) featuring the work of acclaimed Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton and film director Brendan Fletcher.

Also, there are some of Charles Blackman’s classic Alice paintings. There’s so much to dig into and at the end, tarry a while in the gift shop for some cute stocking fillers for Christmas.

Fairy Tales, GOMA, until April 28, 2024, $28/$24


Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to https://inreview.com.au/inreview/visual-art/2023/12/04/fairy-tales-and-scary-tales-to-cast-an-enduring-spell-over-visitors-to-goma/ to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard