Hyperkulturemia exbition by Andrew Nicholls at AGWA

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I love it when  you go to an exhibition with no expectations and come away having had your horizons expanded. This was the result after a quick visit to Andrew Nicholls’, Hyperkulturemia. Some of you may recognise the name. Nicholls is the artist behind the $250,000 ceiling mural for the Perth City Library.

Stendhal Syndrome #2 (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli),gicléeprint, dimensions variable, 2017-2018. Image c/o the artist.


First up the word Hyperkulturemia. I don’t know about you but I had no idea what it meant. Now I can’t wait to use it in a sentence, if not experience it myself. Hyperkulturemia, you see, refers to that moment when overcome by the vision before them, the viewer becomes weak at the knees and drops to the floor. Also known as Stendhal Syndrome, you might know it as a swoon.

Stendhal Syndrome #1 (Museo Nazionale del Bargello), large format photograph, dimensions variable, 2015-2018.Image c/o the artist

One such swoon is captured in the multi-panelled vertical drawing, a re-interpretation of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement 1536-1541. The cast features many members of the Western Australian art world, as well as friends outside the scene and the state.

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The Grand Tour

Next up was the notion of “the Grand Tour”.  Established in the 17th century and rose to popularity in the 18th century:  it saw (initially) mostly wealthy English males travel through Italy and other European countries, sometimes for over two years, to encounter first-hand the highest points of Western artistic and architectural achievement. Its explicit purpose was to provide a cultural education that would turn these “tourists” into more complete gentlemen. Its implicit purpose was often the exploration of parts of themselves that were repressed at home.

Nicholls’ enlisted his close friend and muse, artist David Charles Collins, to pose at various Italian sites to fictionalize a young mans journey on the Tour. The images celebrate the beauty of the male body, so if that troubles you, this exhibition is not for you.

A large horizontal pen drawing, based on an engraving by Piranesi, Le Antichita Romane 1756, is a composite reflection on these conversations.

Anyone who likes skulls will receive an added bonus. Framing many of the works are porcelain bones and skulls. Inspired by a number of Catholic Ossuaries Nicholls encountered in Rome and Naples, they remind us that no matter how young, how beautiful, how wildly free one is, death will eventually claim us. How we use our time; how we find and express ourselves, whilst not trampling on others’ needs and desires, cultures or aspirations; and how we build on past cultures by finding and creating new meaning and possibilities, are just some of the meditations at the ethical heart of this erotically charged exhibition.

This small exhibition certainly packs a big punch in terms of educational and ponderous opportunities. It was also interesting to listen to the reactions from the audience which ranged from deep contemplation to “don’t he look a tight pratt” and “he doesn’t half love himself.”

Somehow I don’t think the current end of school/university trips to Bali offer the same opportunity to turn our impressionable youth into gentlemen, but hey I could be wrong.

The exhibition implied that hyperkulturemia was limited to the vision of great works of art. But I’d like to think we’ve progressed beyond that. I’ve certainly come close to my own acts of hyperkulturemia when in the presence of the odd person of note.

For more information go to Art Gallery of WA.

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