Wednesday, 1 November 2017


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Disclaimer – I know nothing about art. If you want serious details on this exhibition I suggest you check out the Art Gallery of Ballarat website or even read this article here. If you want the low down from your average layperson – then do read on…

So you've seen the pink neon signs on billboards and coasters and even people rocking hot pink skull tattoos. In fact, the pretty city of Ballarat has been going skull crazy in recent months over this hot exhibition at the esteemed Art Gallery of Ballarat, and for good reason.

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This one off exhibition is the first of its kind to be held at the gallery. Looking at the use of the skull throughout history and in popular culture, the exhibition displays a great range of contemporary and Australian art that varies from emotive, humerous and traditional to knockout wow pieces such as the iconic neon skull created by the gallery’s exhibition and graphic designer Ben Cox. 

Curated by Julie McLaren, the exhibition sets a new standard for the gallery’s inhouse exhibits and includes specially commissioned works. We all know Ballarat is moving ahead in its arts and cultural scene and this exhibition is an illustration of just that, a relevant show for the masses (people like me) not just the art educated, with most definitely something for everyone. 



  • The exploded skull – a real skull floating in an glass dome from the University of Melbourne’s anatomy and Pathology museum. Lets face it, its not very often you are going to get to eyeball a real human skull. 
  • Divide – this self-portrait (Sam Jinks) is actually a giant 3D model of the artist’s head, half skull and half face. I’ll be honest – I thought it was creepy and I found myself lingering for an embarrassingly large amount of time inspecting the giant ‘It’s just SO real’ pores on his face. Use your will power and remember the golden rule of any gallery…“Do not touch!!”  
  • Orbital Vanitas by Shaun Gladwell - This experience is EPIC. It’s virtual reality requiring you to sit down and put on some goggles, bringing out your inner astronaut as you visit space and orbit the earth from the inside of a giant skull. It’s the first time to be exhibited in Australia and sure, it sounds kinda weird, but it’s awesome. Do not miss this experience – I repeat DO NOT MISS. Tickets (free) have to be booked in advance.
  • Specially commissioned works by Fiona Hall, Reko Rennie and Sally Smart. I’ll be honest I didn’t know who these artists were but I made an effort to find out and see their work. Apparently they are a bit of a big deal. So no spoilers, find their works yourself and you decide. (I promise you can’t miss them!)
  • The Calaveras (skeleton) prints. I found these prints highly entertaining and you will too. It’s the very first time these 19th century prints (by Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada) have been exhibited in Australia. The illustrations are big in Mexican culture and Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. 
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  • The iconic pink neon skull - created by the gallery’s own graphic designer, the skull was planned as the logo and entrance piece to the exhibit. However, Ben Cox is an artist in his own right and although unintended, I think his work is likely the highlight. No wonder it’s created a small cult following with locals sporting temporary tattoos of the design. 
  • Skull - A little beautiful, a little creepy, this skull by Jan Fabre is made from scarab beetles and a taxidermied bird. 
  • Louise Saxtons Vanitas#2 The Twitcher is a beautiful skull made of reclaimed needlework, silk and beading pins. Delicate and beautiful, I could stare all day. 
  • The Shroud - Linger longer at this large needlepoint quilt (by Lucas Grogan)to read some of the phrases stitched amongst the skeletons – plenty hidden in there to tickle your funny bone.
  • For the Love of God - Ok so its not the original 14 million pound platinum and diamond studded skull by Damien Hirst but it’s the closest you will get to seeing the real thing in a while.
  • Jewellery by William Llewellyn Griffiths - You may not be familiar with his name, but his work has adorned celebrities such as Marilyn Manson, Katy Perry and Angelina Jolie. He has also worked on collaborations with Vivienne Westwood and Dolce and Gabbana. The standout peice is the tiny Sarcophagus with a fully working mechanical lock and a tiny 18ct gold skeleton inside. 

Visit Goldfields Girl blog for more Ballarat events

Visit the Goldfields Girl blog for more Ballarat events

  • Your Instagram moment - Let’s not deny that most visitors want an Instagram moment. If it’s not posted online, how can you prove you went? Nature Morte -The dressing table with a skull on the mirror by Megan Evans is your best selfie bet. Add the hastag #romancingtheskull to get a few likes. Remember selfies are fine – selfie sticks are not. 
  • The Mexican room - This Mexican inspired room is ‘lit’. I spent my fair share of time inspecting the wallpaper (by Maria Flores) that was inspired by Mexican handcrafted ‘papel picado’. This room not only hosts the José Guadalupe Posada prints but also some of the most fun works in the collection 

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If you’re doing a walk through of some of the local alleyways around the CBD you will spot plenty of giant skull pasteups (by artists MERDA, Kat Barrand and Karl Woodward with B'You Ballarat), again, perfect for your Instagram feed. Plenty of shop windows also host multi-coloured artworks by local primary school students. I dig the artwork I found by Milla although I’m yet to find out how much she charges for her work.

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Ok so I found out these are meant to be for kids, but that didn’t stop me asking for one (or more) at the gallery shop. You can also sneak one from the exhibition entrance. Ah the nostalgia of a temporary tat– you know you want one!


You can’t possibly go home without some merchandise. My favourite is the skull aprons available from the art gallery shop. Perfect for your next dinner party it gives you an excuse to casually refer to your art gallery visit and discuss your favourite works using language like ethereal and juxtapose before encouraging your friends to visit too. I also like the bike bell and the laser cut wooden sugar skull badges made by Bok Bok B-gerk. If you want more you can also drop into Lana Rose boutique, a few doors down from the gallery, for more skull merchandise including clothes, bags and jewellery.

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To prove the galleries hipster status, you can show off your skull ink and get discounted entry, keeping in mind public decency though and of course the quick fatigue gallery staff will get of jokes about where you might (don’t) have one. If you’re un-inked like me console yourself with all the things your grandmother told you about getting a tattoo and being the practical person you are, sign up for a gallery membership to get discounts and invites for future events.

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Don’t miss the following must do events as part of the exhibition.
  • Halloween (Oct 31) with late opening and free entry for people dressed in skull centric costume. Details here
  • Twilight Talk (Nov 1) on what we can learn from Mexican culture and ancient Day of the Dead traditions for facing our own mortality or dealing with grief. Details here
  • Day of The Dead Celebration (Nov 4) – Do not miss this community and family event hosted by Mexican Association VIC. With music, food and activities, it'll be oh so fun! Details here.
  • Fashion for Funerals (Nov 23-26) - A multi-media theatrical fashion parade. Presented by Kat Pengelly Koshka in association with the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Details here.

Exhibition Ends 28th January 2018

Visit the Goldfields Girl blog for more Ballarat events

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