It had been some time since I had walked through the oddly automated doors of Wollongong Art Gallery. Childhood memories of red-faced games of tip during adult level interesting art shows loomed in my mind as soon as I walked across the Herringbone floorboards of our city’s former Town Hall. Everything slows down in there, as you delve into an adundance of tranquillity only found in other publicly held spaces around Wollongong.
A hefty donation in 1977 from local steel worker Bob Sredersas forced the hand of Wollongong City Council to begin “a more considered approach” to the curation, collection and presentation of art pieces for the 2500 locale. Amongst this controlled slew are pop cultural pieces charmed by a geometric flair, intricately made vases from circa-Qing dynasty and some real estate encumbered pieces that pertain to our immediate landscape.
An organ instalment fills the first level with a fluorescent, synthetic hum. Five floor to ceiling poles pin down respective keys on two adjacent Yamahas, their brown colour ways a compliment to the piece’s omnipresent vibe. “JULLIAN DAY Twinversion (lovers) I” says the small, white plaque and it’s synchronisation, symmetry and all-surrounding sound encompass the room like love might engross two people.
Finding my way back to the red bannister, my feet clapping up the vinyl stairs towards the building’s most-epic-of-all rooms; the chambers. The Phantom Show is in town, a curation of paeans to the purple costumed jungle man by Peter Kingston. The walls are lined with a diverse collective of interpretations pertaining to the Lee Falk creation.
A full chess set sits in a Perspex case, complete with zulu warrior pawns, safari man bishops and bongo drum rook. A large wooden throne sits along the northern wall, two red-eyed skulls upon it’s top rail; a fantastically interactive piece by Peter Kingston that calls for a photo in it’s description. Above the chair is a large oil on linen painting by Dick Frizzell entitled Grieving Phantom (2008).
Further along are my two favourite accolades of the exhibition, PK as The Phantom, an oil on canvas portrait by Elisabeth Cummings and Flying Oaf by Dick Frizzell. The portrait is a more contemporary vision of the Ghost Who Walks, the blurred lines can be taken as a reading of ambiguity surrounding the newspaper strip regular.
The pieces move on around the curvature of the eastern wall of the, the windows of which look down to the council building where a moment of judgement might become you with the grandeur of this room at your back. In front of the these windows is an instalment of political comment by Glenn Morgan dubbed The Phantom kicks arse down under. The almighty Guardian of the Eastern Dark sits atop his noble steed, having slain all offending heads of state in a brilliant display upon Nauru.
Further instalments on a table are decidedly more intricate and less political, the pieces depict four movable scenes and then the list goes on, as my eyes littered around the room trying to appreciate every piece of Phantom memorabilia. It seems the ongoing legend of The Phantom is on display, as the pieces range from twenty years to ten weeks old. What is it about the black masked man who cannot die that has captured so many generations? Perhaps it was within the everlasting oath of Christopher Walker and predecessors:
“I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms! My sons and their sons shall follow me.”
Yet the greatest accomplishment of all in the halls of this building is the inclusion of something cool in the gallery roster, it has brought me into their doors once again and I plan to return. I hope someone else does too.