Benjamin Law shares his story of growing up with GOMA


Hear what GOMA means to Benjamin Law, GOMA 10 Ambassador. Benjamin sits in GOMA’s official ‘GOMA turns 10′ Ambassador chair, the QTZ limited edition GOLD by designer Alex Lotersztain

Benjamin Law is a Queensland-born, Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter best known for his two books The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012). A television adaptation of The Family Law recently premiered on SBS to critical acclaim. As part of GOMA turning ten, the Gallery has launched a new Ambassador program of supporters and asked Benjamin his recollections of GOMA.

In 2004 Queensland started building GOMA. I lived in Brisbane this whole time, but have no recollection of any construction taking place. In my memory, GOMA wasn’t there, then suddenly it just was: inevitable, solid and right. All I remember about my first visit was walking through the doona-like, sedating fug of the Brisbane summer before being jolted awake by the Gallery’s air-conditioning inside, then being jolted awake again by ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ — the impressive geographical scope of which was finally matched by the gallery that housed it. Brisbane was always a great city, but in one hit it was suddenly a world city, confident of its place, not just in Australia but in its region and hemisphere, too.

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Installation view of Eko Nugroho’s site specific work for APT5 It’s all about the Destiny Isn’t it? 2006 / © The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

But what I loved most about GOMA was the building itself, its wall-to-wall views of the river, the way it hugged the lip of the water and let the sun in at every opportunity. Whereas other modern art galleries are often similar once you get inside, GOMA was unmistakably Queensland-ish: sun-filled, unpretentious and friendly; vast in size and great for families. As the architects said themselves, GOMA was designed to be ‘impressive and monumental without losing its openness and freshness, and without being intimidating; international yet responsive to local conditions and the south-east Queensland context’. Brisbane’s signature building didn’t even try to compete with similar galleries in Australia or abroad, and instead embraced everything that makes Queensland great.

At the same time, what I also like is that Brisbane’s most beloved building — much like Sydney’s — is that it isn’t a monument or spire, palace or cathedral, ruin or relic. It’s a home of the arts. And while you might think Australia and the arts have never been synonymous, keep in mind we now live in a country where more citizens go to galleries than AFL matches.

In the last 10 years, I’ve been to art galleries in Tokyo, Amsterdam, London, New York, Naoshima, Hobart and Sydney, because I’m one lucky jerk. And still, some of my all-time favourite art experiences have been at GOMA: encountering what appears to be a giant worried mother by Ron Mueck with my own mother (In Bed 2005), in which a woman made of polyester resin, fibreglass, polyurethane and horse hair lies in bed, gigantic, rendering you into a child again); and a stag made of bubbled glass with my sisters. Mostly, it’s because the art is so exquisite, it briefly knocks the air out of my lungs. But it’s also partly because I’ve shared these experiences with my family. It feels silly to say this, but GOMA is my family’s gallery. My mum’s a fiercely loyal subscriber.

Ron Mueck installation view weekend crowds
Installation view of Ron Mueck’s In bed 2005 / Purchased 2008. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Kohei Nawa, Japan b.1975 / PixCell-Double Deer #4 2010 / Mixed media / Purchased 2010 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
Sydney group Canyons performed a live score for Daniel Boyd’s 100 Million Nights moving-image work on the last night of APT7, 2013 / Photograph: Brodie Standen © QAGOMA

My boyfriend has played music at GOMA Up Late. And every time I go, I think this is another thing that distinguishes GOMA from the others: it’s made for families.

Looking at Brisbane’s skyline, you don’t have to be a historian to get the sense that this city has been subjected to a terrible knack for demolishing old, great buildings. Queenslanders love GOMA so much, it can’t be anything else but permanent. And now, tens of thousands of people a year fly up and into Brisbane to experience the likes of a Warhol or Valentino, a Lynch or Sherman. From where I now live in Sydney, I see advertisements and billboards for GOMA — Australia’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art — constantly. For a decade now, Queensland’s given Australia some of the best exhibitions in the country. And then, when you’re done seeing them, you can head outside, laze on plush lawns to read books and wrangle toddlers, or soak up the sun as the river gently laps nearby. GOMA’s not operatic or bombastic. Instead, it’s a big, gentle miracle of a place. Much like Brisbane and Queensland, really.

This extract by Benjamin Law on his recollections of GOMA is from the 2016 GOMA turns 10 Summer edition of Artlines, the Gallery’s seasonal publication free to QAGOMA Members each quarter or available for purchase at the QAGOMA Stores.

Valentino Exclusive preview
Viewing ‘Valentino, Retrospective’, 2010 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

GOMA is a place where people come together to be inspired and imaginations spark. A place where ideas meet. This summer will be packed with even more excitement as GOMA turns ten, so come along and help us celebrate from 3 December 2016.

This milestone for GOMA and Brisbane is being marked by a new public artwork by Queensland Indigenous artist Judy Watson, and major free exhibitions, including: ‘Lucent‘, showcasing art of Australia and the Pacific; a second chapter of ‘A World View: The Tim Fairfax Gift‘, including a captivating new light work by renowned artist Anthony McCall; and the spectacular ‘Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything‘, featuring over 200 contemporary artworks exploring light, space, architecture and the senses. From brand-new immersive works to large-scale visitor favourites, ‘Sugar Spin’ reflects our complex connections to the natural world with an explosion of colour, sensation and spinning delights.