Monday, July 19, 2010
White Rabbit Teahouse, Chippendale
Sometimes "good intentions" (a.k.a. the often hopeless battle against slackerdom) can take a while to accomplish. I'd wanted to visit the White Rabbit gallery since it opened late last year, when it drew a lot of noise and applause for its hypervivid collection of contemporary Chinese art. So far, those plans had come to a lazy zilch.
Thank goodness for the wonderful Megan Morton, then. Her high-charged enthusiasm for the gallery, as outlined in a recent post on her blog, inspired me to finally drag myself (and a few other troops) to White Rabbit. Her endorsement of the on-site teahouse (which I hadn't even known about) fast-tracked my visit plans even more.
As much as I'm a cheerleader for contemporary art, I know it can vary from visual spellbinders – where you're left dizzy and amazed (asking yourself, "how the hell did they do that?") – to alienating letdowns that freeze your enthusiasm, often when jargon and theory get used to prop up some lifeless ideas.
White Rabbit, though, is pretty much a resounding 'case closed' to contemporary art skeptics. All of us, as we wandered from room to room, were stunned by how impressive most of the work was. The current show, The Tao of Now, includes many highlights, including a life-sized inflatable van, a motorbike meticulously 'woven' from blue stainless steel, animal portraits that let out the cry of the corresponding animal when you walk in front of the picture, a colourful karaoke cart, a room where paintings of furniture, food and books cleverly act as stand-ins for the real thing, and an 11-metre illustration of a ponytail. There's a great mix of the technically dazzling, whimsical, poignant and political.
I also really loved Cong Lingqi's installation, where 210 tiny parts (miniature tools, a broom, paint-roller and other everyday items) are suspended like dust motes in front of a spotlight.
The current exhibition, which is drawn from the collection of gallery owners Kerr and Judith Neilson, is only on display for another fortnight before White Rabbit closes to install the next show, so I recommend you see it if you haven't already.
Another endorsement is the teahouse, where there's an exotic selection of brews, each served with a plate of colourful snacks (you can ask for a savoury or sweet plate; better still, team your order with a friend's and you can get one of each).
Chris and I had the Lychee ($7.50), while Will decided on a pot of Silver Needle ($9.50). My brew had pleasant fruit notes, with a bit of black-tea punch. Nice as it was, I wish I'd scanned the menu more properly before ordering – as I would've loved to have tried the theatrical-sounding flower tea, where the blossoms unfurl when steeped in hot water. Also, as a green tea tragic, there were quite a few listed that I'd want to select next time.
I am also curious about the brew that has 'hair' in it (funnily enough, it's unrelated to the ‘Old Man’s Eyebrows’ tea that Megan mentioned on her blog). And, unlike places that give you a stingy teabag and expect that to be enough, White Rabbit staff regularly top up your pot with hot water, letting you get many cups' worth out of your loose-leaf infusions.
The snacks are good, too - I especially liked the mini coconut biscuits, smoked almonds and sweet, leathery flecks of dried cranberries. There was also a cheese biscuit that seemed off-script and un-Chinese, but was tasty, nonetheless, and gone in a few quick, defensive nibbles.
If I haven't already sounded fannish enough, White Rabbit's teahouse and gallery is now automatically in the top 5 of places I'd take friends who are visiting Sydney. Also, it makes a convincing case for being nosey about what's in your own town – it's another spot to the add to the list of why you're happy to stick around in this city.
White Rabbit, 30 Balfour Street Chippendale NSW (02) 8399 2867, www.whiterabbitcollection.org. Contact the gallery for opening hours, as it's only open for part of the week and will soon close for a while for the next exhibition's installation. Even though it's a private gallery, admission is generously free.