Art lovers enticed into the woods with Fairy Tales show

Liz Hobday |

Once upon a time, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art beckoned art lovers into a world of witches, woodlands and magic.

GOMA’s upcoming summer show Fairy Tales explores ancient folk stories through art, design and film, and even the glass slipper from Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

If the shoe doesn’t fit, there are other enchantments to be had, including a costume worn by David Bowie in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and the film’s glass orbs and thirteen-hour clock.

The exhibition will feature more than 100 artworks with several major commissions, including Corupira 2023 by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira, in which visitors will find themselves in a twisted forest made from branches and salvaged timber.

It might at first glance appear the concept of the exhibition is aimed at children, but the sheer range of work shows artists have been playing with the archetypes of ancient tales for centuries, from witches and foxes to gowns and magical beasts.

The audience is anyone with imagination.

GOMA Fairy Tales exhibition
The glass slipper from Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is among magical objects on display.

There’s a nineteenth-century photograph by Lewis Carroll, papercuts by Hans Christian Andersen, and more recent works including Del Kathryn Barton and Brendan Fletcher’s animation The Nightingale and the Rose.

Another major commission is from Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, who has created a magical pathway that winds beneath a canopy of thousands of genetically modified flowers.

There’s even a stagecoach made of crystallised sugar, and while visitors probably won’t be allowed to touch that one, an interactive sculpture from Carsten Holler titled Flying Mushrooms is definitely hands-on, with a solid push needed to send some giant rotating polyester mushrooms into orbit.

Fairy tales can meant whatever we want them to, but they are ultimately about the need to tell stories and to dream of other things, according to curator Amanda Slack-Smith.

“Sometimes you want to dream of going on an adventure, or getting away from kids and bills,” she said.

“You have safety within a fairy tale, it’s fiction so you can do anything.”

The exhibition stretches across GOMA’s three ground-floor galleries, with visitors first invited Into the Woods, with artworks referencing classic tales such as Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. 

Through the Looking Glass is inspired by stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, including three of Charles Blackman’s best known Alice paintings.

It’s followed by Ever After, which looks at the relationships found in fairy tales, from romantic love to family, friendships and unrequited love.

GOMA Fairy Tales exhibition
A stagecoach made of crystallised sugar features in the exhibition.

While artworks in almost every imaginable media will be on display, including augmented reality art that can be viewed using a mobile phone, the exhibition is “film forward” according to Slack-Smith.

Other highlights include Maurice Sendak’s images from his classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are, along with costumes from the 2009 film adaptation made by the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

There will be twice-weekly feature film screenings of fairy tale-inspired stories from around the world, including Peter Weir’s 1975 classic Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The Queensland government expects the exhibition will attract more than 4000 people to visit the state, spending about $10 million.

Fairy Tales is on at Brisbane’s GOMA from December 2 until April 2024.