Are You Experienced?

In covering the Paul Yore story I felt hopelessly out of my depth, as an art critic I wasn’t experienced reporting on politics and law. I persevered, determined to follow the story to the best of my abilities for over a year.

From the start, covering the case felt like a futile task as I already knew the outcome, it was as predictable as continued government funding for the National Gallery. Sure, it might not happen, especially if people treated the outcome as predictable and that any energy spent on it wasted but realistically, what are the chances?

If Paul Yore had been found guilty it would just been a further repeat of what happened to Mike Brown with the sentence reduced to practically nothing on appeal. To expect anything else is to expect a revolution, art galleries ransack, Chloe seized by police from Young and Jackson’s…. As much as such a purge might be the wet dream of some right wing conservatives, it is not something that magistrates and judges would want to encourage. What they want is to preserve the status quo.

However in Australia, the status quo includes the random persecution of artists. I’m concerned that this could happen again, not in Victoria, not for a few years at least, after the police pay costs for the case, but to another artist in another state in a couple of years. Following the police raid on the Linden Centre gave me the feeling of the repeated witch hunts in Australian culture.

The typical Australian mob chants: “We don’t like it. Ban it!” Art, books, clothing, people…. “We don’t like it. Ban it!” The mob needs to shut up, listen to reason and understand that just because they are the mob doesn’t mean that they should dictate taste. That instead of banning art and the expensive circus of police raids and court cases that we should engage in a democratic discussion. But what are the chances of that happening?

Being out of my depth with covering a criminal case there were things that I could learn, how to find court dates, get media statements from the police but as I learnt I also realised one of the drawbacks of being a blogger and freelance writer. What I was missing as a freelance writer and blogger was the experience of a large newsroom where I could have consulted with, or even collaborated with, the regular court reporters and the politics reporters.

Now I’m not asking for your sympathy but for you to consider a world with smaller editorial departments, smaller news rooms, more freelance journalists trying to tell larger stories. In the current world experience is too often dissipated rather than concentrated.

Sometimes I felt like a vulture lopping over to the carcass of an artist’s career, amid the flapping wings of other vultures and having a feed on the remains. Choosing to stop by Neon Parc on my rounds of galleries in the city to see if I could pick up something.

I wrote a summary of the case for the online art magazine Hyperallergic and an article for Vault Magazine that examined Yore’s use of collage and assemblage in the light of Max Delany’s testimony to the court.


Recent Public Sculpture in Melbourne

There are two recent public sculptures with botanical references: Fruition, 2013 by Matthew Harding and Moment, 2013 by Damien Vicks where the geometry of botany lends itself to contemporary sculpture.

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

The two giant seed pods creates a landmark for the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue are Matthew Harding’s Fruition. The sculptures mediate between the nature of Royal Park, the largest of Melbourne’s inner city parks and the artificial world of the roads and traffic. Royal Park is and has, up until last year, been bereft of any public sculpture. They are huge, with an axis length 6.5m and 4.2m, even when seen from the road, where most people will see this sculpture, they are larger than most trucks. Made of corten steel, a favourite of sculptors and designers because it quickly develops an outer patina of rust that protects the steel from further oxidation.

Harding studied at the Canberra School of Art and is a regular exhibitor at the Fringe Festival Furniture, Sydney’s Workshopped, McClelland National Sculpture Survey, Sculpture by the Sea and the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award. Fruition is not the only public sculpture by Matthew Harding in Melbourne, there is his Mercury Rising, 2008 series of seats in the city, commissioned by Colonial First State. The three cast mirror polished stainless steel forms with inset stainless steel contour banding in the pavement. The contour banding and the title refer to climate change.

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment was installed in 2013 at Guild Apartments, Sturt Street in Southbank. Moment is the beautiful flower in the buttonhole of the building. Few buildings are designed with a crest, aside from a corporate logo. This is Vick’s first public commission; in 2011 he won both the Association of Sculptors of Victoria Annual Exhibition and the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show Sculpture exhibition. Vicks has also been a regular exhibitor at Toorak Village sculpture competition.

The number of sculptures in greater Melbourne continues to grow at an increasing rate. There is also William Eicholtz’s sculpture Courage in Fitzroy and the Steampunk sculptures in the city. These are some recent public sculpture in Melbourne that I haven’t mentioned in my up coming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures, due for release in April 2015. They have all been installed while I’ve been concentrating on writing the history, not that this is a problem because it is a history and not a survey of the sculptures.


Drinking & Melbourne’s Culture

Over drinks at an exhibition opening last year I mentioned to someone that I should write about buying alcohol and the arts. Specifically the effects of liquor licensing laws in Victoria on Melbourne’s culture. Now, this sounds like the title for a thesis rather than a blog post, so I’m only going to sketch out a bit of background and look at some legislation that has had recent impact.

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From the colonial domination of Melbourne City Council by publicans to the power of the Temperance movement at the turn of the twentieth century liquor licensing laws has had a major impact on Melbourne’s culture. The six o’clock swill creating a dull centre of the city Melbourne’s culture has been influenced by liquor licensing legislation. Melbourne Little Band scene of the late 70s and early 80s were the result of a legacy of large inner city licensed venues with decreasing patronage due to a population shift to the suburbs. More recent changes to liquor laws, gaming laws and security laws have drastically curtailed Melbourne’s little live music scene.

Changes in the late-nineteen nineties opened up opportunities for new art galleries partially funded with their bar at exhibition openings. Many small art galleries, like the one that I was drinking at that night, use their openings to create a pop-up bar. It also influenced the creation of Melbourne’s now iconic inner city lane ways

Alan Davies, in his blog The Urbanist, argues that these changes were due to the implementation of changes recommended in the 1995 Nieuwenhuysen Report on the Liquor Control Act. The Nieuwenhuysen Report recommended a more European approach to the sale of alcohol as opposed to the monopolistic approach of earlier Australian governments that charged high license fees that restricted competition.

Davis reports that: “There were 571 on-premises (restaurant) licences in Victoria in 1986, but by 2004 there were 5,136.”

In Broadsheet Craig Allchin architect, urban designer and director of Six Degrees Architecture told Timothy Moore in “How Melbourne Found Its Laneways” that: “The Victorian state premier at the time, Jeff Kennett, was amending the laws to coincide with the opening of Melbourne’s first casino, which was designed to have a range of bars and restaurants along its river frontage. The casino’s owners didn’t want to take the risk of operating under a single liquor license, which could have been revoked if there was an incident of bad behaviour. They wanted to spread the risk. The state government created a new “small bar” license that suited the casino’s needs, providing it with several small-bar licenses. The unintentional result of the reform, however, was that it allowed lots of other small bars to set up all over the city.”

Ending the requirement of a bar to serve food made it possible for the many bars to open up in Melbourne’s laneways that transformed the centre of the city. Not that these effects were intended or foreseen but it is a good example of the butterfly effect of a small change to legislation on Melbourne’s culture.

Cheers


Shopping Centre Art

What was I doing at a VIP event at Barkly Square shopping centre in Brunswick?

What has happened at Barkly Square is that the service lane that bisected the shopping centre running parallel to Sydney Road has been change from a problem into a feature. The lane has become, according to the media release, “… a new arts and entertainment precinct which will celebrate the artistic and culinary soul of Brunswick.”

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A collaboration between Ghostpatrol and Bonsai fill two sides of the wall of the lane. Kyle Hughes-Odgers, a Perth based artist, has a wall with a brickworks reference as Brunswick once had a brick making industry. On another wall there is a giant owl by Twoone.

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It is not all street art, Tobias Horrocks, a local artist work with a post-minimalist ideas and cardboard. This was his first permanent installation. The basic cardboard form is repeated blocking and filtering the light from the window above the entrance.

Barkly Square is just a small inner-city shopping centre, a bland location for a few chain shops, near the beginning of the Sydney Road shopping strip. It is not the first shopping centre in Melbourne to feature street artists on its walls; QVC and Southbank both invited street artists in years earlier.

Media maker and festival director, Marcus Westbury has, what he describes a “strange obsession” with “he fate of old suburban shopping arcades.” He explains why on his blog. “I am, as far as I can tell, pretty much alone in believing they’re a rich vein of untapped urban and suburban gold. Or, to put it in language that hipsters, planners and local politicians can reflexively and instinctively respond to they’re kind of like lane-ways.”

In this case the it not so much as trying to artificially reproduce the iconic Melbourne lane but assimilating the rest Brunswick into the shopping centre. The usual mall food court has gone from Barkly Square, now there are cafes with outside seating in The Laneway, as it has been prosaically and practically named. The transformation of the area is the usual mix of work by street arts, planters, bollards, bike racks and funky design elements. It is still a working service lane but now is a mix use urban area.

Shopping centres need to reinvent themselves, in the wake of on-line competition, they need cater for more than just shopping. The holy grail of urban design to create a ‘meeting place’.

Samuel Louwrens, the Operations Manager for Barkly Square Centre Management is feeling inspired at the art and developments on the lane. He is enthusiastic about his new lighting for the art and was waiting for more suggestions from the public about what could be done with the lane. He pointed out that there are still more large blank walls at the far ends of the lane.

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At noon on Wednesday there was a launch of the lane in a temporary VIP area outside a cafe in the lane listening to a guitarist, Grey Milton launching Barkly Square’s busking program. Grey finished his set. There were two short speeches from the corporate investment manager of the property group that owns Barkly Square and then the Mayor of Moreland. Then the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective took over by this time there weren’t just invited guests but a small crowd of people enjoying the spectacle. To have about a hundred people in the lane showed that, at least for the moment, the plan was working.DSCF0329

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Concrete Improvement

I love being proved wrong. Last year I wrote in this blog:

“Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.)”

As I love being proved wrong, I have been keeping my eyes open for art done in wet cement footpaths. The fish scales on the concrete of Ilham Lane in Brunswick were better than average but then on the Fitzroy housing estate, just behind the three giant Matryoshka Dolls, I saw the best incised drawing on wet concrete that I have yet seen.

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It was not by street artists but local aboriginal artists, not old school but ancient traditions. The traditional forms make the work both artistic and relevant in the area. These simple incised drawings shows that traditions can be kept alive in the urban environment and that even concrete paving can be part of street decoration.

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Magical Illusions

Walking between the art galleries on Flinders Lane and thinking about the uncanny nature of a thing that looks like another thing but is made out of completely different material. This uncanny illusion is a trick that many artists use, along with lots of other people from cake decorators to topiary gardeners. Illusions are only one trick and a good artist will use more than one trick. (Who wants a one trick pony?) Two exhibitions had spurred these thoughts.

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer’s five installations, Magic Dirt in Gallery 1 of Craft Victoria look like arrangements of rubbish. But are all made from paper and foam core, even the plastic bags and barbed wire. The illusion is even more uncanny because paper is such a familiar material. However, the magic of the illusion is only part of the magic of this installation. Fischer reflects on Australia as an enormous rubbish dump; the outback is littered with empty cans, hubcaps and empty bags. The irony of the reuse and recycle labels on this packaging. Fischer reflects on the way that we arrange our detritus and the primitive magical thinking behind the piercing a KFC pack with sticks or the bullet holes in the kangaroo sign.

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington’s exhibition Because Painting at Arc One is about illusions in paint. Daverington reflects on the tradition of these artistic illusion with references to illusionistic art in Western painting from the Bosch through to op-art. Geometric exploding planes combine with the baroque over the top drama of the illusions. Daverington is also interested in where the illusion breaks down on the edge of the canvas, where it becomes drips, scraped back or great spreads of solidified paint.

Because Painting is a home coming exhibition for Daverington who is Melbourne-born but now based in New York.


Street Art and the Art Fair

A couple of weeks before the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) I noticed some street artist complaining on Facebook about a lack of inclusion of street art and graffiti in MAF. Bitching about how can the fair represent Melbourne art without street art. Many of street and graffiti artists are ignorant of what is on at an art fair (Peter Drew of Art vs Reality has in reality never been to an art fair). Of course, there are some artists who have work on the street at the MAF; for example, Lucas Grogan represented by Gallery Smith. As well, there was a forum about art in the street at Museum Victoria on Saturday.

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

I already knew this when I stood up at the media preview and put the question to the director of art fair, Barry Keldoulis. He had already mentioned ‘break-out event’ and talked about the fair engaging with the rest of Melbourne’s art in his introductory speech.

Keldoulis responded that you can’t avoid street art in Melbourne. Visitors to the MAF were encouraged with talks and events to move beyond the confines of the Exhibition Building and would inevitably encounter street art. He questioned if street art should be brought into gallery space while noting that there were artists transitioning the two venues with prints and murals. He was certainly not excluded street artists and graffiti but that the transition from the street to galleries and the art fair is up to the individual artists.

After Keldoulis had replied Anna Papas, Chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation (the Melbourne Art Fair is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation) approached me. She was interested in how to include street artists and wanted to know how the MAF could include more of their work in the future.

Chromatavour in Coburg

Chromatavour in Coburg

It is not that art galleries have been rejecting this art or have been anything like the worst enemies of street art and graffiti, but artists working on the street have so many enemies (police, transport officers, buffers) that almost everyone outside of their cohorts are added to the list. What graffiti and street artists really had to fear was not the galleries making them inauthentic but photographers, graphic designers, etc. exploiting their work on the streets.

I’ve been watching the interaction between street art and art galleries since I started this blog in 2008. Of, course this interaction has been going on for decades longer than that. The art world has been searching for outsider artists for well over half a century. The genuine outsider artist is now a rare individual as there are so many people, from social workers to art collectors, waiting to discover them and expose their work to the wider world.

In recent years in Melbourne art spaces have been springing up to cater for street artists, particularly in Collingwood. A kind of parallel gallery system has emerged but these are not the kind of art spaces who will be representing artists at an art fair.

Sunfigo in Melbourne

Sunfigo in Melbourne


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