Courage

In Whitlam Place, a small park in Fitzroy on the corner of Moor and Napier Streets, just across the road from Fitzroy Town Hall there is a new sculpture Courage by William Eicholtz. It was just installed last week.

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Standing on a lighted disco floor, lit by LED lights after dark, the young man is removing the Cowardly Lion costume and looking back at a theatrical medal for ‘courage’. What does the medal mean to him?

The sculpture captures the neo-baroque moment of transformation, being aware that the whole world is changing their costumes. There is so much movement in this sculpture, the costume is falling, the man’s torso is twisting and the lion’s tail curls, it makes other statues look static. The sculpture also has the baroque qualities of a sense of the dramatic that adds to it’s polemical content.

Eicholtz is already a notable sculptor winning the 2005 Helen Lempriere Outdoor Sculpture Award,  the biggest art prize for sculpture in Australia; it is like winning the Archibald for a portrait painter. He has long yearned to have a permanent public sculpture in Melbourne; he told the public in an excellent floor talk at the Counihan Gallery on February 2, 2008 as part of the exhibition, Chaos & Revelry. Eichotz’s vision for the urban/suburban environment that most excited his audience; a playful vision of a world where art exists throughout the built environment, a world where humans live in more than just well designed environments.

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“This sculpture will commemorate and recognise the LGBTI and queer communities’ courage to be themselves.” Eicholtz told Matt Akersten reporting for Same Same.  The bronze plaque on the plinth records that it is “also dedicated to the legacy of Ralph McLean (1957-210) was Australia’s first openly gay Lord Mayor (City of Fitzroy, 1984)”. Public recognition in the form of a public sculpture is important to many the communities who were marginalised and ignored in Melbourne while the conservative establishment was erecting statues for themselves. A public sculpture serves as a permanent public reminder of their presence in the collective consciousness of the city.

(Incidentally Frank Baum the first children’s writer to have a transexual main character Tip/Ozma of Oz in 1904.)

Not that the sculpture is just for Melbourne’s LGBTI community. The figurative sculpture humanises the area bringing the suggestion of movement and life to the park and making a corner into a hub. As I am photographing it a mother with a little girl in a stroller pass: “The Cowardly Lion,” the mother says, “A man taking off the Cowardly Lion costume.”

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Sweet Fragonard

What is it to have taste? Most people can taste, in that they are aware of the sense, but that is not the same as having taste. The cultivation of taste is a way that society uses up the excess and there was nothing as excessive as the Rococo, except the contemporary industrialised world.

In his exhibition, “The Fragonard Room” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Stieg Persson comments on excess. There is the excess of the Rococo, with its over the top images and execution. The excess of tagging, the over the top calligraphic curves of tagging letter forms that are carefully copied in gold paint by Persson from stuff on the streets of south-east Melbourne. The excess of food, the over the top coffee culture or the current fad for multi-coloured macaroons. The animals as a symbol of excess; eating like a pig or goat, breeding like rabbits, more monkeys and long haired lapdogs. The empty oyster shells, except for one with a pearl. Yet amid all of this excess there is great restraint in Persson’s art.

For me a key image is a small painting of Prada silk ribbons with the Prada tag, a symbol of luxury, woven into them and the beautiful curves of the ribbons like a cloud, an ephemeral thing of beauty. I have seen Persson’s paintings for years but they have been one or two paintings in large group exhibitions, as in Melbourne Now, and I haven’t really got them. Seeing this solo exhibition with the alternating hanging of sub-themes at Anna Schwartz Gallery it all became clear.

Where is Persson in all this appropriation? The style and taste portrayed in his paintings from the cool modern abstract play with paint, to the fiddly bits of Rocco style painting to the brushstrokes of the tags are all from somewhere else. The hand of the artist in the drawings is obscured by more tags. What is left of Persson is the flickering taste of the consumer of food and images.

Take a virtual tour of the Frick Institute’s Fragonard Room. Speaking from my synesthesia, Fragonard’s art is so sweet that it is like spun sugar that is gone almost after it touches your tongue. The current fashion for cooking and foodie culture is about the cultivation of ephemeral tastes.


Scandal Shock!

“… as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.” Australian Cultural Terrorists claim of responsibility for the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV in 1986.

Melbourne love an art scandal. This is assisted by having some top rate scandals, for example, the unsolved theft of the Weeping Woman. Although sometimes these scandals seem to be borrowed from US culture wars, as in the case of the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in 1997.

Art scandals have been ruined careers and lives, some of them were crimes and art has been destroyed. Melbourne never gave Vault a fair go. Juan Davila sighs at yet another repetition of the cry of ‘obscenity!’ Some of the unfortunate victims of these scandals and some naive realists might be thinking: “what has this got to do with art?” but this discourse is part of what defines art.

In the wake of an art scandal, even people who have not been to an art gallery in decades will express an opinion. The media is full of the story and more comments and from the informed comments to the mad ignorant rants it is this discourse that, in part, defines art. The year of debate about Ron Robertson-Swann’s modernist sculpture Vault in 1980, although driven by local city council politics, inspired the next generation artists to think hard about art and express their ideas not just in their art but in public forums.

This love of art scandals has created its own artists, CDH and Van Rudd for example, who create their own mass media interactive art works by provoking police, politicians or the public. These artists and their art are well known, although not exactly popular. Creating a scandal that goes viral is not the easiest thing to do and not every attempt succeeds in being both a scandal and art.

It has also helped create the environment that fostered Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene by giving their contentious and audacious actions a wider public eager to discuss them and collect them.

These accidental and deliberate scandals are interesting because they expose the cracks in the facade of our culture and deep divisions in the airbrushed idea of a united society. These scandals raises more questions than they answers prompting further thought, action and creation.


The Birds @ Flinders Lane

“among all things that fly the mind is swiftest” Rig Veda (Book 6, Hymn IX)

Two exhibition at Flinders Lane Gallery both with a theme of birds.

In Jon Eiseman’s exhibition “Other Realities” the birds are in symbols of the mind transcending the surface reality. Like Max Ernst or local artist, Kevin Mortensen Eiseman has the head of a bird in his art. Symbolically birds and fish are creatures that regularly move from the surface world into other worlds/realities. In Eiseman’s small bronze sculptures a Magritte-like everyman in a suit, a traveller with suitcases inhabits a world of birds and fish. Eiseman’s fantastic world has an enchanting sense of poetry that translates into a photographic collaboration with Anne Coran.

In Michelle Molinari’s exhibition the birds are dead, there is no avoiding the subject, not that their death is dwelt in a grisly way, it is just that they are undeniably dead. There is no air in their bell jars. (Narrowly avoids descending into Monty Python’s parrot sketch.) Molinari’s taxidermy and oil paintings are not intended to create the illusion of life, or a euphemistic ‘sleep’, only to preserve the beautiful image of the animal. Molinari’s images of dead animals are beautiful, spectacularly beautiful with a neo-baroque style to the images and their frames. Her paintings are set against a dark background that emphasises the colour and light on the feathers of the birds. The spectacle of the beautiful dead reminds the viewer of the contemporary world that attempts to avoid looking at the dead or even mentioning it. The title “Nature Mort” reminds me of my first attempt to translate the French mort nature (still life) that I garbled into “dead nature”. (See Arts Diary 365 for more on Michelle Molinari and my post on Taxidermy and Contemporary Art.)

 


Yarra Sculptures

My brother-in-law, Tom wanted to take a hundred photographs of the buildings in Melbourne’s docklands and riverfront, so earlier this year I went along with him for the early morning walk. We got out at Southern Cross Station, the former Spencer Street Station and crossed the tracks out of the old city. This is not walking Docklands’ public “Art Journey” as Bronwen Colman, the urban art director of the Melbourne Docklands precinct planned but a psychogeographical meandering along the Yarra River.

Webb Bridge, Docklands

Webb Bridge, Docklands

The Yarra River is the reason for Melbourne’s location, it was the transportation hub for the new settlement and it became an industrial site. When the modes of transportation changed in the late 20th Century the river became a neglected site. Another use had to be found for this polluted waterway and like many cities around the world Melbourne turned it into a parkland, river walk, casino, aquarium, restaurants and arts centre. The Yarra River started to be redeveloped in the 1970s with the construction of the Victoria Arts Centre and this urban redesign required more public sculpture.

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Patricia Piccinini, Car Nuggets, 2006

While Tom was photographing the architecture I was looking at and occasionally photographing the sculptures. Just off Batman Hill Drive at the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence I spotted three seats by Patricia Piccinini, the Car Nuggets, 2006. The chrysalis forms of cars or motorcycles about to metamorphose is both typical of Piccinini’s oeuvre and appropriate for the location.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

We could hardly miss seeing Sydney-based artist, Duncan Stemler’s Blowhole, 2005; a 15 metre tall kinetic wind-responsive stainless-steel and aluminium sculpture located in Docklands Park. In 2008 two of the anodised aluminium cups were blown off but there wasn’t much wind and it wasn’t doing much when we were there.

The area feels deserted until we crossed the river at the Webb Bridge and then things were there was the noise of a flock of parrots enjoying the palm trees. Tom didn’t mind the lack of people, he was happily photographing the architecture of all the new buildings.

As we progress up the south bank of the Yarra there are a few more people were around. I remember reading stories about the early days of Melbourne where people disembarking from ships at the port kept walking up river for what to them seemed like ages until they saw the city. It is very similar today or maybe the city was finally waking up on the weekend.

Further reminding me of the early days of Melbourne the area has these touches of hyper-reality in the old pump house with boilers made by the old Robinson Bros. foundry. I recognised the name of the foundry as they had made Percival Ball’s Francis Ormond Memorial at RMIT.

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

On the north bank of the Yarra River poking its head out from amongst the apartments is a giant metal John Dory fish. It was originally on a floating platoon during the 2006 Commonwealth games and was constructed by a company called Megafun. Megafun also provided technical and project management support to Scar – A Stolen Vision in 2001, the aboriginal poles further along the north bank.

The crowds started to build up around the exhibition building and the casino. We had to find some shade so that Tom could see his camera’s screen properly; he was up to his 81st photo.

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Outside the eastern end of Crown Entertainment Complex are The Guardians by Simon Rigg. These two large sculptures carved from Italian statuary marble and clad with ceramic tiles. Rigg has a number of other marble public sculptures around Melbourne, including Babylon, 1995 is at 101 Collins Street, as well as, in Beijing and New York.

We come to Inge King Sheerwater, 1994 in front of the Esso building. (See my post on Inge King.) Tom puts his camera away, he has taken his hundredth photo and we cross the Yarra heading up Swanston Walk to Chinatown for a well earned yum cha.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994


The Commons Graffiti

The Commons is a Brunswick residential complex design by Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod that received the 2014 Victorian Architecture Award for Sustainable Architecture as the year’s ‘‘exemplar of apartment living.’’ Read more about the architecture award in The Age but I want to examine the way that it integrates with the locale in particular the graffiti in the area.DSCF0137

It is not an inspiring locale, at the end of a dead end street on a block between train tracks and a panel beaters. It was previously the site of a single story factory/warehouse stood surrounded by a chain link fence. In its favour it is close to Sydney Road and very close to Anstey Station train station. Anstey has the standard utilitarian construction of a Melbourne railway station from the 1970s, the chain link fence, only the signage has been updated.

I have watched the developments progress as I passed by on my regular ride along the Upfield bike path or when traveling by train in and out of the city.

Now plants are growing up the chain balcony rails, of this multi-story building with an attractive facade facing the railway. On the ground floor there is the coffee shop, Steam Junkies and two large rainwater tanks sit out the back. It contributes and improves its locale rather than exploit it. The Commons is the only building is an entrance to the Upfield bicycle path.

There plenty of graffiti along the bicycle path but the brick walls beneath the second decorative story facade of The Commons had only been tagged a couple of time since its construction. The tags were not removed. It was unlikely that the walls were going to stay that way as they were along the graffiti covered Upfield bike path and it appears that it was never the intention.

Then this week came the Sinch tribute, a massive legal piece that covered The Commons lower walls and water tanks. An awesome group effort featuring parts of the AWOL and Id crews along a few others. See Land of Sunshine for more photos. There aren’t that many graffiti tributes in Melbourne (see my post Rest In Peace).  Sinch (1988 – 2014) died in June; Benjamin Millar “Tributes for street artist electrocuted while train surfing” in The Age.

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Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.

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Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.


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