Art Zombies

Avant-garde artists may push the boundaries of art in one direction and often people will remark: “That’s not art”. But what about the other direction, when does that cease to be art? I don’t mean popular arts, lowbrow or folk arts as these have life and fun in them. They aren’t dead. The stuff that I’m considering is too safe, too stale, too dead to be art. This is a brief entry on the atrophied appendix of Melbourne’s art world; enter the realm of the living dead, the art zombies.

What I mean by too safe and too stale to be is art are artists who are so passé or conservative that they are dead – the zombies of the art world. Like, Artuno “oil painting from your photo” on the corner of Russel and Lt. Londsdale St. Along with selling paintings copied from images by Dali, Keith Haring and Australian aborigines.

One of the largest concentrations of the art world zombies in Melbourne is the Victorian Artists Society. There is no hope of any revival as the Victorian Artists Society, as its rules are drafted to inhibit change. Membership of the society is restricted to a thousand members and that figure was reached in 1979.

The Victorian Artist’s Society’s original 1874 bluestone art gallery was replaced with Richard Speight’s 1893 building in a Romanesque revival design. This architectural design sums up the conservative nature of the Victorian Artist’s Society. The building is located on Albert St. opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne. If it were not for the Victorian Artist’s Society this heritage-listed building would have long ago been put to a better use and enjoyed by many more people.

Victorian Artists Society

Victorian Artists Society

The Victorian artists society has an early controversial history for being conservative, male chauvinists but they have not even managed to generate a mummer in the last sixty years. Their last notorious achievement came in 1937.

When Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies opened the Victorian Artists’ Society show in April 1937 he singled out for attack a wall of modernist paintings. In the same year Hitler made a speech inaugurating the Exhibition of German Art and, like Menzies, attacked “so-called modern art.” (This is not the only similarity between Menzies and Hitler – both were genocidal racists.) Menzies’s attack led to the formation of the Contemporary Art Society in the following year. An attack obsequiously described as “perceived conservatism” in the history that the Contemporary Art Society has on their website.

I’ve been in the Victorian Artists’ Society’s galleries a couple of times over the years but the paintings have always been so pathetic that it never encouraged me to return. The last time I looked in at the Victorian Artist’s Society nothing had changed. It is from a bygone era of polished wood. There are a couple of rooms for galleries with offices and other facilities tucked away behind a magnificent staircase. Somewhere in the building they give art classes. An old gentleman invigilating rattled away about the exhibition, which consisted of a few pathetic still-life paintings along with some landscapes and portraits. If I keep moving then he can’t eat my brains.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

6 responses to “Art Zombies

  • urbanmonk

    Thanks for the heads up on this. You’ve saved me from the art of the living dead:)

  • Hels

    I don’t recognise this building so I must cruise around Albert St and have a look.

    You wrote “The Victorian Artist’s Society’s original 1874 bluestone art gallery was replaced with Richard Speight’s 1893 building in a Romanesque revival design. This architectural design sums up the conservative nature of the Victorian Artist’s Society. The building is located on Albert St. opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne. If it were not for the Victorian Artist’s Society this heritage-listed building would have long ago been put to a better use and enjoyed by many more people”.

    I am not sure why the original bluestone, which was as traditional and as classical as they came, would be more radical and less conservative than the romanesque revival building. Because the romanesque had vaguely religious association? And in any case, was the romanesque revival building architect-designed specifically for the Vic Artists Society? They may have chosen to rent/buy a pre-existing building because the location was perfect or because the floor space was ideal.

    What happened to the original 1874 bluestone, do you know?
    Hels

  • B.Gray

    Art Zombies is a term i will def use more often. We have plenty Art Zombies here in Jacksonville FL. They all seem to paint work that would look best hung on the walls of a hotel room or a bank lobby. My god…there comming for us all….

  • meg davoren-honey

    I have been a member of the VAS for over 20 years. I had my first solo exhibition “A Tribute to Indigenous Women” Even though I am on the council, not one of them turned up on opening night. I had the top Aboriginal people attending, opened by Michael Long, and Deborah cheetham (she has written the first Indigenous Opera in the world) I will never forgive the council and their sad egos for not supporting even the concept of reconcilliation. Meg. Davoren-Honey 2010

  • Ghost Artists « Melbourne Art & Culture Critic

    [...] my exploration of the living-dead of the art world (after finding zombie artists in Melbourne see Art Zombies) ghost-artists were brought to my attention thanks to Karen Thompson (Melbourne Jeweler) and [...]

  • Julian Bruere

    Referring to your article the original bluestone cottage was ‘subsumed’ not ‘replaced’, and the new galleries was purpose built with glassed roof lighting providing a natural light to the upstairs gallery. This hasn’t stood the test of time and a new lighting system is now in place. Your dialogue and some subsequent engagement seems fairly damning of a pretty valuable old icon and its membership. Your writing is however researched and thoughtful and as one of the present ‘zombies’ haunting the VAS galleries, I would welcome the opportunity to ‘pick your brains’ about what its future might be. I would however support its current administration as after more than a century we’re still self managed and financial in our own right, the doors still open for exhibitions and welcome all artists to visit or even join, and consider using this gallery for its original purpose – exhibitions.

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