Monthly Archives: March 2011

Rental Spaces

Rental galleries are whores that allow anyone who pays to hang on the walls. I had to laugh when Brunswick Street Gallery, one of Melbourne’s biggest rental spaces, was exposed accepted paintings by a toddler. Rental spaces are also known as “vanity galleries” but would prefer to be known as “access spaces”. There are lots of rental gallery spaces in Melbourne, too many to list in this blog, and such a list would be complex, as some galleries and ARIs, are also rental gallery spaces when it suits them. Now, this is not news to most artists but I am also writing about this for a broader public.

Rental space galleries are rarely cost effective for artists; the gallery directors are the ones who are making money from artists who generally have a low income and are in a poor position to afford to speculate on sales of their art. Exhibition in rental spaces galleries in Melbourne are, apart from this blog, unreviewed. And paying for access to these galleries, in my frequent critical opinion, leads to many exhibitions that should have been rejected rather than hung. Some of the rental galleries offer prize exhibitions to attract exhibitor and to demonstrate that they do something for the artist community – I’m not sure if these prizes are of much value other than in dollars and vanity.

Yes, I could go on putting down rental spaces (see the bias in Wikipedia’s entry on vanity galleries) but if there were no rental spaces in Melbourne then what would happen? There is a need for some rental gallery spaces – just as there is a need for prostitutes. It is hard to know what Melbourne artists would do without so many rental spaces; many arts and design courses have an exhibition requirement as part of the course. Other rental spaces are needed by groups, like the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society or for exhibition spaces for Melbourne’s many festivals (Midsumma, Sweet Streets etc. all use rental spaces). Perhaps, if there were no rental spaces, there would there be pressure on local councils, or other institutions, like art colleges, to provide access galleries for artists. Perhaps there would be more artist run-spaces, like 69 Smith St. that serve as a rental space.

The growth in rental gallery spaces in Melbourne demonstrates that they are of some value. There are alternatives to galleries, such as Platform at the Flinders St. Underpass and other spaces provided by local councils, there are pubs, cafes, restaurants and even furniture stores that exhibit art without charging for the wall space but these aren’t galleries. And now when young artists want to make a name they just paint or paste-up their art on a public wall; so will the rental space gallery decline?


L’Oreal Fashion Festival – Runway Shows 5 & 7

Before each runway presentation, an advertisement for L’Oreal products is played. It usually features close-up animations of skin cells and DNA strings. Perhaps being a medical librarian makes me biased in a way because I can’t help but scoff at the ‘scientific’ elements every time I see them.

But that is of no importance.

L’Oreal Fashion Festival – Runway Shows 5 & 7

Dion Lee’s collection was very strong and focused mostly on the hemline. He is a new up-coming designer who has had more coverage internationally than in Australia. I first heard of him via ELLE (US) when he was featured in the new designers section (unable to find exact reference). Collette Dinnigan’s presentation was to be expected, but featured a definite ‘Mad Men’ influence. However the shoes were totally wrong for the designs though – platform stilettos do not look well with ‘60s inspired dresses. Most of the music for Runway 5 was anon doof-doof but the final designer, Toni Maticevski, used Michael Nyman’s theme from Drowning By Numbers (Peter Greenway) – touch of class! Maticevski’s collection was wispy floaty and dreamy, ending with a standout piece of eveningwear; the models did have some trouble trying not to trip over the mini-trains.

I like Alannah Hill’s designs and decided to go to the show she was presenting in. The other designers appearing alongside were White Suede (high waisted skirts, brights, tie-dye), Wayne Cooper (party frocks, mini dresses, muted colours), Talulah (floppy hats with everything, a focus on the hips), Maurie Eve (shirt dresses, blacks tan peach), Joveeba (loose casual wear), and Bettina Liano (cardis, shorts). Alannah Hill’s collection wasn’t a surprise. As with Collette Dinnigan, they both have found a definite style that suits them and in Hill’s case, this means afternoon tea/garden party wear (florals, sequins, cute buttons, candy coloured jackets).

There were many AbFab moments that I observed before and after each runway presentation. ‘Darling!’ and air-kissing was not the only thing going on. Most were dressed to impress and many were looking at other people (I have to say that I was doing that as well) but what has to be remembered is that these runway shows are consumer events open to the public and not industry events (although industry types are represented). I wasn’t dressed designer and the pictures I have seen of industry-only runway events, the attendees are not dressed up to the nine’s either (remember, this is work for them).


Nice Fans

“Who the hell’s this Margaret? Nice fans… more art…my shoes hurt. I shouldn’t have worn these shoes. Not today anyway.” I loved Oslo Davis artwork on the A4 card invite to “Margaret Seaworthy Gothic”. It is a great realist view of the gallery experience and the best exhibition invite that I’ve seen for ages.

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a group exhibition by five artists at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Dane Mitchell’s signs made me pause before entering the gallery: “Do Not Enter” but rendered backwards. There wasn’t much else to see in the gallery, it looked almost empty apart from these signs… was the exhibition still being installed? Looking at the other side of the sign it was clear that this was art and not a prohibition. I explored further into the gallery.

A reporter once asked Salvador Dali; if the Prado was on fire and he could take one thing out of it, what would you take? “The air,” replied Dali. Nigel Lendon’s two fan works, “Maquettes for Invisible Sculptures” and “Untitled Invisible Work of Art”, play with the air in the gallery. Invisible unseen forces as a medium for sculpture sounds oxymoronic because how can you see them? You certainly notice Lendon’s sculptures when the motion sensors turn them on full force.

Andrew Liversidge’s molten form of one-dollar coins is a bit obvious. But it fitted in with the tone of the exhibition and the nickel, copper and aluminum alloy blob looked attractively golden on the gallery floor. Also a bit obvious are Colin Duncan’s black silhouettes of Duchamp’s “In Advance of A Broken Arm”, Brancusi’s “Endless Column” and Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” – but that’s the point of them. It is a demonstration of how recognizable these icons of modern art that they can be evoked in a silhouette.

The exhibition is an anti-thesis to “New 11”, the current exhibition across the road at ACCA, with its focus on materiality. “Matter is not banished in the world, but it does take on spooky properties – its scale and identity having been permanently displaced by the network of communications within which it exists.” Matthew Shannon wrote on exhibition invite. Matthew Shannon is an artist worth keeping your eye on (see my review of one of his installations).

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a clever exhibition, perhaps too clever, conceptual and insubstantial for some people, but I enjoyed it. It doesn’t it take itself too seriously from Oslo Davis’s invitation to Matthew Shannon own comic about the artist talking to the white paint on a gallery wall.

Nice fans. I can’t see all the art in this gallery but it is still there. My shoes don’t hurt.


Bird Roost Heroes

Capt. Matthew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert with seagull

It is an old chestnut but it suits a nautical man like Captain Matthew Flinders to have a statue that serves as a roost for seagulls. The bronze statue with its large granite plinth standing shows Flinders standing on the prow of a boat being dragged ashore by two sailors. The statue of Captain Mathew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert stands beside the cathedral on Swanston St. in Melbourne. It would have been expected when the statue was erected that it would be joined by other statues of heroes but it looks like the tradition of creating bird roosts is fading away.

In the past it was easy – erect a stature of whoever is the current the culture hero. So the Scots would erect a statue of Robbie Burns, no questions asked, it was that easy. Now, it is not so easy. Who are the great and the good in the 21st century? The collective consciousness of the 21st Century is so mixed up with multiple identities, multiple worlds of merit (politics, war, peace, revolution, science, arts, sports) that are in dispute with each over the virtue of their merits, that any choice of a person as worthy of statue seems absurd.

Statue of Dali in Singapore

I remember looking at in amusement the collection of statues outside Parkview Square, an art deco revival apartment block in Singapore. It was a strange mad collection that only the most superficial understanding of history could put together. There was Dali along with Mozart, Picasso, Lincoln, Churchill and many others. There are some odd collections of statues of the great and the good around the world. When George Frêche, the president of the Languedoc Roussillon region of France decided to erect statues in Montpellier of the greatest men and women of the 20th Century he choose the following figures Vladimir Lenin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt, Jean Jaurés, Mahatma Gandhi, Gold Meir, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nelson Mandela, Mao Zedong. (Alexander Chancellor reports in The Gaurdian Weekly 3/9/10 and Ed Ward writes about it in his blog entry “Days of Lard and Lenin”.)

What is the public expected to do with these statues? Worship their idols? There is, I’m told, a statue of Queen Victoria in India that has become a fertility shrine. Now in Melbourne only sports heroes and a few state Premiers are memorialised with bronze statues displayed in public places. These contemporary statues are all by Peter Corlett or Louis Laumen. I would like to see is a Peter Corlett statue of Nicky Winmar responding to racist taunts at the end of the St. Kilda vs Collingwood match in 1989. Here Corlett’s figurative sculpture could be used to create a passionate memorial of a rebuttal to racism that Melbourne needs to commemorate. Who do you think should have a public statue made of them or should we abandon the tradition?


Silo Variations

The old grain silo at Tinning St. in Brunswick has stood abandoned for decades; when did grain cars last travel along the railway tracks? The raw concrete stands bare except for some graffiti at the base of the two towers – graffiti decorates the ugly ruins of the modern world. The silo is a relic from another era of industrial Brunswick, a sore thumb landmark beside the Upfield train line. I don’t know what should be done with it – what do you think?

What should be done with the silo is the subject for the current exhibition at Tinning Street Presents… 20 artists presenting their ideas for a new image for the silo. All of the artists worked on the same photograph of the silos. There were the street artists like Snot Rag and Nick Ilton but I didn’t recognize most of the artist’s names. 20% of the exhibition is good, 20% is crap and the other 60% is ordinary work from the artists. There are the artists who gave up on the project or didn’t have any good ideas like Louise Klerks or Stuart Beckmeyer’s collages. There was some good work by Liam Barton and an over-the-top fantasy Lovecraft-inspired creation by Otis Chamberlain. Lincoln Walker’s design to turn the grey silos into an elephant was appealing. There were also two pads of images of the silos with sharpies to draw your submission, to be made into a book by Aaron Maxwell.

But the opening night was not just about the art; after all 20 average images riffing on an image of a grain silo are not a big attraction. There were musical performance and a bar with gold coin donation for drinks. Above the bar there was a big stretched canvas with the beer sponsor’s logo on it – but they aren’t sponsoring me so I won’t mention their name.

When I arrived Oliver Hunter as 0+0 was vocalizing into a Boss digital echo unit and looping unit. Over 500 people said that they would be attending the event on the Facebook event page. Not that the Tinning Street gallery could fit that many people – they were spilling out into the graffiti decorated laneway. I didn’t hang around for the projections on the silo by Projector bike but I did photograph the bike.


Goth Glamour in 3D

I was seduced by the opening of Rising 5 – by the promise of an exclusive event and 3D fashion photography. I wasn’t sure what to look at: the clothes, the models, the 3D photographic effect or the other guests. It was like some strange kind of goth nightclub, with a DJ, hundreds of people, boys in black dresses, strangely dressed women and security at the front except that nobody was dancing. All this was for a little fashion photography exhibition in the Atrium at Federation Square.

Mark @ Rising 5

Even looking at the photographs I wasn’t sure what I was looking at: the fashion, the styling or the 3D effects. The 3D photography by Mark Ruff didn’t require special glasses to see, it was like the lenticular 3D effects of the old postcards with the image separating into distinct several layers. It was difficult to look at the photographs in the diminished light of the Federation Square Atrium; the partitions did not have spotlights illuminating the images and the 3D effect was going out of focus.

A passing photographer showed me a sharp image on his camera that he’d taken earlier of the 3D photographs and he recommended seeing the exhibition in daylight to enjoy the best of the 3D effect. There were two videos where the 3D effect could be seen but these were just compilations of the existing images and didn’t add anything new.

A passing make-up artist involved with the project (was it Shella Ruby?) told me that the models were all photographed in front of a blue screen and the backgrounds were added in digitally. She also told me that it was all for charity so it was important that I got the names right (Beyond Blue, but how I don’t know; nothing was for sale and I wasn’t asked for a donation).

Although Simone Ling and Izabel Calgiore’s art and styling emphasized the goth look; with backgrounds including Melbourne University’s carpark (that was used as a set in the original Mad Max film). The fashion of Lui Hon, Dhini, Richard Nylon Millinery, Nadia Napreychikov, Cami James and Alistar Trung ranged from 80s cocktail dresses to ball gowns that could have been designed by Alexander McQueen. Some of it, like Metal Couture jewellery is hardcore goth, all of it was over the top.

Not that it mattered on Friday night. Almost nobody was looking at the dozen photographs and two videos anyway – mostly they were air kisses, schmoozing and posing for photographs in front of them.

Rising 5 is part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and I was a guest of Madam Virtue & Co.


Oddities of Melbourne

Melbourne has Gothic Revival, Moorish Revival, Romanesque Revival and Venetian Renaissance Revival architecture and a Model Tudor Village. The end of the 19th century was so into retro revivals they make current retro styles appear prospective. And Melbourne is a place where the king tide of the eclectic architectural revivals of the 19th Century washed up. The round arches, belt courses of stone or brick are all features of Romanesque revival but Melbourne’s Romanesque revival has more decorative brick and tile work than it’s American counterparts. The architectural revivals tended to be more exuberant because there was still money from the Victorian gold rush around. Maybe this excess is one of the reasons why Melbourne was known as “marvellous Melbourne.”

Victorian Artists Society - Romanesque Revival building

I was standing around in the stucco covered foyer of the Forum Theatre in Melbourne after the Tripod show last year. The whole place, inside and out, is covered in this over the top, eclectic collection of styles from the faux Renaissance interior to the over the top Moorish Revival exterior. Amongst all this stucco there are plaster casts of classical sculpture from the Uffizi, Naples Museum and other Italian collections. These copies of statues were included in the original 1929 décor to contribute their aura of classical quality to the then new media of cinema. Unfortunately the plaster sculptures are now covered in a thick layer of acrylic paint.

It made me think what are the other art and architectural oddities there are around Melbourne. The typical list came to mind: Ola Cohn’s “Fairy Tree” in Fitzroy Gardens, William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenongs, with its Australian romanticism carvings.

Model Tudor village in Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens is full of art and architectural oddities: there is Model Tudor Village, Captain Cook’s cottage transplanted from England and Ola Cohn’s Fairy Tree. The Model Tudor village – this is from another era when model villages were considered legitimate garden decoration. It is part of Australia’s colonial longing for England; even if it was represented in miniature scale.

detail Ola Cohn, "Fairy Tree" 1931-4

Melbourne sculpture, Ola Cohn carved her “Fairy Tree” between 1931-4. I have some sympathy with the fairy art obsession of the late 19th and early 20th century because of its respect for nature; Ola Cohn declares the place sacred “to all living creatures” on the inscription bronze plaque beside the tree. The tree is carved with images of Australian native fauna but all the fairies are European.

These things did not start life as oddities, they were intended to be mainstream even progressive, but the future expected by their creators didn’t happen and they now look oddly out of place. They have been caught in time lags and other psycho-temporal eddies and whirlpools such that their existence now appears disjointed from reality, the detritus of history washed ashore in Melbourne. They are not simply curiosities, these oddities demonstrates particular but irrelevant features of Melbourne’s past. But what do we do with these odd monsters? Hide them, ignore them and hope that they will go away or conserve these unsuccessful mutants?


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