Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 Reflections

This will be my last post for the year, as I need a break.  So here are some reflections on my year of blogging.

Write locally and read globally.

I have been intrigued, and a little bemused, by the global views of this blog. I knew that there were some international views but I thought they weren’t that common.  This is a very local blog with a focus on the visual arts in Melbourne. When WordPress introduced the stats of views from countries I realized how many of my views come from countries other than Australia – I’ve had readers from almost every country in the world. I’m not sure why I have relatively so few readers from New Zealand or why anyone in Africa would be reading it but thanks for reading where ever in the world you are.

Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

American artist Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

This year I have been doing some professional development as a critic going to a lot of art history talks and workshops this year; bloggers do need to do a bit of “professional development” and I’ve certainly been doing that this year. I find out about most of them on Melbourne Art Network. The best were a free mini-conference at Melbourne University: “Dispersed Identities – sexuality, surreal and the global avant-gardes” and the “Workshop on the Human and the Image” at the Centre for Ideas, Victorian College of the Arts (I gave a paper at there – I don’t know if that added to the quality). It has been great getting back to my love of art history and philosophy, although they remind me that I’m glad that I didn’t pursue an academic career especially considering the end of art history department at La Trobe University. The end of the art history department at La Trobe will impact on Melbourne’s visual culture for decades into the future. Studying art history at Monash University was a life changing experience for me – I wouldn’t be writing this blog without it.

The NGV’s new director, Tony Ellwood has been an improvement from what I’ve seen so far; acquiring Juan’s Ford’s “Last Laugh” and exhibiting the Trojan Petition in the NGV’s foyer for a week.

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

The Trojan Petition brings me to the subject of street art. The big change in street art in 2012 has been street artists competing in mainstream art prizes and being included in the prize exhibition (like E.L.K. in the Archibald) or winning like Baby Guerrilla. Major events in Melbourne’s street art in 2012 included Project Melbourne Underground and the Andy Mac Auction. Hosier Lane has changed since Andy Mac decamped; there has been major construction in the lane and in the adjoining Rutledge Lane (like so many other places around Melbourne) but the art goes on in spite of the now averted/delayed installation of CCTV cameras.

It has been a fun year. Cheers Alley Chats.


An Independent Critic

“I’m terrible with words,” Baby Guerrilla said in her acceptance speech on winning Two Years on the Wall at Union Dining in Richmond.

Yes, I know – artist are good with images and often terrible with words (there are exceptions, of course). And this is one reason why I often don’t consider it worth while talking to artist. There are other reasons why I don’t consider artist’s views that important. I don’t necessarily want to get that close – it creates too many conflicts of interest. Just because I appreciate your art I doesn’t mean that want to be a friend or your publicist (if I was your publicist you would pay me). And I can’t be bothered fitting in with artists’ travel, party or nightclubbing schedules – I have my own deadlines and I can’t wait weeks for a reply to my email.

I am an independent critic – for the artists who are terrible with words look up these two words in a dictionary. Many artists and designers have never had anything critical written about their work. For many the media exists solely as a source of promotional puff pieces and they are annoyed when this blog doesn’t fulfill that gushing role. Art critics are not just there to offer their opinions but to extend the conversation about the art. Without critics the limited conversation would go something like this: “Cool art”, “No, it is shit”, “Well I think that its cool”, “And I think that it is shit”, “We have different opinions”, “Yes, we have different opinions, we can agree on that.” The critic’s role is to extend that conversation for as long as possible by bringing in as much additional material to bear on these opinions as possible. To point out the positives and the negatives – it is not the roll of a critic to gush (see my post on Gushing).

Sunday Times Restaurant Critic A.A. Gill said: “The other thing that people you criticise never know and understand is that, like the mafia, it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, or me, it is about the third set of people in the equation: your audience and my readers. One of the great traps for critics is to believe they are part of the business they’re criticising. In the same way that a traffic warden isn’t part of the automotive business, I’m not part of the restaurant business.” (Smith Journal v.5 p.15)

I am not part of the art business and it is not my job to promote your exhibition, gallery or art.

It is inevitable that I will get to know some artists and gallery owners in my time writing this blog. I was at the Blender Xmas Party drinking the organic beer and hanging out with artists – Joel, Factor, Adi and Heesco. It might be fun but I have to ask myself is this a good use of my time as a critic and won’t it influence my next blog post on their art?

In the ecology of the art world critics are like wolves and other wild dogs, we are not the top predators but nevertheless we are necessary for the environment. We will abandon our kill to the big cats of the art world, the rich collectors and public art galleries (if they buy it we can but skulk around their kill waiting for them to leave so that we can pick over the bones). The effect of critics is grossly over estimated the wild herds of artists, we kill only those that would otherwise have died of disease or starvation within the same season. Sure we could reap havoc on an unguarded herd of dumb domesticated artists but maybe I’m stretching this metaphor a bit far wondering who is the farmer with the gun in this scenario.

Finally there is the right of reply to my posts in the comments section; it doesn’t get enough use.


T-Shirts – Design & Fashion

There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.

The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.

There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).

I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.

Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.

I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.

You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).

There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)

T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.


Dadswell & Porcelli & Australian Racism

Lyndon Dadswell (1908–1986) was 21 years old when he was commissioned to do the frieze for the interior of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. He had just finished his training at East Sydney Technical College (1926 – 1929) and the Julian Ashton Art School (1923 – 1925). He considered himself far too young to be working on a national monument.

Dadswell had been given the job at such a young age because the committee wanted an Anglo-Australian working on the Shrine. Dadswell was to replace Pietro Porcelli (1872 – 1943) an Italian born sculptor based in Perth. Porcelli was disliked by both the Shrine’s chief sculptor, Paul Montford and by the architect Philip Hudson. Hudson was openly racist about his dislike for Porcelli, and along with others, wanted “British” labour only on the Shrine.

Pietro Porcelli did not have a good time in Melbourne. On 16 July 1926 The West Australian reported Pietro Porcelli was “knocked down by a motor car while crossing an intersection in the city yesterday. He was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital suffering from concussion, a broken front bone, broken leg and abrasions. His condition is serious” According to the article Porcelli came to Melbourne to work on the Town Hall; I don’t known if that was completed.

Porcelli was out and young Lyndon Dadswell was in. Porcelli returned to Perth where he died, allegedly a virtual recluse on 28 June 1943. There is a memorial sculpture to Procelli by Greg James 1993, in Kings Square, outside St John’s Church, Fremantle, Western Australia. Dadswell went on to have a glorious career. He was commissioned created the twelve freestone panels to adorn the inner Shrine and after Montford’s death Dadswell became the chief sculptor for the Shrine. He was the first sculptor to be appointed an official war artist of the Second World War.

This is not the only example of racism in Melbourne’s public sculpture. Italian sculptors had previously been a controversy when the Scottish born James White (1861-1918) who immigrated to Australia 1884 employed Italians to work on the Queen Victoria Memorial (1907). White was in a bind as he depended on the skill of the Italian stone carvers to work the Carrara marble for the multiple figures on the large monument. After this James White received no other major state commissions.

Australian racism was enshrined in the White Australia policy and exhibited in all kinds of petty ways. And while Melbourne’s public sculpture from this period does not overtly exhibit this racism (aside from muscular nationalism); their history records its and the ghostly presence of racism haunts the sculptures.

unknown orphan sculpture, 118 Russell Street

unknown orphan sculpture, 118 Russell Street

I started looking for more about Dadswell after trying to attribute the frieze at 118 Russell Street (it was suggested to me that it might be the work of Dadswell). There is also the frieze on the top of the Freemason Hospital in East Melbourne that I have not been able to attribute. Dadswell did do friezes for commercial buildings his sculpture “Progress” at Rundel Mall in Adelaide. They could also be the work of one of Dadswell’s many students, like the South Australian sculptor, Rosemary Madigan.

Frieze on the Freemason Hospital, Sth Melbourne

Frieze on the Freemason Hospital, Sth Melbourne

These possible attributions are based on style; both have a similar style, with art deco archaic figures that have been influenced by archaeology of archaic Greece and Crete. And Dadswell admired the formality of archaic art as can be seen in his Birth of Venus (1944) at the Art Gallery of NSW. Before getting the commission for the Shrine Dadswell was studying with British sculptor Rayner Hoff at East Sydney Technical College. Hoff’s art deco sculptures were consciously trying to modernize the classical tradition. Dadswell cites his own influences as Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor, Epstein, and Henry Moore (James Gleeson Interviews: Lyndon Dadswell, 8 June 1979).

If anyone has any information about the attribution of these two sculptures please leave a comment.


Painting in the Public Eye

The Impressionists were the first artists to be seen painting in public, the new development of oil paint in tubes made that possible. Although the Impressionists worked quickly watching them paint was never a spectator activity – like watching paint dry.

When Hans Namuth filmed Jackson Pollock painting in 1951 in a carefully staged sequence it ended badly. After the filming both Pollock and Namuth were drinking and then started fighting over who was a “phoney”. Was it phoney (inauthentic in someway) for Pollock to preform for the camera? Do photographs of art change the art, already altering our perception of the art before we see it?

In 1950, just a year before Namuth filmed Pollock, Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts filmed Picasso’s painting on glass. Picasso was unconcerned about the camera and self-confident, he had many successful dealings with many photographers including David Dougalas Ducan, Edward Quinn and René Burri.

I was thinking about this as I watched Melbourne Street artists Conrad, Calm, Heesco, Sinnsykshit, Klara and others painting in a Fitzroy laneway off Leicester Street on Monday 3rd of December. It was an interesting afternoon; drivers found themselves in an unofficial pedestrian zone with shopping carts full of bags of paint, Phoenix using recycling bins as a studio table for cutting out paste-ups and cameras pointing everywhere. An approaching cyclists breaks to avoid getting in a shot before being waved through. For more photos of the event see StreetsmArt and Land of Sunshine.

Media watching street art Fitzroy

“Here’s all the other side.” Dean Sunshine says as spots Lorraine, Jacob Oberman, David Russell, Alison Young and myself, the regular street art media crowd of photographers, bloggers and documentary filmmakers. All independents like myself (I don’t know why none of the local mainstream media don’t report on street art) except for a French TV crew from Canel+ there on the day. We are the other side, not as in opponents but the other side to artistic communications, the recorders, reporters and critics, and literally the other side of the laneway.

There were so many video cameras and still cameras recording the event on Monday that sometimes there were more many cameras than artists painting. There is usually someone photographing or videoing a street artist painting, cameras are ubiquitous now, but this time the number of cameras made me really think about them. I had to ask myself did the act of filming change the art?

Some of the cameras were doing time lapses of the artists at work, there were other people conducting interviews, the French TV crew were interviewing CDH and trying to get him to join in with Yarn Corner and yarn bomb a bicycle. Street art does present some different challenges for photographers. Due to its illegality street artists are reluctant to show their faces and the image of street artists seen from behind bending over to paint in low-slung jeans is not attractive one. The yarn bombers don’t face problems with the law and are happy to show their faces.

Of course, all these cameras was going to have some effect on the art just as not watching or recording the artist at work is going to have some effect. But did the cameras make the painting inauthentic and phoney in someway or has the perception and our awareness of the media changed since the 1950s?

Street art needs the cameras to record the image to combat the political spin. After Canel+ broadcasts the piece CDH plans to contact Tourism Victoria, the State Government and municipal councils to say: “We just made a 10 min ad for Melbourne viewed by several million French people. Where’s the support?”

P.S. The video of the French TV crew can be seen on YouTube.

Canel+ interviews CDH

Canel+ interviews CDH


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