Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic.

The Court Favourite

Paul Montford’s sculpture, The Court Favourite (also known as: The Prince) captures the action of a lithe young man playing with a boisterous pet leopard cub. In his right hand the youth, Montford described him as a “Young Indian”, clasps a decorated baton with a carved elephant head handle is. The cub crouches low and tugs fiercely at the youth’s cloak.

Paul Montford, Court Favourite, c.1906

Paul Montford, Court Favourite, c.1906

The leopard was modelled on a leopard at London Zoo, this would not be the last time that Montford used zoo animals as models using a goat and lion from Melbourne Zoo as models for his architectural decorations on the Shrine of Remembrance.

The Court Favourite was first exhibited in 1906 at the Royal Academy in London but not in a bronze edition that would have to wait until Montford and his family had immigrated to Australia in 1923. The sculpture was not cast locally as there were no specialist sculpture foundry in Australia at the time and the model was sent back to Europe to be cast. (He is a well travelled lad with a touch of Orientalism.) Montford believed that the heavy casting of the sculpture made it less likely to be vandalised, still he imagined that young men might want to break parts off especially the baton. It was cast by Foundry A.B. Burton, cast 1929, a foundry notable for casting large sculptures for notable 19th century sculptures. Montford in a letter (June, 1929) to his brother, Louis Montford notes that he sent Burton £90 for the casting and complaining that he couldn’t get an advance from Baron Marks.

In 1930 Councillor Baron Marks presented Montford’s The Court Favourite to the Melbourne City Council in memory of his brother, Jacob Marks. (Was this Alderman Jacob Marks, President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1897 to 1901 and 1907 to 1908?) Baron Marks was a keen amateur sportsman and the President of the St. Kilda Sports Club. He had purchased the sculpture a few years earlier for £400; £100 less than the price paid by the Melbourne City Council for Montford’s The Water Nymph.

Paul Montford, The Water Nypmh, 1910

Paul Montford, The Water Nypmh, 1910

Wednesday 5th Feb 1930 Montford, in another letter to his brother Louis, records the unveiling. “Today is a hot day… I had no waistcoat on which same is not done in best circles. They didn’t know it, but they were lucky I didn’t show up in pyjamas – Oh! the occasion was the unveiling of the The Court Favourite in Flagstaff gardens just the other side of the city. Marian & I went over by car and enjoyed it all very much. Everybody patted everybody’s back, including mine, and in return I patted my own. When all was over we retired to the Mayors Room at the Town Hall where we did it all again, only more so. Now I hope I shall get paid – I haven’t had a penny yet.”

“Which is the favourite, the slave-boy or panther?” asked the Herald (Thursday 6 Feb 1930) and then narrates: “Spoiled, pampered and flattered, the panther rules the Court, symbol of the human master as fierce, as ruthless, as cruel as itself. The slave dare not use his whip, his smile is as sycophantic as that of the rest, as the patter has his will, today in play, tomorrow – in what sort?”

I want to describe this sculpture as ‘high camp’ but the Edwardian minds for which it was created for now seem utterly alien in their attitudes. Montford’s The Court Favourite still stands in the shade of mature elm trees in Melbourne’s oldest public gardens, Flagstaff Gardens established in 1862. There are many sculpture by Montford around Melbourne for more see my post Montford in Melbourne or Catherine Moriarty Making Melbourne’s Monuments – the sculpture of Paul Mondford (Australian Scholarly, 2013) where I have sourced all the quotes in this post.


No Flash

“No flash! No flash!” In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the gallery attendants are chanting “no flash!” at the tour groups. Now that everyone has a camera someone’s bound to have forgotten to turn their flash off. Some people are filming their entire visit to the gallery, others are using the zoom as binoculars to look closer at the paintings. At a certain point the number of cameras in a gallery becomes a spectacle in itself and a distraction from the exhibition.

Photographing The Scream at MOMA

There is no photography in the antique libraries in Dublin. And then there is MONA’s policy on photography which is strange “Still photography for personal use is allowed. No flashes or tripods, please. No videos or photographs may be reproduced, distributed, sold or displayed on personal websites without our permission. Buy a postcard.”

I understand the conservation reasons for no flash photography – strong light will fade pigments. I understand the basics of copyright law of images and the reasons why copyright might apply to unique expressions of an idea. I am interested in the variety of gallery practices around the world and I notice that the policy on photography does vary across galleries. (I have written about this before in a post in 2008 about the NGV’s policy on sketching and taking notes.)

A museum or galleries policy on photography is not simply about insurance, copyright, security and protection of the collection, it defines the purpose and use of the museum’s collection. The Frick Collection in New York allowed photography briefly in early 2014 but then reversed this policy worried about the damage that inattentive photographers focused on their camera screen might accidentally damage some of the collection.

Why do people want take photographs in an art gallery? I know why I want to: images for this blog, not that I always take them I am not one of the bloggers who regularly takes photos at gallery openings or documents the whole exhibition with photographs. It is not easy to take good photographs of art and many artists and galleries would prefer not to have their art represented in bad photos so I am grateful that some galleries, like RMIT Gallery will supply photographs free to bloggers (thanks RMIT Gallery staff for your help over the years). I go around with a light weight digital camera strapped to my belt; it is sure is different from hauling my old Soviet Zenit around.

Photography is part of everyday life now and people are increasingly trying to capture something of that life in the camera. With digital cameras there are few delays in processing and distributing; we can bore our friends in small doses over Facebook later that day.

For more on this subject Mark Sheerin explores some of the issues of photography and the variety of gallery policies in “Gallery Photo Policy Versus The Aura of the Artwork” in Hyperallegic.


Rosemary Coleman (1930-2014) artist

On Wednesday the 23rd of July, Geelong artist, Rosemary Coleman after a long illness passed away at her home of natural causes. She was 84 years old.

Rosemary Coleman’s life as a serious contemporary artist with a thirty-two year career deserves to be remembered. Rosemary Coleman was a determined woman with vivacious personality that was expressed in her art. She had delayed her artistic career by a couple of decades to be a housewife and mother but with her art she was her own woman. Her paintings are frequently abstractions of landscapes with female figures, for example, Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting in the collection of the Geelong Art Gallery.

Her art was part of the return to painting and she was interested in linear forms and the calligraphy of brush strokes. Her art was experimental, not in the sense of avant-garde but in that she kept on experimenting with how to express her vision in media from printing to painting. Every mark was an experiment in creating the image.

She was involved with the development of local Geelong art scene. In the 1980s and 1990s her work was often in group exhibitions at the Geelong Art Gallery. In 1983 Rosemary Coleman was included in the annual exhibition, Survey 5 at the Geelong Art Gallery along with a younger generation of local artists; Robert Drummond, Lachlan Fisher, Don Walters. Later in the 1980s Rosemary Coleman was amongst a half dozen artists who initiated Artery, the first art-run gallery in Geelong. Rosemary also taught art history at the Geelong TAFE in 1980s. She also exhibited in Encounter Confrontation–Australia–Itay, a group exhibition exchange with a city in Italy organised by the Geelong Art Gallery.

The Geelong Art Gallery has two of her works in their collection: Mixed Media Man (1986) a coloured linocut and Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting. There are four of her works in Swan Hill Regional Gallery’s collection: two from 1987, Media Man and Graffiti, and two from 1992, Icarus flees the crowd and Icarus flees the hand.

There is also art by Rosemary Coleman in the collections of the Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Warrnambool Art Gallery, Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Deakin University, Geelong Grammar School and private collections. During her artistic career she had eleven solo exhibitions and many more group exhibitions in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, Geelong, Castlemaine, Swan Hill, and overseas in Italy and Japan. In 1991 she received a high commendation in the Blake Prize for Religious Art. Her first solo exhibition was at Young Originals Gallery in Melbourne in 1974 and her last exhibition was at Rinaldi Gallery in Brunswick in 2006. Unfortunately in the 1970s and 1980s Australia’s contemporary art gallery scene was still a developing and Rosemary Coleman did not have good luck with the galleries representing her; she complained that they kept on closing down.

I first encountered Rosemary Coleman’s art in the lounge room of a shared house in Clayton where I lived for a year. I was surprised to learn that this work was by the mother of one of my housemates, John Coleman. John was always happy that his mother had her own interesting life as an artist. It was a mixed media work on paper with ‘J’ai froid’ (I am cold) written amongst the calligraphic brush stokes. It was appropriately located about the single, inadequate gas heater in the uninsulated, run-down weatherboard house. I would look at it and sympathise with Rosemary painting in a cold studio.

Since then I have seen her art regularly, several of her exhibitions and hanging in the houses of friends from that shared house. In 1986 Niagara Galleries had exhibition of her large abstract paintings. I remember one in particular, as it currently hangs in a friend’s living room, a densely coloured field of flowers and faces that has been painted over, obscured by a thick white swirls of brushstrokes and a cyan calligraphic gesture.

detail Rosemary Coleman 1986

detail Rosemary Coleman 1986


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.)

 


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