Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

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

Melbourne Art Fair 2014

The full-scale Dalek and the woman dressed as My Lady in Red would be more familiar sights at a comic book or sci-fi convention but they were at the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF). Not only was there a small booth from Thrill, the cosplay magazine but also at the MAF Edge there was tattooist Mat Rogers of Dead Cherub, French antiques, car drawings, free-form knitting, other displays that you would not expect at an art fair.

Thrill magazine's cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

Thrill magazine’s cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

The MAF is still at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and there are still booths from 70 art galleries from Australia, Asia, Europe and the USA with more than 300 artists filling the building. However, there more than that both at the Exhibition Building and 53 other locations across Melbourne. There are performance artists, project rooms, a video space, a creative space for the younger visitors, a platform for young galleries and art run initiatives at the Exhibition Building. Outside of the Exhibition Building there is a free public performances, pop-up exhibition, art talks and walks. It is more like a visual arts festival than simply another art fair.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

There are lot of art fairs around the world now and there has been a lot of criticism of art fairs as the new monster predators in the art world. Lucinda Schmidt reports in The Age about the competition between art fair and commercial galleries. The commercial galleries pay thousands of dollars for a stall at the art fair, just like artists paying to hang in rental space galleries. However, art fairs are not static systems and it is clear that MAF has responded and changed.

Some of the galleries at the MAF have moved away from stock shows at their booths to curated exhibitions. On Wednesday morning Wynne and Archibald Prize winning Melbourne artist, Sam Leach was still installing his exhibition of large scale paintings and geometric sculptures at the Sullivan + Strumpf booth. Leach’s new work connects the past to present, his detailed fine painting of landscapes and animals now combine elements of hard edge abstraction that are reflected in his small sculptures. Along with Ashley Crawford and Tony Lloyd, Leach is also curating the Not Fair in Collingwood.

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Mikala Dwyer’s The weight of shape, a large mobile commissioned by the Melbourne Art Foundation, hangs, turning and transforming slowly in the Exhibition Building. The unlikely mix of acrylic, fibreglass, copper, clay, bronze and stainless shapes some how balance each other. After the MAF is over The weight of shape will be given to the National Gallery of Australia.

“Art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art” Barry Keldoulis told the media preview on Wednesday morning. It is a big change since I was last at a Melbourne Art Fair in 2002, after that I thought that it was better, cheaper and less crowded to visit the galleries individually. I can now report that the Melbourne Art Fair has changed a lot in those twelve years.


Nauru, Art and Refugees

As a teenager I briefly landed on Nauru as the single aircraft in Air Nauru was the cheapest way to fly to Japan from Australia. I was in the cockpit as we landed, sitting behind the captain; it was common practice back then for the captain to invite children into the cockpit, although being in the cockpit during a landing was unusual however there were so few passengers on the flight that my brother and I were the only non-adults.

The island is tiny, the runway being the largest feature of the island seen from the air. There was a policeman manning a boom gate that stopped the cars crossing the runway as the plane landed. It looked like the dullest place in the world; it was dull for me and yet there were fat, bored locals sitting at the airport just to watch the plane arrive, probably the most exciting thing to happen all week on the tiny island.

This was at the time when Nauru’s sovereign wealth fund made it, per capita one of the richest countries in the world. It was during this period of prosperity that Melbourne was given a “gift of the people and government of Nauru” the sculpture “Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle” (aka “the metal men”) 1993 by Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn.

Now that the phosphate mines on Nauru and it administer sovereign wealth fund has been exploited and mismanaged Nauru has once again become, in all but name, a colony of Australia that uses it as a concentration camp for refugees. There are currently more refugees on Nauru than citizens.

I was reminded of this when I saw Kelvin Skewes, What was taken and what was given an exhibition of photograph at the Counihan Gallery. Skewes photographs of Nauru’s destruction shows the mix between the tropical island and the industrial wasteland, the jagged limestone exposed by the phosphate mining and the new industry of abusing refugee’s human rights.

This not the first time that landscape of Nauru has been the subject of art. In 2010 “The Nauru Elegies: a portrait in sound and hypsographic architecture” by architect Annie K Kwon and musician Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky. (See my post.)

Also at the Counihan Gallery is local artist Liz Walker’s The Wave, that also refers to the Australian regime’s criminal treatment of refugees. In the middle of the gallery Walker’s impressive post-minimalist boat made of 37,697 sticks (one stick for every refugee who has travelled by boat to Australia from 1976-2012). One wall of the gallery is covered in old suitcases, Memorial to the beginning of an unknown end, each of the open suitcases contains an assemblage, like Joseph Cornell’s boxes, with a reference to refugees coming to Australia. Walker’s use of worn and aged found materials combines both the poetic and the polemic. (For more on Liz Walker’s art do a search using the search box at the top of the right bar, put quotation marks around her name – there are about ten posts.)


Censorship, Barry Keldoulis and Paul Yore

Prior to the Melbourne Art Fair I asked Barry Keldoulis some questions about the censorship of art by Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart at Sydney Contemporary in 2013 and assured  him that his replies would be printed in full.

Barry Keldoulis: Thank you Mark, and some of my answers are going to be fairly long winded as to answer the question properly will require background information on the circumstances.

Black Mark: What I am concerned about is what happened at the Sydney Contemporary. In your statement about removing the work of artists at Sydney Contemporary you were definitive that the artists were on the wrong side of the law, how were you able to achieve this degree of certainty with a law that has never been tested in court?

Barry Keldoulis: I think it’s worth noting firstly that some of the work of Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart were removed form the fair, and those that were not found to contravene the laws of NSW remained on display. I am not a lawyer or a policeman, so when it became clear that there was some elements of the Yore installation that may contravene the law, legal expects were asked to view the work. Three barristers who specialize in this particular area, typically and often successfully defending the accused, came and spent a couple of hours examining the installation.

It may be worth noting here that I had spoken to Paul on a number of occasions and sought his assurance “that nothing in this work will contravene the Australia Council’s Protocols for Working with Children in Art or relevant existing laws in NSW.”

I had reminded Paul that the laws in NSW were different to the laws in Victoria. Indeed they are considered by many to be the strictest in the land, and do not refer to ‘child pornography’ but the wider term ‘child abuse material’.

His written response to me was : “I understand and obviously accept these conditions for my new work at Sydney Contemporary’s installation section.” And furthermore, “I am acutely aware of the need to respect relevant laws especially in relation to children”.

However, the barristers found that, and I quote, “The Large Installation, I am afraid offends in many varied ways the provisions of the Crimes Act legislation in NSW.  The Large Installation is interesting and intrinsically devoted to the display of boys, probably under 16 years of age in Child Abuse Material under S91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).  The definitions of these Materials are wide and includeS91FB(1) (b) depiction of child (under 16), S91FA, and furthermore in “sexual pose or implied in presence of another in sexual pose or sexual activity, or private parts of person apparently involved in sexual activity.”

They added, “Accordingly, the Installation in spirit and in detail come within the definition of “child abuse material” and is fatally doomed to probable conviction of your client for possession and /or exhibition.”

My understanding is that conviction would mean a jail term. Some seem to think that Paul should go to jail. I acted to protect him from that eventuality.

But it was not as simple as that. The legal experts also informed us that under the laws of NSW that “The mere possession of such material is potentially an offence.”

This meant that my initial idea to bring one of the theatrical curtains in the space forward in front of the work and signpost it to only allow adults in and to warn of possible offence, as is often done in institutions, was not an option. With Child Abuse Material,  the existence of the material is the problem, not its exhibition.

And in these circumstances, the exhibiting institution is considered the ‘publisher’, which meant that the staff of Carriageworks could be looking at conviction for possession and /or exhibition. People who have a long history of being incredibly supportive of artists at the forefront of experimentation and diversity were also in danger.

Black Mark: Why do think that censorship is “in the best interests of all the galleries showing” (from your statement re: Sydney Contemporary)?

Barry Keldoulis: In this discussion and can be easy to forget that the event involved some 80 galleries and the work of hundreds of artists. Had the work been allowed to stay and become the subject of a police enquiry the media tornado would have sucked in all the oxygen and denied any attention to the hundreds of other intriguing and stimulating works on display.

Black Mark: Why do you think that acting as a cop in censoring art works is part of your role as director of an art fair? Why not wait for the real police to follow their normal procedures and wait for a report from the public and investigate?

Barry Keldoulis: I did not act as ‘cop’, but on advice from legal experts, and others.  I took no pleasure in the proceedings, but acted in the best interests of the persons concerned.

An art fair, being open to the public and attended by tens of thousands of people, including children, does not seem the appropriate place to pursue this issue to it’s legal conclusion. However I think your suggestion is interesting. Perhaps the gallerist involved and who surely advises the artist on these matters, and may  disagree with the legal advice we received, should take a space in NSW and re-create the installation in its entirety, and invite the police to have a look, remembering that possession is a crime, not just exhibition.

Black Mark: How does the diversity of income streams (galleries, sponsors etc.) of an art fair influence this position?

Barry Keldoulis: This was a legal issue around the possession and exhibition of Child Abuse Material, and ‘income streams’ had nothing to do with it.

Thanks again Mark for the opportunity to answer your questions with more than a sound bite.

*      *      *

Obscenity laws are prima facie unjust because it is impossible for a reasonable person to know before conviction if something is obscene. No other crime is so open to such subjective interpretation. Although some crimes, manslaughter for example, do not require an intention to commit a crime, no other crime convicts a reasonable person acting in good faith.  The obvious intention of obscenity laws is to force everyone to conform to the thinking of the dominate institutional power in this society.

We live in a society where laws have been made by the state, under the influence of the religious institutions; a society where both the state and religious institutions are currently under investigation for child abuse and the covering up of these crimes (The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse). Why does anyone believe that such institutions have any moral authority or even any morality? Why does anyone tolerate the unjust and amoral dictates made by these institutions – because of the threat of violence?

“The State does not permit me to use my thoughts to their full value and communicate them to other men… unless they are its own… Otherwise it shuts me up.”

– Max Stirner, The Ego and its Own, 1845


Underground Indonesian Art

Fort Delta is an underground gallery down a flight of stairs at the back of the Capitol Arcade in Melbourne; it is an appropriate location for New Underground: Indonesian Contemporary. It is Fort Delta’s first collaborative exhibition with MiFA Gallery that represents artists from the Asia Pacific region.

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

This is a great exhibition of contemporary Indonesian art featuring work by work by Soni Irawan, Iyok Prayogo, and Lugas Syllabus. Prayogo and Syllabus are both graduates of The Indonesian Institute Of The Arts, Yogyakarta. Irawan completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Indonesian Art Institute in Jogjakarta. According to the exhibition notes they are all “emerged from the Indo Punk scene” hence “New Underground”.

I laugh out loud when I look at Lugas Syllabus’s mixed media sculpture Step by Step, My Friend (2011) a cartoon rabbit is progressively jumping into a trap baited with carrots. It is so funny, so funky inexplicable with a clearly wise message about progress all at the same time.

Most of the exhibition is filled with paintings by Soni Irawan. His painting are intense; the accretion of layers of images, in layers of different media, is a urban experience and vision. He spray paints aerosol enamel over his own work in bubble graffiti for Fake Fact (2012), stencils in the Chupa Chups logo on Lady Candy (2013) and pastes on embroidery patches on Ultra Flat Black (2011). All on top of his line drawings of strange creatures, people with faces in their torsos, Blemmyae, masked and animal headed figures.

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Iyok Prayogo’s two light boxes in hard road cases, Walk on By (2009) and Going Metal (2012), were a bit too mainstream rock’n’roll for my taste.

I don’t get to see much Indonesian contemporary art here in Melbourne but what I have seen, like the New Underground has been very worth while.


Artistic Laneways

Walking around the city on a Saturday gallery crawl I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk down a couple of Melbourne’s more artistic laneways: Union Lane and Pesgrave Place.

Union Lane

A group of guys spray painting along the length of Union Lane, as usual there was also someone documenting it with photographs but one of the artists was videoing himself with a small camera strapped to his head. An artist eye view of painting a piece, Picasso would have loved that technology.

It was J.D. Mittmann and Amanda King who organised the first legal painting in Union Lane back in 2008 as part of the city’s Graffiti Mentoring Project. Somewhere on its walls under years of aerosol paint there are works by Phibs, Deb, Rhen, Taj, Ha Ha and many other artists. Union Lane is currently managed/curated by Signal as part of its street art mentoring project.

Union Lane is a lot narrower than Hosier Lane, it is now just a gap connecting the Bourke Street Mall to Little Collins Street; it is more about graffiti and less about street art but there were a couple of new Junky Projects, now colourfully spray painted with stencil tags.

Presgrave Place

Presgrave Place is the opposite of Union Lane a location for odd street art rather than graffiti, the op-shop frames glued to the wall are still there but most no longer have their old prints in them. There is an old paste-up by Happy of a dead Pinnochio hung with noose made from his long nose and a new Junky Projects.

Junky Projects Presgrave Place

In Presgrave Place there is also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. Nicholas Smith was exhibiting “Notes on Live Night Parrot Sightings in North-western Queensland” with a model of the last authenticated sighting, a dead parrot (Pezoporus Occidentalis) found on the side of the road.

Nicholas Smith


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.


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