Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Magical Illusions

Walking between the art galleries on Flinders Lane and thinking about the uncanny nature of a thing that looks like another thing but is made out of completely different material. This uncanny illusion is a trick that many artists use, along with lots of other people from cake decorators to topiary gardeners. Illusions are only one trick and a good artist will use more than one trick. (Who wants a one trick pony?) Two exhibitions had spurred these thoughts.

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer, Kangaroo Sign, 2014

Carly Fischer’s five installations, Magic Dirt in Gallery 1 of Craft Victoria look like arrangements of rubbish. But are all made from paper and foam core, even the plastic bags and barbed wire. The illusion is even more uncanny because paper is such a familiar material. However, the magic of the illusion is only part of the magic of this installation. Fischer reflects on Australia as an enormous rubbish dump; the outback is littered with empty cans, hubcaps and empty bags. The irony of the reuse and recycle labels on this packaging. Fischer reflects on the way that we arrange our detritus and the primitive magical thinking behind the piercing a KFC pack with sticks or the bullet holes in the kangaroo sign.

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington

Peter Daverington’s exhibition Because Painting at Arc One is about illusions in paint. Daverington reflects on the tradition of these artistic illusion with references to illusionistic art in Western painting from the Bosch through to op-art. Geometric exploding planes combine with the baroque over the top drama of the illusions. Daverington is also interested in where the illusion breaks down on the edge of the canvas, where it becomes drips, scraped back or great spreads of solidified paint.

Because Painting is a home coming exhibition for Daverington who is Melbourne-born but now based in New York.


Street Art and the Art Fair

A couple of weeks before the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) I noticed some street artist complaining on Facebook about a lack of inclusion of street art and graffiti in MAF. Bitching about how can the fair represent Melbourne art without street art. Many of street and graffiti artists are ignorant of what is on at an art fair (Peter Drew of Art vs Reality has in reality never been to an art fair). Of course, there are some artists who have work on the street at the MAF; for example, Lucas Grogan represented by Gallery Smith. As well, there was a forum about art in the street at Museum Victoria on Saturday.

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

I already knew this when I stood up at the media preview and put the question to the director of art fair, Barry Keldoulis. He had already mentioned ‘break-out event’ and talked about the fair engaging with the rest of Melbourne’s art in his introductory speech.

Keldoulis responded that you can’t avoid street art in Melbourne. Visitors to the MAF were encouraged with talks and events to move beyond the confines of the Exhibition Building and would inevitably encounter street art. He questioned if street art should be brought into gallery space while noting that there were artists transitioning the two venues with prints and murals. He was certainly not excluded street artists and graffiti but that the transition from the street to galleries and the art fair is up to the individual artists.

After Keldoulis had replied Anna Papas, Chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation (the Melbourne Art Fair is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation) approached me. She was interested in how to include street artists and wanted to know how the MAF could include more of their work in the future.

Chromatavour in Coburg

Chromatavour in Coburg

It is not that art galleries have been rejecting this art or have been anything like the worst enemies of street art and graffiti, but artists working on the street have so many enemies (police, transport officers, buffers) that almost everyone outside of their cohorts are added to the list. What graffiti and street artists really had to fear was not the galleries making them inauthentic but photographers, graphic designers, etc. exploiting their work on the streets.

I’ve been watching the interaction between street art and art galleries since I started this blog in 2008. Of, course this interaction has been going on for decades longer than that. The art world has been searching for outsider artists for well over half a century. The genuine outsider artist is now a rare individual as there are so many people, from social workers to art collectors, waiting to discover them and expose their work to the wider world.

In recent years in Melbourne art spaces have been springing up to cater for street artists, particularly in Collingwood. A kind of parallel gallery system has emerged but these are not the kind of art spaces who will be representing artists at an art fair.

Sunfigo in Melbourne

Sunfigo in Melbourne


Antique Guide to the NGV

Cleaning up her piles of books that belonged to her aunt Catherine discovered a guide to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from 1968, the year that it opened the St Kilda Road building. (Well, it is not yet an antique, but it soon will be.) This piece of ephemera is a portal to another time of art in Australia.

NGV Guide 1968

NGV Guide 1968

The guide is small booklet with a purple paper cover, stapled binding and 32 pages with black and white illustrations. Printed by the Aldine Press Pty Ltd., a commercial printer specialising in book and periodicals, still operating in Prahran. There is no price on the booklet but the cover does fold out to include a membership form for the Gallery Society.

The purple cover has the stylised image of the roof of the gallery with the three central courtyards. In the plan of the gallery the courtyards are named both by the architect and after the donors: the oriental courtyard, named ‘Coles Court’; the sculpture courtyard, named ‘Lindsay Court’ and the ‘playhouse courtyard’ named ‘Keith Murdoch Court’.

It starts with a dry introduction from Eric Westbrook, the then director of the NGV, mostly about the gallery’s benefactors. There are maps of the two floors of the gallery, showing the original layout of the exhibition space.

The rest of the publication is an introduction with illustrations to the main areas of the galleries collection. It is interesting to note what is missing from the text. The term ‘ethnic art’ is used instead of ‘aboriginal art’. Reading about the European art collection it is remarkable to notice how much is about English art and that France is not mentioned, although the Impressionists are.

“Highlights of the European twentieth century are works by Modigliani, Rouault, Delaunay, de Stael, Tapies, Soto and others.” (p.23)

The description of Australian art, then housed on the second floor of the St. Kilda Road gallery, clearly shows Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’.

“Australian Art is essentially a colonial art drawing its stylistic impetus from the metropolitan centres of the world. Originally English traditions were paramount while in the later nineteenth century, French influences predominated. To-day, the styles of Western European Art have become universal and interacting. American abstract expressionism and the kinetic experiments of the French Groupe de Recheche d’Art Visuel mingle with traditions of the School of Paris and have their influence there. However, the particular life of this country and the individual attire of its people, flavour the work of its artists creating a distinctive Australian art. Though the idiom has brome international, the accent remains Australian.” (p.27)

Many aspects of the NGV have changed but I did note that the galleries collection of William Blake drawings remains a consistent feature of the galleries exhibition of Prints and Drawings department; Blake’s “The Whirlwind (Angel Crossing Styx)” is illustrated on page 11 and his drawings were on exhibition again this year.


Taxidermy Spectacular

Julia deVille: Phantasmagoria and Leslie Rice: Bacchanalia at Sophie Gannon Gallery.

Julia deVilla, Rocking Alpaca

Julia deVille, Rocking Alpaca

After the dinning room theme of her installation, Degustation in Melbourne Now, deVille’s Phantasmagoria is more from the bedroom and the nursery. In Beatrix, a rabbit, wearing a black formal coat with tails, sits alert on an antique high chair. Rocking Alpaca has a white, baby alpaca standing on a rocking horse base. In other works a fawn and a rat lie in a crib and a piglet, decorated with antique lace, lies in an antique baby carriage. There are wind up keys in many of the taxidermy animals suggesting toys with a clockwork mechanism.

Julia deVille’s art is beautiful but it is the emotions that it causes, ranging from cloying sentimentality to mawkish horror, that amplify the charge this beauty. The spectacular sensationalism of her taxidermy installations give them a neo-baroque style. Her art makes it seem that aesthetics, like cute, horror, sentimental and nostalgia are more about emotions than beauty and that beauty is only another quality, added on top of an emotional response.

To concentrate on deVille’s taxidermy, especially the delicate work with the extremely tiny young animals, is to forget other aspects of the exhibition. The contemporary techniques of assemblage and installation, most notably in her jewellery work and the installation itself. Jewellery has always been a kind of assemblage technique, reusing old materials, resetting old stones but deVille makes it contemporary art. Her installation aspect combines with collecting antiques with contemporary art’s interest in the mechanics of display.

Although the installation of antique furniture that the work is displayed on does somewhat, alleviate the clinical white of the gallery. The paintings of Leslie Rice, dark bacchanal scenes painted in acrylic on black velvet, also help with the atmosphere. When I first saw Rice’s paintings I thought that they must have been bad ‘old master’ paintings with fugitive colours, that had been dug out as an accompaniment to deVille’s Degustation. Now that I am aware of them, I still have the same opinion; they seem stuck in the past and lack the contemporary sensibility that deVille brings to her assemblages of antiques.

It has been a couple of years since I have been to the galleries in Albert Street, East Richmond and things have changed. Where there were once half a dozen galleries now only two cling on (or three if we include the artist run space that was closed when I visited). Along with Sophie Gannon Gallery, Anita Traverso Gallery is still in Albert Street. It is not that they have all closed. John Buckley Gallery is now located in Prahran, Jenny Port Gallery is now in Collingwood and Karen Woodbury has moved to Flinders Lane.


Studio Visit

The sculptor, William Eicholtz’s studio is at the far end of a graffiti covered back streets of Windsor. He and other artists have shared this former factory space for about twenty years and the idea that the area will someday be redevelop keeps Will awake at night.

As is customary in Melbourne when visiting shared studio, Will took me around to meet each of the artists. Some I had seen some of their work before but had yet to put an artist to the art, or type out their name multiple times in a blog; that does help to imprint it on my mind.

The main studio space is set out like an open plan office where five of the artists worked. There was another room with ceramics kilns, Will’s moulds and two of his sheep that he had carved in marble in China and that had recently sold. As well as, a small store room for smelly chemicals and paints. Only Jennifer Pinder had a separate room; Jennifer was half way through a complex abstract painting of weaving lines that would give an ancient monk a psychedelic trip.

There is Janet Beckhouse who the Melbourne Now Exhibition Guide described as “one of Melbourne’s foremost contemporary ceramists”. Janet, like Will, has a rococo style to her ceramics but her version is much darker; beautiful, delicate and horrifying. There was a moment of terror as we look at her work as Janet’s black cat, Noodle jumped through the handle of one of her vases. It was such a tempting cat shaped opening and, of course, Noodle didn’t touch the vase.

Louise Rippert, a mixed-media artists who was working on a post-minimalism great grids of perforated, painted cardboard squares and transparent plastic. What Louise wants to emphasis is the way that her work changes as the viewer moves.

Rose Agnew was working on small paintings based on Alice in Wonderland for the Linden Post Card Show. She was not the only one in the studio planning to enter the show; Will was showed me some small base-relief, faux or imitation grate covers that he would be entering. Will’s small workspace was crowded with earlier sculptures. A small glass cabinet hanging on the wall with small bronze sculptures, Will’s stock room for studio sales.

There was another space, a painter, also new to the studio, who wasn’t there when I visited.

After touring the studio I sat down to tea and marble cake with all the artists to talk about all kinds of things, from the balance between doing larger scale work and the limited studio space to the trial of Paul Yore. Was I just working on background information, developing contacts for future articles and blog posts? One reason why I haven’t written about artist’s studios is that the chaotic, communal studio environment is worse than an un-curated group show as far as viewing the art. I wasn’t sure, I was enjoying the conversation so much that I forget to take my camera out and shoot some ‘studio porn’ as Hyperallergic calls it. Finally, the main reason that I’d come to the studio, the commission for the figure of Justice for the County Court but that will have to wait for another blog post.


Sublime to the Spooky

I saw a few exhibitions this week that ranged from the sublime to the spooky in some unusual locations and some of the usual locations.

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock’s New Hypothetical Continents is at Dome Gallery. Dome Gallery is at The Mission to Seafarers, one of the few old buildings in Docklands. Under the great domed space, the lights of Maddock’s new continent twinkle in the circular space. The continent’s scale matches the space and creates a beautiful spectacle in a location that resonates with sea transport. Maddock’s work references the modern fascination to discover or create a modern Atlantis. Maddock came public attention when he and Isaac Greener were part of the Melbourne Sculpture Prize in 2011 and his Apostle No.2 stood in Federation Square.

Like many people I went to see The Vivisector to see Andrew Delaney has sewn soft tissue sculptures; it was clearly a very popular little exhibition. It reminded me of soft versions of Damien Hirst, The Virgin Mother, 2005 as well as, what I know of the history of anatomical models. All the fabric hearts, arms and other body parts were very good and impressive but not brilliant. The work has a visual sensationalism with an instant appeal, of transferring anatomical models to fabric but after that what is left. It was a bit too slick, showing evidence of Delaney’s decade of work at Myer, as a visual merchandiser and stylist. It has a strange corny macabre aesthetic; the kind that does attractively present a fabric model of a foetus nestled in a broken down arm chair. I thought that the work looked better when I saw some of the work amidst all the clutter at his studio, Anno Domini Home at the back of Harold and Maude than in Edmund Pearce Gallery also on Level Two of the Nicholas Building.

Hidden Faces of the Archibald Exhibition, also known as ‘the Melbourne Salon de Refuses’, the best of the Victorian rejects from the Archibald Prize in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. With the Archibald there are so many entries that these little side exhibitions have been going for decades, each with their own people’s choice prize. Looking at most of the portraits you can instantly see why they didn’t get into the Archibald: tired old techniques, awkward poses, really odd ideas (like, why is Ted Baillieu’s head on a tree?) or too obscure a subject for the Archibald’s idea of a notable Australian.

At Screen Space Patricia Piccinini Swell, 2000 made me feel slightly unbalanced watching the three screens of animated waves but I was more impressed with Leela Schauble’s Synthetic Species Motion Study No.7 because it was creepy and relevant to plastics in the ocean. However my preference for Schauble’s work may be influenced by the development of digital animation in the last 14 years.


Conspirators

“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.

Sally Field

Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.

The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.

Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.

The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.

James Cattell

There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated.  In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.

Carmen Reid


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