Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Final Post for 2014

This is my final post for another year. May I wish Happy 10th Anniversary to Richard Watt’s SmartArts on 3RRR, the Melbourne Prize, Blindside, Brunswick Arts Space and Trouble Magazine; all of which have made an impact on Melbourne’s art scene in their first decade. Another milestone worth recording is that John Buckley Gallery closed at the end of this year.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Thank you to everyone around the world who has read and has subscribed to this blog. It has been a strange year for me as one of the least powerful people in the art world, an online art critic, an independent writer and researcher, a blogger. I have been trying to be more professional about this doing freelance writing for a number of publications. I have my ABN (Australian Business Number) number now. (See my About page for links to most of these publications and also a few of my oil paintings).

I have spent a lot of time in 2014 in the Melbourne’s Magistrates Court covering the Paul Yore case. I have been out of my depth and out of my areas of expertise but it was important to report on the events. (See my post Are You Experienced?) Although Yore was found not guilty and police were ordered to pay all legal costs it left me with this feeling of dread that this will repeat as Australian culture refuses to learn. That case along with so many other aspects of Australian culture, racism, crimes against humanity, lack of human rights, all make me pessimistic about the future.

Sally Field

Sally Fields installation at the Conspirators

It seemed as if some of the major themes of the year was exhibitions titled Wunderkammer and doing art with the idea of taxidermy. Amongst my favourite exhibition this year were the Conspirators curated by Carmen Reid, Performprint by Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti at the Meat Market, and In Your Dreams, curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

For a summary of Melbourne’s street art in 2014 see my previous post.

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I would like to take a break, have some more time for reading, my own painting and just relax in the summer heat but as I contemplate a break I start to receive the first invites for exhibitions in the new year. Unlike previous years many Melbourne galleries aren’t closed for all of January, there is an opening at Kings ARI on the 9th of January. So I hesitate to forecast how long this break will be.

I am looking forward to 2015 as my book on Melbourne’s Sculptures is now planned to be released in April.

Cheers,

Mark

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


Reg Mombassa & Mambo

In the late 80s and 90s I remember seeing paintings by Mental As Anything guitarist and artist, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa) hanging at the Melbourne Art Fair. The little paintings of suburban landscapes with a mood of foreboding, the brooding sky hang over the isolated houses set in empty landscapes. They felt like a relief amongst so much large, pretentious and non-representational paintings at the Art Fair.

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Chris O’Doherty considered his work Dada rather than Surrealism but basically he is a popular artist. When he started painting the term “pop surrealism” hadn’t been invented. O’Doherty’s pop surrealism was a cross over hit for rock musician, the high art market, as well as, the rag trade with the surf wear images.

In 1986 O’Doherty joined the irreverent Australian design label Mambo. He was one of the first generation of artists that created fashion from his illustration, a trend that has continued with street artists creating images for fashion labels. Crossover artists have been a feature of the post-modern breakdown of barriers dividing cultures and sub-cultures. O’Doherty’s crossover didn’t impress everyone; the writer, Patrick White, an early collector of O’Doherty’s landscapes didn’t like his Mambo work.

Currently there is are two exhibitions featuring the work of Chris O’Doherty on in Melbourne: Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is at 45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence is in the NGV Studio at Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia in Fed Square.

Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is a large exhibition of almost one hundred recent works on paper by Chris O’Doherty. Both aspects of O’Doherty’s art are presented: his atmospheric landscapes and his pop surrealism. Many of the works build on his established iconography of three eyed motorcycle riding Jesus, mutant mixes of kiwis and kangaroos and one eyed trees.

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Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence has more work by Chris O’Doherty along with the other artists who worked for Mambo. Curated by Wayne Golding, a former Mambo ‘ideas man’ and t-shirt collector Eddie Zammit. This is not the first exhibition at NGV Studio that Zammit has been involved in; TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture in 2012 displayed part of his extensive t-shirt collection. There is more than just Mambo merchandise (t-shirts, board shorts, shirts, posters, key chains, belt buckles, stickers watches, patches) and original art work by their designers. The most spectacular parts of the exhibition are the Mambo promotional items, the surf boards and the large sculptures by Hugh Ramage and Peter King based on the drawings of O’Doherty and Jeff Raglus.

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Murray Waldren’s The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa (2009, Harper Collins) is a workman-like biography of Chris O’Doherty. The large book contains too many details and not enough about his art and music; maybe you just had to be there. I would have preferred more detail about how New Zealand inspired the weirdness in Chris O’Doherty along with many of his compatriots rather than more details of various gigs. Mental As Anything is depicted as an art school band, a typical feature of the 1980s and the band had two art exhibitions as a band. Like Mental As Anything and Mambo surf wear the attitude was to keep on partying until it wasn’t fun anymore. It is hard to tell from the biography if it was ever that much fun for Chris O’Doherty considering the sense of angst in his art.


New Mars & Carbon Black

VIP Preview at Mars Gallery, the new Mars Gallery in Windsor; the last time I went to Mars Gallery it was in Port Melbourne. The new gallery has only been opened for four months.

The new Mars Gallery elegant contemporary architect designed art gallery with three floors and a six star environmental rating. In the basement there is the video room, another small gallery space and the stock room which is also has a lift for larger paintings to the main gallery space. Mars’s Director, Andy Dinan emphasised the accessibility of the design; the large glass front that can be completely opened and the main gallery is still wheelchair and pram accessible, one of Dinan’s original desires for a gallery.

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, a Tasmanian artist with a background in architecture makes strange wooden machines and psychedelic paintings. At first it is difficult to imagine the same mind behind both but on closer inspection the detailed connections and architectural arrangements in both become clear. Packed with both factual and poetic content, Tricky Walsh is like a psychedelic version of Tatlin’s artist engineer. The intensity and detail of her paintings cannot be captured with a photography, tiny text reveal that the parts of the images are scientific diagrams about electromagnetic spectrum.

Walsh’s wooden machines are replicas of actual analogue machines, specifically Daphne Oram’s eponymous Oramics machine, along with a waveform scanner and valve amplifier. (See the You Tube video of the Oramics Machine. For those who don’t Daphne Oram was responsible for the sounds in the original Dr Who theme.) However accurate the exteriors of these machines contain the idea that there are tiny people inside machines making them work. Tiny wooden villages take up the space where components would have been. It is all very strange and fantastic.

Also on exhibition at Mars was Alexis Beckett upstairs in the works on paper room. Her exhibition Second Nature is full of beautiful botanical detail in a restrained palette both on paper and an embroidery series and works on paper. In the basement video room there is a three screen video by Brendon Lee about male culture: The Great Divide. It is very long (57 minute duration) so I haven’t seen it all; three screen used very effectively with the two male competitors on the outer screens, separated by the neutral space of the middle screen. Finally in the small basement space there was Jud Wimhurst’s series of skateboards Art Pros. The skateboards are like prop comedy art; I’m not sure if they are commenting about consumerism and art or being more consumer product. On my way to the toilets in the basement of Mars Gallery I spotted Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust standing in the corner.

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

While I was in the area I also had a look at Carbon Black Gallery, a shop front gallery on High Street. It was showing Darren Madafferi’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures: Bush Week.  Madafferi surreal figures inhabit a limited landscape, a small psychic theatre, full of inventive intensity, like Albert Tucker meeting Yves Tanguy in the bush. There was also an exhibition by Carla Gottgens, Hope Longing Loss; I last saw Gottgens stories and photographs of model worlds in MoreArts 2014.


Moreland Summer Show 2014

The Moreland Summer Show is the annual exhibition of “creative City Moreland”. Fifty artists exhibiting fifty medium sized works: paintings, photographs, prints, collage sculptures, assemblage and video.

Some of the artists are art students. Others are regular faces of the Moreland art scene like Peter Hanford and Julian Di Martino. And others are emerging or established artists represented by galleries like Dianne Tanzer, Fehily Contemporary and Stephen McLaughlan. They are all either residents of Moreland or artists with “strong connections” to Moreland, like Janelle Low, the resident Counihan gallery photographer and winner of the 2013 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Many artists have been attracted to the Moreland area because of cheap rents for both living and studio space; the former light industrial areas providing many warehouses for studios and galleries. However, with the rise of rental prices and the construction of apartment blocks the attraction is fading. Urban growth in the area was a topic for several artists and their artwork along with the hot political issue of the proposed East West Link. With these development this exhibition may prove to be the high water mark of Moreland’s creative tidal surge.

The work were selected primarily on their approach to the theme of this year’s exhibition of “speak out”. The political edge to the theme is typical of the Counihan Gallery. Brunswick, and by default the City of Moreland, has long been a centre of alternative politics and free speech from Noel Counihan to Barricade Books, an anarchist bookshop in the 1990s. (Neither Counihan nor Barricade Books were welcomed in Brunswick at the time and Barricade Books moved to Northcote before closing.)

For me the highlights of the Summer Show are Jenny Loft’s glass and shadow, mixed media sculpture, Shiva Lord Of The Dance: I Miss You and Stephanie Karavasilis’s installation Witness (in the silence). Karavasilis’s Witness (in the silence) is poignant, beautiful and unsettling; it uses text from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on plaster casts of folded sheets that were scattered amongst the found furniture and objects (old suitcase, children’s shoes and books). Jenny Loft’s Shiva refers to the stolen Shiva Nataraja that the National Gallery of Australia returned to India in September. Combining the old and new materials, the shadow and object elegantly portrays the contradictions of Shiva’s dance of creative destruction.

However, I must qualify my opinions by noting that I was using the preview and the opening of the Summer Show to meet as many local artists as I could and I don’t think that I really looked at all fifty works on exhibition.


Federation Square & the Melbourne Prize

There is plenty to see and do in Federation Square; someone could probably write a blog and post nothing except all the stuff happening at Federation Square. There is a lot happening all the time both officially and unofficially: music, art, dance, food, videos and that is just what is happening outside.

Pop up Garden

I visited the Pop-up Patch, a vegetable garden in the middle of Melbourne in part of the disused carpark at the end of the Federation Square. There are patches used by restaurants and other people, including a planting of hops by Little Creatures brewery. It is a great little vegetable garden overlooking the Yarra River.

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I normally don’t write many blog posts about Federation Square, I spend more time on Sydney Road, Gertrude Street or Hosier Lane. This is more a case of overrated (and consequently over-reported) and underrated rather than an idea of an authentic Melbourne location. This week I have been exploring Federation Square, walking around looking at the finalists work in the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014. (See my post Installing Ursa Major.)

The six finalists for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture have work installed in Federation Square but don’t expect to see things of bronze, wood or stone on plinths. Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of ACCA, said that the sculpture prize “reflects a shift in thinking, a long way from plonk space.” Another one of the prize judges, the sculptor Callum Morton, pointed out that the sculpture can be “propositional, monumental, performance based”.

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson was very happy to win Melbourne Prize; the $60,000 cash prize would make most artists very happy. His work 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days is a sonic sculptural event using the space and time of Federation Square. Robinson thanked the hundreds of volunteers who are ringing federation handbells, courtesy of Museum Victoria at the 15 locations each marked with a multi-coloured pole.

On the subject of sonic sculptural work, I have to mention the exhibition of The Instrument Builders Project (IBP) at NGV Studio. I love exhibitions of musical instruments, especially when I can use some of the instruments. IBP is an experimental collaborative project between Australian and Indonesian artists and musicians. It is also fantastic fun, with plenty of instruments that you could play on. Pedal power synthesisers, combinations between strings and percussions, foot pumped horns running on air power. Music as installations driving water and lights. There is a beauty in both the sculptural form of musical instruments along with the awareness of sonic potential in the object.

Back to the Melbourne Prize awards…

Kay Abude was completely surprised to win the $10,000 Professional Development Award. She had just been working in the Atrium, casting plaster ingots and painting them gold, before the Award presentation and was still wearing her work shirt and shorts. She didn’t think that she would win and hadn’t invited her parents.

Kay Abude, Piecework

Kay Abude, Piecework

Aleks Danko was the recipient of the Rural and Regional Development Award.

As I was leaving Federation Square on Thursday evening I saw a woman with a red plastic typewriter and a sign: “Free a Letter” sitting on the plastic grass. She was offering to type what you want to say. I wished that I could have found out more but I wanted to catch the 7:41 Upfield train and couldn’t hang around for another twenty minutes.

As I wrote at the start, there is plenty to see and do in Federation Square.


It’s Alive!

Candy Stevens Changing Landscapes at Yarra Sculpture Gallery is an exhibition of living and growing sculptures; rye grass is growing over everything. The sculptures are beautifully tactile, the growing grass creating a fuzzy distortion to their outlines. It is a fun exhibition with amusing ideas and punning titles.

Candy Stevens, "Please Keep Off", 2011

Candy Stevens, “Please Keep Off”, 2011

Landscapes have long been the subject for paintings but until Earth Art in the 1970s it was not a subject for sculptures. In Stevens’s Lambscape the visitor has to navigate the space between 49 cut outs in the shape of sheep-sized hides in order to get to the darkness of her video installation space. In her wall work Ha Ha! there is a reference to ha ha fences, a cunning design that allowed the English upper class to have views of uninterrupted lawns without allowing the sheep and cattle to approach the house. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha-ha Crown Land, a great circular crown with a 4.3m diameter, refers both to a crown and to public land. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_land Outside the gallery on a tagged and stencilled wall, Stevens has added her own grass covered bomb, Jonx.

Candy Stevens, Jonx, 2013

Candy Stevens, Jonx, 2013

It is not just growing grass that Stevens is commenting on but also the way that we consume it. In Mother’s Milk a calf, covered in grass, looks in a fridge, also covered in grass, for milk, while her grass covered mother-cow stands nearby. Milk being a type of processed grass.

Candy Stevens, The Conversation, 2014 (with Candy Stevens and Black Mark posing in front)

Candy Stevens, The Conversation, 2014 (with Candy Stevens and Black Mark posing in front)

Candy Stevens told me at the opening of the exhibition that she had finished hanging ten minutes ago, started installing three days ago, started growing the sculptures three weeks ago and has been working on the forms for four years. However, she has been working with grass a medium for sculpture for longer than that. I first saw Stevens work Keep Off the Grass in the Moreland Sculpture Show 2008 and again in MoreArts 2010 where her Rocks of all Ages received a commendation, and again in MoreArts 2011 where her Landscape Gardeners, a grass covered ewe and lamb were stolen (someone so loved her art that they scaled a fence to steal them).

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011


Open Entry Art

The Linden Post Card Show 2014 at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art has hundreds of entries. There are so many entries because it is a long established open entry show. (Did it start in 1986 when the Linden Centre opened?) Open entry means that anyone paying the entry fee of $55 for one work, $66 for two works, $77 for three works is exhibited. All the work must measure 8” (20cm) x 10” (25.5cm) (landscape or portrait) including any frame.

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Looking at the entries and thinking why are there so few photographs, given that it is a popular media and the winner was a photograph. The winning entry was from WA artists and 2013 Archibald Prize finalist, Abdul Abdullah. His The Reintroduction of Australian Knighthood is a powerful, frightening and topical image of a masked thug draped in the Australian flag.

I was also thinking why are there so few artists that I recognise? With hundreds of artists on exhibition I started to wonder if I had missed an entry, forgotten a name (I don’t have a great memory for names). The mix of “professional, emerging, amateur or hobbiest” in the exhibition was not the problem because I regularly review that kind of mix of artists. But it did make me think that maybe there needs to be more short hand descriptions for artists, more words than: established emerging, professional, amateur … I mean what do you call an artist who has been around for a couple of decades but is not represented by any gallery and has not won any major prizes?

Linden Post Card Show 2014

Not that a lack of such terms is the biggest problem, the problem of the term ‘art’ is enough of a problem. Sometime in the seventeenth century, as the Enlightenment took the epiphany and mystery out of religion, Art emerged: Art with a capital A, Literature with a capital L and Music with a capital M. Robert Dixon’s The Baumgarten Corruption – From Sense to Nonsense in Art and Philosophy (Pluto Press, 1995) identifies the start of this process with Alexander Baumgarten’s use of the word ‘aesthetics’ in the 1750s. Roberto Calasso in Literature and the Gods (Vintage, 2001) places that start of what he calls “absolute literature” in 1798.

For me, it obvious that there is Art and art and after a walk along the Sunday market at the Esplanade, or even, a look at some of the entries in the Post Card show, you might agree. Oh, look another version of the Redhead brand match box, this time it is made out of bits of tin nailed together.

You might not agree, many people at the both the Post Card show and the Sunday Market clearly did not. The word ‘Art’ is probably more divisive than the image of the ‘Australian Knight’ by Abdul Abdullah.


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