Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

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.


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


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.


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.)

 


Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.

DSC09719

Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.


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