Category Archives: Blogging

An Independent Critic

“I’m terrible with words,” Baby Guerrilla said in her acceptance speech on winning Two Years on the Wall at Union Dining in Richmond.

Yes, I know – artist are good with images and often terrible with words (there are exceptions, of course). And this is one reason why I often don’t consider it worth while talking to artist. There are other reasons why I don’t consider artist’s views that important. I don’t necessarily want to get that close – it creates too many conflicts of interest. Just because I appreciate your art I doesn’t mean that want to be a friend or your publicist (if I was your publicist you would pay me). And I can’t be bothered fitting in with artists’ travel, party or nightclubbing schedules – I have my own deadlines and I can’t wait weeks for a reply to my email.

I am an independent critic – for the artists who are terrible with words look up these two words in a dictionary. Many artists and designers have never had anything critical written about their work. For many the media exists solely as a source of promotional puff pieces and they are annoyed when this blog doesn’t fulfill that gushing role. Art critics are not just there to offer their opinions but to extend the conversation about the art. Without critics the limited conversation would go something like this: “Cool art”, “No, it is shit”, “Well I think that its cool”, “And I think that it is shit”, “We have different opinions”, “Yes, we have different opinions, we can agree on that.” The critic’s role is to extend that conversation for as long as possible by bringing in as much additional material to bear on these opinions as possible. To point out the positives and the negatives – it is not the roll of a critic to gush (see my post on Gushing).

Sunday Times Restaurant Critic A.A. Gill said: “The other thing that people you criticise never know and understand is that, like the mafia, it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, or me, it is about the third set of people in the equation: your audience and my readers. One of the great traps for critics is to believe they are part of the business they’re criticising. In the same way that a traffic warden isn’t part of the automotive business, I’m not part of the restaurant business.” (Smith Journal v.5 p.15)

I am not part of the art business and it is not my job to promote your exhibition, gallery or art.

It is inevitable that I will get to know some artists and gallery owners in my time writing this blog. I was at the Blender Xmas Party drinking the organic beer and hanging out with artists – Joel, Factor, Adi and Heesco. It might be fun but I have to ask myself is this a good use of my time as a critic and won’t it influence my next blog post on their art?

In the ecology of the art world critics are like wolves and other wild dogs, we are not the top predators but nevertheless we are necessary for the environment. We will abandon our kill to the big cats of the art world, the rich collectors and public art galleries (if they buy it we can but skulk around their kill waiting for them to leave so that we can pick over the bones). The effect of critics is grossly over estimated the wild herds of artists, we kill only those that would otherwise have died of disease or starvation within the same season. Sure we could reap havoc on an unguarded herd of dumb domesticated artists but maybe I’m stretching this metaphor a bit far wondering who is the farmer with the gun in this scenario.

Finally there is the right of reply to my posts in the comments section; it doesn’t get enough use.


Blog Housekeeping

This not about my life as a house-husband but to draw attention to my addition of two new pages to this blog: Contact and Events.

Contact

Regarding contacting me. I don’t mind getting invitations to art exhibitions, but don’t expect to see me there. If you are an artist and I have told you to please invite me to your next exhibition I really do mean it. On the other hand I hate the pushy publicists who think that my blog is just another promotional platform for their message. I wish that this wasn’t the main reason that people contacted me.

I go to openings partially to look at the art, to schmooze and drink wine – in that order. It gets difficult to look at the art after awhile because there are so many people standing around drinking wine and talking. It is kind of pointless talking to the artist at an exhibition opening with so many people saying hello and congratulating them. My strategy is to arrive early and look at the art before most of the people arrive – the flaw to my strategy is that I left before the late arrivals.

Events

The first event off the rack is a series of sculpture tours that might become a permanent event. As regular readers would know I write a lot about Melbourne’s public sculpture, now I have put together a tour of a selection of them. For more information see Events.

Other events will follow; talks, panel discussions and a book launch. If you want me for tours, panel discussions or other events see Contact.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne


End of 2011

During the year I have reviewed about 70 different galleries (only about 30% of the total number of galleries in Melbourne) and even more exhibitions. I have tried not to have a favourite gallery; I have tried (unsuccessfully) not to review the same gallery or artist more than once. And there are more to see and write about than just art exhibitions; there is the street art, fashion and other aspects of Melbourne’s culture.

Statue of Sun Yat Sen, Little Bourke Street

I saw a new public sculpture only this week when I walked through Chinatown – a bronze statue of Sun Yat Sen standing in Cohen Place Plaza on Little Bourke Street. Fortunately this is only a life-sized statue and not the 3.7-metre statue first proposed by Melbourne’s Chinese community in 2008. Why a statue of Sun Yat Sen in Melbourne? Well there are memorials to JFK, Elvis, Robbie Burns and General Gordon in Melbourne, so why not Sun Yat Sen? (The name of Cohen Place Plaza is coincidental and does not refer to Sun Yat Sen’s bodyguard “Two Gun” Cohen.)

It is an exhausting activity, all this writing and research – it is sort of masochistic. So I can understand why Deidre Carmichael has decided to stop writing the Art in Geelong blog at the end of this year. It is almost exhausting just reading and looking at what Arty Graffarti and Melbourne Street Art on Facebook add daily. Both have plenty of photographs of Melbourne graffiti and street art on a daily basis and Arty Graffarti does review street art exhibitions.

I met some of the people behind Melbourne Street Art on Facebook at the Blender Studios Christmas Party – that was a great party, art, music, open studios and fantastic people. It was an excellent way to end the year.

HaHa, Stevenson Lane

Between Christmas and New Year most of the galleries in Melbourne are shut but there is still plenty of great art to see in Melbourne’s laneways both the official, Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions, and unofficial Melbourne’s street art. When I was in Chinatown I found Yhonnie Scarce’s “Iron Cross” in Brien Lane. It is a symbolic memorial to the 50 years that her family’s life was controlled by Christian mission where “they were told what to wear, how to speak and when they were allowed to leave the settlement.” This year the Laneway Commissions were all by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Yhonnie Scarce, “Iron Cross”, Brien Lane

Near the beginning of this year I re-branded this blog to “Black Mark – Melbourne art and culture critic”. It wasn’t a very painful process except when it came to being indexed by PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive; for some reason the name change caused lots of confusion there. I would like to thank everyone who has read Black Mark and especially Evangeline Cachinero, Peter Symons and Catherine Voutire for their help and encouragement over this year.

Looking forward to 2012. Happy New Year everyone.


Black Mark’s 500th Blog Post

A lot of blog posts, it has been a hell of a journey. I’ve seen a lot of great exhibitions, tracked down a lot of beautiful street art and met a few interesting people along the way. Then I do a lot of work researching and writing blog posts. There has been, as my old lecturer in aesthetics, John McKenzie of Monash University Philosophy Department used to say, “a lot of thinking hard about art”. In each post I’ve tried to write about different galleries, new aspects of street art or new aspects of Melbourne’s culture.

To celebrate this milestone I thought that I’d link back to my favourite blog posts. They are not necessarily the most popular, although Keith Haring in Melbourne is very popular; some are amongst the least read blog posts. They are the blog posts that I’d recommend people to read, that I would want included in some pie in the sky anthology of this blog.

Faster Pusssycat – this was my first blog post, apart from the intro one that I’ve since taken down. It comes with its own video – a feature too complex to do too often.

Keith Haring in Melbourne – I did a fair amount of research for this post and I’ve been a fan of Keith Haring since the 80s.

Banksy in Melbourne – writing about Haring made me want to write more about major street artists who have visited Melbourne. This required even more research and in the process I made a few mistakes that I have corrected (that photo in the other blog never looked right, I should have followed my instincts.)

More Art Censorship - This was my first take on the Bill Henson furore May 22, 2008. Crikey linked to my post when they wrote about the furore the next day – I like the instant publishing feature of blogging.

Public Art on Brunswick Street – Again this entry has a lot of local research and it has a great postscript from Bronwyn Snow with more detail about her sculpture.

Art Zombies – If I only wrote about art that I like then this entry would not have been written and this entry describes an important, but largely unmentioned, part of Australian art history.

Colour Wii World -  I don’t just write about art – computer games are also part of culture and this one was designed in Melbourne.

Alternative Exhibition Spaces – this is a rewritten version of blog posts from an earlier blog that I liked so much I republished it.

Problems with Art History – A few thoughts about meta-history issues in art history that I’m pleased to have written.

And a couple of exhibition critiques of exhibitions:

Joel Gailer & Printing

Mute Relics Bedevilled Creatures 

If you don’t have a good income and you have enjoyed these posts or others on this blog then tell me about it. If you do have a good income and you have enjoyed this blog then donate. The button is just there on the side bar. (I don’t have a good income and I do have expenses in writing this blog: internet access, travel, books and magazines. How much would you pay for a magazine? How much does your gallery pay each month for advertising in Art Almanac?) Anyway, that’s my 500th post.


Thursday Research

There wasn’t much to many of the exhibitions at the galleries on Flinders Lane except for Craft Victoria and Robbie Rowlands’ exhibition “The Gardner” at Arc One. Even Robbie Rowlands’ art appeared a little limited in vision; a series of curved limp version of familiar objects with a title that is a bit of a joke or pun like a totem tennis pole titled “totem”. All the objects have a series of repetitive cuts along one edge allowing them to be bent. The selection of an-aesthetic objects from around the garden: the edge trimmers, the ubiquitous Hills Hoist, the wheelbarrow, chairs and a table. Basically it is the soft objects of Claus Oldenburg meeting Duchamp’s readymades in a garden shed.

Robbie Rowlands, "A New Low", 2011, aluminium ladder (image courtesy of the artist)

I have put some time aside on Thursdays to visit galleries, wander, photograph and do other research for this blog. Thursday is a good day for visiting galleries in Melbourne, as most of them are open. I can see a lot of galleries on a 2-hour public transport ticket and then write a post before the weekend. I write this to explain my blog writing practice.

This week I gave a short interview for a journalism studies student, Natasha from Monash University about urban problems like pigeons, rats and graffiti (see my post: Coo-burg). As I was in Hosier Lane I continued up the hill along Flinders Lane looking at the galleries. I have been trying to visit new galleries this year – it is too easy for a critic to visit and write about the same galleries over and over again. I still visit many of the same galleries simply because they are convenient but I want to try to keep a variety in the posts that I write about.

After the usual suspects on Flinders Lane I did get to a gallery that I haven’t visited or written about before. Warburton Lane Exhibits is a converted warehouse loft apartment combined with a gallery – there are always few of these types of galleries around the city. The gallery is a small elegant and intimate space with a balcony overlooking the lane. Joseph Flynn is exhibiting a dozen paintings – “Animal Spirit” Flynn’s art has changed since I first wrote about him (see my post: Fine Arts Education). There is an animal spirit in the exhibition; the paintings are punk and raw with paint mixing around on their metal supports. And there is a clear street art influence in Flynn’s painting, with lots of aerosol spray on the background.


Artists who blog

A lot of artists write blogs. I even found a blog about artist’s blogs with interviews of artists about their blogging by an artist, Stephanie Levy. Artists Who Blog. Most of the artists are just photographing of their current art and posting that in a blog. I wish that more artist bloggers, especially the painters, would show something of their process and inspiration rather than simply spruiking their completed paintings for sale or advertising their next exhibition.

The Internet has exposed many crypto-artists, the secret artists, the part-time artists, and the artists who are outside of the art world circle. There are many blogs about the arts and crafts (see my entry on Contemporary Craft Politics & Blogs) and many more blogs about Melbourne’s street art (maybe I should write another blog entry about them).

I’m surprised that zines have survived given the number of artists who are turning to blogs as their preferred media of publication but there will always be an appeal for the hand-made. Sticky Projects, in the Degreaves St. underpass at Flinders St. Station, is full of zines. I’m surprised at any print media surviving economically; the age of art magazines, like Art + Text, as a significant force in art is over.

Well this is a slack blog entry – I could be writing about who would win a death match cage fight (Jeff Koons vs Jackson Pollock) but instead I’m going to present a list of artist’s blogs. A decade ago I used to do these lists of websites for LookSmart, an international internet directory that no longer exists; so writing this entry feels a bit like my old job. I’m going to have a sandwich.

Blogos/HA HA by artist Peter Tyndall part of his meta-art work “A person Looks At A Work Of Art/ someone looks at something. Articles about recent issues and events in the arts along with notes and observations.

Self vs Selfby Sydney artist Hazel Dooney. Hazel writes regularly about her art, the process of making her art and her life.

Psalm, by the veteren Melbourne street artist of the same name. Psalm writes about street art and urban exploration and his blog features lots of photographs of derelict buildings.

Paul J. Kalemba describes himself as “an urban edible®evolutionary” and has regularly exhibited in Platform’s “Underground Garden”.

Hidden Archive by Melbourne artist Dylan Martorell, documentes his exhibitions and sound/music performances.

Earth Died Screaming by Ryan an illustrator living in Collingwood. Ryan writes about his art (showing working in progress), his inspiration and other things happening in Melbourne’s illustration scene.

Supermarketmonkey by a part-time street artist and illustrator. He has mentioned me several times in his blog and consistently sends me traffic, so I should return the favour. Supermarketmonkey writes about life and other art and the process of making art.

This Painting Life by South Australian artist Dianne Gall, writes about her art, thoughts and inspirations.

Six Hundred Degrees – Sophie Milne, ceramic artist who writes about her art practice and other ceramic and art related events. Sophie Milne used to run Pan Gallery in Brunswick.

Erin Crouch, a young Melbourne artist showing her video work and paintings on her blog.


One for the records

Camera strapped to my waist, like a gun in holster, ready to shoot and record what I encounter. A blogger has to be a photojournalist, as well as, copy-editor, researcher, editor and publicist – so I have to blow my own trumpet.

This week this blog has received some outside recognition. I don’t know if a link to my post 3 Portraits of Julian Assange from the Huffington Post is that significant as it has only lead to 3 views. What is more significant is that State Library of Victoria (in partnership with the National Library of Australia) is going to archive Black Mark – Melbourne Art & Culture Critic on PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive. PANDORA’s index of Australian websites provides a link to the published site and an annual archive of the site. The library will keep the contents accessible as hardware and software changes over time; long after my energies for it have been exhausted or if WordPress folds. It will also be in the library catalogue and in the National Bibliographic Database (a database of catalogue records shared by over 1,100 Australian libraries).

Looking at the Pandora index in the ‘Fine Arts’ section along with many gallery webpages, like Westspace, 69 Smith and Platform Artist Group, I’m pleased to see Peter Tyndall’s Blogos/Ha Ha included in the archive.  Blogos/HA HA is part of Tyndall’s meta-art work “A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/ someone looks at something…”, the title of all his art. His blog has articles about recent issues and events along with a great selection of images that all build on his meta-thesis about the act of looking. Peter Tyndall’s art made a great impression when I was an undergraduate student at Monash Uni in the early 80s and spurred my interest in looking beyond the image and the frame.

Now this is recognition that I am making a significant contribution to recording Melbourne’s fine arts. It feels like a vindication for all the work that I have put into this blog. And all of this gives me more motivation to write, to research and to explore Melbourne’s visual arts.

And while I have your attention: “Like” my Facebook page for Black Mark – Melbourne Art & Culture Critic; it is a lite version of the blog with more photographs, links to stories and chat about what I’m doing as an art critic.

self-portrait in a tram mirror


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