Category Archives: Blogging

Seoul Man

I’m back from a holiday in Korea where I saw some awesome art and met some warm generous artists. I was also impressed with Korea’s public sculptures, urban design and the public toilets are the best in the world.

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

When I travel I like to visit art galleries, from the major official art galleries to what smaller galleries I can find; I try to avoid the tourist focused commercial galleries. I try to find some street art but that’s not always that easy because it is generally not in the guidebooks. Along the way I see historic buildings, public sculptures, travel on public transport and eat at local food at local restaurants but seeing art is my primary objective. I have written so many blog posts about art tourism that I have now created a separate category for them. Maybe I should write a book about them; I haven’t been finding Lonely Planet that useful a guidebook when it comes to this side of travel.

Seoul does contain two of the top 20 museums in the world (based on visitor numbers) the National Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 3,1289,550 visitors last year is in 12th place (according to Art Newspaper’s annual museum attendance figures for 2012) and in 15th place the National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 2,640,264 visitors. (Melbourne’s NGV was in 25th place with 1,571,333 visitors.)

I didn’t know much about Korean art before my trip; I was vaguely aware that Korea was promoting itself as a centre of contemporary art. But the only Korean artists I knew was Nam June Paik and Lee Bul. Nam June Paik was the man who cut off John Cage’s tie and who did video installations before it was commonplace. Lee Bul who makes white contemporary space-age alien kind of sculptures that hang.

Before I left I tried to familiarize myself with the Korean art scene by reading Seoul Art Fiend! Earlier this year I walked in to Doosan Gallery in NYC Chelsea gallery district (See my post Black Mark in Chelsea). It was certainly distinctive as a not-for-profit space amongst all the commercial galleries. I wasn’t sure about the art on exhibition it was very neutral and very studied.

I saw a lot art, ancient, modern and contemporary as Korea does have some great galleries and museums large and small. There are many contemporary public sculptures in the streets of Seoul of varying quality and there is a small graffiti and street art scene in Korea. More blog posts to follow about Korea when I have copied my notes and read more of the literature that I brought back. (Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art, Seoul’s Big Art Museums, Wandering Seoul’s Galleries and Wandering Seoul’s II.)

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

I particularly liked the use of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture that marked the start of the urban redesign masterpiece of Seoul, the Cheonggyecheon. The stream side walk is such a relaxing place to be but just a few steps away from the centre of Seoul and it goes on for kilometres.  It is like the reverse of Boston’s new park, a great reinvention of an urban space, a raised hight way demolished to recreate the urban space.

Korea2

Korean folk art has a lot going for it too – could these be the new tikki?

Aside from all the art, the buildings, the food and the hard mattresses my strongest impression of Korea is of the excellent public toilets that are there where you need them. I am not just talking clean and functional but automatic motion detector lights and music. And there is always access for the disabled. The public toilets in the streets and parks were well design and not simple utilitarian constructions. Korean public toilets are the paradigm for public toilets and made my trip so comfortable.


Melbourne Street Art Blogs

Melbourne’s street art is a great subject for blogging so allow me to introduce the magnificent seven, seven of the best blogs specializing in Melbourne’s street art.

Melbourne Street Art 86 is a great example of a blog on street art. It declares that “Melbourne’s 86 tram route as a giant open air gallery of street art.” And it documents the street art along the number 86 tramline that runs from Bourke Street in the city through Fitzroy, Collingwood, Clifton Hill, Northcote and Thornbury. The entries are ordered by tram stop location and there are PDF maps to download of the areas. The structure and focus of this blog is great as the liner tram route that the blog follows matches the liner nature of street art bombing/tagging missions. Kevin Anslow spent about 200 hours exploring, photographing, and cataloguing geographical details about street art on the route and building the site. “The project kind of evolved spontaneously, but certainly a central motivation is that it was fun and seemed worth doing as a community resource, and one that celebrates public transport and art.” Kevin explained.

Arty Graffarty started in 2010 and has multiple posts, almost everyday for two years. Subscribe to Arty Graffarty if you want to have your email box full. How he is able to identify all these artists and how he has the energy to do this is beyond me. Mostly the blog is photos but he also promotes and reviews many of the street art exhibitions (and it is great to see his reviews getting longer). He knows his traditional graffiti but doesn’t stick solely to looking at that one style.

Invurt by Factor is like a magazine of news, photos and interviews about the Australian street art scene. Factor is an old hand at graffiti in Perth and Melbourne and is still regularly painting on the streets but not as regularly as he is posting on Invurt. Factor says that he aims to keep Invurt positive but recently he has been posting the occasional editorial with a serious tone.

Images to Live By is written by Alison Young with irregular posts to fit in with her busy life but always worth reading. Alison Young is an academic at Melbourne University who studies graffiti and has co-authored the book, From Street to Studio (Thames & Hudson, 2010) with Ghostpatrol and Miso.

Land of Sunshine by Dean Sunshine features photographs and lots of them grouped by subject or artist. Dean is a dedicated photographer of Melbourne’s street art. Last year Dean brought out a book of photographs from his blog –also known as Land of Sunshine (see my review) Another credit for Dean is the actual Land of Sunshine, the painted laneways around the warehouses of his family business in Brunswick.

Fitzroy Flasher started in 2010. It has lots of photographs of street art, mostly in Fitzroy as the name indicates but not exclusively. Although the focus of the blog is on photographs of street art the text is worth a read.

Flinders Street with painted train

Flinders Street with painted train

Many of these blogs are on my blogroll but I thought that I’d introduce them to you and give you a bit of background. I have to declare that I know many of these people socially – hi Alison, Factor and Dean. (Arty Graffarty and Fitzroy Flasher remain a mystery to me).

Wait a moment that’s only six blogs. Where’s the seventh?


2012 Reflections

This will be my last post for the year, as I need a break.  So here are some reflections on my year of blogging.

Write locally and read globally.

I have been intrigued, and a little bemused, by the global views of this blog. I knew that there were some international views but I thought they weren’t that common.  This is a very local blog with a focus on the visual arts in Melbourne. When WordPress introduced the stats of views from countries I realized how many of my views come from countries other than Australia – I’ve had readers from almost every country in the world. I’m not sure why I have relatively so few readers from New Zealand or why anyone in Africa would be reading it but thanks for reading where ever in the world you are.

Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

American artist Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

This year I have been doing some professional development as a critic going to a lot of art history talks and workshops this year; bloggers do need to do a bit of “professional development” and I’ve certainly been doing that this year. I find out about most of them on Melbourne Art Network. The best were a free mini-conference at Melbourne University: “Dispersed Identities – sexuality, surreal and the global avant-gardes” and the “Workshop on the Human and the Image” at the Centre for Ideas, Victorian College of the Arts (I gave a paper at there – I don’t know if that added to the quality). It has been great getting back to my love of art history and philosophy, although they remind me that I’m glad that I didn’t pursue an academic career especially considering the end of art history department at La Trobe University. The end of the art history department at La Trobe will impact on Melbourne’s visual culture for decades into the future. Studying art history at Monash University was a life changing experience for me – I wouldn’t be writing this blog without it.

The NGV’s new director, Tony Ellwood has been an improvement from what I’ve seen so far; acquiring Juan’s Ford’s “Last Laugh” and exhibiting the Trojan Petition in the NGV’s foyer for a week.

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

The Trojan Petition brings me to the subject of street art. The big change in street art in 2012 has been street artists competing in mainstream art prizes and being included in the prize exhibition (like E.L.K. in the Archibald) or winning like Baby Guerrilla. Major events in Melbourne’s street art in 2012 included Project Melbourne Underground and the Andy Mac Auction. Hosier Lane has changed since Andy Mac decamped; there has been major construction in the lane and in the adjoining Rutledge Lane (like so many other places around Melbourne) but the art goes on in spite of the now averted/delayed installation of CCTV cameras.

It has been a fun year. Cheers Alley Chats.


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.


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