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


Erehwyna Enruoblem

There is so much variety in the architecture of Melbourne, from the early colonial basic rectangular bluestone buildings to recent constructions. In one city block you might see half a dozen or more architectural styles. The mix of European and international style architecture means that Melbourne can look like any generic western city.

Something apocalyptic happening at State Parliament when used as a film location

Something apocalyptic happening at State Parliament when used as a film location

Melbourne does this in many b-grade films: Queen of the Damned, Ghost Rider, and I, Frankenstein, to name a few. In Queen of the Damned Melbourne is made to look like London, England, in Ghost Rider it is an American city and in I, Frankenstein it is a generic European city. None of these films are really worth watching unless you are interested in how bits of Melbourne can be cast in different roles; in I, Frankenstein the entrance of National Gallery of Victoria appears as that of the central train station.

The city has been spared major disasters, fires or earthquakes, that destroys the old architecture and consequently Melbourne’s architecture is a fascinating mix of styles from the colonial to the classical with all kinds of revivals, Gothic Revival, Venetian Revival, Spanish Revival, Romanesque Revival, etc. thrown in to this mix. Melbourne is a place where the king tide of the eclectic architectural revivals of the nineteenth century washed up. Moving into the twentieth century there are examples of early modern architectural styles: Arts and Craft, Art Nouveau and Art Deco before the International Modernist style made all cities look the same.

Spanish Revival in Sparta Place, Brunswick

Spanish Revival in Sparta Place, Brunswick

Rudyard Kipling remarked on visiting Melbourne: “This country is American, but remember it is a secondhand American, there is an American tone on the top of things, but it is not real. Dare say, by and bye, you will get a tone of your own. Still I like these American memories playing round your streets…The Americanism of this town with its square blocks and straight streets, strikes me much.” (Tim Flannery ed., The Birth of Melbourne, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, p.358)

Late nineteenth century Melbourne was frequently compared to American cities due to its cable car trams and grid of streets. Rudyard Kipling referred to Melbourne streets by their equivalent New York names: referring to Swanston Street as Fourteenth Street. Possibly Kipling made this comparison was also made because Melbourne was the about same age as many American cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Australia has a very odd relationship to America. Australian’s fear their second hand American status, yet Australia loves America as a protector. Australia swapped its loyalties to England in July 1966 for going “all the way with LBJ” as PM Harold Holt remarked at the White House. Melbourne’s own relationship with the USA is even stranger; Terry the postman told me about a letter that he delivered addressed to “Melbourne, Victoria, America”.


All Charges Dismissed

15 months after the police raid on Linden Gallery Magistrate Amanda Chambers dismissed all charges and ordered the police to pay costs. She was also critical of the police handling of the search warrant where they excised with a Stanley knife parts of Paul Yore’s installation.

Over those 15 months Paul Yore has continued to exhibit, except when his installation was removed from Sydney Contemporary 2013. He is currently exhibiting in Primavera 2014: Young Australian Artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney.

Paul Yore made a statement through his lawyer; ”Paul is glad to see the end of what has been a long and drawn out process. He would like to extend his heartfelt thanks to the legal team, namely Marita Altman, Neil Clelland QC and Rowena Orr. He is especially grateful for all of the support from his friends and family and the broader arts community, especially Juan Davila, Max Delany, Antonia Syme, Dr Juliette Peers, Callum Morton, Mikala Dwyer, Geoff Newton, Jason Smith and Jacob Oberman.”

The months of police investigation failed to look into the Australian Classification Board’s ruling on the installation. It was this ruling, that prosecution presented in its own evidence, that the exhibition was classified ‘Restricted’ that decided the case.

From the police’s perspective, what else could they do? They had a report of child pornography and they had a duty to investigate; a police officer who was an expert in art crime would have helped the investigation. However, using an artist’s career for purposes of clarification of a law is not an innocent activity and the police were not the only people involved. This case went past by multiple magistrates who should have asked questions rather than simply rubber stamp procedures.

The police clearly violated Paul Yore’s moral right for the integrity of his art by removing portions of it without his consent. When Detective Senior Constable Samantha Johnson of St. Kilda police was asked under cross examination by defence barrister Neil Clelland QC: “Who authorised you to remove the parts with a Stanley knife?”

Contable Johnson  replied; ’The Magistrate’

“Did you inform them on how you would remove the images?”

‘No.’

I do not expect that anything will be learnt by the police from this experience.

There have been many articles, and I’ve contributed my fair share, media spots and even a play, Wank created by James Hogan et. al. at The Bloomshed in April 2014, about the case. However, none of the most important question has been answered either by the court or in any of the articles: why was Paul Yore charged in the first place?


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.


Prohibited Signs

Signs prohibiting things from around the world.

No photo Greece II 065

Photography prohibted sign

Various No - Canterbury

No Durians

No's - Munich

No Golfing

No Graffiti - Brugge

DSC04961

No baby carriagesJPG

DSC04532

Smoking of any substance


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.


Writing about Justice

Getting back to my visit to William Eicholtz’s studio a couple of weeks ago. The reason for the visit was to talk with William about his relief sculpture of Justice on the County Court Building in Melbourne. I had neglected to mention it in my rough survey of public art in my blog post on Melbourne’s west end.

I realised that I had neglected to write about the history of these sculptural features of architecture in my upcoming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures. I realised that classical crests had continued into modernism, for example Norma Redpath’s Victoria Coat of Arms, 1968, on the outer wall of the NGV on St. Kilda Road or her Facade Relief, 1970-72, for the Victorian College of Pharmacy, and then into contemporary art with Eicholtz’s Lady of Justice, 2002. Did they deserve a separate thematic chapter? Are there that many of these crests or allegorical goddesses? It is the kind of panicked thoughts that an author has after completing a book.

I ended up selling that story to Justinian, I thought that the best audience for the story would be lawyers. I seem to be writing a lot about matters of law lately.

There has been news about the model for Eicholtz’s figure of Justice, Hannah Russell, the then president of the Life Models Society. Two days before I visited William the Bayside Leader had story about Russell having her nude photographs ban from a local art exhibition.  Such are the puritanical times that we have to live through.


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