Tag Archives: arts

Meditation on Songlines

“Songlines” is an installation by visual artist Kallie Turner and composer Joel Ritchie at Tinning Street Presents. It is both simple and elegant. In the middle of the gallery sits a very large cone of iron oxide red powder with a woven bag suspended above it.

It is like Anish Kapoor meets aboriginal culture; the title, “songlines” refers to the Australian aboriginal tradition of mapping routes in songs. Perhaps the powder is red ochre, an earth pigment that is widely used by Australian aborigines in a variety of traditional practices including painting and decoration.

The cone of red powder is well lite in the blacked out gallery, the shadows of the cone and bag are projected onto the gallery wall. The colour and texture of the powder stands out in sharp contrast to the darkness.

Ritchie’s powerful soundtrack of rolling deep brass lines and taping sticks makes this installation a total sensory experience; all that was lacking was a smell. The soundtrack also invited the visitors to stay longer and meditate on the cone of ochre.

Kallie Turner is a local artist; I’ve seen her work before in MoreArts 2011 (see my blog post) and, like this time, it was an impressive work.

Impressive but nothing really new for contemporary art and the documentation describing it as “a meditation on the process of renewal, transition, and illusion of life, along with a poem on the room sheet instead of the usual documentation for an exhibition is a little overblown and over directed. The artists need to be more confident that their work can communicate more than words and the mystical is often ineffable.


Empty Nursery Blue

Adrian Doyle’s ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ project in Rutledge Lane combined the monochrome palette of Yves Klein with his powdery pigment laden monochrome blue and Christo’s sense of scale and landscape. Painting the whole lane blue from the tarmac to the buildings; this is going large on a scale never before seen in Melbourne.

“By doing this, I am claiming that a colour in its pure form can be street art or graffiti. This is a great conceptual link from fine art to street art, a link that is often lacking in the Melbourne Street Art scene. By bridging this gap, I hope to expose more people not only to Street Art, but also to the importance of art in general.” Doyle (“Empty Nursery Blue Lane Way…
” see Invurt for full text and photos.)

Hosier Lane Inc. made a statement on their website:

“Hosier inc is a supporter of initiatives which endeavour to ‘raise the bar’ particularly in regards to street amenity – not just street art. Adrian Doyle’s ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ project is one which has the potential to challenge the status quo of street amenity in Rutledge Lane.”

“The ball has lobbed squarely into the court of the street art and tagging fraternity – we’re interested to see what ‘vision’ that segment of laneway contributors has for this exciting laneway community. We’d hope that the overall outcomes encourage a healthy discourse on friendship, responsibility and creative endeavour.”

I agree with Hosier Lane Inc.; I haven’t seen much progress in street art this year until now. I applaud Doyle’s work as a challenge to the status quo and as a conceptual link between fine art and street art.

This challenge to the status quo did not last long (only 45 minutes according to Doyle) after all Rutledge Lane is a free area for anyone to paint. The status quo responded by painting over ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ before the end of the day. I only “saw” ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ in a few photos on Facebook and it lasted only a few hours. So much for the street art ethos of don’t paint over it unless you can paint something better; in Invurt’s next post “Snapshots – Empty-Nursery Blue Burners @ Rutledge Lane” I didn’t see anything that even came close.

Part of the audacity of Doyle’s project is being aware of all of this and what the reaction would be. “Today’s piece was not a buff, it was a burner!” Doyle commented on Facebook.


Art Space Race

I keep on writing about art galleries, a room or series of rooms where art is exhibited, whatever it is called: “gallery”, “projects”, “art space”, or “artist run initiative”. I’m not sure that this has been a good idea. Few galleries state what they are above their door, ACGA members have the association logo sticker on their door, and 45 downstairs now states “a not for profit artspace” above their door. And this raises a important question: does it matter?

Gallery

“Projects” are currently in fashion in Melbourne, everyone is starting a project space from Sutton Gallery to Dianne Tanzer. “Projects” is short for “side projects”. What kinds of side projects do commercial galleries? Exhibitions in non-gallery spaces and so some galleries now have non-gallery spaces for exhibitions.

Why do structural analysis of the art world? This structural understanding of the art world has lead to a whole genre of art that refers to this structure. Questioning the institution of the art gallery may have started with Duchamp’s readymades but it became an art movement in the 1970s. Examining the institution revealed issues of power and ownership and cultural and sexual identity – some of this work has been fun but it is not what art is all about. And along with this some people have confused attacking the art gallery with analysis of its role.

Tom Wolfe’s sardonic comments on the emergence of contemporary art outside of the gallery have something of zeitgeist in them. “…the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and theorists began to hail Earth Art and the like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex’, after the ‘military industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into their biggest museums, they’ve had it.” (Tom Wolfe The Painted World, Bantam, 1976, p.102) Tom Wolfe, the artists, their dealers all knew that this would not be the end of the museum-gallery complex anymore than it would be the end of the military industrial complex but it was a story that would sell.

After all a “gallery” is just a fancy word for a room with some art in it. I don’t know about your house but mine does not look like a contemporary art gallery. The walls are the wrong colour for one thing and then there is all this stuff lying around. I do have art on my walls and a few sculptures around the place but it doesn’t look like any art gallery that I know. Even the serious art collector’s homes don’t look like art galleries.

I sometimes ask people after visiting a major art gallery about what they would most like to have in their home and remind them that it has to fit in their home. Where are you going to put it? Some work of art, like a Duchamp readymade, would mean less alienated from the gallery space. And what are you going to do with all that video art? Buy a flat screen TV and DVD player for each one, or just keep them in a draw?

This is not because I think that art should not respond to the gallery, or that galleries have made art worse but that the obsession over the space, including all my writing about galleries, has been a distraction from the main event – the art. How much does the space, what ever you want to call it, change the art?


Person of Interest – Keith Haring

The art of Keith Haring first came to my attention when he visited Melbourne (see my post Keith Haring in Melbourne). Haring was like a pop star, except that he was doing visual arts rather than music. I didn’t get to see him in Melbourne but he was everywhere for the next few years; I saw him on TV and in magazines and not just the art magazines.

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

In the early 1980s Keith Haring along with other East Village artists, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger used ‘wall-posters’ (paste-ups/wheat-pasting). Haring’s paste-ups were fake news headlines like as: “REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP”; cutting up headlines was a strategy adopted from William Burroughs. Haring also used stencils in his early street work stencilling “CLONES GO HOME” on sidewalk borders in the Village. This early flowering of what would later be known as street art heralds an art movement.

“The galleries at that time were still dominated by people over thirty and mostly Conceptual and Post-Minimal art.” Keith Haring commented on his influences (Notes from the Pop Underground, Peter Belisto, p.99) Haring went the opposite direction, appealing to people under thirty, like me at the time, and creating art that didn’t depend on art galleries for their meaning. Haring’s line drawings worked on subway walls, t-shirts and even Grace Jones’ naked body.

In 1986 Haring collaborated with Brion Gysin in “Fault Lines”; Haring’s art is connected to Gysin’s tagging calligraphy (see my post). In 1988 Haring collaborates with Burroughs for “Apocalypse.” The great centipede with a television head in the Collingwood mural is an image clearly inspired by Burroughs who writes about giant aquatic centipedes in many of his novels.

When Keith Haring died in February 1990, followed by the death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, it felt like the art of the 1980s had died. Both Haring and Basquiat were, what we would call today, street artists who had become international art superstars. Street art would have to wait another decade before its full flowering.

After that I would look out for Haring’s wall every time I went that way in Collingwood. Now, finally after decades of inaction there preservation work has started on the site. It is a difficult issue, preservation or restoration, both will have loses – a restoration would lose the authenticity of Haring’s brushstrokes and preservation loses the vibrancy of the original but better either than the loss of the whole mural.

“I just want to be taken seriously. I would like to think that someday there will be drawings next too a Lichtenstein, or beside a de Kooning drawing in a museum.” Keith Haring said. (Belisto, p. 111)

This year Keith Haring is finally receiving the recognition that he richly deserves. There is a major retrospective “Keith Haring, the Political Line “ at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and a very small exhibition about his 1988 Tokyo Pop-Up Shop at the New York Historical Society. (It was a very small, just a display case, a painted lantern and video shot of Haring discussing the lighting for the Tokyo Pop-Up Shop.)


Street Art Big Time

Five years is a long time, especially with the internet and especially with a new art movement. Five years ago when I started this blog I dreamed of a time when street art would be in major galleries, now it is. There are currently two exhibitions at the NGV of what could be broadly called street art. Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” at the NGV International and Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) “Suburban” at the NGV Atrium.

On Friday afternoon Professor Alison Young gave a floor-talk at “The Call of the Walls”. Prof. Young spoke about street art moving from fringe to mainstream; the influence of commercial galleries, auction houses, the internet, street art tours and major museums. For some sages this might spell the end of street art, it is certainly the end of fringe phase but that doesn’t mean that all the energy and development has gone.

Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” occupies two spaces, the children’s room where parents with children were encouraged to draw on the wall. Robin Rhode’s photographs have the quality of break-dance in stop motion. Rhode positions himself in his photographs, influenced by the British body artists of the 1970s who saw the body as another media for sculpture (and spawned the international art phenomena of Gilbert and George).

Although most of the exhibition is photographs and Rhode’s videos use stop motion, which is essentially still photographs, moving images are the code to Rhode’s work. Rhode had a circular collage image titled “Zootrope” in case it wasn’t clear.

Robin Rhodes is from South Africa so there are some comments on the racial divide but he handles this with the same playful manner as in his other work. He does not have a graffiti, tagging, street background. He could have worked in a studio but he chose the street and the street aesthetic of painting or drawing on walls and playing with the urban environment is there in his work.

The opening of Ian Strange’s “Suburban” on Friday night was a big event; hundreds of people from Melbourne’s street art and art scenes having a look, drink and talk. It was an example of the interests and influences cross-pollinating in the NGV’s space: Prof. Young was talking to Rone, HaHa told me he was planning to go Blender’s opening after and I said hello to street art collectors Sandra Powell and Andrew King.

Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) is a former Perth based (now New York based) street artist. In this exhibition he has gone up in scale painting whole houses or setting them on fire. It is the complete transformation of a landscape, like Christo but in this case the landscape is the familiar suburban world of detached houses with gardens. All documented in high quality videos and photographs, weeks of work behind each image. The videos have the power and beauty of the potlatch of a Hollywood film where there is a massive explosion in slow motion that destroys everything. And all these houses waiting for demolition that Strange used reminded me of the housing bubble in the USA one of the causes of the current economic crisis.

Now that street art is in the major art galleries and museums there is a new energy and the promise of new types of works in the future. Both exhibitions use photography and video to document urban interventions, although Strange also brought big cut out bits of the houses along with him. And both Robin Rhode and Ian Strange’s exhibitions are an ample demonstration of this new energy and new pushing the envelop of street art that an art gallery like the NGV can bring.


Puppets with Attitude

Riding around Brunswick enjoying the sunshine and looking for interesting things to write about I couldn’t go past the Brunswick Pop Up Gallery. Especially after I looked in the window and saw a giant pink dust mite and some other puppets.

Felipe Reynolds, Dust Mite

Felipe Reynolds, Dust Mite

The curator, Joe Blanck was gallery sitting at the time. Joe told me about the dark exhibition opening where they had covered up the windows and visitors were given lanterns like the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1938. Joe is evidently a fan of Surrealism with a Dalian soft watch tattooed on his wrist. In the darkness of the opening he had moved his puppets around the crowd.

There are 18 artists exhibiting in this exhibition and there is a lot of humor in the dark exhibition theme, like the puppet “Spanky, the manic teddy”. Some of the exhibition is in the realm of fantastic art; sculptures by Richard Mueck, brother of Ron Mueck, the paintings by Beau White and Isabel Peppard’s “Pupa” sculpture.

Chip Wardale’s “ installation “7 music videos, 7 questions and self-reflections” was effective and lived up to its title. The outside of the installation didn’t contribute but it didn’t really matter once inside. Watching industrial music videos inside a mirrored cube was like being in your own small private world.

Recently when discussing the architectural work of late 19th and 20th century sculptors I was asked if there were the same amount of work for sculptors today. Classical inspired architecture requires bas-relief and other sculptural ornaments. The Corinthian columns with their stylised Acanthus leaves on their ornate capitals all had to be designed and carved. Now with modern architecture eschewing ornamentation, where had all the work for sculptors gone? The Darkness Within provides ample clues to answer that question, there has been a growth of scenic artists for movies, theatre and advertising. Joe Blanck, for example, works at Creature Technology Company, the company behind recent arena spectaculars like Walking With Dinosaurs and How To Train Your Dragon.

(Brunswick Pop Up Gallery, it’s sort of, new Brunswick Pop Up Gallery on Albert Street, I’m sure I’ve seen exhibitions there over the years under different names. As if there weren’t enough galleries with “Brunswick” in their name in Melbourne….)


Barry McGee – Drawing From The Street

Barry McGee (aka Twist, his street tag) also uses the personas of R. Fong and Lydia Fong. McGee’s art has been described as “Mission School” (after the San Francisco Mission District) and “New Folk” but I’ll just call it street art. McGee’s art brings together graffiti, comics, hobo art, sign painting and surfing.  His art on the street or in the gallery has clean lines and he uses a blocky sans-serif font with drop shadows. His art is based around grouping and clustering materials and images. He is inspired by the eclectic mix that is found in bodegas and on the street.

Barry McGee 1

McGee enjoys working collectively and collaboratively. There are collaborations with his long time collaborator Josh Lazcano, his late wife Margaret Kilgallen, or his collaboration with Boston graffiti artists for this exhibition.

You can enter this retrospective from two directions at the ICA. You can start with McGee collaborating with local Boston street/graffiti artists to create his own exhibition (for more on Boston graffiti see http://www.bostonsgraffitighosts.com). Or you can start where the curators started.

The curators mention that there is a “central contradiction” in McGee’s art between the street versus the museum. I don’t know about that, museums/contemporary art institutes are (or should be) just place to display art, whatever it is rather than the art having to conform to the institution. McGee is not a naïve, outsider artist – he studied art the San Francisco Art Institute in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And McGee can easily fill whole gallery walls as easily as he can fill walls on the street. In one gallery an animated wooden head repeatedly bangs against a bulging wall of scrap plywood. Maybe the central contradiction that McGee explores is between kitsch versus tasteful, quality versus junk, good versus bad art.

There is along with all the images, sculpture, junk and stuff a lot of sound in the exhibition, the animatronic spray painting figures squeak, there is tower of televisions – it is not a silent tomb of an exhibition.

Barry McGee 2

I took some time out from walking around the exhibition to sit down in the Poss Family Mediatheque to take another look at the art of McGee in videos, photographs and text on an interactive screen while looking out the window to Boston’s bay. This gave more depth to the exhibition and meant that I wasn’t on my feet the whole time.

Barry McGee 3

“I can live with the rats but I can’t live with graffiti” says a local resident quoted in The Boston TAB 7/8/90. You can get diseases from rats, like the plague, but I’ve never heard of anyone dying from exposure to graffiti. In the NYC flat that I was staying in last week the cat was sitting proudly behind the cockroach that it had killed.

The constitution of the USA does not include private property as an inalienable right; the inalienable rights (those that a person cannot be alienated from are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness seems like surfing and the art of Barry McGee.

This exhibition at the ICA Boston is billed as “the first-ever retrospective of acclaimed artist Barry McGee” expecting that there will be more, I hope there will be.


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