Tag Archives: Melbourne CBD

Exploring Melbourne – Open House

There were many reasons to go into the city on Sunday: the Melbourne Open House 2011, yarn bombing in the Bourke St. mall, yum cha, shopping and the first sunny day in many weeks. I didn’t get to see all the 75 buildings open in the city. Some, like the Block Arcade, were booked out; others, like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Tunnels, had an hour wait until the next tour. I did see Origin’s Balcony Garden, the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom and Melbourne Town Hall.

Origin’s Balcony Garden on Level 7, 271 Collins Street, is a contemporary roof top garden for the staff with a BBQ area as one of the main features. Designed by Jamie Durie and completed in 2009 it is elegant and informal with a lot of artificial turf over not only the balcony but also seats and the circular seating “cocoon”.

The Athenaeum Theatre and Library is an old cultural institution from the era of marvelous Melbourne. It was a time when people would know that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and civilization. The first feature film and the first ‘talkie’ in Melbourne were shown in the Athenaeum Theatre. In its long history has also been used as an art gallery mostly between 1943 and 1962. I remember it from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s productions in both the main theatre and studio space on the top floor. Between the theatre spaces there is private subscription library – in my imagination this had always been antique relic preserved from the 1900s but actually the library has kept up to date and full of popular titles and has 4 computers with internet access for the patrons.

Plaza Ballroom with visitors on Melbourne's Open House

Across the road from the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom built by Frank Thring Snr. (father of Frank Thring, the actor). It is a rococo extravaganza of faux medieval with a tiled fountain and fake balconies. Overhead there is a huge hand-painted coffered reinforced concrete ceiling. It reminded me of the décor of the Forum Theatre and an old cinema in Brisbane but on a far larger scale.

After the theatrical aesthetic of the ballroom the classical styling and eclectic collection of the Melbourne Town Hall appeared more dubious. It has all the qualities of a wedding reception centre which it is used for. The council chambers are also used for the Melbourne comedy festival. Amongst the collection of portraits of former mayors and official gifts from other cities there is a Rick Amor painting of Melbourne laneways complete with graffiti and paste-ups (odd considering the City Council’s antipathy towards street art).

Twilight Taggers in the Bourke St. Mall

A visit to Melbourne’s CBD would not be complete without looking at some street art. There was a yarn-bombing project by Bali (see her blog the Twilight Taggers) and Yarn Corner going on in the Bourke St. Mall. A long colorful knitted and crocheted cover for a rail and its supports adorned with crocheted flowers. Yarn bombing is turning into a community art form, the family-friendly, council-friendly aspect of street art. And while in Chinatown for yum cha I walked up Croft Alley to see the current aerosol street art on its walls. Croft Alley was repainted in February 2011. (See my post about the earlier Croft Alley Project.)

Due to Sunday’s fine weather and the Melbourne Open House there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people of all ages (kids getting their open house maps stamped at various locations) exploring the rarely seen Melbourne, the old Melbourne and the present Melbourne.


Painting Techniques & Subjects

“London Works” by James Cochran at Lindberg Galleries are portraits of homeless men. What is remarkable about these paintings is that they were created primarily with aerosol paint. The faces and hair are made up of hundreds of dots of aerosol paint, each dot with its own small drip. Cochran’s paintings are like pointillism with a spray can. There are lots of drips in the paintings – drips are currently very fashionable in street art. James Cochran (aka Jimmy. C) is a veteran street artist from Adelaide. It is remarkable for how far street art techniques have permeated mainstream art in the last decade.

Cochran’s paintings are obviously clever, technically excellent but superficial and sentimental. These are the kind of paintings normally seen in commercial galleries located in the foyer of five star hotels. Perhaps the paintings could even hang in part of the hotel, a private dinning room; a place where the homeless men depicted in the paintings would never be admitted. The sentimental depiction of homeless by artists over the centuries has not helped changing the conditions that lead to homelessness. I suppose the homeless make cheap models.

You need more than one trick to make good art and technique will only get you so far. The second trick, the right subject for the art, has to work with the technique. At Flinders Lane Gallery there was an exhibition of paintings with more than one trick – Margaret Ackland “Histories”.

Margaret Ackland’s main trick of painting transparent fabric, lace, tissue paper and even plastic wrapping, with light paint strokes. Her compositions on the dark background make the cloth and paper glow like old masters. Some are dynamic flows of fabric are static and meditative. Ackland’s other trick is her references to the history of fashion; her sense of the histories that clothes tell. Not that all her clothes are old fashioned, there is a beautiful painting of an empty plastic dry cleaning bag and clothes hanger. I particularly enjoyed her paintings of pictures partially unwrapped from tissue paper that have a sense of the rediscovery of an archived image.

Both Cochran and Ackland have excellent painting techniques but Ackland does better paintings because of her choice of subjects.


Sculpture @ Melbourne City Square

Historically no city in Victoria was designed with a square because the then Governor Gipps didn’t like them because they encourage democracy. Melbourne City Square was only built in 1980 (when democracy was no longer a threat) and marks the start of the architectural rejuvenation of Melbourne’s CBD. There are currently several statues: Loretta Quinn’s “Beyond the Ocean of Existence”, Charles Summers’ Burke and Wills Memorial, Pamela Irving’s “Larry LaTrobe” and a wooden wombat without the usual City of Melbourne brass plaque to identify the sculpture or artist along with the Mockridge Fountain in the square.

The missing statue from the city square has to be noted – “Vault” by Ron Roberson-Swann was only in the city square for less than a year but it left a permanent psychic mark on Melbourne. Melbourne City Council had to change the direction of their public sculpture in response to the controversy over “Vault” and so the quirky and the historic have replaced the formal modernist. Whimsy and idiosyncrasy are not part of the collective consciousness; they are about a personal mix of elements. They are the opposite of any kind of political statement.

Keeping with the quirky mood of sculpture in the City Square are the two animal sculptures: Pamela Irving’s “Larry LaTrobe” 1992 and the wooden wombat, “Warin” 2002, by Des McKenna.

Des McKenna, "Warin" 2002

On the Flinders Lane corner there is Loretta Quinn “Beyond the Ocean of Existence”, 1993, a bronze sculpture. This generative sculpture stands on the opposite corner to the 19th memorial sculpture to Burke and Wills, standing on the corner of Burke and Swanston Street. Created by English born and trained sculptor, Charles Summers in Melbourne in 1865; Summers had previously created the Fitzroy Gardens, River God Fountain in 1862. The sculpture of Burke and Wills has been relocated many times as the city has changed and the corner is its 5th location.

Loretta Quinn "Beyond the Ocean of Existence" 1993

Loretta Quinn, "Beyond the Ocean of Existence", 1993

“Beyond the Ocean of Existence” follows the traditional sculptural form of a god or hero on top of a column. But the tradition has been twisted, a large bulbous form and tendrils support an angelic version of her little girl figure with her hair swept back. The figure of the little child is central to Quinn’s sculpture. The figure minus the wings is repeated in “Within Three Worlds” (see my entry on Loretta Quinn’s sculpture “Within Three Worlds” at Princess Park). Other works by Loretta Quinn include the Artist’s Seat at Linden House, St. Kilda and “The Crossing of the First Threshold” in Southgate Melbourne Victoria.

When “Beyond the Ocean of Existence” was installed it did not have a café behind it and the area of the city square had more trees. Near the statue there is a painted pole by indigenous artists, Maree Clarke and Sonja Hodge. The poles have been there a long time even though the city of Melbourne does not consider it permanent.

“The Mockridge Fountain” by Ron Jones, Simon Perry (who also crested the Public Purse in the Burke St. Mall) and Darryl Cowie  c.2000 is a concrete fountain that makes a little bit of water go a long way. However even its water conservation features did not prevent it from being turned off during the drought between 2007 and 2010.

Leaves placed on the Mockridge Fountain


January 2011 Exhibitions

Not that there are a lot of art exhibitions on in Melbourne at the moment as most of the galleries are closed in January but I did get to see a couple of other exhibitions (besides Reframed @ Counihan Gallery).

“Look! – the art of Australian picture books today” at the State Library of Victoria features the original artwork for picture books by some of Australia’s best illustrators including Graeme Base, Shaun Tan, Jane Tanner and many other  artists. Amongst all the art there are a few exhibits that show the development of artwork including one from Graeme Base showing the progress from photographs, pencils drawings to the finished illustration with a blank frame for text. This exhibition is not only well timed for the school holidays but also for the new audience for illustration in Melbourne that grew out of the street art scene. There was plenty for the kids to do at this exhibition and some of the exhibits were designed specially for them but this is not an exhibition that is just for children.

Phil Soliman’s best photographs are grids of close up details. Spread across one whole wall of Hogan Gallery in Collingwood is a grid of images of male skin. So many individual hairs, spots recorded in the photographs that Soliman (?) describes as “between the erotic and clinical”.  This series of 7 photographs, “Surface Data” gives its title to the exhibition and is by far the best work in the show. There are also several good close up photographs of the male body but the rest of the photographs in the exhibition are more ordinary but competent images of male nudes. The DVD projection part of the exhibition was not on when I visited during the week. The exhibition is part of the arts programme of the Midsumma Festival – see my reviews of exhibitions in Midsumma Festival in previous years.

Hogan Gallery has comfortable suede benches to sit and contemplate the images. There was jazz playing on a sound system along with the thwack of the staple gun from the frame making business at the back of the gallery.

 


Happy 20th Birthday Platform

In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc. 20 years on and it has become Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project in the CBD. It is open to the public every weekday and Saturday mornings all year. It is a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council.

Megan Clunes writes about the Platform’s 20 years in Broadsheet Melbourne. The photograph accompanying the article shows the original Platform in the curved underpass at the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station). The vitrines in the Spencer Street underpass were curved streamlined modern cabinets that became redundant after failing to predict the future of advertising. I remember seeing some early exhibitions in the Platform cabinets and being under-whelmed by the experience.

The cabinets at Flinders Street Station originally were known as Platform 2 and were opened 5 years after the original Spencer Street space. It was known as Platform 2 when I exhibited there in 1995 with members of Dada tribe #373.

“Celebrating 20 years of Platform” is an anniversary exhibition at Platform. There are lots of familiar names in this exhibition; not just from Platform but from the whole artists run spaces of Melbourne. (Try entering their surnames in this blog’s search box – don’t bother with their first names, it is a simple search system and will return every entry with that word.) I reviewed Brad Haylock’s neon “them/us” when it was originally exhibited at Platform; this is also a review of an exhibition by Simon Pericich, who is also in the anniversary exhibition.

This time when I looked at Platform’s cabinets I was most impressed with the Christopher Scuito’s exhibition in the “Sample” cabinet (next to the coffee shop booth and the exit to Flinders Street). “Sample” presents the work of art school students. Scuito’s has collaged beefcake cigarette lighters onto reproductions of classic sword and sorcery fantasy images emphasizing the S&M and homoerotic quality of these illustrations. Patrice Sharkey has beautifully curated Scuito’s exhibition; the details are tremendous from the black backboard supported by stacks of comic books to the whip on top of the black-framed images.

There is a publication, What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 edited by Angela Brophy. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it (I did ask at Sticky Institute but they didn’t know anything). Platform has rarely made history; its internal chronology has not been tumultuous either. In 2008 the roof of the Campbell’s Arcade collapsed when road works on Flinders Street broke through but this only damaged the shops and not the exhibition spaces. Later that year Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ was censored for nudity. But it was overshadowed, a week later, by the subsequent attack on Bill Henson.

Looking back over my blog entries I have reviewed so many of the exhibitions at Platform, not because of the quality of the exhibitions but because it is so accessible. I can easily see the exhibition a couple of times before writing about it.

Enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass each day on their way to or from Flinders Street Station. Platform’s exhibitions space presents a variety of works by mostly student and other new artists. 20 years is a remarkable achievement for any artists-run initiative, it is an institution for a whole generation of Melbourne artists. Platform will probably continue providing exhibition space to new artists until the subway is renovated which is unlikely to happen in the next 20 years.


Talking Points on the Street

In several of Melbourne’s lanes and alleys there a lot of people were talking about the graffiti. There was usual school group with art teacher in Hosier Lane, a young woman taking photos, and a middle aged man who had seen the ABC documentary on graffiti in Melbourne and had learnt to appreciate what he had previously regarded as rubbish. It is an unlikely scenario; strangers talking to each other about art in a city alley full of rubbish bins but in Melbourne it is common. Even if you can’t read the writing on the wall street art inspires communication, it is a social lubricant, providing a contact point for strangers in the big city.

Isn’t that the whole point of art? – To provide a reason or focus for communication. There is a lot of unofficial communications on the street. The streets will always provide a forum for politics that can’t be censored. Many political groups will use a sticker campaign to get their message on the streets. It is an obvious choice if you fear censorship or reprisals or just hassles.

"Corrupt Cops Killed Carl" sticker in Brunswick

Currently on the streets of Brunswick there is a sticker campaign against the Victorian police. A sticker: “Corrupt Cops Killed Carl” commenting on the death in jail of Melbourne gangster, Carl Williams. There are more stickers on the theme of corruption in the Victorian police scattered around the streets of Brunswick. Another much stranger and bigger political paste-ups on the streets of Brunswick (and Fitzroy and Coburg – how big is this poster campaign?) is advocating considering the alternatives.

"Seek an alternative" poster in Brunswick

Finally in this discussion of the graffiti discourse I must mention the Dunny Art blog. Following in the footsteps of photography Rennie Ellis’s books on Australian graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and focusing on traditional, pre-aerosol graffiti Dunny Art, photographs graffiti on toilet wall around the world. The comment and reply nature of these ad hoc discussion walls is another forum that can’t be censored.


November 2010 Exhibitions

Tim Sterling’s solo exhibition, “Metamaterials” at Michael Koro Galleries is a post-minimalist exercise in sculpture and drawing. Post-minimalism is like minimalism but with a lot more. Sterling’s sculptures use a lot and lots of paper clips held together with cable ties most impressively a small I-beam (17x73x80cm) supported between two perspex pillars. His drawings are made up of a many, many small marks with a pen, his drawing “Wall” is made up of repeated marker pen marks that form bricks in a wall.

At Mailbox 141 Tasmanian sculptor Ange Leech has a small solo exhibiting “Hand of the Composure”. Leech has carved small wooden puppets and masks along with collages that are pinned together. These collages are subject to alteration like the articulate joints of the puppets.

This time of year there are many exhibitions by graduates of art, design, photography and jewellery courses.

RMIT Diploma of Photoimaging Graduates are exhibiting at First Site (“photoimaging” is a portmanteau word includes both photography and digital imaging technology). The reality that photography once implied has been replaced with fantasy and glamour. There is a lot of fantasy in this exhibition to the extent of visionary art, fashion and glamour model photography.

Box Hill Institute jewellery graduates their work at Guildford Lane Gallery. It is not just rings and necklaces there are wall pieces, cups, spoons, an hourglass of luminous sand and a wizard’s staff with a crystal ball. Some of the jewellery is inspired by Alice in Wonderland themes from a course assignment.

Guildford Lane Gallery is strange place to visit during on a weekday; they obviously don’t get a lot of visitors. It is an old factory/warehouse with a music space/bar on the ground floor. Whenever I go in someone asks if I’m here for some exhibition, I say yes and they tell me that it on the 2nd floor. They then follow me up the stairs to turn on the lights.

 


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