Tag Archives: Melbourne

Sweet Fragonard

What is it to have taste? Most people can taste, in that they are aware of the sense, but that is not the same as having taste. The cultivation of taste is a way that society uses up the excess and there was nothing as excessive as the Rococo, except the contemporary industrialised world.

In his exhibition, “The Fragonard Room” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Stieg Persson comments on excess. There is the excess of the Rococo, with its over the top images and execution. The excess of tagging, the over the top calligraphic curves of tagging letter forms that are carefully copied in gold paint by Persson from stuff on the streets of south-east Melbourne. The excess of food, the over the top coffee culture or the current fad for multi-coloured macaroons. The animals as a symbol of excess; eating like a pig or goat, breeding like rabbits, more monkeys and long haired lapdogs. The empty oyster shells, except for one with a pearl. Yet amid all of this excess there is great restraint in Persson’s art.

For me a key image is a small painting of Prada silk ribbons with the Prada tag, a symbol of luxury, woven into them and the beautiful curves of the ribbons like a cloud, an ephemeral thing of beauty. I have seen Persson’s paintings for years but they have been one or two paintings in large group exhibitions, as in Melbourne Now, and I haven’t really got them. Seeing this solo exhibition with the alternating hanging of sub-themes at Anna Schwartz Gallery it all became clear.

Where is Persson in all this appropriation? The style and taste portrayed in his paintings from the cool modern abstract play with paint, to the fiddly bits of Rocco style painting to the brushstrokes of the tags are all from somewhere else. The hand of the artist in the drawings is obscured by more tags. What is left of Persson is the flickering taste of the consumer of food and images.

Take a virtual tour of the Frick Institute’s Fragonard Room. Speaking from my synesthesia, Fragonard’s art is so sweet that it is like spun sugar that is gone almost after it touches your tongue. The current fashion for cooking and foodie culture is about the cultivation of ephemeral tastes.


Scandal Shock!

“… as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.” Australian Cultural Terrorists claim of responsibility for the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV in 1986.

Melbourne love an art scandal. This is assisted by having some top rate scandals, for example, the unsolved theft of the Weeping Woman. Although sometimes these scandals seem to be borrowed from US culture wars, as in the case of the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in 1997.

Art scandals have been ruined careers and lives, some of them were crimes and art has been destroyed. Melbourne never gave Vault a fair go. Juan Davila sighs at yet another repetition of the cry of ‘obscenity!’ Some of the unfortunate victims of these scandals and some naive realists might be thinking: “what has this got to do with art?” but this discourse is part of what defines art.

In the wake of an art scandal, even people who have not been to an art gallery in decades will express an opinion. The media is full of the story and more comments and from the informed comments to the mad ignorant rants it is this discourse that, in part, defines art. The year of debate about Ron Robertson-Swann’s modernist sculpture Vault in 1980, although driven by local city council politics, inspired the next generation artists to think hard about art and express their ideas not just in their art but in public forums.

This love of art scandals has created its own artists, CDH and Van Rudd for example, who create their own mass media interactive art works by provoking police, politicians or the public. These artists and their art are well known, although not exactly popular. Creating a scandal that goes viral is not the easiest thing to do and not every attempt succeeds in being both a scandal and art.

It has also helped create the environment that fostered Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene by giving their contentious and audacious actions a wider public eager to discuss them and collect them.

These accidental and deliberate scandals are interesting because they expose the cracks in the facade of our culture and deep divisions in the airbrushed idea of a united society. These scandals raises more questions than they answers prompting further thought, action and creation.


The Birds @ Flinders Lane

“among all things that fly the mind is swiftest” Rig Veda (Book 6, Hymn IX)

Two exhibition at Flinders Lane Gallery both with a theme of birds.

In Jon Eiseman’s exhibition “Other Realities” the birds are in symbols of the mind transcending the surface reality. Like Max Ernst or local artist, Kevin Mortensen Eiseman has the head of a bird in his art. Symbolically birds and fish are creatures that regularly move from the surface world into other worlds/realities. In Eiseman’s small bronze sculptures a Magritte-like everyman in a suit, a traveller with suitcases inhabits a world of birds and fish. Eiseman’s fantastic world has an enchanting sense of poetry that translates into a photographic collaboration with Anne Coran.

In Michelle Molinari’s exhibition the birds are dead, there is no avoiding the subject, not that their death is dwelt in a grisly way, it is just that they are undeniably dead. There is no air in their bell jars. (Narrowly avoids descending into Monty Python’s parrot sketch.) Molinari’s taxidermy and oil paintings are not intended to create the illusion of life, or a euphemistic ‘sleep’, only to preserve the beautiful image of the animal. Molinari’s images of dead animals are beautiful, spectacularly beautiful with a neo-baroque style to the images and their frames. Her paintings are set against a dark background that emphasises the colour and light on the feathers of the birds. The spectacle of the beautiful dead reminds the viewer of the contemporary world that attempts to avoid looking at the dead or even mentioning it. The title “Nature Mort” reminds me of my first attempt to translate the French mort nature (still life) that I garbled into “dead nature”. (See Arts Diary 365 for more on Michelle Molinari and my post on Taxidermy and Contemporary Art.)

 


Yarra Sculptures

My brother-in-law, Tom wanted to take a hundred photographs of the buildings in Melbourne’s docklands and riverfront, so earlier this year I went along with him for the early morning walk. We got out at Southern Cross Station, the former Spencer Street Station and crossed the tracks out of the old city. This is not walking Docklands’ public “Art Journey” as Bronwen Colman, the urban art director of the Melbourne Docklands precinct planned but a psychogeographical meandering along the Yarra River.

Webb Bridge, Docklands

Webb Bridge, Docklands

The Yarra River is the reason for Melbourne’s location, it was the transportation hub for the new settlement and it became an industrial site. When the modes of transportation changed in the late 20th Century the river became a neglected site. Another use had to be found for this polluted waterway and like many cities around the world Melbourne turned it into a parkland, river walk, casino, aquarium, restaurants and arts centre. The Yarra River started to be redeveloped in the 1970s with the construction of the Victoria Arts Centre and this urban redesign required more public sculpture.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Piccinini, Car Nuggets, 2006

While Tom was photographing the architecture I was looking at and occasionally photographing the sculptures. Just off Batman Hill Drive at the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence I spotted three seats by Patricia Piccinini, the Car Nuggets, 2006. The chrysalis forms of cars or motorcycles about to metamorphose is both typical of Piccinini’s oeuvre and appropriate for the location.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

We could hardly miss seeing Sydney-based artist, Duncan Stemler’s Blowhole, 2005; a 15 metre tall kinetic wind-responsive stainless-steel and aluminium sculpture located in Docklands Park. In 2008 two of the anodised aluminium cups were blown off but there wasn’t much wind and it wasn’t doing much when we were there.

The area feels deserted until we crossed the river at the Webb Bridge and then things were there was the noise of a flock of parrots enjoying the palm trees. Tom didn’t mind the lack of people, he was happily photographing the architecture of all the new buildings.

As we progress up the south bank of the Yarra there are a few more people were around. I remember reading stories about the early days of Melbourne where people disembarking from ships at the port kept walking up river for what to them seemed like ages until they saw the city. It is very similar today or maybe the city was finally waking up on the weekend.

Further reminding me of the early days of Melbourne the area has these touches of hyper-reality in the old pump house with boilers made by the old Robinson Bros. foundry. I recognised the name of the foundry as they had made Percival Ball’s Francis Ormond Memorial at RMIT.

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

On the north bank of the Yarra River poking its head out from amongst the apartments is a giant metal John Dory fish. It was originally on a floating platoon during the 2006 Commonwealth games and was constructed by a company called Megafun. Megafun also provided technical and project management support to Scar – A Stolen Vision in 2001, the aboriginal poles further along the north bank.

The crowds started to build up around the exhibition building and the casino. We had to find some shade so that Tom could see his camera’s screen properly; he was up to his 81st photo.

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Outside the eastern end of Crown Entertainment Complex are The Guardians by Simon Rigg. These two large sculptures carved from Italian statuary marble and clad with ceramic tiles. Rigg has a number of other marble public sculptures around Melbourne, including Babylon, 1995 is at 101 Collins Street, as well as, in Beijing and New York.

We come to Inge King Sheerwater, 1994 in front of the Esso building. (See my post on Inge King.) Tom puts his camera away, he has taken his hundredth photo and we cross the Yarra heading up Swanston Walk to Chinatown for a well earned yum cha.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994


Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.


Painful progress on my book

When I last wrote about progress on my book, Melbourne’s Sculpture it was the end of March. I am now three months behind schedule with my book.

Progress of the book has been slowed with getting better photographs than the ones I’d taken, mine weren’t really up to scratch for publication. I never really thought of myself as a photographer and I knew that my photography was the weakest part. I should have asked more questions about it and read the camera manual.

So plan B for the photographs and start to develop a plan C; scratch plan B after two months of going nowhere. Move on to plan C and start to develop a plan D and whole vicious cycle goes on. Somewhere in all of this I decided to do some renovations and a major clean up of the house.

Paul Montford, John Wesley  statue,1935, Melbourne

Paul Montford, John Wesley statue,1935, Melbourne

There has so many lows, more pleas for help on windy winter nights, so few highs recently (some great sculpture exhibitions at RMIT, Callum Morton at Anna Schwartz and Inge King at the NGV) and far too much waiting. It is hard to be patient and anxious at the same time. Waiting can be horribly distressing and at time I felt I was being drip fed hope. The street artist, Mal Function who makes those little gremlin heads finally read and replied to my email six months later but not too late as it happens.

I didn’t feel like writing my blog during this time; too uncertain of what the future would bring, too something. It is an odd feeling because the fate of the book was no longer in my hands. It was a good experience editing with Chloe Brien the book. Everyone is doing a wonderful job holding it together around me, the publisher, David Tenenbaum has been patient, my wife, Catherine and especially my old friend, Paul Candy who had been most helpful when exactly when I needed it. Lots of thanks; I must rewrite the acknowledgements for the book.

The book will now have photographs kindly supplied by the City of Melbourne, ConnectEast, State Library of Victoria and several photographers. More thanks.

Amongst the photographers I actual meet Matto Lucas. I had seen some of his work years ago but I had only met him virtually a few weeks earlier; his Facebook post are are often a work of art. I’d also seen his photography in his blog the Melbourne Art Review.

None of the photographs in this post will appear in the book.

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands


My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils

I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.

HaHa Nicky Wynmar

  1. HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?Civil - penny farthing - Irene Warehouse
  2. Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.Kerpy - Flinders St. Station
  3. Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.ELK Chimp Jesus
  4. E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list. Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes
  5. Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)DSC09008
  6. Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.Toys will be Toys
  7. 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.Hanging-boots
  8. Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.The Kid Peek-a-boo
  9. Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.This is Shit
  10. Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.

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