Tag Archives: Queensland

Viva Brizvegas

Readers may be aware from my last two entries that I have just returned from Brisbane, or Brizvegas as it is called. “Brizvegas” was first used in print in a 1996 edition of the Courier Mail in reference to the opening of the new casino and the popularization of poker machines in Brisbane’s bars and clubs. The commercial sex of Fortitude Valley sits alongside the art galleries, bars, cafes and discount clothing stores.

I only go to Brisbane, Queensland when accompanying my wife, Catherine to her conferences. When she at her conference I fill in the day looking at art and photographing street art. There is not a lot of joy for a tourist interested in art in Brisbane. You could fill in a day if you went to all the major galleries on the South Bank. If you were really determined and wanted to see galleries for a second day, you could see all the galleries in Fortitude Valley along with the street art. Catch a train to South Bank station and see the gallery at Queensland College of Arts (QCA) and walk across the Goodwill footbridge across the river to the Queensland University of Technology Art Gallery. I was fortunate – at the QCA Gallery there was an exhibition of Juan Davila’s work on paper – Graphic!. I managed to stretch this out to three days by repeat trips to GoMA and looking at the exhibitions at the Queensland Centre for Photography and Jan Manton Art.

Street art in Fortitude Valley

Street art in Fortitude Valley

The street art in Brisbane is mostly in Fortitude Valley and mostly in the form of stickers. There are stickers on the back of every street sign along the street. Stencil art is still strong in Brisbane’s street art scene and I recognized several artists, Mzcry and ZKLR from my work with the Melbourne Stencil Festival.

I had dinner in the West End with my old housemate Ben. Ben recommended dinner at the 3 Monkey’s. Ben had the lasagne, Catherine had the haloumi platter with pita bread and Greek salad, and I had a gourmet pizza. Ben and I both had a slice of cake for desert. Looking back it was amongst the best food that I had in Brisbane. The food on the South Bank was mostly over priced rubbish in small portions. Surprisingly the other good food was at the conference dinner. It was very good but not as good as the after dinner speech by writer Nick Earls. He was excellent and the perfect dinner speaker for a conference of medical librarians from around the world.

Stefen's Skytower

Stefen's Skyneedle

But I digress and I want to return to Brisbane’s West End. Brisbane is a small city where a flamboyant hairdresser can still make a big impact. Stefan’s Skyneedle is the largest gay erection in Brisvegas – a piece of fantastic, pointless architecture in Brisbane’s West End. At night the globe flashes with light, multi-coloured fluorescent tubes make patterns and spotlights span the sky – it is quite a show. The Skyneedle is an 88m tower that was constructed for the World Expo ’88. At the end of Expo’88 hairdresser Stefan Ackerie bought the Skyneedle and moved it to his company’s headquarters in the West End. It had another sculpture in the car park when I visited.  Massive blocks of unfinished white marble form the plinth for a marble Janus eyes, that looks both ways.

Stefen's Eye

Stefen's Eye

The base around the Skyneedle is derelict. There are improvised stairs going up to its tiled hexagon base. Underneath the brass awning/collar is a wooden box painted silver enclosing the base of the tower with a locked door. The light show must be on automatic, as it didn’t look like the door was unlocked frequently.

Base of Skyneedle

Base of Skyneedle

Brisvegas appears like a left-over; a left-over from the expo, the capital city of a former tropical fascist state on the mend, a work in progress with footpaths closed for building works. However, I did also see some great new public libraries in Brisbane with beautiful architectural design, so there is reason to hope for Brisvegas.


“Modern Art” in Brisbane

The modern world started at different times in different places in different disciplines. In philosophy the modern world started in 1600. In the visual arts it is a few centuries later; modern art starts sometime in the mid 19th century and continues to around 1965. Contemporary art, is the current term used to describe galleries showing art created post WWII. But in Queensland, one of the more conservative states in Australia, the term “modern art” appears to still be with us.

I was under the misapprehension that GoMA, which opened in 2006 in Brisbane, was a contemporary art gallery. It looks like a contemporary art gallery. GoMA has three floors of contemporary gallery space and cinemas around a rather empty main foyer space. It has a dedicated children’s art area, an important feature of any new art gallery. There are also reading spaces, a reference library, and elegant outdoor balconies.

GoMA has contemporary art by Gilbert and George, Julian Opie and Ron Muerk in its collection. I didn’t see any art there created prior to WWII; that was all over in the QAG (Queensland Art Gallery). But when I looked I realized that GoMA stood for “Gallery of Modern Art”. So why is it still a “gallery of modern art”? Perhaps it is a slavish imitation of New York’s MoMA, established in 1929.

But it is not just GoMA with that is behind the times hanging on to the term “modern art” in Brisbane, there is also the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Fortitude Valley. And, like GoMA, the Queensland Government funds IMA. It is even stranger because IMA is in the same building as the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. There is no modern art at IMA; it shows contemporary art exhibitions.

You would have thought that someone would have said that the term “modern art” is not the correct term. Just next door the State Library of Queensland when I visited was showing the touring exhibition “Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia”. For this exhibition modernism in Australia was defined as between 1917 and 1967.

Art history definitions aside, it is very difficult to understand the difference between the QAG and GoMA except that they are different buildings on Brisbane’s South bank precinct (another example of Brisbane’s slavish copying). The same artists are exhibited in both galleries: Ah Xian has art currently on exhibition in both. Both share the same website. QAG appears to have simply extended into another building with a silly name. QAG is more of a modern art gallery than GoMA with modern artists like Tatlin, Miro and Picasso in its collection. Typical of modern art galleries, QUG has a history of art sampler collection with example work, second or third rate, collected to illustrate the history of art. This historical approach to the collection at QUG is in contrast to the contemporary style of themed exhibition of GoMA’s permanent collection.

I don’t know why Queensland still uses the term “modern art”. Art is not an important feature in a state where beach holiday tourism, sugar cane and horse racing have always been more important. The QAG is the major state art gallery but only had a permanent home in 1982. Perhaps there is still “modern art” in Queensland because of the belief that “a better future” can be made in Brisbane. Or maybe the Queensland’s politicians are too parochial, stupid and ignorant to the listen to anyone else.


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