Daily Archives: June 6, 2008

Too Many Galleries

The lights are on in the gallery but nobody is there.

There are too many art spaces in Melbourne. I have raised this issue before (Rental Space Debate) and discussed how the quality of exhibitions suffers because exhibition spaces, especially the rental spaces, will accept any submission. I did not consider how many people visit galleries compared to the exhibition spaces.

When I go around looking at galleries I am often the only person in the gallery, apart from the person sitting the gallery. For anyone gallery sitting at an artist run initiative or rental gallery space it is apparent that there are not a lot of people visiting galleries – there were days when nobody visited 69 Smith St. or Brunswick Arts. Sure there are often hundreds of people at the opening but they are only there for event and the wine, some don’t even look at the art.

And there are still more galleries opening in Melbourne, about nine this year. This is not good for the artist or Melbourne’s arts as it reduces the number of visitors to the exhibition and dilutes the impact of any good exhibition. If only there was a similar growth in the total visitors, in art magazines or critical reviews of exhibitions then the situation might not be so unbalanced.

I started this blog because too few exhibitions in Melbourne are reviewed. There are so many galleries that I haven’t been able to visit all of them in two years. I can’t hope to review all of them – I can’t even hope to have seen the same exhibitions as anyone else. I am pleased to note that there is another blogger, Ace Wagstaff writing reviews of Melbourne’s art run initiatives (ARI) and other art exhibitions: Dead Hare.  So far Wagstaff and I have both written entries about the censorship of Trevor Finn and Cecilia Fogelberg’s exhibition at Platform. I hope that we write more entries on the same exhibitions, so that there is more than just one view to consider.

Lack of visitor numbers, sales or critical reviews do not matter to rental space galleries, including many of the ARI, as their only concern is bookings. These galleries are dishonest in not disclosing to artists booking the space the average number of visitor for a normal week.


Sustainable Art

The Counihan Gallery is showing Embodied Energy curated by Penny Algar and Edwina Bartlem. Embodied Energy exhibits the work of 13 contemporary Australian artists addressing sustainable contemporary art practice. The curators have also addressed questions of sustainable gallery practice: the foam core has gone replaced by paper didactic panels and the food at the opening was local including some great green olives. It is a timely exhibition opening on world environment day.

Not all of the art in the exhibitions makes you think about sustainable contemporary art practice. Some of the art in the exhibition merely expresses an awareness of the environment like Ros Bandt’s audio work and Robyn Cerretti’s video installation. The use of recycled or found natural materials, in most of the art in the exhibition, is such an established tradition in both modern and contemporary art that its inclusion is somewhat redundant. And there are contemporary Melbourne artists with more environmental concerns in their art practice, like Ash Keating, than the artists selected for the exhibition.

Much of the art was ephemeral installations, like Chaco Kato’s large wall work made of pins and dried grass: “A Weed-Scape, A Weeds Project.” In Hannah Bertram’s, “I found you in the garden. Some one had left you there”; the accumulated grime on old panes of glass had carefully been removed in rococo patterns. It reminded me of Duchamp’s Large Glass and Picabia’s photo of the layer of dust on it.

Green recycling into art is the theme of the installation and process artwork of Tony Adam. Adam’s plays with ‘green’ in the installation, both the color and praxis.  His installation is a process, an assembly line, from recycled material to art, made of recycled materials, in a vitrine. There is a wonderful attention to detail in Adam’s installation: the idea of ‘green’ appears on so many levels from the recycling to the green pencil case with green pens.  Moving through the installation tells the story. Adam’s is part of the installation, his activity and interaction with the viewers is part of the work (he will be working there Friday to Sunday). After talking with Tony Adams at the exhibition he gave me a badge made of an old bottle-top part of the final product from the vitrine (thanks Tony).


Artists, along with the rest of the population of this planet, are becoming more environmentally aware. An argument could be made that artists, from the Romantics onwards, have been the avant-garde of the environmental movement; indeed, the idea of “green politics” is a creation of German artist, Joseph Beuys. Consequently there is interest in the arts community for environmentally sustainable or friendly products, as well as, environmental issues.

Some art materials, especially oil-based printmakers inks, can be dangerous to the health of the artist; others are harmless natural products. The Museu d’Art Contemporary Barcelona warns visitors not to touch the art because of “unstable and toxic” materials; the best ‘do not touch’ notice that I’ve ever seen. And if the materials used are dangerous to the health of the artist, then their manufacture is dangerous to the environment.

Some art materials produced are produced in quantities that its manufacture has environmental impact. The impact of paper pulp mills on the environment is well known. Marble and stone quarries require backfilling and re-vegetation and.

Most art is intended to be durable and as a durable good it is intended to last forever, at least centuries, and the durability and longevity of art reduces the overall environmental impact.

But the ecological footprint of art is larger than just manufacturing, there is transportation especially the transportation of the heavy materials for some sculpture, studio lighting, gallery lighting and climate control are amongst the other issues to consider.

One way to be environmentally friendly in art is to use recycled materials, saving money and reusing waste. Artists have been featuring the use of recycled material in their art from early in the 20th Century. Artists like Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch were early masters of collage and sculpture from junk. I haven’t been to the Sustainable Art and Design Centre in Newton, part of the Reverse Garbage initiative; it is a pity that the Reverse Garbage initiative in Melbourne closed many years ago, as it was an excellent resource.

I have noticed more Melbourne artists, including John Bodin, Emma de Clario, and Alison Hanly, are using Tony Knoll’s invention, the Panelpop supports for their art. These “minimal carbon” panels are made of recycled materials and they are very durable. The surface is very smooth and matt like plaster and digital photographs can be printed directly on the surface. Panelpop do not require glass over the photographs or drawings further reducing their environmental impact.

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