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Daily Archives: July 8, 2008

Platform

Sharon West subverts the Australian culture war’s reactionary revisionist histories of Australia’s colonial era. West’s revision of this alternative history is more fun.

Gubbaworld is a humorous retrospective utopic view of Australian history. Sharon West, the artist, describes it as “colonial pseudo-histories and other follies”. It is, as if the bloody genocidal invasion never happened, instead it was Enlightenment folly that brought the English to Australia. It is an Australia full of strange fauna, like a giant budgie. It is an artistic Australia full of statues and romantic ruins. It is an Australia where colonials encounter Aboriginal campsites complete with caravan and beach umbrella.

Art is a form of artifice: we want to be told stories, we want to be lied to, and we want to be shown attractive images. Sharon West Gubbaworld is a perfect exhibition for Platform; it is fun, it is relevant to the public and uses the display cabinets to advantage playing with the idea of museum displays. The exhibition combines small dioramas made of toys and model materials and large photographs of views more models. Gubbaworld might be controversial if it wasn’t so obviously fun.

Along with Sharon West there is a group exhibition, Koori Allsorts, celebrating NAIDOC Week. The exhibition features recent work by Jarrod Atkinson, Mandi Barton-Travis, Andrew Travis, Charlie O and Carol Wright and shows the great diversity of art practices in Koori art.

Daniel Dorall tackles the big themes of life and death at the Majorca Building. The cabinets in the Majorca building are too thin for Dorall’s usual architectural-style models. Instead Dorall’s exhibition, like Sharon West’s, features large photographs of 3 dimensional models. Dorall created these models to be photographed, they are graphically striking, a skull and a cross section of a heart. Most of the figures are crushed in, trapped at two points in life and death. In this small exhibition Dorall has taken his usual architectural model and created a new range of imaging making possibilities.

In Vitrine “Continually Genuine” is an elegant video and installation playing with signs and signified. In applying for Australian residency the artists, Kubota Fumikazu and Tania Smith were obligated to prove that their union was “genuine and continuing”. However, signs like the video in the installation are never genuine although they may be continual. In the installation potatoes signify a western diet to contrast the rice that signify the eastern diet (more celebration of the International Year of the Potato 2008, the potato as art). The rice has the additional symbolism of being thrown at weddings.

Victoria Stamos work in the Sample cabinet is only one large photo, an enlargement of her Greek grandmother’s practice at writing the English alphabet. Symbolizing the migrant experience with the change from Cyrillic to Roman alphabets is a good idea. But the cool documentary aesthetic felt to minimal to engage with the passing public. 

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Happy anniversary 70th CAS!

The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) of Victoria is celebrating 70 years with an exhibition at Fortyfive Downstairs. 70 consecutive years is impressive for any arts society, a great deal changes in the art world in that time. CAS has survived the philistine conservatism and retrograde arts policies of the Menzies. It was an artist-run-initiative long before the idea became popular in the 1980s. And the choice of ‘contemporary’ in the society’s title shows remarkable presence.

The CAS has an important place in Australian art history but it is not being recognized with an historical retrospective in the NGV or other major gallery. And this is because it also a history of the declining importance and relevance of the society (at least according to Gwenda Robb and Elaine Smith’s Concise Dictionary of Australian Artists).

The CAS was founded in 1938 with a committee of artists that has since become major names in Australian art history. George Bell was president, Rupert Bunny was vice-president and Adrian Lawlor was secretary. However, within two years these notable artists had left the CAS because of the domination of the society by amateur artists. But this is not the end of the story. In the 1950s CAS was lead by John Reed and Georges Mora. In 1961 David Boyd was president and John Perceval was vice-president.

The CAS organises many group exhibitions for its members like the one celebrating its 70th. However this anniversary exhibition also included a display of the history of the society; a collection of their newsletters and exhibition catalogues including a notice about an Anti-Fascist Exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in December 1942.

At the exhibition opening Fortyfive Downstairs was packed with people as you might expect for a large group exhibition. Current president of the society, Robert Lee made a short speech and then prizes were awarded. This included a prize for the innovative use of materials showing that CAS is still encouraging innovation.

Some of the art in the exhibition is good, especially the sculptures, and some of it is bland, derivative or overworked. That is to be expected in an open entry group exhibition. The quality of the work is somewhat irrelevant; the CAS is important to the ecology of Victoria’s art world in providing affordable entry-level exhibitions for artists for 70 years. 


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