Monthly Archives: August 2008

Michael Koro, West Space & 1st Site

There is a good circuit of galleries around Melbourne Central Station comprising Michael Koro Galleries on Franklin St, then across the road to West Space in Anthony St. and back to RMIT Gallery and 1st Site. It took me a bit over an hour to see it all, but RMIT Gallery was closed, and I spent some time photographing the stencil graffiti in the alley beside Michael Koro Galleries.

Michael Koro Galleries is a new commercial gallery on the ground floor of a two story old black building with Blender Studios out the back. There is a real estate agents sign on the building, a worrying indication that it may not last long. The gallery does nightly video projections on the galleries front window but I was visiting in daylight.

The current exhibition at Michael Koro Galleries is “Resist, Collaborate, Destroy” curated by Michael Meneghetti, an all-encompassing title for a contemporary art group show. In the unnamed side alley beside Bender Studio there is an unofficial part of the Melbourne Stencil Festival features some of the best stencil artists in the world.

I was hoping to see Regan Tamanui working in Blender studio but he was in NZ. I met and had a good talk with Doyle instead. Doyle runs Blender Studio and Michael Koro Galleries, is a Youth Arts Officer at the City of Yarra and had a sculpture in the current show at the gallery.

West Space, an artist-run gallery, has changed its configuration of gallery walls slightly but still have three gallery spaces. All three currently had exhibition from graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts. Kiron Robinson exhibit “The 17th of December 1987” consisted of two sets of fluorescent lights spelling out two phrases that might mean something to her or the viewer. Alasdair McLuckie installation ”Laelia and the seasons” had more content and some very detailed beading. McLuckie creates imaginary cultures and myths in his installations this time about the cycle of an imaginary calendar. Veronica Kent “Seymour” is an installation with sculpture of a little girl, a frog and lots of hair. Kent’s installation suggests a narrative, a myth or fable, but the viewer has to invent it.

1st Site, in the basement of RMIT also has three exhibition spaces. Matthew Harding was exhibiting panoramic photographs of Melbourne’s urban decay and ruin in Footscray, Nicholson St. and Kensington often prominently featuring graffiti. Harding documents these spaces of urban change and preserving the street art in the space. Ellara Woodlock was exhibiting quirky pencil drawings of an imaginary armless girl in a series titled “stories from a girlhood in an oil drum”. And Karri Cameron’s “Finding True North” is an installation searching in a darkened gallery for a direction with lights and shadows.

Surreal Games

Augustine Dall’Ava’s sculpture exhibition at John Buckley Gallery is part of a Surrealist tradition. Dall’Ava’s continue the simplified biomorphic forms that Jean Arp first discovered. Dall’Ava’s continues Alberto Giacometti’s arrangement of forms, as in Giacometti’s early surrealist sculptures, like “The Suspended Ball in the Hour of Trances”, 1930. Dall’Ava quotes Giacometti’s the hanging objects in Dall’Ava’s Sixteenth and Twentieth Dialogues. Surrealism is a continuing tradition, not a historic art movement, and Dall’Ava continues to perfect the form of Surrealist sculpture.

Dall’Ava sculptures look beautiful. The materials: the marble, travertine, slate and steel are all polished and elegant. The painted wood is bright and glossy.

One refinement is the board, the base of the sculpture; they are boards, rather than extremely long, very thin plinths. They are, to be precise, game-board, like a chessboard and the base of Dall’Ava’s Eighth Dialogue and Third Dialogue have chessboard patterns. Games, the play of children and the chance rolls of a die are all very important to Surrealism.

A board game is a formalized, miniature, schematic representation of a world; Duchamp described games of chess as sculptural. In a game there is not just the positive and negative space, occupied or unoccupied by the pieces, but the potential spaces of occupation, the possible moves. The pieces in Dall’Ava’s sculptures: trees, clouds, rocks, the moon and other forms in appealing miniatures are carefully arranged on his boards. There are also cubes with pitted sides, suggesting dice, in many of the Dialogues.

All of Dall’Ava’s sculptures in this exhibition are titled ‘Dialogue’. Unlike Geoffrey Edwards, Director of the Geelong Art Gallery, in his catalogue essay for the exhibition, I believe that this collective title does give away a lot of allegorical intent. For a game, like chess, is a dialogue between two players.

There is no need for monumental sculpture in the anti-imperialist, anti-war world of Surrealism. It is a world where we have a playful dialogue with sculpture rather than idolizing the dead soldier or dictator high up on plinth.

A few of Monash’s artists

I saw some exhibitions by artists with connections to Monash University this week.

In the Sample case in Campbell Arcade is Lucy Berglund sculpture Mother/Lover/Other. Lucy Berglund is currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at Monash. Found basalt block of stone, familiar to all inhabitants of Melbourne as ‘bluestone’, wrapped, tied and taped. The tradition of wrapped objects goes back to Man Ray and the Surrealists, through Christo, and Berglund has little nothing new with the idea. However, the stone blocks wrapped in blanket material, nylon stockings, or bound with rope do have a primitive minimalist sculptural quality.

There are former post-graduate Monash Art and Design students exhibiting in a group show at Shifted, a new gallery and studio space on Albert St. The artists are exhibiting work in a variety of media: sculpture, painting, drawing and video art. The theme of the exhibition deals with the body in space but, like the media, there is no uniform method or ideology evident amongst the artists.

One of the exhibiting artists is Michael Brennan, who was once a member of 69 Smith St. proving that in this case an artist-run space can be the step to commercial gallery representation. I instantly recognized Brennan’s vertiginous perspective and surface of wrinkly dried paint. His current painting is less realistic, more urban and more thought provoking than the earlier paintings that I have seen.

This is just a brief sample of Monash fine arts students currently exhibiting in Melbourne. This small entry is my little celebration of Monash University’s 50th anniversary. I am a Monash alumni but that hasn’t influenced my critical judgment, as I never studied Fine Arts or Design at Monash University and have no connection with that department. When I studied at Monash University there was only one campus, at Clayton, and no Fine Arts department.

Us vs Them

Platform has a wacky exhibition by Simon Pericich; wack-wack wacky with my wacking-stick wacky. Violent fun with lots of weapons and the spray-painted slogan: “…when they come we will be ready”

I enjoy exhibitions that create new fictional cultures. There were lots of weapons displayed in Platform’s glass cases like museums display antique or ethnographic weapons collections. And, as in those displays, the weapons are not just functional but decorative cultural artifacts. Pericich’s improvised weapons are the decorative, colorful artifacts of some post-apocalyptic suburbia.

Some of Pericich’s weapons were less dangerous than others; some may not even be functional, like the crossbow made from a guitar neck and a clothes hanger, but they are all hysterical. Arm yourself with what is around the house: mops and brooms turned into spears, golf clubs and cricket bats studded with nails, fails with mirrorballs, whips made from electrical cables, quarterstaffs with high heels.

Looking at the weapons I started to think which ones I could manufacture from items around the house but why would I? This arsenal of crude weapons are hysterical paranoid reaction to an ambiguous threat – who are “they”?

Who are they? ‘They’ are not one of us. This is explained in Brad Haylock’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Politics” at Vitrine, also in Campbell’s Arcade. This exhibition ties in beautifully with the crude politics of the weapons in Simon Pericich’s exhibition. Haylock has condensed politics to “US/THEM” in large, glowing, neon letters.

Both of these exhibitions mark the end of recent extreme paranoid global and local politics. In the past few years the public has been threatened with the ambiguous threat from “them”: terrorists, refugees, American neo-cons, Muslims, germ warfare and nuclear-armed states. This confused dichotomy is the front line of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we are beginning to see this insane period of world politics as crude, manipulative madness. For both of these artists finding something aesthetic in the ugly side of politics is an achievement. And this makes them excellent exhibitions for the public space of Platform where they are seen by hundreds of commuters daily.

Keith Haring in Melbourne

At the old Collingwood Technical College, American stencil artist, Peat Wollaeger has memorialized the work of Keith Haring with writing and a stencil portrait of Keith Haring on the gate.

Keith Haring Stencil at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger’s stencil of  Keith Haring Stencil at Collingwood Technical College

For me, Keith Haring, 1958 – 1990, is one of the most important artists of the 20th Century. He was certainly the most important artist of the 1980s for me. I have a scrapbook full of photocopied articles and magazine clipping about him that I collected at the time. And considering the rise of street art in the early 21st Century, Haring has to be regarded as an important precursor.

The Collingwood Technical College may not be the most famous wall that Keith Haring painted but it was the first public mural that he painted outside the USA, it was the first time that he used a scissor lift and it is the only surviving exterior mural by Haring in its original form.  It is also not the largest nor the most famous wall that Haring painted; in 1986 Haring painted 107m of the Berlin Wall. The mural at the Collingwood Technical College was painted on the 6th of March 1984. Keither Haring wanted to paint the mural for the kids at the Collingwood Technical College and had fun doing it. He found the scissor lift a liberating experience.

Keith Haring mural, Collingwood

The wall on the Collingwood Technical College with its now fading but still visible iconic Haring figures riding a giant centipede is the only surviving Haring wall in Melbourne still visible to the public (there is another piece, a large guardian angel, at a school in Toorak where John Buckley was teaching at the time). The mural shows humanity under threat from computer technology – in 1984 the personal computer was Time Magazine’s “person of the year”.

Keith Haring visited Australia between 18th February and 8th March 1984. Haring was invited to Australia by gallery owner John Buckley (which is why there is a Peat Wollaeger stencil of Haring  by the door of his gallery in Albert St. Richmond). Buckley had seen his work in the New York subways. Haring was on the cusp of his international celebrity status when he came to Australia and John Buckley was very lucky to have invited him to Australia at that time because after that he was far too famous.

Haring also painted the NGV’s famous water wall; watched and filmed as he painted, it was a real performance. Keith Haring would paint to hip-hop music played on a tape-deck radio was decorated by Kenny Scharf. The painted water wall was destroyed by a vandal before I could see it because it was thought that Haring had stolen aboriginal motifs. While in Australia Keith Haring also went to Sydney where he painted the large wall in the foyer of the Art Gallery of NSW. Edward Capon, the director of the gallery had not been informed about this due to a missed communication. Nor had he heard of Keith Haring and was reluctant to have the wall painting proceed. John Buckley tells about how he showed Edward Capon the then current issue of Vanity Fair; it had a Keith Haring on the cover and a large interview with him inside. This convinced Edward Capon and within half an hour Haring was up on the sissor-lift painting the wall.

Also in Sydney that year Keith Haring helped with a Keith Haring float for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Although Haring was not yet a mainstream celebrity artist, his art was already well known in the gay community and a float depicting his art was already planned. Haring’s involvement made the float authentic rather than just a tribute.

Keith Haring’s technique was simple lines. He started working with just a large marker pen and then went over the lines with a paint brush. The mural on the Collingwood Technical College was done without any preliminary drawings apart from a demo chalk demonstration drawing of the centipede. Haring’s images that could fill any space from a wall to the body of Grace Jones. His genius was in the iconic figures that populated his images, most famously the radiant child.

Keith Haring studied at art school and was very aware of art history. His early influences were Pierre Alechinsky and Chinese calligraphy. Influenced by Wm Burroughs Haring started to do paste-up of fake New York Post headlines in 1980. And Wm Burroughs influence continued with the iconic images that Haring became famous for, from the centipedes to Mayans.

“I was aware of, and respected conceptual artists like Vito Acconci, or artists who were doing guerrilla art actions – things like that. I studied it and read about it, and respected it.” Keith Haring. (Notes from the Pop Underground, ed. Peter Belsito, The Last Gasp of San Francisco, 1985 p.106)

It is time to review the art of Keith Haring because what appeared to be an oddity of New York the 1980s has turned into an international movement. In particular is time to review Haring’s influence on Melbourne’s street art. It has taken an American street artist, Peat Wollaeger who was exhibiting his “Luchador Collab-o-mask” project at Per Square Metre to commemorate an important part of Melbourne’s street art history.

P.S. In 2013 The Age reported on finding the lost door from Keith Haring’s Collingwood mural.

Girl on Bike

Katia Langenheim’s exhibition “From the Edge” at Famous When Dead is a departure from the usual street art exhibitions at the gallery. Langenheim’s colorful oil painting of sexy girls, cats and dogs are, at their best, fun expressions with a lot of power in the paint. At worst, the paintings are a mess of paint but there are only a few of those in the exhibition; it could be a lot worse, so much erotic art is tawdry.

Langenheim paints intimate images from her life; those are local cats, dogs, her pole-dancing housemate and other friends. The images are lively and playful like riding a bicycle in high heels. Langenheim paints with bold confident brush strokes and bright colors. The well-rounded bums of women; the joy, ecstasy and humor the erotic are on show in her paintings. All though there is a clear influence of the sex industry and pornographic in the high-heel shoes and the poses in Langenheim’s painting, the paintings are clearly different. There is a real lust for life and an enjoyment of subject, girl or cat, in her paintings.

Katia Langenheim was instantly recognizable at the opening of her exhibition in slinky black knitted dress and red hair. The opening was complete with specially labeled “Sexy Girl” bottles of wine to match the paintings.

First Recycled Art Materials

There is a lot of interest in the art world about sustainable art practice. I know this from the search engine terms that find my blog. On search engine terms that found my blog was “who was the first artist to use recycled” (materials)?

The question is not an easy one. It does need to be refined a little because due to the nature of art materials, some like bronze or gold are bound to be recycled. Architects have recycled building materials since ancient times. Supports for paintings are also frequently recycled with new paintings painted over the old one; I have even seen a Murillo painted on the face of a South American obsidian carved mirror. In this last example the South American carving was preserved as Murillo used the smooth mirror face as a support for his oil painting, recycling it by repainting. I will presume that the question implies that the use of recycled materials is apparent in the finished art.

Perhaps Medieval reliques with recycled Roman seals cut from semi precious stones would be the answer to the question except these are work of anonymous craftsmen. I will probably ignore a lot anonymous or obscure people who used recycled materials in art or crafts. And I have ignored non-Western artists.

So for the dead white male art history answer: I am tempted to say Duchamp, Picasso or Braque between 1912-14. Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel 1913 but I don’t know that the materials were recycled; in later readymades Duchamp purchased the objects from hardware shops. Nor do I know if any of Picasso or Braque’s materials used in their early Cubist collages of 1912-14 were definitely recycled. But it is very likely that one of these artists was the first. By 1917 the Dadaists had made collage and montage part of their artistic practice and by 1920 recycled materials in art were part of the media of art, or at least, anti-art.

There is no photo finish to consult to answer this type of questions. As Epicurus used to say: “Here are some answers, choose one.”

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