Monthly Archives: December 2008

End of 2008

2008 was The International Year of the Potato and remarkably this was noted with potato sculptures and the use of potatoes in art. At the start of the year many artists were mourning the passing of the Polaroid.

This year Moreland Sculpture Show escaped the annual vandalism that has plagued it for several years.

Christine Abrahams Gallery closed at the end of 2008. Christine Abrahams Gallery was a commercial gallery in Richmond founded in 1983 by Christine Abrahams and continued after her death in 1994 by her son, Guy Abrahams.

Street art truly became part of the art establishment with a street art exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, the first dedicated urban art auction at Bonhams, the 5th Melbourne Stencil Festival and the opening of another street art dedicated gallery, Famous When Dead. However, street art continues to have official opposition. The introduction of the draconian Graffiti Prevention Act (2007) in Victoria has so far had little effect, as the Victorian police are proving saner than the politicians.

The major culture battle for Australia in 2008 was the witch-hunt against Bill Henson. Australia loves censorship: video games, the internet, art exhibitions. NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos is a fan of censorship; he supports all kinds of censorship across all kinds of media. Hatzistergos proposed the ill-fated, ill-conceived and failed New South Wales Internet Censorship Bill 2001.  Now Hatzistergos has got his way with more censorship of art exhibitions with the National Classification Scheme to “vet” selected art exhibitions. Australia is now similar to the Islamic Republic of Iran where a government appointed censorship board must approve all art exhibitions.

On these issues the two brands of Australian politics once have the same position, anti-graffiti and pro-witch-hunt. The current ALP government has been as conservative on cultural issues as the old Liberal/National government. Even though the public is divided on these issues the politicians are united demonstrating the pointlessness of Australian democracy.

Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett proved to be an especially unpopular with both visual artists and musicians, due mostly to his position on Bill Henson and his announced closure of the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). Late in the year Garrett back-flipped on the ANAM and introduced the Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Bill 2008 in a desperate attempt to win back some lost ground.

Finally I’d like to thank everyone who left comments on the blog and to everyone who answered my emails and helped make this blog possible.


“Man of the Valley”

 

Antonio Masini’s sculpture “Man of the Valley” is a gift from the Italian cities of Viggiano and Grumento. The sculpture is, in the words of Antonio Masini, “a tribute to the thousands of Lucanian migrants throughout the world and in Australia in particular. This monument represents the determination and courage inherent in the immigrant.”

The 2+ metre tall, one-tonne cast-bronze figure has been given a spectacular location by Coburg City Council in Coburg Lake Reserve. It stands on a square concrete plinth located on top of a small granite cliff that overlooks the valley where the Merri Creek flows and the park’s main picnic area. The cliff is not a natural feature; prisoners from the now closed Pentridge Prison across the road it was quarried out to build their prison walls. The quarry has been replaced with a small lake and a park.

Antonio Masini "Man of the Valley"

Antonio Masini "Man of the Valley"

“Man of the Valley” is beside the Merri Creek bicycle path. The best way to see Coburg’s sculpture is on a bicycle as most are located near bicycle paths. The park had a friendly atmosphere when I visited in the morning on my bicycle. There were ducks and two black swans with four cygnets swimming in the creek. There was Middle Eastern music playing as a band set up in the park’s band-shell. Families were setting up for picnics; the work ‘picnic’ is Turkish and Coburg’s Turkish migrant population makes good use of the parks. A man says: “Hello, my brother” to me as I pass, I prefer that to the nationalist political charged word – “mate”.

The sculptor Antonio Masini was born in Italy in 1933. He is a painter and sculptor in the New Figurative style (not that term means much as a description except that the images are not abstract). Masini has exhibited around the world; in 1977 he exhibited at the International Originals Gallery in Melbourne. “Man of the Valley” is a companion to “Man in the Wind” (2001), a bronze sculpture dedicated to the Italian migrants in Canada, located in Montreal.

The man is just a man, it is not a portrait but he has a pleasant face. His body is not classical or elegant but the simplified form of a clothed modern man. His arms are raised allowing the sheet or cloak that he carries catches a fresh wind. It is a point between the symbolic and ordinary emotion of determined exaltation made monumental. ‘Exaltation’ is to hold something up, represented in the figure holding up the sheet. The back of the sheet has some dynamic folds making the back of the sculpture as interesting as its front.

Coburg needs more sculpture to make the suburb feel more individual and to celebrate the variety of people from around the world who living here. And so I say, thank you to the cities of Viggiano and Grumento for the “Man of the Valley”.


São Paulo Artists in Melbourne

It was a beautiful summer Sunday in Melbourne and my idea of a good time was to take the tram to Victoria Market. Eat some bratwurst and have a wander around looking at market: everything from meat and vegetables to crystal balls can be found at Victoria Market. And then walk up the street to see Poesia Urbana, an exhibition of works by ten street artists from São Paulo, at Famous When Dead Gallery.

The São Paulo artists exhibiting were: Alto Contraste, Bete Nóbrega, Celso Gitahy, Cena7, Ceson, Daniel Melim, Emol, Highraff, Ozi and Sprays Poéticos. It would be foolish of me to try and sum up São Paulo’s famous street art scene from a single exhibition. Remarkably there is frequent contact and exchange between Melbourne and São Paulo street-artists so I am becoming more familiar with some São Paulo street-artists. I had seen Celso Gitahy’s work before this year at the “Spray The Word” exhibition at The Library Artspace in August and at Famous When Dead Gallery in April.  Bete Nóbrega had also exhibited work in Spray the Word. Her sweet folk style stencils of horses and birds with text were instantly recognizable.

Celso Gitahy, Emol and Cena7 were meant to be in attendance for live spraying and artist talks. But as it was only Celso Gitahy was there spraying away with his dredlocked manager on a table out the front of the gallery. I was interested in watching Celso spray but I was about the only one there. Celso uses stencils with plastic netting that held isolated islands of the stencil in place and he uses different bright colors on parts of the same stencil.

JD Mittmann, the director of Famous When Dead, said that he’d last seen Emol and Cena7 having a good time at Blender Studios and maybe they were still there partying. Hanging out in Blender Studios is an essential experience for every visiting international street artist (and more fun than a quiet Sunday at Famous When Dead, so I don’t blame them for not turning up). I must write more about Blender Studios as it is a dynamic place with both street-artist and contemporary artists working there.

Emol and Cena7 had received a grant from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture to come to Melbourne for the exhibition. Celso Gitahy and his manager had paid their own way (was this the reason why he was busy spraying more work?).

Celso Gitahy explained his art to me. His images are concerned with the duality of the spiritual/natural with the material/artificial. His images were evolving from humans with car heads to giraffes with electronic heads.

A couple of the São Paulo artists work showed an interest in fashion. OZI had made a pig shaped work, “Fashion Pig – Luis Vitao”, with a Louis Vuitton pattern. Alto Contraste had used paper-sewing patterns for supports for the “Fashion Freak” series. And Celso Gitahy’s “Solidao” features a stylish jacket emblazoned with bright images.

Poesia Urbana only occupied the front gallery-space of Famous When Dead, the back space was filled with a selection of work from the stock room. It was meant to be the last day that Famous When Dead Gallery would be open for the year but JD said he was going to keep it open for a few more days.


3 Unrelated Reviews

Catherine Asquith Gallery had ‘Allure’ an exhibition of paintings by Sydney artist, Catherine Abel. Abel’s paintings certainly have an allure; luxurious female nudes adorned with jewellery and draped with rich fabrics. Catherine Abel’s nudes are allegories of styles. Each painting imitates a different decorative style from the history of art deco, art noueveau and pre-Raphaelitism. The profusion of stylistic indicators are piled on from the background decoration to the foreground details. There are other references to art history in the titles of the paintings like Kiki of Montparnasse. Although Catherine Abel’s paintings are studies in style paradoxically they are all in Abel’s own clear style. The model is the same in all of the paintings with different hairstyles to suit the style.

Read an interview with Catherine Abel.

“Water” at Mailbox 141 by Thornbury artists Rebecca James is a series of drawings. However, Rebecca James used the small exhibition space with imagination creating more than just a series of small drawings. The installation of the drawings of a woman swimming transforms the lite glass-fronted mailboxes into windows looking into a swimming pool. It creates relaxing vision for the office workers and visitors to the small, art deco foyer of 141 Little Flinders Street.

‘Views from a Speeding Train’ by Amanda Van Gils at Jenny Port Gallery is another attempt by a painter to represent the fast moving perspective presented to a railway passenger. Painters have been struggling to depict this view for over a century, a common view that emphasises our relative position. Van Gils uses motion trails to represent this movement in paint. Van Gils has selected vistas from Mediterranean France and Spain make for attractive landscapes paintings. I’ve travelled by train through some of that area. And, although there are no obvious landmarks in Van Gils paintings, I felt the views in the painting were familiar before I read their titles that refer to locations.

Read an interview with Amanda Van Gils.


In the Post

“Every day is like Monday now.” Terry, the postman told me in the first week of December. And adding to the increasing load of mail was Brunswick Arts Space’s exhibition, fund raising and mail art project, Going Postal.

The artists have donated the work to the exhibition and a silent auction is running throughout the exhibition. Fund raising auctions are a common way that Melbourne artist run initiatives (ARI) get sufficient money to keep going, as they have no sponsors or government grants.

The art, artist’s letter (often with instruction on how to assemble of hang the art) and envelope, postal tube, cardboard carton or other packaging was all displayed. This system of exhibiting gave coherence to an otherwise disparate exhibition of drawings, collages, CDs, paintings, photographs, prints, sculpture, postcards and other things sent to Brunswick Arts by post. There was no selection and what ever was posted was exhibited under whatever name the artist choose; this included an invite to participate in a group exhibition in Portugal. The exhibition brought out the jokers along with the usual ARI artists, like Anne Kucers of Trocadero Art Space or Alistair Karl of Brunswick Arts Space.

Mail art was a big underground art movement back in the 1970s, before snail mail was overtaken by email. One of the aims of Mail Art was to provide an alternative to gallery art, so it is odd that it has now returned to galleries. This did not stop Mail Artists like Ryosuke Cohen from Japan in participating. There was also a Fluxus found sound 7” single from Keith A Bucholz in the USA; Fluxus used the postal system like no other art movement since Dada and the subsequent Mail Art movement was influenced by Fluxus attitudes.

The heaviest work posted must have been Liz Walker’s postcard made of found steel-plate. With postcards like these small wonder postmen are complaining.


Colour Wii World

De Blob is a Wii game designed by Melbourne game design company Bluetounge. 

De Blob (no relation to the horror film) is an animated blob of paint that leaves a coloured trail where-ever it goes. De Blob is a round resistance fighter trying to save Chroma City from the Inky fascists invaders who have turned everything grey. However, this is an artist-based revolution and there is very low stress cartoon violence. The style of the cartoon world is a mix of Dr. Seuss and 60s retro.

The objective of the game is to repaint the city, not just one colour, but in a patterned aerosol style. This is one indication that the game has been inspired by Melbourne style aerosol street art as seen in Hosier Lane that aspires to a total building coverage rather than individual pieces. There are different styles of art to collect as you play through the multiple levels of this sandbox. These styles are very familiar and appear to be tributes to various Melbourne street artists’ styles.

Game play includes aspects like mixing primary colours to get the right colour for a particular project, painting buildings in specific colours and shaking up tins of paint. As buildings are liberated from the grey Inky forces citizens come out to celebrate and dance in the street. The music subtly builds as each level is painted.

It is a fun game because De Blob is always doing things, repainting buildings and leaving trails of arrows and paint. This makes the game fun for both novices and experienced gamers.

Along with promoting street art as a liberating and fun experience for all the city’s citizens. The game is redolent with other attitudes from Melbourne’s street culture: it is against billboard advertising and supports green city spaces and public transport.

De Blob is just one example; there are pro-street art or anti-graffiti influences in all manner of contemporary cultural artefacts from children’s books to Wii games.


Neo Pop

“From afar, these things, these Movements take on a kind of appeal they don’t have close up. I can assure you. But, after all, I’m beginning to get used to the –isms.” 6 July, 1921 Marcel Duchamp

 

Art movements may be a kind of fiction, an attempt by art critics and historians to tell a story by creating categories that do not exist in reality, e.g. the baroque. Some clever post-Hegelian artists and poets consciously create their own art movements, e.g. Surrealism. Furthering a fiction by consciously creating ‘real’ examples is playful and creative but not a proof that the original fictional is true. Just as speaking Elvish or Klingon is not a proof of elves or Klingons.

Critics want an art movement to have a start and finish date, presenting a distinct section in the archeological dig through old art. The idea that the contemporary art world might simply be continuing past movements is anathema to the idea of progressive art. Pop art is an art movement started in the second half of last century and it seems to be continuing.

Neo-Pop at the John Buckley Gallery could be seen as demonstrating this continuing movement or a curatorial band to tie the work of disparate artists. The exhibition features art by Howard Arkley,
Rae Bolotin,
Marcel Cousins,
Janenne Eaton,
Kate Just,
Christopher Langton,
Nick Mangan,
Scott Redford,
Stuart Ringholt,
Carl Scrase (see my review: Only Rock’n’Roll)
, David Wadelton (see my review: Spin, Persephone, Homepage & Emu Feathers), 
Glenn Walls
and others. Some of these artists create works of capitalist realism like, others are jokers, and others are creating sculptures with pop rhythms and colors.  Or sculptures out of contemporary readymade materials, like Carl Scrase.

The artists in Neo-Pop are clearly influenced with the art of the 1960s but the art of the 1960s was not a unified, homogeneous whole but diverse variety. Pop is a difficult concept to define; just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Even though it is difficult to define and may not exist, Pop Art is something that I like. It is a term that refers to art that is fun and appealing, even apparently superficial, but also a mirror on consumer culture. I knew what to expect from the Neo-Pop exhibition because of the term ‘pop’ and it exceeded these expectations. 


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