Art Squats

For some reason Melbourne’s main daily paper the Age published an article on the Tacheles art squat. I suppose it is cheaper to buy a syndicated article than actually report on Melbourne’s art scene. I visited Tacheles when I was in Berlin in 2001, there were several floors of a former department store turned into studio/exhibition space and, of course, like in all Nth European art galleries, eating and drinking space. There was a big beer-garden out the back, a cinema and venue for bands.

I emailed my friend and artist, Simone Haack who lives in Berlin to ask her views of Tascheles and other art squats. Simone replied: “to be honest, I don’t know so much of them here (except Tacheles), cause I am in a less alternative art scene here (if I could claim that I am in an art scene) but some months ago I saw a good exhibition in Tacheles, it was about being stranger, artists from several countries participated (I forgot the title!).”

I told Simone that I had been thinking about writing an article comparing the art squats in Europe with Artist-Run-Initiatives (ARI) in Melbourne. There are no art squats that I know of in Australia even though residential squatting is still relatively common in Melbourne (a squat in a house owned by Melb Uni has recently been brought to an end but the squat around the corner from my house has continued for years).

Both art squats and ARIs are run by artists but there the similarities end. Art squats are not galleries but mix studios with exhibition and performance space, they are chaotic, dynamic and political. It might appear that this is the genuine avant-garde art. However, as Simone pointed out: “I wonder why art squats are often so similar to each other: you’ll always find this particular type of person: politically engaged (left), punks, autonomies, vegans, special dress codes… so I don’t think they are really free.”

The ARI, in contrast are structured like art galleries, the exhibition space is organized, structured and static throughout the exhibition period. Politically they are basically bolshevik; controlled by a small committee of artist/insiders who determine what and who will exhibit. This does mean that there is some filtering, unlike in the art squat where everything is on exhibition. This lack of filtering means that art squat art tends towards craft or popularist or popularist provocations against official art. Whereas the ARIs tend towards the official non-commercial side of gallery art aimed at the insider arts circle of other fine arts graduates.

I was disappointed to find that the art squat Chez Roberts had closed last time that I was in Paris but according to its webpage it is once again open.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

One response to “Art Squats

  • urbanmonk

    As an artist with little or no training, I find this is a fascinating post. The little I’ve seen of ARIs ( in truth coz I’ve been wondering if there is anything out there for marginal folks like me:) they still seem to be pretty “closed” communities. Its really no less elitist than anything else There’s nothing wrong with that, and perhaps it helps to maintain a high standard of work etc… but I much prefer the Art squat concept. This seems freer to me. yet it does tend to attract a certain type of person… Do you have a theory of why there is no art squats in Aust? (at least known ones)

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