Monthly Archives: April 2010

Another Banksy Gone

Now destroyed the Banksy rat in Hosier lane

Vandals employed by the Melbourne City Council have destroyed a Banksy rat stencil in Hosier Lane. “Council clean-up claims Banksy artwork” Thomas Hunter  (The Age April 27, 2010) After the owners of the Nicholas building unsuccessfully trying to protect Banksy’s “Little Diver”, off Flinders Lane, from a freelance vandal who poured paint into the gap in the plexiglass. This time the Council destroyed a Banksy stencil themselves.

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

I know that many street artists, probably including Banksy, will look on this philosophically. The buffed space will be a canvas for new creations; this is good for the artist but it is not good for the public or the history of street art. Street art is not the property of the street artists – it belongs to everyone. Even if the artist intends for the art to be ephemeral there is no reason for their wishes to be carried out; the person giving the gift does not get to determine how the gift is used.

In a few hundred years time there will be tourists look at a piece of graffiti preserved under plexiglass, or its future equivalent, and read a notice that explained that this rare piece of street art was preserved due to unusual circumstances when most was removed at the time by the local authorities who viewed it as vandalism. And the tourists will shake their heads and comment: “It was the city councils who were vandals destroying this art.”

I know that this will happen because I have seen the sgraffito images of a knight on horseback in Canterbury Cathedral preserved under plexiglass. Many of the painted walls of the Cathedral were scraped clean of painted images by the authorities in previous centuries because they believed that such images were wrong. The current trend to remove graffiti carries with a similar religious fervor. In 1992 in France a local Scout group damaged two prehistoric paintings of bison in the Cave of Mayrière supérieure near the French village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel Prize in archaeology.

What about future history? Or are we at the end of history when the past but not the present must be preserved?

P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age) and last year another Banksy was been destroyed by plumbing in Parhran (see Signed & Numbered‘s report).


Exhibitions This Week

Caroline Ierodiaconou’s “Untitled” exhibition at the gallery in the City Library has several large powerful figurative paintings and a large number of small drawings. The exhibition title “Untitled” is more like a ‘no comment’ than a lack of title. Ierodiaconou is not preaching at her audience, the paintings are not symbolic; they reflect the uncertain feelings of the audience without pathos. Her paintings have a clinical beauty and a sinister atmosphere pervades all of them. The images are powerful and disturbing reflecting our culture’s unease that the environment or even our bodies may be a threat. In one painting a pair of gigantic pliers floats over a hooded, but otherwise naked, pregnant woman. In another two women in plain white underwear and white clinical nose and mouth masks look suspiciously at a third worried woman in between them.

Ierodiaconou’s small drawings mostly of nude figures are presented with dizzying intensity that collage real elements, like envelopes and diary pages with the floating, spinning nude figure.

I wanted to see more of Caroline Ierodiaconou’s paintings after this exhibition and I found more at Saatchi Online.

It is a comfortable experience to sit in the gallery on the upper floor of the City Library – look at the paintings and read the current art magazines. There is an upright piano in the gallery for the public to play but I haven’t heard anyone play it yet.

Upstairs at 69 Smith Street Gallery there are currently 3 photography exhibitions that are worth a look and the climb up the stairs.

Georgina Koureas “I’ll come back for you” series of Type C photographs has a coherent vision of the relationship between objects and architecture in the ordinary run down domestic world. Photography is great at recording details of wear and deterioration and Koureas uses this to great effect. Contributing to the poetry images are the titles with their sardonic take on prosaic statements like “I’ll come back for you” or “Don’t leave me this way”.

Caroline Halstead’s series “Fragmentary Observations” is an interesting exploration of the ordinary images that photography preserves by printing them on post-it notes. The post-it notes are stuck onto the gallery wall in a large cluster. They reminded me of transient, ephemeral nature of much of ordinary photography.

“Urban Irace – a photographic perspective of the urban condition” is series of urban night scenes by Nick Kind. They are exciting, dynamic images but a bit bombastic and I’ve seen these kind of images too often to be interested but someone else might think they are great.

Compassion etc. @ Collingwood Gallery

Australia is the only western democracy not to have constitutional or legislative bill of rights. Currently the racial discrimination act has been suspended in part of the country, so that the Australian federal government can discriminated against the aboriginal population. The abuse of the rights of refugees is currently a fundamental cornerstone of Australian mainstream political debate and both major political parties vie to be the cruellest and least humane towards refugees. Basically the state of human rights, even awareness of human rights, in Australia is appalling.

Against this background there are two alternatives: to be loudly critical or quietly submissive. The exhibition, “Compassion and Commitment: Starting from Home” at the Collingwood Gallery, part of the 2010 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival. has chosen the later alternative. The curators, Louisa Marks and Kelly Madigan have referred to human rights in their curatorial statement as often as Australian governments have legislated to protect them – zero. Instead they have decided, with all the good will in the world but little of the intellect, that humanism and other vague positive statements are a satisfactory alternative.

“Recognising the inspiration and awareness which stems from creative expression, the objective of this exhibition is to highlight the active collaboration and communication between artists and community groups.” (Curatorial statement) They could have, with this kind of statement, recognized “the inspiration and awareness” stemming from the artists who design logos and propaganda for fascist groups. Many totalitarian regimes, like Stalinist Russia, encourage “active collaboration and communication between artists and community groups.” It is all very vague; perhaps it would have helped if the curators had developed some understanding of human rights rather than trying to shoehorn their interests into a human rights festival.

In a further demonstration of how much value Australia has for human rights the exhibition is at the Collingwood Gallery, a small shop front rental gallery space. In 2007 I saw the “Apropos” exhibition at Bus Art Space, part of the first Human Rights Arts & Film Festival, and my disappointment with the exhibition was that the art on exhibition wasn’t reaching a wider audience.

It is all very disappointing and depressing. I have reviewed some of the artists exhibiting in this exhibition before; there is nothing wrong with their art, some of which I’ve seen before, but I don’t think that their work has anything to do with human rights. I don’t think that these artists are fooling themselves that their art has anything to do with human rights either – it is just another exhibition opportunity. A few of the artists like, William Kelly, Ben McKeowan, Stephanie Karavasilis and Sonja Hornung do address current and local human rights issues in their art but in the context of this exhibition they were effectively muted.

I don’t know what the rest of 2010 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival is like but I hope that it has more guts and relevance than the exhibition at Collingwood Gallery.

Another Kind of Street Art

Suburban life is supposed to be the antithesis of the creative life, which is popularly believed to occur only in the inner city or in rural locations. One of the many disturbing things about suburbia is the uniformity of the architecture and gardens. The dominant aesthetic Melbourne’s suburban street is anonymity where numbers replace names and it is no longer fashionable to name houses. There are few personal features in suburbia to identify the place. Robin Boyd described Melbourne’s suburbs as “a material achievement and an aesthetic calamity” in his book the Australian Ugliness (1960).

Suburbia is believed to be uniform, bland and uninspired, however, given the number of people living in the suburbs of Melbourne it is not surprising that there are attempts to overcome the image of boring tract housing. People will create art anywhere, even in their front garden.

“Ken Doll House” was my name for a house in Coburg because of the crowd of plastic toy 30cm high male dolls, like Ken or GI Joe that are arranged at the front of the house. This arrangement changes at the owner’s whim; sometimes they are scattered around the front of the house, forming pyramids on the wheelie bin, or climbing the front window. They were visible from Upfield Line trains and it went on for years.

Not that there is much art, or even craft, on public display in the suburbs besides the gardens. If the suburbs are a middle class pretence at having an upper class house and gardens then what is missing in suburbia is sculpture. The marble statues and fountains are sometimes replaced with kitsch concrete versions but only very rarely does a modern house have modern sculpture. A few houses do bravely display modern sculptures but most still prefer fake classical sculptures cast in concrete.

Melbourne suburban front garden with sculpture

Matthew Lunn mentions domestic street art in Street Art Uncut but only in terms of personalized house numbers, car number plates and Xmas decorations. (Craftsman House, 2006, P.135) He could have mentioned the ornamental geometric patters of the individually welded metal gates that feature in many of Howard Arkley’s suburban scenes of Melbourne.

Likewise most of the cars on the roads or in the garages of suburbia are not decorated or personalized (beyond personalized number plates). Most people prefer to have the corporate logo write large on the car. However, a few cars and trucks are decorated (beyond company logos) and even fewer push this beyond classic car paint jobs. I saw this floral jungle of a car in Collingwood.

If you think that suburbs are devoid of art then you need to look again.

Sunny Saturday

The sunny weather on the weekend inspired me to ride by bicycle down the Upfield bike path from Coburg to Brunswick. I had pulled over to the side to photograph a new piece of aerosol art when two cyclists announced: “Two cycles passing”. When I caught up with them at the Moreland Road lights one of the cyclists asked if the piece was one of mine. “No, I just photograph them.” I explained. “There are plenty of good new pieces further on.” They replied, the lights changed and they rode on. I was rode more slowly enjoying the sunshine and keeping my eyes open for new pieces.

I stopped in at Brunswick Art on Little Breese St, out the back of Alasysa Restaurant where I could smell the Turkish bread baking. A guillotine stood ready in the white gallery space; black guillotines are especially theatrical. The guillotine was garlanded with dead and unnatural flowers sparkling with red glitter. There was a pillar toppled by iconoclastic revolt and a new obscured hero on a reinforced plinth; both were painted black with more black garlands. Along with these objects there are two wall paintings, line drawings in black paint. This is “Revolt” by Benjamin Webb. Benjamin Webb told me that it started with the line drawing of the horn of cornucopia that he saw repeatedly in his work at the NGV indexing etchings and lithographs from the 17th Century. The horn of cornucopia spewing out foliage, the spontaneity riotous of growth and life is the inspiration for “Revolt”.

“Revolt” is an image of an expression of the body politics vomiting out new growth. It is a more symbolic exhibition than Webb’s usual materialistic approach to sculpture. I’m not sure that “Revolt” is as well constructed conceptually as it is physically but it was fun and dramatic to look at it.

While I was at Brunswick Arts talking with Benjamin Webb, Michael Scorge dropped in to promote bands and BBQ that afternoon at his Shop31 in Coburg.

This will be Benjamin Webb’s last solo exhibition in Melbourne for a while as he is relocating to Germany. So, I said “bon voyage” to Ben and continued to cycle around Brunswick and photograph more street art. I could have gone on to look at the Counihan Gallery or Ocular Labs but I was curious about Shop31.

I stopped at 696 Ink where Karl Persson was exhibiting more of his macabre and sadistic paintings (see my review of his last exhibition). His current exhibition lacks the quirky details of his earlier paintings; his version of one of Francis Bacon’s “Three studies for figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” looses some art but the sadistic image remains.

Shop31, at 31 Sydney Rd. Coburg, has a bit of everything from local CD, t-shirts, second hand LPs and punk-style stencil art. I had seen the stencil art in the window of the shop when I had passed by before but this was the first time that I had seen it open.

That was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon around my neighbourhood on probably the last warm weekend that Melbourne will have until the end of winter.

My Cup of Tea

This week cups of tea have featured in many of the public discussions about art in the media. Painter, Juan Ford advised the public to have “a nice cup of tea” and calm down about the Sam Leach painting that won the Wynne Prize for landscapes (Gabriella Coslovich “Genius of Copycat?” The Age 15/4/10). And Melbourne Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle described Carl Mitchael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments as “not my cup of tea” (MX 15/4/10). So what is it with all this talk of tea and art?

I like a good cup of tea, black; I consider myself a connoisseur of tea. No milk, no sugar (except with chai), preferably a Ceylon tea in the morning and Chinese teas later in the day. No Earl Grey tea, please but I am particularly partial to the smoke flavour of Lapsang Souchong. Tea is both relaxing and mildly stimulating drink – a good metaphor for art.

Art doesn’t do much really, very mild effects on the body, like a laugh or cry, is about the most that you can expect from it. Tea doesn’t do that much either; there isn’t that much caffeine in it. But both are pleasant catalysts for social interaction.

The controversy approach of the mainstream media is shallow winner and loser approach whereas a good conversation about art can have a win win situation. If the person who noticed the resemblance between Sam Leech’s Proposal for Landscaped Cosmos and the 17th Century Adam Pynacker’s Boatmen Moored on a Lake Shore had simply pointed this out, rather than trying to generate a controversy, I would have thought that they were at least as clever and knowledgeable about art history as Sam Leech. Trying to make this a controversy makes the person look like an idiot with an agenda.

A better approach was Lord Mayor Robert Doyle smoothly handled the media’s attempt at controversy over Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments. He opened up the discussion and acknowledged that art can be challenging, creating a win win outcome. I assume from his statement that Mayor Doyle does find some art his “a cup tea”.

I do not think that art is controversial not compared to the serious crimes committed by institutions, church and state, held sacred in our society – don’t get me started on what I regard as real controversies. Controversies are a debate about winners and losers, heroes and villains, and they reduce interest in the subtle qualities of the topic. And this is a serious deficit when discussing art.

To imagine that art is controversial and shocking is so 20th Century. From Marcel Duchamp to Tracey Emin, artists have been systematically breaking imaginary rules, making rude jokes and turning things upside down – shocking! This approach perceives a controversy as the validation of the quality of the art; to do this Mark Kostabi sold the idea of his controversy to 60 Minutes. Art as controversy plays to the most grandiose and paranoid of fantasies of both artists and public. They all need a good cup of tea, even if they will insist on drinking it from Méret Oppenheim’s fur lined teacup just to be controversial.

Would anyone like another cup of tea? I’m going to put the jug on.

Steven Rendall @ John Buckley

Painting is about an artist deciding to paint something in someway; or, in the case of many contemporary artists, painting something in a number of different ways. What to paint and how to paint it? The two questions started to haunt art when it was no longer clear that painting gods, saints and heroes were improving the lives of those who looked at them any more than paintings of pots, plates and oysters. If cows are a suitable subject to paint then why not cows shitting (healthy cows do defecate argued one 19th century artist so he painted them doing just that). Donald Kuspit argues in the Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist (1993) that artists are attempting to heal the world by creating images that are primordial, geometric and pure, expressive or famous. The subject matter of paint, that Clement Greenberg advocated, is yet another subject to paint. Once the artist has decided what to paint how to depict this subject, this meaningful or meaningless stuff, in paint is the next problem.

UK artist Steven Rendall is having a solo exhibition of paintings, “Security, Storage & Recreation” at John Buckley Gallery. Rendall paints stuff, often lots of stuff on shelves, displayed or stored. This stuff is in abundance; there is lots of it in Rendall’s paintings, multiples of the same stuff on shelves that extend forever in perspective to a vanishing point. There are also many images of video monitors; some of them looked like part of ACMI’s exhibition. Some of this stuff is images of other stuff and like many contemporary painters Rendall is focused on images of images, with the slippage of wet paint.

All of this stuff depicted in Steven Rendall’s art is painted in a variety of different ways from a post-impressionist divisionism to paint that layers up, washes over or redacts. In some paintings he mixes up these styles. ‘Redacted’ was used a couple of times in the titles of Rendall’s paintings referring to the current military use of ‘redacted’ to refer to censoring documents with black ink; Rendall redacts with areas of paint. Rendall’s paintings were in a variety of sizes from small boards to large wall sized canvases.

Steven Rendall plays with paint and painting and results are enjoyable paintings.

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