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Monthly Archives: June 2010

June 2010 @ Off the Kerb

There is a large brick chimney in the middle of the room and white smoke belches out of it filling the rest of the room. The smoke is lit from within the chimney with a yellow glow. This is real – I have just stepped off Johnston Street. I am right there in the thick of the smoke looking at the installation and thinking: “What new hell is this? It certainly is impressive and theatrical. Who is responsible?”

It is “Adding Coal to a Hoffman Kiln” by Gregg Humble and Hamish Munro. This is Off the Kerb’s Emerging Artist Exhibition. And Humble and Monro have dramatically emerged and then obscured their installation in all this smoke.

Is that all there is? Some bricks, lights and smoke machine. Are the artist’s expecting people to interpret it all as formal or expressive or symbolic? “To vent” is to express angry emotions – it is also what chimneys do and it is also what all animals do when they get rid of waste. Is this expressive art with the artist’s expression turning to smoke? Or is this about perceiving the form and obscuring the form of a construction of pale bricks. Perhaps it is all about the construction of bricks, as a Hoffmann kiln, is a continuous fired kiln commonly used for the production of bricks. “Adding Coal to a Hoffman Kiln” is about the continuous and pointless process, like taking coals to Newcastle, of making new contemporary art – even if, it is emerging artists dramatically venting.

Away from the smoke – there is a photography exhibition, with installation projection in the back gallery – “Toolangi” by Ashlee Hope. Having cups of tea and coffee is the projected image. The cast resin tea and cups that project the image are not functional, but in their shadows projected along with the photograph on the screen is just as the idea of cups of tea. Ashlee Hope’s idea of cups of tea at her new residence in Toolangi Road has not yet been full formed – neither had her exhibition, really.

Upstairs there is another photography exhibition, more urban photography some of the same areas that I had just been walking through in Collingwood and Fitzroy. It is “Other Places” by Terence Hogan. I like looking at these photographs of these functional urban areas makes me want to play detective with the scene: has it been modified? What changes have been made and in what order? The photographs transform the details. Hogan’s urban images are neutral; neither threatening, nor safe, neither dirty, nor clean. In “Other Places” some of these photographs have been repeated on the photographic same print, repeated so many times that the images formed their own patters of vertical and horizontal lines – it was very effective.

Off the Kerb is an artist-run space in Collingwood on Johnston Street that focuses on contemporary art. It has three white walled gallery spaces and two studios. Shini Pararajasingham, who started with the collective running Brunswick Arts moved on after a year there to start Off the Kerb. It is a converted shop and domestic space, out the back and upstairs, something that was typical of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

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Sexhibitionist @ Collingwood Gallery

“Art has treated erotic themes at almost all periods, because eroticism lies at the root of all human life.” – Eduard Fuche

Erotic art exhibition group shows are something that everyone thinks are a great idea at the time and often regrets after the event. It is not always to everyone’s taste. It wasn’t as wonderful as they expected. The regrets are often there… for the exhibitors and the viewers… I have regretted seeing some of them.

I didn’t have any regrets viewing “Sexhibitionist – 10 exhibitionists, 1 art exhibition, 0 inhibition” at Collingwood Gallery. I had just wandered in from the street and I wasn’t expecting much from another erotic art exhibition by a group of unknown artists in a rental space gallery … I just hoped that it wasn’t going to be embarrassingly awful. It wasn’t; it is attractive and even, beautiful. It is just an average group exhibition otherwise but the erotic theme worked (affordable prices too).

Photography is a great media for the erotic and both of the photographers in this exhibition, Simon O’Shea and Christian Were, used it well. Were’s photographs have a sophisticated eroticism with a popcorn cheek to them.

Many of the drawings and paintings in the exhibition are influenced by manga and other comic book illustration styles. Comic book illustration has given erotic art back a style and with style comes more feelings, something more than just the erotic, a sense of elegance, of nostalgia, and even of humour. Amy Longhurst’s drawings of feral nymphs and animals are pretty and Matt Tingate’s painting “On the Corner” is a great display of liner style, simple and effective.

One of the surprisingly good features of this group exhibition is that it is a group exhibition. So if an artist’s view of the erotic is not to the viewers taste, or their art isn’t – the double jeopardy of erotic art, then there is other artist’s art to look at. It is not all photography and illustration there is the usual painting. Kyra Wood exhibits 3 beautiful paintings, of figures gently entwined or caressing arty with lots of drips, a lot of style and expression – 3 studies for “gently”.

Many of the exhibiting artists work Madman Entertainment, who sponsored the exhibition. Madman is an employer who cares about their employee’s creative life enough to sponsor the exhibition. (This is not the first art exhibition that I have seen presented by work colleagues and sponsored by their employer – but it is the most daring theme). Madman had a small display of their classic erotic DVDs for sale at the exhibition, as well as, the usual sponsorship logos.

We need to be more good erotic art exhibitions like this one. So that people can see more ordinary erotic art exhibitions with beauty, style and fun, without regrets.


National Gallery Athens

One of thing that I want to see as a tourist is a National Gallery of that country. I want to see a National Gallery that represents the country and not just the usual didactic collection inherited from the nobility featuring the usual artists, like the National Gallery of Ireland. I want to see art that represents the country, that tells part of its culture, shows me some of its artists.

The National Gallery of Greece in Athens is worth visiting; my only regret was that it was too small. There are only 3 floors and about 7 gallery spaces. 3 of which were being used for an exhibition about Ernst Ziller (1837-1923), a German neo-classical architect who designed many important buildings in modern Athens, as the capitol of modern Greece; just as Walter Burley Griffin, (1876 – 1937) was the architect of Canberra as the capital modern Australia.)

The other 4 gallery space are occupied by modern art from Greek bourgeois artists, early 20th century Greek artists, post-war Greek artists, and European Art from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th. The last of these was the poorest part of the collection made up chiefly of second rate artists curatorial described as “attributed too…” follower of …” or “from the school of …”. There are no great masterpieces by internationally famous artists in this collection but that is not the point of this collection.

Australia and the modern Greek nation are both similar in age. Their respective national galleries are different both in their collections. The Australian National Gallery features a didactic collection that in a way imitates the National Galleries of England and Ireland. Showing that they are the inheritors, or at least the possessors of an artistic tradition stretching back to the European renaissance. There is a bit of this in the Athens gallery with this rather poor collection of European masters, but this is only a small part of the collection.

Most of the art in the Greek National Gallery is Greek and comes from the collections of the Greek bourgeoisie. This is one of the strong parts of the collection and made the art easily approachable. These paintings showed the interests of the Greek middle-class in themselves through portraits, their life in genre paintings and Greek artists.

Greek artists were influenced many of the European artistic trends of the 20th Century from impressionism, realism, symbolism, cubism, expressionism, abstraction and Pop but there is no futurism or Dada. And instead of Surrealism the Greek artists were more influenced by George de Chirico’s schola metafysica. Greek plein air paintings, the Greek impressionists, are just as beautiful as their other European colleagues. The gallery has a strong collection of Nikos Chartzikyiakos Ghikas (1906-94), the Greek Cubist painter.

I didn’t know anything about modern Greek art before I went to the National Gallery of Greece in Athens. I hadn’t seen any art by any modern of contemporary Greek artists. The only Greek art I knew about was ancient Greek that I studied as an undergraduate student and El Greco, because he worked for most of his career in Spain. The National Gallery of Greece does have 3 El Greco paintings but they use his proper Greek name – Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos). The Museum of Byzantine art in Athens had, a few days earlier, done an excellent job of filling in my knowledge of what had happened between ancient Greek and modern Greek art.

The National Art Gallery of Greece could be accused of being hellenocentric in its collection but this is the appeal to visitors like me. The collection does not alienate the foreign visitor with bombastic nationalism but has serious and balanced curatorial voice. Greece’s history is on display in paintings ranging from the usual 19th century nationalist paintings to the relationship between Greek genre painting and Orientalism. The influence of modern European art on modern Greek art is also explored along with the effect on Greek art from the 1967 coup that attempted to terminate the avant-garde. Instead the coup provided extra motivation for the “New Greek Realists” to use pop art styles and other realist techniques. I particularly enjoyed Kostoas Tsoclis’s 1972 collage of newspapers on a pencil drawing of a fence, titled “We Art All Responsible”. It is a beautiful, tragic and strongly beautiful work of political art.

The gallery’s collection of modern Greek sculpture, and sculpture generally (considering that they have 3 Rodin sculptures), is another of its many strong points. Joannis Avramidis “model for the column of humanity” (1963-85) creates a modern order of architectural column with interlocking human forms.

If you want to get to know and enjoy modern Greek art then the National Gallery in Athens is good place to start.


Travel Notes + Jetlag

Relaxing on the green grass of Ireland

I’m back from my European Economic Basket-case 2010 tour of Dublin and Greece trying to get over my jetlag, get through the hundreds of emails, downloading travel photos, Facebook, the handful of snail mail, shopping and washing. Under this stress I’m trying to put together blog entries from the jumble of notes in my travel journal.

What is this gibberish that I’ve written?

“Beware of Greek’s building bathrooms.”

“Dubliners are to fashion what the Eurovision song contest is to music.”

“I arrive in Greece on the 21st of May the birthday of Apollo; his twin sister Artemis was born the day I departed Melbourne.”

I wasn’t looking at art galleries for most of the trip, sometimes I was even trying not to look at the horrors in the tourist focused art galleries that I passed in Greece and Dublin. Or trying not to look at the same thing hung on the wall of the hotels that I was staying at.

Then there is the art in airports. I should write something about the similarities between international airports and art galleries. There is always some art on display at the airports – I remember as a child seeing an Alexander Calder mobile at Toronto International Airport. Nationalism at international airports sometimes demands displays of art and the architecture wouldn’t really work without it. However, the art, like hotel art, can’t be too confronting, too political, too expressive, too anything. At Melbourne Tullamarine Airport there are mosaics. Then in the departure lounge there are these funky, shiny and colourful steel, bronze, aluminium and fibreglass sculptures by Akio Makigawa “Journey West” and “Journey East” 1996. There is one Australian aboriginal painting by David Blanasi “Two crocodiles, the same yet different” 1994 in the departure lounge at Gate 7. Why is it the only painting in the departure lounge? Is it a token piece of Australian aboriginal art at the airport?

Looking back through my travel journal there are more notes about the art at Adelaide Airport and Singapore Airport but the art is pretty much the same. But maybe the content is more suitable for the blog my wife and I write: Who Buys This Stuff?

At some points in my travels I was on a similar path to the 19th century grand tour. What is the point of the “grand tour” as a contemporary experience? No, someone else (Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour) has already made a TV series about that.

Maybe I should write something about Mykonos given that The Kings of Mykonos movie has just been released. It was also released in Greece when I was there. I can put a tag on it and get a few more readers. Maybe not… but the exchange of contemporary Melbourne and Athens Greek culture is worth noting.

Maybe I should write about travel guides. “In Your Pocket – Essential City Guides” they proved to be a more practical travel guide than my old favourite Lonely Planet. For one these guides actually fit in your pocket and don’t overload the reader with information. The editorial information was accurate, informative and critical…

I am just raving now… jet lag will do that to your brain. I will be writing more about my travels – I just have to do some more writing and research before publishing them.


Street Art @ Dublin

Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right locations to see the best of Dublin’s graffiti. It is hard to know where to look when you are visiting a city for the first time; the sheer quantity of new visual information in any city is confusing. I didn’t see much and what I saw was mostly tagging and bombing; of course, quality work is always less common.  I saw almost as much of buffing, especially along the DART railway line. There was even the buffing of paste-ups in the city.

I saw some quality street-style aerosol artists doing decoration commissions in the Temple Bar area but I didn’t see the places where these artists practice and gain experience.

There was a bit of aerosol work (freehand & stencil). I was impressed with the use of paste-up techniques were used in a street art installation about child abuse by the Catholic Church in Ireland – the whole report was pasted across hoarding around a vacant lot. There was a commercial advertising campaign employing reverse graffiti stencil technique (removing grime to create a lighter area) around St. Stephens Green.

Dublin’s graffiti is mostly punk in style, rather than hip-hop style. And the best of Dublin’s graffiti is witty and political rather than great artistic quality.

The grenade stencil was placed on the side of the Royal Heberden Society building – perhaps expressing a desire to blow up or bomb this academic art establishment.


Dublin’s Art Galleries

This is a guide for visitors to Dublin who are interested in the visual arts. I have been looking at Dublin’s art galleries for the last few days while my wife attends a conference.

The galleries that I have visited are (in the order that I would recommend visiting): National Gallery of Ireland, Hugh Lane (Dublin City Gallery), RHA Gallery, Douglas Hyde Gallery, the Gallery of Photography, National Photographic Archive, and finally the Irish Museum of Modern Art. My recommendations are based both on the quality of the gallery, its exhibits and convince of the location. There are many commercial galleries around Dawson and Killdare streets but none of them were really worth visiting unless you like conservative, contemporary art designed to specifically to sell. I did see the outside of the Temple Bar Gallery and National College of Art & Design Gallery but both were closed so I couldn’t form an opinion or recommend them to others.

The National Gallery of Ireland is a very large gallery and will take most of a day to see all of it. It also has a very confusing layout, rather like the streets of Dublin. It has European paintings from the 16th to 20th century, concentrating on the 17th and 18th centuries. The famous Caravaggio was on loan to another gallery when I visited but there are plenty of other excellent paintings in the collection. The collection does not have many modern artists and only two abstract, non-figurative paintings (both by Mainie Jellett who exhibited the first abstract painting in Ireland in 1923).

Along with many French, Italian, and Spanish paintings there are Irish paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, although not as much as you might expect. There is a gallery of paintings by Jack B. Yeats (father of the poet W.B. Yeats) whose later expressive figurative paintings done mostly with a palette knife are rather unique in style. There is also a gallery of Irish portraits; including more paintings by Jack B. Yeats.

I have already written about the Hugh Lane (Dublin City Gallery) in my entry about Francis Bacon’s Studio. It is worth a visit if you like modern and contemporary art.

I was glad that I did visit the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) Gallery even though it was once a conservative institution because this is where I saw the best contemporary Irish art. It has two floors with large modern gallery spaces. When I visited it had its 180th Annual Exhibition and was exhibiting hundreds of paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by local artists. Some of the work was political art with a critical comment on current economics or anti-war, some of the work referred to Irish literature but I only saw two paintings with a religious theme.

The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College has temporary contemporary art exhibitions. When I visited they were exhibiting works by the American photographer, Stephen Shore and the American minimalist, Agnes Martin.

The Gallery of Photography and the National Photographic Archive are both small and conveniently located opposite each other at Meeting House Square in the Temple Bar area. The Irish Film Institute is also at Meeting House Square and the Temple Bar area is Dublin’s arts area.

Finally there is the Irish Museum of Modern Art is only for people who like a lot of walking. There wasn’t much to see when I visited; half of it is devoted to bookshop, coffee shop, reception, lecture rooms, toilets etc. and half of the galleries were closed for installation. The building a former military hospital in Kilmainham is not really a suitable building for a gallery. It will make a good sculpture garden when there is more on exhibition. It has the feel of a government make work program given the number of gallery attendants especially compared to the National Gallery.


Francis Bacon’s Studio

The most important thing that I can think of seeing in Dublin is Francis Bacon’s Studio. Not that Francis Bacon is an Irish artist – he left the country when he was 16 and never returned. And his studio was in London but it has been moved, posthumously to Dublin City Gallery. Bacon is, in my opinion the most important post-war painter, his use of paint to create images are powerful with progressive and experimental techniques.

On a rainy Sunday, at 10:45 I am standing with one wet shoe at the door of Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane Gallery, although it is actually at 22 North Parnell Square. Addresses in Dublin are so confusing, streets will change their name every block, although why this should be confusing for someone from Melbourne where a street will change name when it goes into a different  suburb or just have two different names, I don’t know. Actually the gallery is named after its founder, Sir Hugh Lane, not a street by that name.

15 minutes later I am let into the gallery, there is no queue, just me and three French women and one Irish man.  I go to the bathroom to dry my wet Dunlop tennis shoe and the sock on the hand-dryer. I fear that I might kill the machine before it dries outs the shoe but it does.

Then I go upstairs to see the Francis Bacon studio. The studio is behind glass, you can look in through the door, the two windows and two new viewing holes that allow close up views of paint on the wall and paint brushes. The studio is still a mess, Bacon never cleaned it up his studio (he did keep the rest of his small flat tidy), but every object has been documented by a team of archeologists. So as well as, looking at the actual studio I spent time looking at the computers with the documentation of the studio. Of interest to the street artists who read this blog Bacon did use Krylon and Humbrol spray paints, as well as, basic stencils of arrows and the head of Bacon’s lover, George Dryer.

There are photographs of Francis Bacon and his friends in another room; and unfinished Bacon paintings on exhibition in other rooms. It is a powerful experience and after looking at Bacon’s studio the rest of the gallery seems to be designed around Bacon’s art. The raw canvas of Patrick Scott’s “Large Solar Device” (1964) or Edward and Nancy Kienholtz “Drawing from ‘Tank’” (1989) with empty tin cans, photos etc. All the rough paint, all the drips or splatters, all seem to be influenced by Bacon, of course, this is not true but the effect is that powerful.

Other exhibitions in the Hugh Lane gallery, a room of Sean Scully paintings with their large, rough, geometric brick shapes of paint, and a surprising number of paintings by Canadians. There is an exhibition of portraits of artists by artists: “The Perceptive Eye: Artist Observing Artists”. Whistler paints Sickert and many self portraits, including a late, unfinished self-portrait by Bacon (1991-92). And an exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly “Drawings 1954-62” – Ellsworth Kelly is my least favorite artist, he is so boring but at least his drawings do not take up as much space as his large minimalist paintings.


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