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Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Spectacle of Street Art

Walking on Swanston Walk there was sidewalk stall selling aerosol stencil art on old LPs; along with the people doing pencil portraits or folding palm leaves into little animals. And then further on Burke St. up there was someone else doing some live spraying in front of a large crowd. I’ve seen people doing aerosol art as a form of busking before; I can remember seeing people doing this back in 2000 on the streets of Europe. The combination of suburban rock icons, the tourist craft stall and street art was depressing but not surprising.

The spectacle of street artists have been packaged and the public watching the spectacle. The books on street art have been coffee table picture books. These have made money for the publishers but have little other than pretty pictures to recommend them. Street art in Melbourne is a tourist attraction complete with guided walking tours, a subject for multiple books and documentaries, gallery and boutique shop designer merchandise and more… just wait until “Secret Wars” is broadcast on commercial TV complete with commentators and ad breaks, no need to wait, they are already doing that online.

There almost is no need to discuss the art that was on exhibition at Rtist or Art Boy we know what a Rone, a Dirt Fish or an Urban Cake Lady’s piece looks like (if you don’t look them up online and you will find plenty of examples). Brand recognition is an important aspect of street art, becoming a form of tagging with images. The viral nature of street art can quickly become a commercial infection empty of anything but a repeated image.

The Urban Art Agenda #1 exhibition of international street and stencil art was “an official Pop-Up of the Melbourne Design Festival 07”. Street art is a significant contemporary style. And street artists are often both designers and artists; a mix that can result in a good income and endless signature work, like Ken Done. This kind of art gives me a vision of the artist alienated by his/her own production line of creation, like a virus producing more and more versions of their signature work. And the repetition changes the meaning of work from an odd charm to a repetitious drone.

Designers and decorators have used stencils, paste-ups/wallpaper for centuries; using them on the street was surprising and amusing but rarely has increased their artistic quality. Is street art just guerilla decorators painting feature walls for the urban living room? The basic design core of street art is filled with ego, audacity and enterprise. Apart from the occasional joke or political statement there is little to most of the pieces except for design sensibilities and the endless repetition of the signature style/images large. There are always the odd street artists who can rise above this; there is the hope that better site-specific art will emerge.

I was going to write something histrionic like “the end of street art” or “these are signs of the end of street art”. Instead I’ll try to discuss this without too many disparaging remarks or starting a flame war but I’ll wait to see your comments. (For more on problems with street art see my post on Street Art and Plagiarism and Advertising and Graffiti.)

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Sporting Heroes

Sport Sculptures in Melbourne

The heritage-listed neon sign of the Italian cyclist Nino Borsari at the eponymous Borsari’s Corner, on the corner of Grattan and Lygon Streets, is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about public art and sport in Melbourne but I had to mention it. The Basil Sellers Art has made me think and write more about art and sport. It is one of the intentions of the art prize not just to have an exhibition and a prize but to encourage a dialogue about art and sport. I’m not so sure that there isn’t this dialogue already. Leon Van Schaik discusses the influence of sport on design in Design City Melbourne, (Wiley-Academy, 2006, England).

Louis Laumen "Sir Donald Bradman" bronze

There are many sports themed sculptures located at Melbourne’s many sporting venues. These are, mostly, conservative, hero-worshipping sculptures in a traditional figurative form, in bronze, on a plinth. They link recent sports with the traditions of commemorating athletes with statues from Ancient Greece. These statutes allows Australian sport create the illusion of history and traditions even though all of these statutes are fairly recent. “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974 in the Queen Victoria Gardens is the earliest. The statue of the hammer thrower clearly looks back to classical Greek traditions.

There are 10 sculptures by Louis Laumen “sporting legends” at the MCG. The 10 sculptures, on their black marble plinths each with a biography and sponsors logos (really classy), were finally all installed for the 2006 Commonwealth Games redevelopment. At Gate 1 there are the cricketers Bill Ponsford and Dennis Lillee. At Gate 3 there are the women sprinters Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland- Delahunty. The footballers Leigh Matthews and Ron Barassi are at Gate 4. There are more cricketers, Sir Donald Bradman and Keith Miller, at Gate 5 and more footballers, Haydn Bunton and Dick Reynolds at Gate 6. Also at the MCG there is a statue of cricket batsman “Victor Trumper”, 1999 and “The Birth of Australian Rules” 2001- both by Louis Laumen. Louis Laumen  dominates statues of sports stars in Melbourne and has also created the sculpture of John ‘Kanga’ Kennedy, 2008, at Hawthorn Football Club, Waverly Park.

There is a statue of Jack Dyer by Mitch Mitchell, 2003 at Richmond Headquarters on Punt Road. At Flemington Race Course there is a statute of Phar Lap by Peter Corlett, 1988, commissioned by the Victorian Racing Club to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary.

detail of Louis Laumen "Leigh Matthews", bronze

I don’t really care for any of these sculptures as art especially Louis Laumen’s conservative realism that reminds me of Soviet Realism. The conservative proclamation, glorifying the winners, made by these sculptures is shallow and archaic.  Less antiquated, but I don’t know if any more successful, are the non-figurative sports sculptures Simon Perry “Threaded Field”, Docklands Stadium Melbourne (2000) and Anthony Pryor, “The Legend”, 1991 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Simon Perry is best known in Melbourne for his sculpture “Public Purse” in the Burke St. mall. Anthony Pryor, “The Legend” 1991 is a dynamic steel sculpture the upper part suggesting the movement of the ball in play. I don’t think that the orange bollards were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety and vehicle access – the perils of not having a plinth.

Anthony Pryor, “The Legend”, 1991

Maybe Melbourne does need some better sports themed sculptures. Nick Farr-Jones will be on the judging panel for the third biennial Basil Sellers Art Prize – maybe a sculptor might win (instead of a video artist for the last two prizes). What do you think?


RMIT Variety

I saw exhibitions in the various galleries at RMIT in May.

Sharon West, who also has work in the exhibition, curates “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. (See my reviews of Sharon West’s earlier exhibitions – just enter her name in the search box on the top of the right column). “Girt by Sea” is in observation of Reconciliation Week 2011 and combines the art of indigenous and non-indigenous artists. Maritime themes are not usual for Australian contemporary or indigenous art even though Australia is surrounded by oceans. The most popular work of the exhibition is Kirsten Lyttle’s “Kuki”, the three Hawaiian shirts with images of a dead Captain Cook. They are cool, self-referential (as Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii) and graphically appealing. The variety of art, from Simon Rose’s video work to the folk art paintings of Aunty Gewen Garoni and Aunty Frances Gallagher, in the exhibition is fun and engaging.

First Site had 3 photography-based exhibitions looking at the human subject: subjectively, objectively and “transpersonally”. The 3 photographers were working in different directions looking at the body or thinking about the self as a subject with memories as in Stephanie Peters “I Know You’re Stalking Me”. This installation using video, photographs and online interactions deals with idea of identity, truth is distorted and rearranged, who are you dealing with – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Kawita Vatanajyankur takes an external view of bodies as beautiful objects, combining still and video photography, water or sand and the body. In Luciana Vasques “Transpersonal Photography” personal exploration finds new meaning in the interaction between people, objects and photography. Vasques makes excellent use of the space in First Site, a cluster of peep viewers attached to ribbons flutter in front of the air vent and a convex mirror. None of these photography exhibitions are great but they are not bad, there are some good parts and there is nothing wrong with the directions that these photographers are exploring.

Things were not working for me at RMIT Gallery. In Chelle Macnaughtan “Spatial Listening” I tried to listening to “Listening through Stillness” 2011 but my black Dunlop Volleys made no sound on the etched aluminum plates – there was some irritating electric whine going on somewhere in the gallery. I twice became trapped in dead end parts of Ainslie Murray’s “Intangible Architecture”. I didn’t have any problems with Malte Wagenfeld’s “Aesthetics of Air” even though there were warning signs about the lazars. Aside from the warning signs the “Aesthetics of Air” was like a disco without the music or the mirror ball but with the smoke machines and lazars. The aesthetics of air is lightweight.


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