During the year I have reviewed about 70 different galleries (only about 30% of the total number of galleries in Melbourne) and even more exhibitions. I have tried not to have a favourite gallery; I have tried (unsuccessfully) not to review the same gallery or artist more than once. And there are more to see and write about than just art exhibitions; there is the street art, fashion and other aspects of Melbourne’s culture.
Statue of Sun Yat Sen, Little Bourke Street
I saw a new public sculpture only this week when I walked through Chinatown – a bronze statue of Sun Yat Sen standing in Cohen Place Plaza on Little Bourke Street. Fortunately this is only a life-sized statue and not the 3.7-metre statue first proposed by Melbourne’s Chinese community in 2008. Why a statue of Sun Yat Sen in Melbourne? Well there are memorials to JFK, Elvis, Robbie Burns and General Gordon in Melbourne, so why not Sun Yat Sen? (The name of Cohen Place Plaza is coincidental and does not refer to Sun Yat Sen’s bodyguard “Two Gun” Cohen.)
It is an exhausting activity, all this writing and research – it is sort of masochistic. So I can understand why Deidre Carmichael has decided to stop writing the Art in Geelong blog at the end of this year. It is almost exhausting just reading and looking at what Arty Graffarti and Melbourne Street Art on Facebook add daily. Both have plenty of photographs of Melbourne graffiti and street art on a daily basis and Arty Graffarti does review street art exhibitions.
I met some of the people behind Melbourne Street Art on Facebook at the Blender Studios Christmas Party – that was a great party, art, music, open studios and fantastic people. It was an excellent way to end the year.
HaHa, Stevenson Lane
Between Christmas and New Year most of the galleries in Melbourne are shut but there is still plenty of great art to see in Melbourne’s laneways both the official, Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions, and unofficial Melbourne’s street art. When I was in Chinatown I found Yhonnie Scarce’s “Iron Cross” in Brien Lane. It is a symbolic memorial to the 50 years that her family’s life was controlled by Christian mission where “they were told what to wear, how to speak and when they were allowed to leave the settlement.” This year the Laneway Commissions were all by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Yhonnie Scarce, “Iron Cross”, Brien Lane
Near the beginning of this year I re-branded this blog to “Black Mark – Melbourne art and culture critic”. It wasn’t a very painful process except when it came to being indexed by PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive; for some reason the name change caused lots of confusion there. I would like to thank everyone who has read Black Mark and especially Evangeline Cachinero, Peter Symons and Catherine Voutire for their help and encouragement over this year.
It was a big day for Melbourne’s public sculpture, a sunny summer morning at the MCG on Thursday the 22nd of December, 2011 – I wasn’t there I was watching the live broadcast of the event on the ABC News 24.
There were speeches from the Australia Post sponsors and the former cricket captain, Mark Taylor. The speeches were about Shane Warne being “immortalized in bronze” and joining the other statues of Australian sporting heroes at the MCG. After the statue was unveiled Shane Warne made a speech. Speculating on the bowling action of the statue Warne said: “ it looks like a leg break”.
In all the speeches there was no mention of the sculptor but this is typical fate for sculptors, like architects are often anonymous. This is because a sculptor, like an architect, cannot work alone; they need commissions and must work within the tight constraints imposed by those commissions.
The larger than life statue of Shane Warne is by Melbourne sculptor, Louis Lauman who has made all the statues around the MCG. Louis Lauman was born in the Netherlands in 1958 and immigrated to Australia with his family two years later. When he isn’t modelling statues in clay, he works as a technician at Meridian Sculpture Founders and lectures in sculpture at RMIT. Lauman has made many sports statues, religious statues, war memorial statues and the ‘Magic Pudding’ sculpture at the Children’s Garden in Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
The new statue is located at Gate 2 of the MCG. It is part of the Australia Post Avenue of Legends series. Australia Post has agreed to sponsor five statues for in Yarra Park over the next five years. (See my post about the other sports themed sculptures in Melbourne: Sporting Heroes).
Sporting sculpture in Melbourne continues to reflect the classical ideals of classical Greek sculpture. The point of classical Greek sculpture was to create memorials to idolized individuals, like athletes. Lauman is aware that the contemporary art world “loathes my sort of work; it has a visceral hatred of it. It took me a decade to make my mark and I realised that if I wanted to do this, I’d have to give something up, and I gave up the gallery circuit a long time ago.” I must admit that I don’t admire Lauman’s statues but I loath Shane Warne more.
I saw the worst exhibition of year this week at Pigment Gallery: “small works”, an exhibition of affordable art. I’ve seen some disappointing exhibitions this year, I’ve seen some boring exhibitions this year but this was awful. I felt that I’d wandered into some high school exhibition. I tried to look around to see if I could spot something that was worth looking at but I couldn’t leave soon enough. I don’t want to pick on any of the obviously amateur artists in the exhibition but hung together in a gallery the weakest work dragged the rest down.
Pigment Gallery, a gallery for hire on the second floor of the Nicolas Building, a great location in the city. It has three gallery rooms, two white walled rooms and one small space with black walls, that works well for works on paper or photographs. I wasn’t surprised by the exhibition it is kind of un-curated, group exhibition something that rental space galleries do to pay their rent (see my post about Rental Spaces). And it is not as if all the exhibitions at Pigment Gallery are that awful; I have seen some decent exhibitions there. Earlier this year I saw an exhibition there but I didn’t get far in writing up my notes about the exhibition.
Earlier this year in Pigment’s Gallery 1 and the Black Gallery I saw an attractive exhibition by Tasmanian artist and RMIT Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Carol Batchelor. I preferred her small paintings in the Black Gallery to the large colour field oil paintings in Gallery 1 because of the variety of forms and the movement and interaction of the wet ink meeting a different dilution of wet ink.
At the same time in Pigment’s Gallery 2 a Monash Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Erica Tandori (aka Erica Peril) was exhibiting “Landscape and Desire”, a series of digital photographs about her Hungarian Australian background. The digital montage of images mixed Australian landscapes with Hungarian elements like Hungarian dancers or the long horn cattle. Some of images seemed a bit obvious: “Budapest exit 15544.44km” on road sign along an Australian highway, many were more obscure, like all the Hungarian grey cows. The digital montages were not slick, they were obvious on close inspection, but digital perfection wasn’t the point of the images.
2011 was the year of the street. The revolutions in the Middle East, the Occupy movement across the USA (with a smaller local version) and other protests in Europe were all on the street. There are problems that have been building up, like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, left unresolved for my entire life while a very few became disproportionately wealthy. And in 2011 this had gone beyond the limit of what most people can accept.
As well as the protests, street art has entered a new phase; in Melbourne’s streets and laneways it continues to flourish and diversify. On the street the woolly growth of yarn bombing expanded and yarn bombing entered the public consciousness. This is remarkable because just a few years yarn bombing was an obscure and eccentric practice. In previous years I have looked at the growth of exhibitions by street artist in galleries. There was no point in continuing doing it this year because of the exponential growth in the number of exhibitions and galleries specializing in artists from the street art movement. There were a few major street art exhibitions: “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT Gallery and Everfresh and other crews in NGV’s Studio space. And the documentary Writers Bench by Oriel Morrison and Spence David provided a history of the last three decades of Melbourne graffiti (read my review). Thinking about all of this I realized that the nature of public art has changed fundamentally.
The street art and the protests are interconnected. Syrian school kids started the revolution by spray-painting a wall and when they were beaten and tortured there were demonstrations that have continued and expanded as the cycle repeated. During 2011 revolution in Tunisia as most of the population was on the streets local artists carried their paintings through the streets; it was the perfect place to exhibit them. Egyptians painting walls during the protests, anti-Gaddafi paste-ups around Misrata; it is about the right to express your views.
The metaphorical significance of the street is akin to the real world. Street culture is seen as a real/symbolic cultural source: “reality-fantasy-symbol. Reality may easily be regarded as the most fantastic category, as the most crudely symbolic category. Symbol may be the realist, most accessible etc. etc.” (Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1987, Da Capo Paperback, p.14 footnote 1). Control of the streets is a symbolic status for the legitimacy of any government, hence the need for violent responses to street protests or artists painting on walls (read my blog post about Controlling the Streets from earlier this year).
The question of the year was does symbolic/real control make a government legitimate or does legitimacy of a spring from democratic elections, respect for human rights and representing concerns of the population? And in 2011 the answer appeared on the streets.
According to real estate agents there are plenty of art deco houses in Coburg but real estate agents are not experts on architecture and most of these claims are based on some ceiling moulding and a few other left over features. There are some art deco buildings in Melbourne’s northern suburb of Coburg but art deco in Coburg was not prestige buildings rather it was new facades for old factories, pubs, shops, garages, houses and a community hall. Art deco architecture was a sign that the upwardly mobile working class industrial suburb was keeping up with the times.
Now that the old Union Knitting Mills has been gutted and transformed into multi-story flats I started to consider how the “modern geometric style” (as art deco was then known) was received and used in Coburg. The new building is a dramatic change but sensitive to the old streetscape and preserves the best aspects of the architecture. The renovation retains the original curving banded art deco façade and entrance. Even the original factory sign has been restored.
A block down from Union Knitting Mills the Post Office Hotel also has an art deco façade covering an older building. The façade has recently been restored – I’ve enjoying several meals at the Post Office Hotel and the pub has gained a reputation for its superb food both in its restaurant and counter menu. The iron ribbon lettering of the Post Office Hotel sign is similar to that of several pubs in North Melbourne.
There are other touches of art deco in the suburb. Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) reports a building boom immediately after the Great Depression, people had been waiting for better economic times before starting their construction. There are modern/art deco elements in facades of a few Coburg factory facades along Sydney Road dating their construction.
Akins Auto Service on Nicholson St. is another example of the modest art deco buildings in Coburg. Akins Auto Service was established in 1932. There are also art deco elements in design of the façade on the Progress Hall and parts of the memorial opposite the Coburg Town Hall on Bell Street. The memorial is dedicated to the first Coburg resident killed in WWII: the griffons on the memorial are impressive.
For more of Melbourne’s art deco buildings see Art Deco Buildings blog by David Thompson. Although he has not written about Coburg, Thompson does look Art Deco in many of Melbourne’s suburbs. And finally there is the façade of the old Progress Cinema.
“My early sculptural work was about connecting ‘objects’ so they form beautiful structures. My current interest is making connecting ‘people’ so they form beautiful communities.” Carl Scrase
Carl Scrase is an emerging Melbourne sculptor, who inspired by Melbourne’s Occupy movement has announced his candidacy for Mayor.
I first encountered Carl Scrase work at Seventh Gallery years ago where I was amused by his sculpture made of super-balls and toothpicks. He moved on to working with bull nose paperclips and won the $5000 2010 Archangel Prize. Recently I saw his paper sculpture with a plinth made of tall stack of A4 paper at Dianne Tanzer Gallery. Connecting ordinary objects as the small units into larger structures is the essence of Scrase’s sculptures. They made post-minimalism appear fun.
Is our empathy on the rise, image courtesy of Carl Scrase
I’ve also seen his “is our empathy on the rise?” paste-ups around the streets of Melbourne and Fitzroy. The blank space underneath the question and the arm high level of the paste-up invites responses and responses to responses. This is the kind of street dialogue that graffiti has always engaged in but Scrase has given it a paste-up forum.
Following the script from the propaganda model for attacks on the Occupy movement, the current Mayor Robert Doyle has attacked Carl Scrase for receiving art award (that he richly deserves) and arts grants from the city of Melbourne. These attacks were amplified by the Herald Sun newspaper who ran the story: “Occupy Melbourne protester Carl Scrase takes the cash” by Anne Wright and Stephen Drill, December 06, 2011 (see my post: Newspaper Wreaks City). I don’t think that Mayor Doyle’s attack is motivated by any fear that Carl Scrase and his team will damage his re-election chances rather just another attacks on the Occupy movement, even if it is a ridiculous argument. Mayor Doyle’s argument exposes his idea that the reason for artist’s grants and prizes is to buy the loyalty of artists.
It is interesting to know that Occupy movement has inspired people, like Scrase and the people on the Council election ticket with him, to engage with the political process. Scrase believes in democracy and that “the age of professional politicians is over”. In contrast the main political parties have encourage popular disengagement and the political machine that have kept them in power.
The banker, Max Rothschild, wrote (regarding the Italian Futurists but consider it in the response to the Occupy movement) – “When there bursts froth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.”
Looking for something to write about for a blog post I looked at the galleries along Flinders Lane.
When I went into Arc One I knew that I could write a blog entry about Lyndell Brown and Charles Green’s “The Dark Wood”. Their exhibition is a critical wet dream – I can tell my notebook: “collaboration…war artists…background field of green and browns…the paper sky has been wrinkled, the landscape becomes paper…the contradictions in Aust. foreign policy.” However, I have already reviewed their 2009 exhibition at Arc One.
I went downstairs to Fortyfive Downstairs and there was another possible story. Not the bland plywood architectural influenced work of Dayne Trower – the title says it all “Slow Decline”. But Mike Hewson’s “Under Standing Loss” could make a good story. Mike Hewson is a New Zealand artist whose studio was destroyed in this year’s Christchurch earthquake. He has even tried to recreate his studio in the backroom as well as framing a drawing pinned to the plaster studio wall that he sawed out before the building was demolished. Unfortunately I couldn’t get excited about Hewson’s paintings.
At Mailbox 141 Owen Hammond has a fun exhibition – “The Wonderful House”. Lots of fun with the simple form of a house: “Newton’s House” hangs in a series of pendulums, “Muybridge’s House” rotates on the dark time lapse photography grid, “Barb’s house” is a barbed wire house frame. It’s not substantial enough for a full blog post, and I’d get tired of the puns, but certainly worth looking at.
Flinders Lane Gallery was showing a surreal couple of exhibitions: Jon Eiseman’s quirky sculptures “Ships of the Night” and Juli Haas “Visions after Midnight”. Ann Schwartz Gallery had monumental video work by Gabriella and Silvana Mangano in the main gallery but upstairs Laresa Kosloff had a fun exhibition collecting artist’s signatures on her leg cast at the Biennale de Venezia, 2011. Charles Green and Lyndell Brown signed the cast along with Stuart Ringholt and about 17 other artists. Lots of Duchamp references could be made about this work but that means regurgitating my Master’s thesis, not a fun prospect.
Gingerbread Arts Centre
Later in the day I looked at a gingerbread city at the City Gallery at Melbourne’s Town Hall, very seasonal story, but not really as the Art Centre is shown with icing snow. The RMIT BA Gold & Silversmith Graduate Show, “It Was Like A Fever” at No Vacancy is also seasonal story – ‘tis the season student exhibitions.
When you look at a number of Melbourne galleries chances are one of them will be closed installing an exhibition. This time I was out of luck and two were installing: Craft Victoria and Until Never. While I was at Craft Victoria, I picked up a copy of Das Super Paper. I was looking for this month’s InTrouble to see if my article was in the print edition or just in the online copy. Anyway Das Super Paper is a great read, lots of excellent articles about art.
There are millions of stories in this city and hundreds of them are visual arts stories and these are some of them.