Monthly Archives: January 2012

Art Gallery Bumpf

At James Makin Gallery the gallery attendant hands me a price list, a postcard and a folded card color catalogue, more bumpf. At Utopian Stumps I was handed a “room sheet” – a price list, in other words. I must say that I do use the price lists; I scribble my notes on them when looking at the exhibition as it saves me from copying down names of artists or titles of art works.

But now all this art gallery bumpf is building up in a pile in the corner of my office. It hangs like snowdrifts on my bookshelves. There is a massive pile in my intray, like a massive snowdrift of room sheets, catalogues, postcard invite, business cards, threatening an avalanche onto Dignity, the cat. I have resolved to clean it up. I take one at random from the pile; Dignity sensing imminent disaster leaves the room. The pile remains in place.

What is this A4 page about? It doesn’t even have the gallery name on it – that goes straight into the recycling bin.

There is so much of this art gallery bumpf. The ecological impact of this material is often ignored in considering the artist’s environmental footprint. My advice to artists and galleries is to save a forest and do it all electronically. Use Facebook and email invites, PDF catalogues, artist and gallery websites. PDF catalogues are in many ways superior to printed paper catalogues because they are economical, document the exhibition equally well, require less space to store and increases the difficulty of forgery (such as the forgeries retrospectively documented by additions to catalogues as in the case of John Drewe.) However, the archival value of PDFs have yet to be proved.

I sort through more of the pile. There are all these business cards; this one says – “artist and interior decorator” – that doesn’t sound good.

The tangible item of a gallery catalogue can be a beautiful publication in itself, a well written thought provoking essay about the artist and more images. Those ones go in the files or even on the bookshelf. I screw up another “room sheet” and get Dignity to chase the ball of paper under the coffee table.

Civil Civilization

Imagine a lonely person who believes that they are the last person alive on earth walking through a modern city. The place could be anywhere in the world. The architecture is international modernism; glass walls and the Brutalist concrete constructions. The modern forms repeat endlessly down the empty streets. The city grid is all empty and quiet and perfectly undisturbed. It is a sterile environment where not even weeds grow.

The lonely person walks down empty streets desperately searching for signs of other life in the empty buildings. Then the person sees a fresh tag, spray-painted on a wall – a handmade sign. This in itself is a reason not to commit suicide. Then another tag – and following the trail of tags the lonely person comes to a huge painted sign. A clear indication of another living human, like Robinson Crusoe seeing Friday’s footprint on the beach.

The tag is an intentional human sign that says I exist.

Civil suggested this story in his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” that was part of the Space Invaders exhibition at RMIT (26/9/2011).

Civil’s early stencils really turned me on to street art. I always remember seeing his early stencils around Richmond but unfortunately I didn’t carry a digital camera in those days so I can’t show you any (I will always regret that). They were very political, a bowler hatted man in a suit with polite, civil slogans encouraging revolt. Then I saw his stick figures – I was slightly disappointed that he had changed style and I realized that I was already a fan. I was not that disappointed because the simple stick figures are like those simple figures of Keith Haring, or Henri Matisse in the Rosaire Chapel. They are perfect and beautiful figures in their pure simplicity. There is still a political message in these mass figures – they are a civil community. The community of figures interact in their individual ways, sitting talking with another figure, walking with their dog, riding their bicycle.

Some of these figures are done with stencils (as can be seen in this photo of Civil working at the first Croft Alley Project) but many are simply ‘throw-ups’ drawn freehand with a spray can. And when you see them you recognize that other humans exist.

Civil is a veteran of Melbourne’s street art scene with a particularly strong sense of community that came with that scene. A graduate of Monash University in Environmental Science rather than design or fine art, which, I think, gives his simple art a political focus. In other parts of his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” Civil spoke about the unresolved and still relevant protests of John Howard era against the Iraq war and World Economic Forum 2001. The disproportionate anger towards graffiti compared to the ugly aspects of urban development. And reclaiming public space from advertising; Civil pointed out that Sao Paulo, another city notable for its street art, has banned outdoor advertising.

Here are some more signs of civilization.

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