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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Graffiti 365 – book review

I borrowed Jay “J.Son” Edlin Graffiti 365 (Abrams, 2011, New York) from Coburg Library. Graffiti 365 has 365 entries on graffiti in alphabetical order. It is a thick book, like a brick of photographs, art and text.

Another book on street art, it is impossible to keep up with all of them – so why read or review this one? (After all later this month I will review Dean Sunshine’s book Land of Sunshine.) In the foreword by Andrew “Zephyr” Witten” introduces the author Jay “J.Son” Edlin (aka Terror) as a NYC graffiti artist. “Imagine The History of Rock as explained by Jimi Hendrix, if that helps.” Zephyr writes.

And Jay Edlin does write, each entry has a photograph and three or four paragraphs of well-written prose. It is a well-rounded reference book, looking at the whole 360 degrees of the subject. As well as, lot of artists there are entries about collectors like Ivory, documenters like the Wooster Collective and opponents like NYC’s Mayor Ed Koch, Lt. Steve Mona and The Splasher. There are pages on media: fat caps, fire extinguishers and acid etching. Pages on locations: abandoned stations, heavens and Fun Gallery.

But most of the pages are about artists; there are pages on street artists and graffiti writers from all decades from the 70s onwards. There are graffers who specialize in painting trains and street artists doing urban interventions.

As well there is the usual glossary of terms and a solid index, which is almost redundant given the alphabetical structure. If anything wrong with this book it is the classic bias in the book towards NYC (a very understandable bias given the author) but the book does include are artists from around the world from A1 in Iran to Jace on Reunion Island (find that on a map). And there are pages on Australian artists: Dmote, HaHa, Anthony Lister, Merda, Phibs, Rone and Vexta.

NYC managed to save itself as the international art capital with street art and graffiti. In the late 80s and 90s when London and Cologne were fashionable it was looking doubtful if NYC was the international art capital but all along it was working on a comeback. I’m hoping to see it for myself next year.

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Underwhelmed @ MONA

The half hour ride up the Derwent River on the MONA ROMA fast ferry is like a ritual crossing followed by a decent to the land of the dead. There is something cult like about MONA that expects you to be awed.

I love personal collections made into art galleries: the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, the Fondazione Artistica Poldi-Pezzoli in Milan, the Musée Magnin in Dijon and Gustave Moreau’s house in Paris (see my post). I went to a talk at the Johnson Collection by Dr. Bertrand Bourgeois of the University of Melbourne on the Villa Kérylos, another house museum. Dr Bourgeois spoke of the house museum as a dream machine, created to travel in space and time but also to show off to visitors. MONA is another kind of house museum.

Last year Everyone was talking about the opening of MONA, by the end of the year even my mother was talking about her visit. This is kind of talk that makes Hobart one of the world’s top tourist destinations. With all of this talk I had forgotten about MONA’s small presence in Melbourne; there is X+ at the Republic Tower on the corner of LaTrobe and Queen Streets. X+ is a large, two story high, curved billboard like space featuring large. How long has it been there – I’m sure that it was there before MONA opened. Last time I looked there was a photograph of the polished bronze of Wim Delvoye “Dual Mobius Quad Corpus”, 2010. The Flemish artist Wim Delvoye is a favourite of MONA’s owner and collector, David Walsh. Is this just advertising or is it an art project bringing art to the people?

MONA’s collection reflects the taste of the collector, David Walsh a professional gambler and the collection trends towards betting safely on firm favourites. All house-museums are intended to impress but there is nothing more to Walsh’s collection. He says that intended to be “a subversive adult Disneyland” but it is not very adult, it is adolescent and self-indulgent – it is as shallow as cellophane. Extravagance does not equal quality and there appears little point to this bombastic collection other than to impress.

MONA’s collection is reflected in the museum’s name (“old” and “new” are not recognized art history terms). The collection is divided between the very old, from a classical time in a culture – be it classical Mesoamerican or classical Egypt (I know that these are chronologically very different) but you are meant to be impressed with their antiquity. Or it is from the last 30 years, where you are meant to be shocked by the new art, there is almost nothing in between. At the time of my visit the TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) was being renovated and so a large amount of their collection was on loan to MONA for the “Theatre of the World” exhibition. Some of the best work that I saw at MONA were on loan from TMAG or the NGV.

If the sensationalism of the art wasn’t enough MONA is full of curatorial caprices – cord curtains that needed to be pulled aside to see the work, niches that only a single viewer can look down, carved rocks in a fish tank and low lighting that made the art difficult to see. And I really disliked MONA’s handheld catalogue – see my earlier post O No.

Parts of Walsh’s collection are a copy of the Saatchi collection especially from the Sensation exhibition: Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Jenny Saville, etc. I’ve seen the Saatchi gallery, so I’ve seen a room with several Chris Ofili paintings in it. I’ve seen whole exhibitions of Julia deVille and I’ve walked on a couple of Carl Andre sculptures in my time on this earth – curators keep on leaving them lying around on the floor where I’m going to step on them. Maybe my taste is too sophisticated for MONA but I wasn’t in awe of the exhibition – what appeared to be the intended effect.

I didn’t stay to sample the drink and food at the on site winery, brewery and café  – maybe in this respect it is an adult Disneyland (there are plenty of good places to eat in Hobart). I did notice that the wine had a collection of Melbourne street artists on the label.

MONA made me think of bathos – I don’t bandy these words around lightly.  Bathos is an abrupt, unintended transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect. Even the architecture of the entrance has bathos from the ferry to the tennis court and then into the round white modernist space before descending the labyrinthine space beneath.


Ashes to Ashes

One of the most clearly political street artists in Melbourne is Phoenix. His paste-ups are the visual equivalent of a play by Bercht; they always has a message but you to think for yourself. In the case of Phoenix you have to look at the play of words and images in his paste-ups.

Although I write about the politics and street art I haven’t mentioned Phoenix’s work that much because the message is always so clear. But if Phoenix’s work were only political messages there wouldn’t be much art to them. The collage overlay method that he uses to create his images throws up many surreal combinations. The shapes and use of primary colours only make his work instantly recognizable even though there is no tag or other signature.

Phoenix’s paste-ups have a wooden backing and are coated polyurethane that makes them both weather resistant and difficult to remove. There is another reason why his paste-ups are seldom removed, even when the rest of the wall is buffed, and that is the obvious quality and workmanship in every piece

The same artist? Melbourne

Phoenix, t-shirt face, 2010

I first noticed Phoenix’s paste-ups when he was using t-shapes and then I met up with him when he volunteered at Sweet Streets. Phoenix is a thoughtful guy; he is not the art student type, and older than the typical street artist, more of a cheerful eccentric. His art reflects his thoughtful approach to life and street art.

Phoenix, spraycan hand, 2012

Looking back on the war on terror: I was alert to the anti-war stencils and street art but not alarmed. It was a war with many different sides fighting a propaganda war and Melbourne’s street artists were mocking the official line. Mockery the one thing that really works – laughing at the enemy. The propaganda war continues on the street with street art and stencils.

Phoenix, Osma Scare, 2011

Pheonix, statue of liberty, 2010

Phoenix’s art roses from the ashes of a studio fire and now disintegrates on the streets in a loop of creation.

Phoenix, Less Ephemeral More Ephemeral, Melbourne


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