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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Person of Interest – Marcel Duchamp

Many millions of words have been written about the art of Marcel Duchamp – I wrote my Master thesis about Duchamp’s readymades. I was wrote it in the unlikely setting of Philosophy Department of La Trobe University. I was interested in the impact of philosophy on Duchamp and Duchamp’s readymades impact on the philosophy of art. Anyway that was decades ago and this blog post isn’t about my thesis – it is about the extensive influence of Duchamp on my life.

Many people still regard Duchamp as the anti-Christ of art, others as the godfather of contemporary art. David W. Galenson ranks Marcel Duchamp as the 3rd most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art. Duchamp is such a large an influential on contemporary art because he was a major influence on Man Ray, John Cage and many other artists. Duchamp is so influential on contemporary art and myself that at the top of my word.doc for drafts of this blog I have this admonition: “I will not use any excuse to mention Marcel Duchamp.”

Duchamp was at first interesting to me when I was an undergraduate studying aesthetics and other philosophical issues concerned with art because he created difficult examples for any theory. His art was about ideas and so was easily transmitted in art history books. It wasn’t until years after I became interested in Duchamp that I encounter my first actual Duchamp readymade, Hat Rack (1917) in the collection of Australian Nation Gallery Canberra and by then I knew that this was one of an edition of 8 that Duchamp made in 1964. The examples of Duchamp’s art that I have encountered are like curious relics. I really enjoyed playing with a reproduction of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel because I could touch it and see the pattern of light created by the spokes.

When I came to writing my thesis Duchamp’s readymades lead me to the writings of the philosophers Arthur Danto and Max Stirner as Stirner’s philosophy influenced Duchamp and Duchamp’s readymades influenced Danto’s thinking about art. And both of these philosophers have continued to influence my thinking.

Studying Duchamp gives a good perspective on the art world and the many and varied roles in the art world. For most of his life, Duchamp wasn’t a full time artist there was a lot of chess playing and giving French lessons. When he was involved in the art world he was more often an art dealer (he represented Brancusi in the US), judging a panel for an art prize, and other exhibition organization work like catalogue design. And this is what most people forget, or don’t know, when they think about what Duchamp did – it’s like that internet meme, about what my mother thinks I do, what I think, what my friends think etc.

Duchamp reminds me that there are more positions on the chessboard of the art world than the mass of artist pawns working their way up the board to become Queens. Perhaps I am playing the position of the critical knight and art galleries as castles, bishops are collectors etc. to keep the metaphor going, even though I’ve largely played it out. Anyway the point of my metaphor is that you don’t have to be an artist in order to participate in the art world, most of the participants are not. They are the other player at the other end of the board.

Most of the participants in the art world are viewers, responders and Duchamp’s art depends on the minds of others, for the responder to join in and continue the game. (For more on Duchamp see MarcelDuchamp.Net.) It is his understanding that art exists in the minds of other people that invites people to respond to his art, to write millions of words about it or to create art inspired by him. Duchamp’s epitaph reads: “D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent” (Besides, it’s always the others who die.)

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Street Art Renaissance

I keep on seeing all these similarities between street art/graffiti and the Renaissance most obviously because both are painting on walls. Walking around the graffiti covered walls of Brunswick factories in the late 1990s I discovered my own Scrovegni Chapel of wall-to-wall painting divided into separate panels.

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy (photo by Hasan Niyazi)

People have painted on walls since we lived in caves but what made the Renaissance especially similar to the street art/graffiti of today is the potential change in social status that being an artist brought with it. Unlike their ancient counterparts the Renaissance and graffiti artists can become famous across the city and intercity and to freely enjoy the change in status that this fame brings.

Collingwood graffiti 2009

Collingwood graffiti 2009

There are many ways that the practice of street art is similar to the Renaissance with people up ladders painting a wall. Only the media has changed from fresco to aerosol. Fresco was the fast art medium of the Renaissance, the plaster could only be painted on when it was still wet. The works are designed in cartoons and then enlarged on the wall. Often he patron who bought the paint and commissioned the work is represented in the piece off to one side, as in a Renaissance altarpiece. Although all of the surviving Renaissance frescos are inside but exterior walls were also painted (an elephant remains on a portico wall at Castello Sforzesco in Milan) along with other ephemeral artwork. Renaissance painters worked in the summer when the plaster could dry, in the winter they would work on their designs, like the graffers drawing in their black books.

In graffiti slang a “piece, referring to a large complete aerosol work, is short for a ‘masterpiece’. It indicates a degree of a writer’s proficiency, as in the final work of a journeyman apprentice doing throw-ups. There is less of the master and apprentice in graffing for today the organization of society is much less formal, but there is more of a culture of master and apprentice in graffiti, where skills are learnt from assisting or watching masters rather than the formal education of modern artists. Collaborations between painters are common in both graffiti and the Renaissance.

The following is an email about painting a legal wall in Richmond. I want to point out that this email it is the street art equivalent to a commission for a Renaissance fresco.

On 09/03/2013, at 10:53 PM, CDH wrote:

We’ll be painting on Monday.

Location is 53-55 Burnley st Richmond. We’re painting behind the bike shop.

Meeting at midday.

Theme is yellow. Colour palette is black, white, grey and yellow.

As always, anyone and everyone is welcome. Hit me up if you’re

interested. Should be a good day for it: 34 deg.

Cheers,

Chris.

CDH

www.CDH-Art.com

Unlike the open invitation in CDH’s email a Renaissance commission was a longer legal document specifying a particular artist and a payment. Like CDH’s email it might specify the colour palette but this generally concerned with the weight of blue lapis lazuli and other expensive pigments.

There are, of course, many differences. The monetary value of the art produced is the biggest difference. Capping in the Renaissance was out of the question because fresco belonged to someone who was rich and powerful; the Medici would not have tolerated anyone damaging their property. But the insult of choice for both Renaissance painters and street artists are homophobic; the street artists will call the work of others “gay” whereas the Renaissance painter will denounce others as “sodomites”.

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

Various crews have replaced the painters’ guilds, but even the most hardcore crew can’t compare to the murderous Cabal of Naples who controlled their territory with brutality and fear and no one else was allowed to paint in Naples. The Cabal of Naples are early Baroque rather than Renaissance painters, but they are a classy example. Melbourne’s graffers and street artists, in comparison are a passive lot and we live in a much less violent time.

(I want to thank Brain Ward of Fitzroyalty and especially Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem for their thoughts on the subject that has greatly improved this tenuous idea.)


Mixed Messages @ Counihan Gallery

I often find sociological exhibitions in art galleries to be out of context and poor art but Phuong Ngo’s exhibition “My Dad the People Smuggler” at the Counihan Gallery is long overdue and worth a visit.

Currently in Australia the two major political parties compete to demonise ‘people smugglers’, the people who assist refugees to get to places of refuge, and to abuse those seeking refuge. The Australian government’s deliberately cruel, degrading and illegal policies on refugees (piracy is still a crime even if carried out by the Navy) have been going on for decades now.

But back in the early 1980s in Australian policy towards ‘people smugglers’ was very different. Although Australia has long had an immigration policy that expressed racist xenophobia, the results of the Vietnam War lead to a brief period when refugees were welcome in Australia. It was during this period that Phuong Ngo’s father assisted others to leave Vietnam and arrived in Australia. The evidence that such things happened is in photographs and videos, including his father’s talking about his experience in people smuggling.

Not that I expect that this exhibition will have any effect on Australia’s current policy on refugees; it is safely in an art gallery and will just contribute to the mixed messages that exist in our society.

Michelle Hamer’s exhibition of small tapestries “I send mixed messages” is in Gallery One of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The mixed messages are everywhere, as the Situationists loved to point out, the billboards, signs, stencils and tags all contradict each other. “Stop the madness,” reads a stop sign (stop me if you have seen this before). Clement Greenberg argued that kitsch was the inappropriate translation of art to the wrong media; I wouldn’t say that Hamer’s work is kitsch but I don’t know if the media is appropriate. As tapestries, the focus and much of the detail of the original photographs has been lost. I last saw Hamer’s work at Bus in 2010 but the work seems very familiar as there are a lot of artists creating needlework tapestry of urban scenes in recent years including Catherine Tipping, who will be having an exhibition of tapestries at Tinning Street Presents… later this month.


Looking Gift Sculptures in the mouth

Public sculptures are often gifts exchanged between governments. It is an ancient tradition; Emperor Hadrian gave a statue of himself to the Greek cities, like Corinth that he visited (like the reverse of tourist photo leaving his own image in locations he visited). There are some great statue gifts but like all gifts there are some that make you question the taste of the giver and wonder what you will do with the gift. In the City of Melbourne’s storage depot there are shelves of small object d’art that it has been given as official gifts.

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

Melbourne does not have an international gift equivalent to NYC’s Statue of Liberty, a gift to the USA from the Republic of France. The Three Businessmenwho brought their own lunch; Batman, Swanston and Hoddle is a gift from the small island nation of Nauru. It was presented as gift celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the City of Melbourne unveiled on 20 April 1994 by his Excellency, the President of Nauru Hon. Bernard Dowiyogo M.P. How exactly this statue became a gift and why was it made by two Melbourne sculptors, Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn, remains one of the secrets of international diplomacy.

The Three Businessmen… on Swanston Street broke the drought of sculptures in the city brought on by the controversy over Vault (aka “the Yellow Peril”). And heralded changes to Swanston Street as the pedestrian areas were expanded, traffic reduced and more sculptures were added. Three Businessmen… is arguably the most significant public gift sculpture in Melbourne and is a firm favourite amongst locals and visitors.

A lion in Tianjin Gardens

A lion in Tianjin Gardens

Less significant but certainly still greatly appreciated is Tianjin Gardens, the Chinese garden above Parliament Station. “Presented as a gift by the Municipal Government of Tianjin People’s Republic of China 1999”. With its traditional Chinese lion sculptures gardening the entrance and a wonderfully weathered rock standing in the middle of a pool it creates a serene urban garden. The essential feature to this garden’s popularity is that it has plenty of places to sit.

All that I have been able to find out about the reciprocal gifts that Melbourne has given other cities is that The City of Melbourne did give a tapestry by Adam Pyett to the City of Tianjin. (If anyone knows anything more please comment).

Other cities in the Melbourne’s greater metropolitan area that have acquired some sculptures as official gifts include:

Antonio Masini "Man of the Valley"

Antonio Masini “Man of the Valley”

Antonio Masini’s Man of the Valley from Italian cities of Viggiano and Grumento is at Coburg Lake Reserve (see my post).

Petros Georgariou - King Leonidas 2009

Petros Georgariou – King Leonidas 2009

Petros Georgariou’s King Leonaidas from the Greek city of Sparta is in the mall at Sparta Place in Brunswick (see my post).

The oldest of these diplomatic sculptural gifts are the two busts that were given to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics. The marble bust of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri was a gift from the Dante Alighieri Society of Italy. The Italian government also give an unlikely companion for Dante, a statue of Italian radio pioneer Marconi. Both these busts are now at the Museo Italiano in Carlton.


Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey showcases the talent and skills of graduate RMIT students exploring sustainability.

Where: First Site Gallery 344 Swanston Street

There were no deadly poisoned tunics ready to melt the skin from your very bones in this years showcase of graduate RMIT students which speaks well of the selection committee involved in choosing design students. They must have a ‘’No Medeas’’ policy. Though it would be interesting to figure out how exactly they could ascertain whether or not a student had a vengeful nature.

They hung from the ceiling like apparitions moving infinite nano inches from the breeze made from the air conditioning. This added to the allure of what was a very enjoyable and eye opening ode to sustainable forms of fashion. A waist coat made of growing grass hung on a limbless mannequin. It brought to mind a more army styled outfit that the first man, Adam himself would have worn had he been more creative and had more time in the garden of Eden before being distracted by illicit fruit. As I wandered the gallery quite spell bound, a gallery attendant sprayed water from a small spray bottle all over the green grass waistcoat in order to keep it lush. A cropped knitted jumper hung from a coat hanger with sleeves resembling wings and complete with plumage each tiny plume a different bright colour. I would have worn that quite happily. It would go so well with black leggings and ….

But I digress.

It is this kind of digression that made the whole exhibition so enjoyable. A blue dress made from garbage bags and a tutu skirt that included six strips of malleable metal curving around the flare of the skirt, adding a sense of resilience to another otherwise feathered friend inspired item. It is a dress for the environmentally conscious girl with a steely determination to succeed. How often do you by items of clothing because they are cheap and wear them once only to throw away soon after because they fall apart?

This exhibition is not just a flimsy excuse to look at pretty items of original clothing. It is an excuse to raise questions about consumption and excess in our day to day. Clothes become ladfill just as easily as take away coffee recepticles and plastic plates. We need to redefine how we think about clothes and fashion. This is not to say we must not enjoy it and take pleasure in a well fitted and flattering item but to simply be more mindful of how much we buy and dispose off over time. The talented students of RMIT should be proud of their accomplishment as its breadth is far wider than the confines of the gallery it inhabits.

By Jessica Knight


Fantastic Space

When I go looking at art galleries, I am looking for something really marvellous, simply being good and competent works of art is not enough for me. Sometimes I’m disappointed even after visiting multiple galleries. Today I was not disappointed, if Rosalind Atkins collaborating with Ex De Medici in an exhibition of prints and a large watercolour featuring gasmasks, bullets and birds at Australian Galleries wasn’t fantastic enough to make my head spin there was Neon Parc at Gertrude Contemporary.

Dan Moynihan, Lost in Space, 2013

Dan Moynihan, Lost in Space, 2013

What am I talking about? Neon Parc is a small alternative commercial gallery on Bourke Street. What is it doing in Gertrude Contemporary? It is Melbourne artist Dan Moynihan’s “Lost in Space”. It was two third scale replica of the outside and interior of the gallery built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary.

In 2011 I saw Moynihan’s installation “The Warm Memorial: The Dan Moynihan Experience”, part of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art NEW11 exhibition. If you saw the exhibition you would remember the large installation of fake palm trees and skeleton wearing a Walkman on a beach.

Moynihan creates immerse environments; you could go inside Neon Parc and feel what it was like inside. You couldn’t forget that this was in another gallery as one of the walls was the window of Gertrude Contemporary. You could look out the window on to Gertrude Street and see a different space.

The view from Gertrude Street

The view from Gertrude Street

The building that houses the actual Neon Parc looks like a symbol of failure on so many levels, like the failed little businesses underneath with their old advertising. It is a red brick failure of a little rectangular modern building built in a failing location next to a multi-story carpark. (The possibility of failure is something that should be close to contemporary art.)

People in Melbourne’s gallery scene often talk about the aesthetics of a gallery space. Neon Parc does not have any, from the terrazzo floor to the fluoro strip lighting; it is an anaesthetic kind of space. I have climbed the stairs to Neon Parc too many times to count but I’ve never climbed them in two-thirds scale, the feeling was uncanny. There is no art in the replica gallery space but there on the wall just inside the door where Neon Parc always has the information sheet is Dan Moynihan’s panel. The detail is spooky – except the office space with its old green lino floor is empty except for the air-conditioner. I am lost in a replica of a familiar space in an Alice in Wonderland moment as the world shrank or I had grown – a marvellous experience enough to make my head spin.


What is it with Hipsters?

Hep or Hip … Someone who knows the score. Someone who understands ‘jive talk’. Someone who is ‘with it’. The expression is not subject to definition because, if you don’t ‘dig’ what it means, no one can ever tell you.”

– William Burroughs Junky glossary, 1953

I haven’t used the word ‘hipster’ before in this blog – I have been consciously avoiding this now heavily loaded term – Kate Forsyth on the Melbourne Arts Club did not avoid the term in her post “Hipster or Hobo”. (I don’t have any argument with Kate Forsyth, I’m not surprised that people are mistaking hipsters for hobos, this is only an example to show that the word is in common use in Melbourne.) I savvy the history of the word but I’m not sure when the word ‘hipster’ took on a pejorative connotation, maybe it always had one in the square world and I didn’t know about it.

I did use the word ‘hipster’ in my MA thesis but that was decades ago, at a time when the hipster had fallen out of contemporary use. To quote from my thesis:

In “The White Negro” Norman Mailer, attempts to explain the philosophy of the hipster. He argues that since death is ever present “then the only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death, to live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey of the self.” (Mailer “The White Negro – Superficial Reflections on the Hipster”, 1959) Both Stirner and Mailer advocate living with the contradictions, living with the nihilism and the meaningless arguing that it brings a valid, life-enriching existence. This is a life enriching experience because the objective of the Unique One (Stirner’s name for the ego) is to get as much enjoyment from these things while he and they last.

In reference to Mailer’s contrast between the hipster and the square, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin provides a compilation of contemporary comments on the dichotomy along with Mailer’s 1959 list.

Do I really care if some people think that being a hipster is right or wrong? No, there is something square about distinctions based on appearance, clothes and hair. Mailer’s list is also kind of square, lamely attempting to define the indefinable with a few examples.

“I don’t care about the state of my hair/ I got something out of nothing/ That just wasn’t there/ And your kiss kiss kiss/ Is never going to blow me away.” (Jesus and Mary Chain, “Blues From A Gun”)

Getting “something out of nothing that just wasn’t there” was Marx and Engles critique of Stirner’s proto-hipster philosophy of the Unique One. It was, according to Marx and Engles, impossible and a “conjuring trick” on Stirner’s part. But according to the Jesus and Mary Chain they did it and it had something to do with hair and never being blown away. Now this might seem like nonsense to some but I’m hoping that someone will be hip to what is happening here. It is this acquisition of something (cool) out of nothing is what is desired and despised in the hipster. And this explains why Kate Forsyth’s friends were mistaking “hobos” (people with nothing) for hipsters (who also clearly have nothing but are getting something out of it because they have other things like a home, a job, money, skills, talent, good friends…) – as I said, a common mistake; it embarrasses the cops, and those with minds like cops, like Marx and Engles, all the time.


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