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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Person of Interest – Laurie Anderson

I first saw Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” in 1981 on the Kenny Evert Video Show. It was great, so witty and with the art sensibilities of the best of new wave music. I’ve been listening to her music ever since. But this post is not just about being a fan of Laurie Anderson but a way of understanding what is broadly called alternative music.

I felt that “O Superman” had destroyed the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow pop music. It was a turning point in uniting contemporary performance art with alternative music. (Instead of worrying about the distinction between high and popular culture/serious and middlebrow culture it is more interesting to see when and why good art and popular culture intersect.)

Alternative music was a Gesamtkunstwerk, the unified art form of the late 20th Century. It was not just the music but also the music videos, the performance, the image of the band in photos and interviews, all of that as a total work of art. I hoped that music videos would be a new forum for alternative film-making.

The history of art and rock music became permanently interwoven in the 1960s when Andy Warhol managed the Velvet Underground and conceptual artist Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Performance art and rock performances had been growing steadily closer. Consider: Gustav Metzger and auto destructive art and The Who’s performances where they smashed their instruments, the stadium sized displays of the Japanese art movement Gutai and stadium rock, how the record cover became a popular medium for visual arts from Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney and how Malcolm McLaren changed the role of the rock manager into an art form.

That contemporary art and music on the same aesthetic grounds is fundamental to my understanding of art. Art not longer confined to galleries, it could be anywhere, on TV at home. That art was not a single thing but could consist of multiple things, actions, ideas and images.

Over the years I became more aware of Laurie Anderson’s background in sculpture and performance art from random articles that I would find in old art magazines and more recent articles. Was she visual artist, a writer/poet or musician (singer/songwriter); whatever combination of these things Laurie Anderson is she is very clever – and she is very funny. That’s always a good thing and learning to crafting that comedy must have come from her time with the comedian Andy Kaufman.

Anderson’s performances/songs are lyrical, they are focused on words, but so much art in the 1970s were focused on words. Anderson’s sayings and aphorisms are similar to those by the American artists, Jenny Holtzer and Barbara Kruger. Things that are said are very important that generation of artists.

As a musician working with synthesizers and other electronic music I was always impressed with Anderson’s music technology, including the ones that she invented. As an artist I wanted to record more music.

Watching Laurie Anderson dancing with William Burroughs on Home of the Brave was the start of my addiction to Burroughs (I’m getting around to writing about Burroughs as another person of influence). And finally I saw her perform live in 2007 doing Homeland at the Melbourne Concert Hall.

The soundtrack to my biopic would have to include some Laurie Anderson. On my first day on campus the doors of the lift at La Trobe University taking me up to the Philosophy Dept. closed revealing the familiar words of Laurie Anderson written in marker pen: “Paradise is like right now only much, much better.”

For a detailed analysis of O Superman read Isaac Butler’s essay “Here Come the Planes” on The Fiddleback.

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Street Art Notes 5/13

Local Paintspotting –

Coburg piece

Coburg piece

Earlier this year I wrote about Coburg being a transition point between street art and graffiti.  As more legal walls become available in Coburg the quality writers push further north and pieces in Coburg continue to improve. But I’m surprised at both the pace and quality of the work. This great piece instantly evoked for me the unforgettable sound of Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit”… “When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go…”

Coburg house

Coburg house

Ghost Signs and Graffiti –

Good to see a legal piece in Brunswick preserving a ghost sign. I sent the photo to my friend and former LookSmart colleague, Stefan Schutt for excellent blog about ghost signs – Finding the Radio Book and he turned it into a post; A generational jostling for space on a Brunswick wall.

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

Yarn bombing public sculptures –

Socks for the little girl in Lorretta Quinn’s Within Three Worlds, a red knitted plume for King Leonidas in Sparta Place, a ruff for Dianna’s panther in Paul Juraszek. The Sun & the Moon in Malvern, Melbourne’s yarn bombers have been dressing up sculptures.

The tradition of dressing up public sculptures comes from the dressing up of religious statues. If religious practices can be in bad taste then it is in the worst possible taste. It is the infringement on the moral rights of the artist is annoying in a way that decorating a pole or bench is not. The artist never asked for the contribution of the yarn bomber.

On the other hand these are public sculptures and the public should interact with them provided that this does no damage. Street artists like, CDH and Will Coles both have done good interventions using public sculptures but they are always conscious of the moral and political issues involved in this intervention. This is a subtle difference like that between appropriation art and plagiarism. But I doubt that the yarn bombers thinking of anything other than adding their woollen touch and there is no evidence in what they produce that they are aware.


Puppets with Attitude

Riding around Brunswick enjoying the sunshine and looking for interesting things to write about I couldn’t go past the Brunswick Pop Up Gallery. Especially after I looked in the window and saw a giant pink dust mite and some other puppets.

Felipe Reynolds, Dust Mite

Felipe Reynolds, Dust Mite

The curator, Joe Blanck was gallery sitting at the time. Joe told me about the dark exhibition opening where they had covered up the windows and visitors were given lanterns like the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1938. Joe is evidently a fan of Surrealism with a Dalian soft watch tattooed on his wrist. In the darkness of the opening he had moved his puppets around the crowd.

There are 18 artists exhibiting in this exhibition and there is a lot of humor in the dark exhibition theme, like the puppet “Spanky, the manic teddy”. Some of the exhibition is in the realm of fantastic art; sculptures by Richard Mueck, brother of Ron Mueck, the paintings by Beau White and Isabel Peppard’s “Pupa” sculpture.

Chip Wardale’s “ installation “7 music videos, 7 questions and self-reflections” was effective and lived up to its title. The outside of the installation didn’t contribute but it didn’t really matter once inside. Watching industrial music videos inside a mirrored cube was like being in your own small private world.

Recently when discussing the architectural work of late 19th and 20th century sculptors I was asked if there were the same amount of work for sculptors today. Classical inspired architecture requires bas-relief and other sculptural ornaments. The Corinthian columns with their stylised Acanthus leaves on their ornate capitals all had to be designed and carved. Now with modern architecture eschewing ornamentation, where had all the work for sculptors gone? The Darkness Within provides ample clues to answer that question, there has been a growth of scenic artists for movies, theatre and advertising. Joe Blanck, for example, works at Creature Technology Company, the company behind recent arena spectaculars like Walking With Dinosaurs and How To Train Your Dragon.

(Brunswick Pop Up Gallery, it’s sort of, new Brunswick Pop Up Gallery on Albert Street, I’m sure I’ve seen exhibitions there over the years under different names. As if there weren’t enough galleries with “Brunswick” in their name in Melbourne….)


Melbourne’s Best?

”I doubt it’s something the authorities are particularly proud of, but Melbourne street art leads the world.” – Banksy (The Age, May 29, 2010)

Land of Sunshine, Brunswick

Land of Sunshine, Brunswick

David Hurlston, curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, said Melbourne’s street art was “the most distinctly identifiable cultural and contemporary artistic movement to have occurred in Australia over the past 30 years”.

I’m always suspicious when I hear Australians make the claim “amongst the best in the world” even when they are quoting a foreign visitor like Banksy. But people often ask me where does Melbourne street art and graffiti rate compared to other cities in the world?

I thought that I’d take a different approach and count the references for cities listed in Cedar Lewison Street Art – The Graffiti Revolution (Tate Publishing, London, 2008) Melbourne comes out in at number 5: New York 34, London 15, Sao Paulo 9, Paris 7, Melbourne 5; with 2 each for Madrid, Berlin, Bologna and Bristol; and 1 for Los Angles, Liverpool and San Francisco. More research is still needed; a larger data set of books, but you can see the approach to take.

Perhaps a more interesting topic that rating Melbourne is to look at how various elements contributed to this creativity from the public transport structure to other parts of city design. The radial spoked “intergrated network” of public transport created an accessible centre of activity (in the same way that it has concentrated drunken violence). And this ensured that in the 1980s painted train carriages could be seen on any of the suburban lines, now the trains are mostly graf free but the walls along all these train lines are still painted.

Paintspotting* in various cities around the world (New York, London, Paris, Dublin and Greece) it is clear to me one reason why Melbourne is so highly regarded. The street art is so accessible; you don’t need to explore very far in order to find some great pieces. In the inner city, Hosier Lane is just off Flinders Street and Fitzroy or Collingwood are just short tram rides away.

The centre of Melbourne is a 1.28 square kilometres of shopping, business, residential, entertainment, restaurants and government buildings defined by Hoddle’s grid of streets. Melbourne’s main streets, as originally surveyed by Hoddle are 99 feet wide with the smaller street 33 feet wide. (A geomancer with a numerological bent should be able to do something with those numbers.) Weaving between the streets are the lanes that makes an excellent, if discreet, surfaces for street art. If you think that all of Melbourne’s lanes are full of street art, you haven’t looked down enough there are so many.

Melbourne has a vibrant street culture; I go away for a few weeks and my email box is full of posts from Arty Graffarti. Taking a ride around Brunswick today I saw many fresh pieces and some guys starting some more in Ilham Lane, north of Tinning Street. They had just started on the outlines when I passed buy and more writers were arriving for an afternoon of paint. On a sunny day it doesn’t really matter what your ranking in the world is.DSC08307

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* Paintspotter, noun, definition: like a trainspotter but for people who look for street art and graffiti (a portmanteau word coined by Fletcher “Factor “Anderson of Invurt).


Collections or Museums

A museum is a collection of collections. Some museums are encyclopaedic in their collections whereas others are more focused on certain types of collections. But single collections do not make museums, except that sometimes the naming of these institutions does get confusing. Some galleries and institutions have collections and others don’t, some places call themselves museums and others don’t.

Single collections do not make museums because the collector limits the collection in that you can to clearly see the identity of the collector in the collection. A collection of anything is similar to a work of art; it could be a work of art, consider Duchamp’s readymades and Danh Vo’s 2012 Hugo Boss Prize winning exhibition of the collection of Martin Wong. I saw Danh Vo’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2013 and it was a portrait of Martin Wong readymade from the things he collected.

Perhaps this is one of my problems with David Walsh’s MONA in Hobart, it is not a museum it is just his art collection (see my post on MONA). There are limitations on the number, quality and taste that a single collector can bring to a collection. A collection of collections fills in gaps in the have occurred in a single collection. In this respect an art museums collection may taste blander than that of a single collector that preserves the original taste of eccentricity.

You don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to be an art collector but it does help, a lot. There are collectors with important collections who aren’t rich (see my post on London Regionalism). But the collectors who open their collections and homes, or palaces in the case of Isabella Stewart Gardner, to the public are the very rich.

The Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston is an astonishing collection. It is well worth a visit even though but much of the collection is not of highest quality. I had a lot of fun at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. I played at seeing how many works I could identify and put a date to and then check the room sheets to see how close I got to the correct answer. It is also a very eccentric collection, right down to the admission fee: free to people named Isabella or people on their birthday, a $2 discount to people wearing Boston Red Sox items and to people who have visited the Museum of Fine Arts in the last three days (I qualified for the last one).

Isabella Gardener was a dedicated collector but that was not her main love; that was art, music and literature. Collecting was simply a means to an end and it was not the only means. Gardener provided work-space, accommodation and even travelling expenses for artists, including John Singer Sargent.

The Frick Collection in New York has the same variation in quality and taste that can be seen in Isabella Stewart Gardener’s collection. It is a super collection with some of the best paintings that I’ve seen. However, the wall paintings of the absurd cherubs in the “Boucher Room” may not to be contemporary taste. Actually the Frick Collection is more a museum than the Gardener Museum as the Frick Collection has been added to considerably since the death of Henry Clay Frick.

With collections like Frick and Isabella Stewart Gardner, no wonder the Europeans felt that rich Americans were buying their culture. Gardner’s fantasy Venetian palace competing with William Randolph Hearst’s Castle in California and other American collectors like Frick. (Other collections on display see my post on Gustave Moreau’s Museum.)

(See my post on Types of Art Galleries.)


The Intervention @ Counihan

Jason Wing’s “Intervention: Criminal” speaks powerfully. It is a giant paste-up photocopy of a photo of himself with the words “An Australian Government Initiative: Criminal” on a sign hung around his neck. The image has all the sympathy of a mugshot. In 2007 by act of federal legislation the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation better known as “the intervention” removed the rights of the Aboriginal population in the NT. The Australian government gains political power by marginalizing and criminalizing minority groups.

Jason Wing’s image is the centre-piece image of the exhibition “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” at the Counihan Gallery and features on the exhibition flyer. (In 2009 I wrote about Jason Wing’s first solo exhibition of  in this blog.)

My favorite images from the exhibition are Chips Mackinolty’s digital prints “National Emergency Next 1,347,525km” “…and there will be no dancing”; signpost the incredibly vast territory that as an emergency is absurd. I had seen Bindi Cole’s work at the NGV’s Studio space last year but her series of photos are well worth another look to see the absurdity of the idea of the standard image of aboriginal Australia.

The paintings of Dan Jones, Kylie Kemarre, Sally M. Mulda and Amy Napurulla provide a colorful accompaniment to the other works and the bleak subject of the exhibition. Fiona MacDonald’s woven archival print of the landscape of James Cook Island at Sylvania Waters in NSW provides the contrast and made me question who is need of an intervention. There is so much balance in this exhibition between the works of 8 Aboriginal and 5 non-Indigenous artists.

The excellent curatorial skills of Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM make this exhibition a powerful experience. The Counihan Gallery has done another great job at bringing together art and politics in this exhibition, a feature of their program this year.

The subject of the exhibition is extraordinarily important to Australia’s culture and its claim to be a civilized nation. Considering the up-coming federal election everyone should make an effort least see this exhibition and try to understand what is happening with the “Basic Card”, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the NT and the “intervention”.


Black Mark in Chelsea

Most Thursdays I do a gallery crawl, but not today, in Melbourne the rain pouring down every hour. I regularly do a gallery crawl on a Thursdays, going around to as many different galleries as possible to get good sample of what is showing, a quest to discover something new. A few weeks ago I was in New York on a Thursday and the weather was cool and sunny. And there are a lot more galleries a few blocks in Chelsea than there are in all of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and the CBD combined.

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There was not much different in the exhibitions, the same range of art from the brash and kitsch, the bland and commercial, and the ordinary to the exceptional. And there were usual percentage of galleries closed for installations or other reasons.

I had already been out to the Dumbo district, I didn’t get out to the artist run galleries and other more alternative spaces in Brooklyn, as many weren’t open until the weekend. I liked what I saw in Dumbo, not just in the galleries there was quality art everywhere, in bookshops, on the streets and on hoarding around a building site. It had the best stencil art that I saw in NYC. I buy two second hand books: a biography of Gilbert and George and a book about Banksy. It is sweet district. Most of the galleries in the Dumbo district are in one building at 111 Front Street, it was like a warm up for what I was to see in Chelsea.

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Every building in a few blocks of Chelsea is full of galleries, sometimes two or four floors of galleries. Street after street, from West 19th St. up 29th St., ten blocks of galleries. I picked up a map of the galleries by Art in America magazine but I didn’t need it, as the streets were full of them. 181 galleries were listed on the map. There really aren’t many other businesses on these streets but on 10th Avenue at the end of each block you wouldn’t know that it was a gallery district, it is all car repairs, taxi businesses and gas stations. Up above this is the strange overhead park, the High Line, built on a disused elevated train line. I would have stayed longer on the High Line but it was more crowded with pedestrians than the street below.

Chelsea’s street level galleries are big and brash, when they do installations at a Chelsea gallery there is a truck with a crane and plywood sheets laid down to protect the gallery’s polished concrete or wood floor. On one block there were limos lined up from one end of the block to the other on one street, waiting for some event to finish. The galleries on the floors are more varied in their style and content.

Not that the artwork was all that great, it was the usual mix of bland commercialism to good art, emerging and established artists. Some of it was so bad that I wonder how some of these galleries pay the rent but there was enough good work to keep me interested, and walking from gallery to gallery. I’m not expecting to have an epiphany every block and there are plenty of entertaining stickers and paste-ups along the way to enjoy.

Chelsea stickers

Chelsea stickers

The new Jeff Koons exhibition wouldn’t open until next week and the gallery with the Kenny Scharf exhibition was closed so I didn’t get to see any exhibitions by any famous artists. These are some of the artists who did catch my eye like Jennifer Balkan and John McCarthy at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery. Or James Gortner’s paintings at Lyons Wier Gallery are magnificent; Gortner recycling op-shop paintings that he uses as material for a collage painting to which he adds femme fatale heads. And Randall Stoltzfus’s paintings at Black Space are beautiful, like the love child of Monet and the Klimt.

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

The Chelsea galleries are mostly commercial, some more than artistic, but I did see Doosan Gallery a Korean, not for profit space. I considered this fortuitous, as I will soon be visiting Korea and I will be writing about the art I see there.


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