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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Seoul Man

I’m back from a holiday in Korea where I saw some awesome art and met some warm generous artists. I was also impressed with Korea’s public sculptures, urban design and the public toilets are the best in the world.

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

When I travel I like to visit art galleries, from the major official art galleries to what smaller galleries I can find; I try to avoid the tourist focused commercial galleries. I try to find some street art but that’s not always that easy because it is generally not in the guidebooks. Along the way I see historic buildings, public sculptures, travel on public transport and eat at local food at local restaurants but seeing art is my primary objective. I have written so many blog posts about art tourism that I have now created a separate category for them. Maybe I should write a book about them; I haven’t been finding Lonely Planet that useful a guidebook when it comes to this side of travel.

Seoul does contain two of the top 20 museums in the world (based on visitor numbers) the National Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 3,1289,550 visitors last year is in 12th place (according to Art Newspaper’s annual museum attendance figures for 2012) and in 15th place the National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 2,640,264 visitors. (Melbourne’s NGV was in 25th place with 1,571,333 visitors.)

I didn’t know much about Korean art before my trip; I was vaguely aware that Korea was promoting itself as a centre of contemporary art. But the only Korean artists I knew was Nam June Paik and Lee Bul. Nam June Paik was the man who cut off John Cage’s tie and who did video installations before it was commonplace. Lee Bul who makes white contemporary space-age alien kind of sculptures that hang.

Before I left I tried to familiarize myself with the Korean art scene by reading Seoul Art Fiend! Earlier this year I walked in to Doosan Gallery in NYC Chelsea gallery district (See my post Black Mark in Chelsea). It was certainly distinctive as a not-for-profit space amongst all the commercial galleries. I wasn’t sure about the art on exhibition it was very neutral and very studied.

I saw a lot art, ancient, modern and contemporary as Korea does have some great galleries and museums large and small. There are many contemporary public sculptures in the streets of Seoul of varying quality and there is a small graffiti and street art scene in Korea. More blog posts to follow about Korea when I have copied my notes and read more of the literature that I brought back. (Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art, Seoul’s Big Art Museums, Wandering Seoul’s Galleries and Wandering Seoul’s II.)

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

I particularly liked the use of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture that marked the start of the urban redesign masterpiece of Seoul, the Cheonggyecheon. The stream side walk is such a relaxing place to be but just a few steps away from the centre of Seoul and it goes on for kilometres.  It is like the reverse of Boston’s new park, a great reinvention of an urban space, a raised hight way demolished to recreate the urban space.

Korea2

Korean folk art has a lot going for it too – could these be the new tikki?

Aside from all the art, the buildings, the food and the hard mattresses my strongest impression of Korea is of the excellent public toilets that are there where you need them. I am not just talking clean and functional but automatic motion detector lights and music. And there is always access for the disabled. The public toilets in the streets and parks were well design and not simple utilitarian constructions. Korean public toilets are the paradigm for public toilets and made my trip so comfortable.

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European Art History’s Audience

Before I left for New York Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem ask me: “Just as a curiosity – if you ever do visit the Frick Gallery in NY, make a mental note of how many non whites you see there. I have this sinking feeling that western art history/art appreciation is a “white folks club” to a certain degree and I am hoping to be proved wrong.”

There are some problems that I faced in considering the race audience for European Art History in the USA.

Firstly I did this by casual observation rather than a proper survey with a comparison the visitor numbers to the general population. Observation is not a good way to determine how people identify themselves racially. I generally don’t like to do it; it feels too close to racism and I wouldn’t have done it if Hasan hadn’t suggested that I do it.

Secondly art history visitors are more to do with gender, education and class rather than race. So a proper survey would not only consider the percentage of racial groups in education levels and income.

Thirdly, how different are the visitors for European art history compared to the visitors for non-European art history and contemporary art. I did notice that there was a slight difference but the audience for contemporary art but not for Asian, Islamic, Inuit, Haitian or Amerindian art.

Given these problems the answer is still obvious. The black face in an art gallery is most often the gallery attendant. The overwhelming numbers of visitors at the Frick Collection in New York or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston are European with a few Asians and a couple of African Americans. This is the same case for exhibitions of non-European art history and this makes me thinking that this is more of an issue of education, specifically a liberal arts education, as well as income levels. To understand a painting in the Frick Collection you need to know both who Thomas Moore and Hans Holbein were and how they featured in English history. And it is education that is reason why a black face in any art gallery is with generally a school group.

Art history in America is largely a “white folks club”. Not that it intends to be, this is not a matter of content. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has Islamic and Chinese art in the collection. (Another place where you are likely to see a person of African origin a European art gallery is in the art, rather than amongst the viewers. This is more common than you might expect.) I am somewhat relieved that on the whole Europeans have learnt to appreciate the many cultures that they have conquered, colonised and pillaged.

The audience for modern or contemporary art is a little bit more racially broader there are more Asians, a few more Africans and a very few Arabs. With contemporary art you don’t require a specific knowledge of history or a liberal arts education. But the racial group that was most noticeably absent from any of the galleries that I visited in the USA were Indians.

Thanks to Hasan Niyazi for suggesting that I consider this issue.


Singapore Renaissance

Since the 1990s, the government of Singapore has been striving to promote Singapore as a centre for arts and culture. The Singapore Renaissance sounded like a great idea based on a sound economic imperative that Singapore could not keep growing based on imports and exports. For more about this there is a very interesting interview on the long term planning for the Singapore Renaissance with Singapore National Arts Council’s Senior Director of Arts Cluster Development and director of the Singapore Arts Festival, Ms. Goh Ching Lee.

It always sounds great in plans for a country to join the “creative economy”. Australia’s Prime Minister, Paul Keating declared that Australia would become the creative country. The idea that society is so malleable to government plans and that training, infrastructure and government support is all that is needed to have a “creative economy”. However, these plans ignore the underlying tensions in creativity acting as if creativity was entirely free from other psycho-social-cultural influences.

I’m interested in the dynamics that make a city a centre for the arts and the history of cities that rise and fall as artistic centers. Countries are too large and diverse to make any study of their creative strengths and weaknesses. Singapore, as a city-state makes an excellent test subject.

There is no obvious reason why Singapore shouldn’t be a centre for arts and culture, just as it is a trade and travel hub. There is money to be made in arts tourism and the arts as Hobart has recently discovered with MONA. It is not exactly about politics, China has made great progress in contemporary art in the same decade. It is not about population Melbourne in comparison has a similar population to Singapore but more artists and more artists tourism. Instead Yogyakarta is the arts capital of South East Asia.

However, Singapore is not a centre for the arts. Is the reason specific to contemporary Singaporean culture? Are Singaporeans too comfortable to deal with the occasional disturbance that contemporary arts can bring? There is less political “harmony” in the streets of Yogyakarta than Singapore.

In part it is about gallery space, as well as space for street artists, as Singapore is a very small island city-state. However, as I have written in Temples without Gods, there is more gallery space in Singapore than art to exhibit in it.

Singapore has not produced many notable artists. Wikipedia only lists two Singaporean artists: Chua Ek Kay and Han Sai Por. Chua’s abstract Chinese ink paintings inspired by Australian aboriginal cave paintings that he saw when studying fine arts at the University of Tasmania and the University of Western Sydney.

Han Sai Por Singaporean sculptor, Han’s carved organic sculptural forms can be seen throughout Singapore especially at the Singapore airport or the Singapore National Museum. I wasn’t that impressed with her sculpture even though she was often working on an impressive scale.

Singapore still seems to be the most unlikely street art location in the world, even after visiting it and seeing the street art for myself. The controversy of the Sticker Lady in 2012 showed that there is still life in Singapore’s street art scene.


Like Mike

The exhibition, “Like Mike” pays homage to Australian artist Mike Brown (1938 – 1997) and looks at his diverse influence on other local artists. The National Gallery of Victoria had a Mike Brown retrospective in 1995 but a retrospective can only look back but an artist like Mike Brown also has an impact on the future. “Like Mike” is more of a prospective exhibition. And given the variety of art that Mike Brown created it needs to be a diverse exhibition.

It is a very ambitious exhibition that spreads across five Melbourne galleries: Neon Parc, Sarah Scout, Utopian Stumps, Charles Nordrum Galleries and the Linden Centre of Contemporary Art. And features the work of 33 emerging and established artists along with some work by Mike Brown.

The overall curator for this massive exhibition is Geoff Newton. I asked Newton why Mike Brown? “The practice has so much going for it in freedom of expression,” he replied. Newton is an incisive critic of his own work pointing out the holes in the exhibition. There is no graffiti, a major omission when Mike Brown was painting the walls of Fitzroy long before the current generation of street artists. And there are no indigenous artists represented.

The 100 page catalogue is an extensive work in itself, featuring images from the artists involved in the exhibition along with a bit of text. Geoff Newton said that he wanted the catalogue to be image heavy unlike the book by art historian Richard Haese, Permanent Revolution: Mike Brown and the Australian Avant-Garde 1953-1997, (Miegunyah Press, 2011)

I saw some of the exhibition Neon Parc, Sarah Scout and Utopian Stumps. I was unable to see the Linden Centre of Contemporary Art because they had shut their doors without explanation after the police raid on Saturday 1st of June (see my post Police Raid Gallery).

Neon Parc has an all women show, giving a feminine perspective on Mike Brown’s influence, with an intense hanging of 30+ works in the small gallery.

The exhibition at Sarah Scout looks at the body and references to pornography. It features familiar work by Pat and Richard Larter and, for me, the unfamiliar work of Claire Lambe and Nell.

Utopian Stumps takes on Mike Brown’s interest in abstraction. I particularly enjoyed seeing the work of John Nixon in this context.

These exhibitions provided both a deeper understanding of Mike Brown’s work and his current influence in Australian art. Ireverant, irritating and diverse… like Mike.


Paul Montford in Melbourne

Book review of Catherine Moriarty, Making Melbourne’s Monuments – The Sculptures of Paul Montford (Australian Scholarly, 2013, North Melbourne)

With his middle name, Paul Raphael Montford was destined to being an artist. He first trained at Lambeth School of Arts and then at London’s Royal Academy of Arts where he was awarded 5 prizes and a travelling scholarship. He had a distinguished career with many commissions in England and Scotland for architectural sculpture. He moved to Melbourne in 1923 and his sculptures adorn the Shrine of Remembrance. Montford came to my attention because he has more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s.

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Montford’s sculptures were not the first neo-classical sculptures to adorn Melbourne. Nor was Montford was not the first British sculptor to move to Melbourne, others had come before him but Montford does have more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s. Montford represents the high water mark of neo-classicalism in Melbourne before the tide of art history turned away from the classical tradition. For years that Paul Montford has been ignored by Australian and British art history and Moriarty’s book restores him to art history.

The high point of Montford’s career was the sculptures on Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. This gives Moriarty the opportunity to do a scholarly examination of Australia’s nascent nationalism. There are plenty of details about the arts and culture in Melbourne, including the various artist’s clubs that Montford and his wife joined.

The first half of the book is a short history of Montford, in England and Australia.  Moriarty makes the detail of history an engaging read and I reached the end of each chapter wanting more. There is a chapter on his domestic arrangements and his wife was a notable miniature artist. There is also a strange diversion on Montford osteopathy and medicine but it is justified given the interest in osteopathy in Montford’s letters and that in 1938 Montford died of leukaemia as a result of a bizarre medical treatment where he was given large dose of radium for tonsillitis.

Montford's signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

Montford’s signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

The second half are the annotated letters from Montford to his wife, his brother and other family members. There are also a few letters to Montford including one from the sculptor, and Montford’s professional rival, Bertram Mackennal.

It is this archive of material that gives weight to Moriarty’s examination of Montford.

And along with a detailed catalogue of Montford’s work this book is the complete reference for Paul Montford

Montford’s art is deeply conservative. Robert Menzies assumed that being a conservative artist he would be politically conservative too, appointed Montford to the Australia Academy of Arts. Pacifist, socialist and opposed to the White Australia policy Montford challenges the assumption that progressive artists are both progressive artistically and politically.

With the up-coming federal elections it is amusing to read Montford’s analysis of Australian politics and compulsory voting because the situation has hardly changed since 1925:

“We shall have to vote next July or be fined and what a choice. Nationalist or Labour, both Protection and ultra Australian. Labour being keen on making more money and doing less work. Nationalists keen on making more interest with less trouble. The Socialist ideals simply don’t exist. Labour has none, Communists is that of a Proletariat  – by force leading to a working man’s heaven – very undefined. Yet we must vote – penalty £2 if you don’t.” (p.112)

Moriarty has managed to make a long overdue academic examination of Paul Montford into something more than that; it is an engaging look at life in Melbourne in the 1920s.

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906


Political Motivation Behind Police Raid

The motivation behind the Victorian Police raid on Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St. Kilda is becoming clearer with more research. The Victorian Police are not in the habit of visiting art galleries looking for child pornography but they are too easily manipulated to do just that by conservative wanna-be politicians.

On 28th of May Adrian Jackson and Chris Spillane along with Cr Andrew Bond were at Port Phillip City Council meeting. (These three people were the only people complaining about the exhibition in The Leaders’s article. For more on these people see my post, Police Raid Gallery.) In public question time Chris Spillane’s agenda is made clear in the minutes of the meeting.

“Chris Spillane asked about a current art exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St Kilda. He stated that while he hasn’t seen the exhibition himself, from what he has heard about the exhibition it is offensive and pornographic in nature. He suggested that the exhibition should be shut down or at the very least there should be more appropriate signage warning of the contents, age restrictions in place, and this section of the gallery should be cordoned off. He asked, as sponsors of the gallery, what action the Council intends to take?”

“Mayor Amanda Stevens responded that the gallery is run by an independent board and that there is already appropriate signing regarding the exhibition in question in place.”

Adrian Jackson’s agenda become apparent in a comment that he made in The Leader. Posted at 7:31 PM June 2, 2013: “Mission accomplished – the kiddy art exhibition is now closed. Next step is getting the Linden Gallery to be self funding instead of behaving like a parasite on ratepayers. Currently $100,000 PA is spent by Port Phillip Council on maintenance and equipment in the Linden which has been a ratepayer owned building for the last 25 years or so. This money does not appear in the Linden’s annual Statement of Affairs (see their website) as far as I can see but what is included is about $250,000 PA in ratepayer funds in “operating cost”. All this for 6 or 7 exhibitions per year involving about 6 artists per exhibition. The large post card exhibition could be moved to the town hall and the Linden closed if it cant be self funded. Other galleries in Port Phillip can fund themselves so why cant the Linden committee. I understand that this years exhibition was probably organised last years before the current new committee member joined it.”

The artist, Paul Yore has interviewed by detectives from the St Kilda Crime Investigation Unit and the police have yet to lay any charges. The detectives and the mainstream media have yet to examine the conservative political agenda behind the complaint. It is a shame that they are unable to do the same research that I have done.


Police Raid Art Gallery

The facts: Victorian Police have raided St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed work by artist, Paul Yore. No charges have been laid. (See The Age and the Port Phillip Leader.)

The artist: Paul Yore is winner of $8000 Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2013. Last year he was exhibited at the NGV’s Atrium at Federation Square. There is an interview with him from last year, along with un-pixelated photographs of his art in Desktop.

The gallery, St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, is one of Melbourne’s oldest council funded art galleries with a reputation for quality exhibitions. It is well known for its annual post-card exhibition. I have no doubt that the curatorial team had appropriate warnings (warnings are so commonplace now in exhibitions).

The exhibition, “Like Mike” is a homage to Australian artist Mike Brown.

The curators of the exhibition are Jan Duffy and Geoff Newton. Jan Duffy is an experienced curator as is Geoff Newton who is a well known as the director of Neon Parc gallery. Geoff Newton, from my knowledge of him and his work, is a man who seriously wants to advance art.

It is not clear exactly who the complainants are. The newspapers quote an “Adrian Jackson a Middle Park resident” and “Port Phillip resident Chris Spillane”. Chris Spillane is a Liberal Party candidate for the local council accused of racism. Adrian Jackson is ex-Australian Army, a want-to-be politician who has run as an independent candidate, who was expelled from the Liberal Party in 2003. Given their backgrounds Jackson and Spillane don’t appear to be the usual gallery visitors. (For more on their motivations see my recent post, Political Motivations Behind Police Raid.)

Local Port Phillip City Council members, Councillor Andrew Bond an independent and a former church youth group leader, has called the exhibition “obscene” and compared it to hardcore pornography.

This story is more about the ambitions of certain people involved in local politics creating a controversy to be noticed and the Victorian Police being unable to learn from the experiences of their NSW counterparts with the raids on Bill Henson and Juan Davila’s exhibitions. This is yet another sorry and pathetic part in the story of Australian censorship. (See my 2008 post: More Art Censorship as events are likely to play out in the same way.)


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