Monthly Archives: August 2013

Art Space Race

I keep on writing about art galleries, a room or series of rooms where art is exhibited, whatever it is called: “gallery”, “projects”, “art space”, or “artist run initiative”. I’m not sure that this has been a good idea. Few galleries state what they are above their door, ACGA members have the association logo sticker on their door, and 45 downstairs now states “a not for profit artspace” above their door. And this raises a important question: does it matter?

Gallery

“Projects” are currently in fashion in Melbourne, everyone is starting a project space from Sutton Gallery to Dianne Tanzer. “Projects” is short for “side projects”. What kinds of side projects do commercial galleries? Exhibitions in non-gallery spaces and so some galleries now have non-gallery spaces for exhibitions.

Why do structural analysis of the art world? This structural understanding of the art world has lead to a whole genre of art that refers to this structure. Questioning the institution of the art gallery may have started with Duchamp’s readymades but it became an art movement in the 1970s. Examining the institution revealed issues of power and ownership and cultural and sexual identity – some of this work has been fun but it is not what art is all about. And along with this some people have confused attacking the art gallery with analysis of its role.

Tom Wolfe’s sardonic comments on the emergence of contemporary art outside of the gallery have something of zeitgeist in them. “…the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and theorists began to hail Earth Art and the like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex’, after the ‘military industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into their biggest museums, they’ve had it.” (Tom Wolfe The Painted World, Bantam, 1976, p.102) Tom Wolfe, the artists, their dealers all knew that this would not be the end of the museum-gallery complex anymore than it would be the end of the military industrial complex but it was a story that would sell.

After all a “gallery” is just a fancy word for a room with some art in it. I don’t know about your house but mine does not look like a contemporary art gallery. The walls are the wrong colour for one thing and then there is all this stuff lying around. I do have art on my walls and a few sculptures around the place but it doesn’t look like any art gallery that I know. Even the serious art collector’s homes don’t look like art galleries.

I sometimes ask people after visiting a major art gallery about what they would most like to have in their home and remind them that it has to fit in their home. Where are you going to put it? Some work of art, like a Duchamp readymade, would mean less alienated from the gallery space. And what are you going to do with all that video art? Buy a flat screen TV and DVD player for each one, or just keep them in a draw?

This is not because I think that art should not respond to the gallery, or that galleries have made art worse but that the obsession over the space, including all my writing about galleries, has been a distraction from the main event – the art. How much does the space, what ever you want to call it, change the art?


Seven Years With Banksy

This post is about the curious case of Banksy allowing people around him to exploit their relationship with him. For example Mr. Brainwash and his part in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop or Robert Clarke’s book Seven Years With Banksy (Michael O’Mara, 2012). I suppose that Banksy has no choice given that he wants to keep his identity anonymous but to tolerate these exploitations rather than face exploitative exposures. Being an anonymous artist clearly has it drawbacks.

Robert Clarke’s Seven Years With Banksy is a terrible read, even with low expectations. Like Mr. Brainwash and Exit Through the Gift Shop there is more of Clarke in the book than Banksy. Clarke spends two or three chapters just meeting Banksy. He actually has very little and sporadic contact with Robin/Banksy. If Clarke were honest the book’s title would be Seven Years of occasionally meeting Banksy.

I stopped reading the book the first time when Clarke started to recount his dreams about Banksy; it was too self-indulgent. In the words of Wm. Burroughs: “Such dreams radiate a special disinterest. They are as boring and commonplace as the average dreamer.” (Burroughs, My Education: a book of dreams, 1995 p.2)

I put the Seven Years With Banksy aside and read a couple of other books but when I came to the end of Daniel Farson’s Gilbert and George – a portrait (Harper Collins, 1999) the author wandered into a dream he had about Gilbert and George. I started both at the same time and enjoyed reading G&G more – G&G are so charming. And Farson’s occasional meanderings were forgivable because they showed his systematic commitment to the project. There is real content in the book about G&G, the people that they worked with and the people who bought their art.

I thought that maybe I was being too harsh on Clarke, so I went back to Seven Years With Banksy but I think that I should stopped reading the first time as it didn’t get any better. My opinion, don’t bother reading it in the first place. I’ve read it so you don’t have to.


Swanston Walk Sculptures

With the transformation of Swanston Street into a semi-pedestrian district in 1992 came new public sculptures. A precursor to the pedestrian district was a weekend stunt of grassing in the street in 1985 for Victoria’s 150th birthday celebrations. 11,000 square metres of grass was laid from Flinders Street to La Trobe Street.

The Melbourne City Council hadn’t commissioned a sculptor since the ill-fated Vault (aka The Yellow Peril) a decade earlier. The sculptures were funded through a variety of sources there was a Street Walk Public Art Project fund the commissioned some sculptures and temporary art, Percent for the Arts (1% of the total redevelopment budget) funded other sculptures and Nauru funded one sculpture. Fortunately there were no controversies this time and the public either loved or ignored the new sculptures.

Melbourne’s art eduction had not produced enough local sculptors in Melbourne to fill all the commissions. Many of the sculptors who produced work for the Swanston Walk were not born in Melbourne but were recent arrivals from interstate, Japan, Sri Lanka, Holland and the USA.

Petrus Spronk, Architectural Fragment, 1992

Petrus Spronk, Architectural Fragment, 1992

On the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets is “Architectural Fragment” 1992 by Petrus Spronk. The bluestone sculpture was commissioned as part of Street Walk Public Art Project and installed in 1993. Spronk was born in Holland, immigrated to Australia in 1957 and trained as a ceramicist and sculptor in South Australia.

The steel and jarrah seat near the corner of Swanston and Little Lonsdale Streets is  “Resting Place” 1994 by Bronwyn Snow. It was funded through Percent for the Arts.

Edward Ginger “The Echo” 1997

Edward Ginger “The Echo” 1997

There were delays to commissions. “The Echo” by Edward Ginger was commissioned in 1992 but its fabrication and installation were delayed due to a lack of sponsorship. It was completed in 1996 and unveiled for Chinese New Year 1997 on the corner of Swanston and Little Bourke Streets.

Born in 1951 in Sri Lanka Edward Ginger arrived in Australia in 1975. After completing his studies at the College of Fine Arts, Sri Lanka Ginger undertook further studies in sculpture and printmaking at RMIT.

On the corner of Swanston and Little Collins Streets is “Time and Tide”. “Time and Tide”, 1994 by Akio Makigawa is a bluestone, white marble, bronze and stainless-steel sculpture, 1994 (Percent for Art Program)

At the intersection of Bourke and Swanston high on top of tram poles, turning on the wind are four animals. Made of hand-beaten copper sculpture with gold-leaf detail there is a bird, a horse, a fish and a pig with wings. The bird is a reference to the city’s gardens; the horse symbolises sport; the fish its waterways; and the winged pig a joke about the city’s hope and future.

The “Weathervanes” 1993 are by jeweller, Daniel Jenkins. Born in America in 1947 Jenkins studied art at Georgia Southern College. He moved to Australia in 1981 with his wife where they established a jewellery workshop and a retail outlet. Jenkins received an honourable mention at the 1984 Ornament Jewelry International Competition. In 1984 the NGV acquired a copper, silver (laminated) brooch c.1984 by Jenkins and in 1988 a steel walking stick (1988).

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”

On the corner of Swanston and the Bourke Mall is “Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle” (aka “Metal Men”) 1993 by Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn. It was a gift from Nauru even though it had already been commissioned by the City of Melbourne. The much-handled hand of the first of the businessmen had broken off sometime in 2013 but has now been reattached with an internal steel armature reinforcing it.

In the City Square near the corner Swanston and Collins Streets and the Burke and Wills Memorials by Charles Summers. Further up Collins Street there is “Larry LaTrobe” 1992 by Pamela Irving, a small bronze sculpture, 1992 (Percent for the Arts)

At the City Square on the corner of Swanston St & Flinders Lane a bronze sculpture on granite plinth, “Beyond the Ocean of Existence”, 1993 by Loretta Quinn. Quinn was born in Hobart and studied sculpture at the Tasmanian School of Art before going on to further studies at the Victorian College of the Arts.

There are few great works of art on Swanston Walk; the sculptures are often frivolous, quirky and irreverent and these are the most popular sculptures for the people walking the Walk.


Play Money, Radish & other exhibitions

On Thursday night I went to the opening of “Play Money” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition examines ”the anxiety surrounding the acquisition of real estate and the legacy of land ownership in Australia”. It is pertinent subject especially in Brunswick where houses prices are rising in the wake of the artistic revival; Gregor Muir described artists as “the storm-troopers of gentrification.” The irony of the welcome to country at the opening was not lost at either.

Curated by Jane O’Neill “Play Money” is good as far as it goes but it is taking up valuable real estate with an exhibition that didn’t fill up all the walls. The suburban subject is very current in Melbourne art; the Ian Strange exhibition at the NGV Atrium came to mind (see my post) along with the art of Jason Waterhouse and Adrian Doyle. I wanted more.

On my Thursday afternoon gallery crawl I was impressed with “Radish” by Diego Ramirez at Seventh Gallery. The two videos in the installation contributed to the sad story of a radish headed man. The videos had great production quality overall but especially the make-up and prosthetics. I was wondering if the radish headed man finally found a home buried in the back room of Seventh Gallery as the radish top was poking out from the gallery floor.

I also enjoyed seeing Penny Pekham’s “A Taxonomy of (Art) Cats”. A series of prints upstairs in a small room at 69 Smith St amidst some bad and ordinary art, including Pekham’s series of paintings based on Leonard Cohen lyrics. The lino-cut prints reproduced cats by famous artists (Hiroshige, Toulouse Lautrec, Steinlen, Beardsly, Manet etc.) arranged in grids. Simple but effective and combining cats and art history is a way to my heart.

I saw Little Woods Gallery for the first time. It is a small gallery space that is part of the Jesuit Social Services on Langridge Street. Lauren Dunn’s “We are all friends” a series of photographs of Lauren’s friends. The larger than life photographs were too close, both intimate and a bit intimidating. There was some attempt to trace the connections between these faces and Dunn but not enough was made of that.


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