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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Drewery Lane

Wandering the streets and lane ways of the inner city I found myself once again in Drewery Lane. The lane extends less than 100m between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale street and runs parallel to Swanston Walk. I’ve never had any reason to be in Drewery Lane and have only wandered into once or twice before by accident.

It is a surreal location, suddenly removed from the main city streets and dominated by a large white sculpture, on the front of Baroq House, depicting an entwined male and female figures about to metamorphosis into one the London plane trees planted along the lane. The London plane trees, although common street tree in Melbourne, are an unusual feature for a Melbourne’s lane.

Like many of Melbourne’s lanes it is virtually a pedestrian zone because you would never expect a vehicle to actually drive along it. Mostly because there is generally a van making deliveries blocking one section so that even pedestrians have to squeeze past.

The short lane contains a mix of the boutique apartments, the backdoors of businesses and the nightclub, Baroq House. Melbourne Fresh Daily provides information about the patrons of Baroq House and its cocktails, along with photographs of the lane way and some of the street art.

As usual for Melbourne’s lanes there is plenty of street art. Dean Sunshine has, of course, photographs of one of the larger works of aerosol art in the lane by Putos, Seige, Caper et. al.

Amongst the other buildings along the lane there is Dovers Printery (also called “Sniders and Abrahams Warehouse”). Snider and Abrahams were manufacturing tobacconists in the 19th and early 20th century and their seven storey Chicagoesque style office, factory and warehouse building, now heritage listed, was constructed in 1909 – 1910. It has now been converted into two bedroom, two bathroom apartments with secure parking.

It is “the world’s oldest example of a flat plate reinforced concrete structure” according to real estate agent Mark Connellan; a slight exaggeration. It was the first in the Australia, there were serval earlier buildings in the USA that used the then patented Turner Mushroom System including the Johnson-Bovey in Minneapolis (1906; razed) and the 1906 Hoffman (a.k.a. Marshall) Building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The architect of the Dover Printery, the American-Australian Hugh Ralston Crawford had obtained the license to use Turner Mushroom System of flat-slab reinforced concrete floors that allowed for thinner slabs and broader spans. Basically it is the first building in Melbourne to employ the modern construction technique typical of modern multi-story buildings.

The some debate about the name of the lane, currently underlined in red to indicate a spelling error. eMelbourne suggests three possibilities. Was it changed from Brewery to Drewery? Or was it named after London’s Drury Lane as suggested by historian Weston Bate in his book Essential but unplanned: the story of Melbourne’s lanes (1994)? Most likely it was the named after the chemist and city councillor Thomas Drewery, as these local politicians love to have their names recorded for posterity.

There are three side branches a lane, an alley and a place leading off Drewery Lane, most of them are also called Drewery, although one is name Snider Lane. The dead end Snider Lane is the one that most retains the aspect of service lane packed with rubbish bins. Taped to the wall above the rubbish bins of the restaurants and hotels is a printed note of complaint in English and Chinese telling the businesses to lock their bins to prevent junkies from going through them and leaving a mess.

Junkies going through restaurant rubbish bins? As I turn back into Lonsdale Street, a groups of three young men pass me and I can hear their conversation. “What are you on?” asks one. ‘Methadone,’ his companion replies.

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Art Vs Reality Fail

Art Vs Reality is a six part YouTube series of videos. “The aim of the series is really to save art from the curse of luxury imposed by a corporatised artworld,” says Peter Drew, the presenter in the series. The words “save” and “curse” is an indication of the kind of magico-religious thinking about art behind this series.

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

There is plenty of this kind of fuzzy thinking in the series. In Episode 3 Peter Drew appears to claim that artists who sell art lack integrity and are basically guilty of simony for selling the sacred. This obsession with money is a popular take on the institutional theory of art and money features prominently in Art Vs Reality right in the graphics at the start of each episode.

The fixation of money is perhaps due because Peter Drew is a street artist from Adelaide and street art is the most commercial of art movements since the Surrealism. From Futura, Kaws and Os Gêmeos marketing Hennessy cognac, to the entrepreneurial street artists selling street fashion, to quasi religious idealists, like Drew, there has always been a focus on money in graffiti and street art. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t begrudge any artist a single dollar that they make, or don’t make, but you might regard it differently if you have a fantasy about simony.

It is the word ‘reality’ in the title that is symbolic of the its simplistic fantasy of art; it continues to measure art on its Procrustean bed. A fantasy based on a rather simple understanding of a largely French focused version of European art history, ignoring art before the 19th century and most other cultures and countries. The ‘reality’ that Art Vs Reality is referring to is an imaginary popular idealised ‘reality’ that frequently has a tenuous relation to the facts.

Facts, like what happened in the creation of Duchamp’s Fountain that Drew blames for the starting conceptualism. Drew is unaware that the New York Independent Show that Fountain was excluded from had no jury (nor as Drew claims judges to “dismiss it out of hand”). How then was Fountain excluded from the exhibition and where the first edition of Fountain is far more complex than Drew’s ‘reality’.

Ironically it is the conceptual art of the Duchamp that Art Vs Reality, in Episode 2, blames for what it see as what is wrong with art. With a more complete reading of art history Drew might have been aware that the initial attacks on art institutions and the idea of great artists first launched by the Dadaists, followed by the conceptual artists in the 1960s, weren’t concerned about the influence of money but on the ideological support that the galleries gave to the state/war criminals.

Drew’s light-hearted approach lacks any subtly, depth or understanding of art or social history. He doesn’t take the audience to anything new or offer any new insights. Given the subject matter that he wants to deal with it is a shame that Drew does not appear to have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or, even the arch and sardonic Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (as Wolfe was at least informed about modern art history when he wrote it). For a much more detailed analysis of the contemporary art market I would recommend reading Judith Benhamou-Huet’s The Worth of Art – Pricing the Priceless (Assouline, 2001).

Unfortunately Art vs Reality is just another jeremiad, posing as a comedic commentary, a general complaint about how art has lost its way, declined and become decadent.


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