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Monthly Archives: January 2016

1000th Blog Post

This is my 1000th Black Mark blog post. That means approximately 4,000,000 words and 1,400 photographs. There has had 495,000+ views from 155 countries around the world (still no views from Greenland, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan and various central African countries, you get the idea).

Mark @ Sweet Streets

I started this blog in on February 16 in 2008. My first Black Mark blog post was about the painting of the wall of Faster Pussycat and actually includes a video of several notable Melbourne street artists, including Phibs and Deb painting a wall in Fitzroy.

When I started writing this blog it gave me a new reasons and motivation to look at art and Melbourne. I started to look around in a new way. James Gleeson suggested that the role of the art critic is that of an explorer, leading others to new and interesting discoveries. Every week I try to see several exhibitions, walk the streets of Melbourne, as well as spending time reading and researching. I would like to see more art exhibitions but I can’t be everywhere; there is so much to see and Melbourne’s vast geographic sprawl does not make it easy for me.

Between the art galleries I am looking for graffiti, street art, ghost signs, urban design and public art. Other things that have caught my interest from the design of micro-parks to drinking fountains.

It was not just ‘paintspotting’, craning my neck to look down every lane that I passed in I case I spotted some graffiti or a ghost signs. Writing the blog gave me a reason to think more and follow up with further investigations into what I had seen. That research has lead me in many directions, a good hobby should do that, expand your interests rather than narrow them.

Last year my first book was published, Sculptures of Melbourne (Melbourne Books, 2015). My interest in public sculpture grew from writing blog posts about various sculptures. I couldn’t have imagined that I would write a book about public art before starting my blog. Looking at my top ten posts you can tell that the public is interested in the subject.

Top 10 popular Black Mark blog posts (aside from the Home and About pages):

  1. Banksy in Melbourne
  2. Types of Art Galleries
  3. Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  4. Keith Haring in Melbourne
  5. Where is the political art?
  6. Leonidas @ Sparta Place
  7. Political graffiti
  8. More Street Art Sculpture
  9. More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  10. Russell Street Sculptures

 

Slightly further down the list there is a cluster of three posts that I am particularly proud to have written. In Political Motivation Behind Police Raid I  discovered important background to a major story about attempts to censor art and end public funding for Linden Contemporary Arts. More Art Censorship is unfortunately about a similar story; my initial response to Kevin Rudd’s attempt to censor Bill Henson. I feel I got that exactly right. And my post about the relationship between Street Art, the Internet & Digital Cameras where I’m pleased to have used a chemical metaphor to explain their relationship.

I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post with a psychogeographical walk this Sunday. This is not a tour, but a classic psychogeographical walk, there is no plan and no destination. According to Facebook 20 people say that they will be joining me on this walk, I feel honoured, nervous, imposter syndrome, looking forward to seeing you and curious about what will happen.

Thanks everyone for reading, subscribing and commenting.

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Blockbuster Nightmare

I have a nightmare of seeing a blockbuster exhibition riding through the exhibition in little carriages on something like a ghost train. You would buy your tickets and, after another queue, be strapped into a little carriage that would take you around the exhibition on a track with an audio track. The frightening thing is that it would probably work; after all it worked for Banksy with Dismaland in 2015. The queue would go around the block.

It was the projected video faces on the mannequins at the Gautier exhibition, like the animatronics at Disneyland. That along with memories of the coin operated art at the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain that gave me this idea. Dali himself must have been inspired by The Surrealists pavilion at the 1939 at the New York World Fair, “Dream of Venus” was very popular due the live mermaids (see a home movie of it). Banksy’s Dismaland is not a new idea.

The art train would solve many problems for the organisers of blockbuster exhibitions in managing numbers people and the time they spend at exhibition. Currently there are conflicting issues traffic jams in an exhibition. These can be caused by the audio guides but as there was a financial return on the audio guides, various galleries prohibit sketching and even note-taking to manage the traffic through the blockbuster exhibition (see my 2008 blog post for more on that subject).

Those readers who, like me, are horrified by the idea of riding through an exhibition in a rattling, little carriage maybe thinking about the gallery architecture as a meditative space, as an alternative to going to church or a temple. (For more on the aesthetics of space influences the brain see “How Museums Affect the Brain” by Laura C. Mallonee on Hyperallergic.) Or that modernist dream that museums, art galleries, public libraries, botanical and zoological gardens are like a university where the public is free to educate themselves. The reality is that the art gallery has always been a kind of infotainment mixed with a quasi-religious aura along with a vague idea of educational or even therapeutic purposes.

The art gallery has transitioned from a giant royal wunderkammer into the spectacle of early twenty-first century infotainment culture. I was about to indulge in a popular jeremiad that museums were becoming infotainment when I reminded myself of all the infotainment to be had in nineteenth century Melbourne.

Melbourne had Maximilian Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration – Anthropological Museum and Madame Sohier’s Waxworks. Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration presented moving dioramas, huge rolls of canvas painted with a narrative progression of images. Frederick Hackwood in his book Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England (Sturgis and Walton, 1909) records public house with collections of antiquities, taxidermy, fossils and pictures, so doubtless some of Melbourne’s many pubs also had collections worth visiting. Certainly the erotic nude Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre is still on display upstairs at Young and Jacksons opposite Flinders Street Station.

Should I continue to live in horror at this aspect of art or just get on board the ghost train carriage for an amazing ride?

Cloe

Chloe at Young and Jackson’s


January Exhibitions

As I set off to explore Melbourne’s art on Thursday I wonder how many art exhibitions would be open this early in the year. I knew that the major institutional art galleries would be open, but I had already seen Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the NGV and Manifesto at ACMI.

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Anthony Pryor, Landscape 3, 1982

I started at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane with Craft Victoria where there is Timber Memory, a survey exhibition of woodwork in Victoria from the 1970s to the present. It is a rather interesting group of exceptional woodworkers including a block of huon pine inlaid with ebony, granite and jarrah, Landscape 3 (1982) by the sculptor, Anthony Pryor. It is Pryor’s response to the minimalist cube.

At 45 Downstairs there were two exhibitions that were part of the Midsumma Festival, Meridian a group exhibition and Découpages d’hommes a solo exhibition of photographs of nude males by Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon). The compositions and backgrounds in Eureka’s photographs reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who had suddenly realised how similar many Renaissance and Baroque paintings are to pornography. I was stunned, assuming that everyone who has studied art has read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

The Midsumma Festival generally has a good visual arts section and I could have continued along Flinders Lane to the Melbourne City Library where there was another of the Midsumma Festival’s exhibition.

Arc One had a solo exhibition by Tracy Sarroff Barbecue Stalagmites, Balloon Drumstick, but Sarroff’s brand of weirdness and obsessive mark making left me in outerspace.

Further along Flinders Lane the Mailbox Art Space had yet another group exhibition: Cells. Using the individual glass fronted mailboxes as cells in a three-dimensional comic book. The exhibition text makes other references to cells but the artists involved are focused on comics.

Instead of continuing down Flinders Lane because of a lunch date I then turned north. I briefly stopped at No Vacancy gallery in the QV Centre where there was a trade exhibition of Okayama Sake  and Bizen Ware from Japan. Bizen Ware is a traditional type of Japanese pottery made in wood burning kilns.


Recent Walls

Everything in the city is competing to be the spectacle and all that Situationalist shit.

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Lush reading my mind in Hosier Lane

Lush is Melbourne’s piss take king, taking the piss out of street art and graffiti. Lush appears to have made Hosier Lane his own arena for his spray up comedy, ever since he staged his “secret show” there last year. Lush is full of extra confidence because he was the Melbourne street artist chosen by Banksy to exhibit at Dismaland. This is not surprising given that both Lush and Banksy produce easy to read work with a similar sense of humour.

In the visually dense jungle of the city there is an ecology of images. Different styles of street art compete for attention in the streets as they also compete for likes online. La Lune cuts paper and does paste-ups, filling a gap in the aesthetics of the street left by Miso and Suki.

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La Lune, Moreland

Looking at my recent photos I ask myself if there currently a return of the stencils or do I have a selection bias? But it is not just me, a reader sent me a photo of a whole wall of stencils something that I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. Even a new Jamit stencil appearing recently on the street; Jamit claims to the first artist on Melbourne’s streets to have used stencils.

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More recent stencil artists include Luv[Sic] and Mikonik, who are doing some great multi-coloured stencils. Mikonik’s images are all sprayed on jigsaw puzzles.

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Luv[sic]

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Mikonik

There are also plenty of stencils that work just because of their aphorism, the current pop culture references or just because they have the minimalist simplicity of Sunfigo’s stencils.

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Sunfigo


Ballet sculptures in Melbourne

In December I was walking passed the Arts Centre in Melbourne when I noticed some new sculptures being installed at the top end of lawn. Actually I first recognised the small spider-like crane of  J.K. Fansham Pty Ltd, that I last saw installing Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, before I saw the sculpture.

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David Maughan, Les Belle Hélène, 2015

Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan was being installed on the lawn of the Arts Centre Melbourne. The title is a reference to La Belle Hélène an operetta by Jacques Offenbach. The sculpture depicts two female ballet dancers both en pointe, one in an arabesque balancing on one leg while the other with her arms spread is fully extended on both feet. The sculpture is a gift to the Australian Ballet and the semi-classical bronze figures match the tradition of classical ballet.

Melbourne sculptor David Maughan has done many sexy sculptures of slim ballerinas. David’s wife, Helen Choules was a dancer. This explain both the obvious sexual interest in and the technical accuracy of the female figures in Maughan’s sculptures (the nipples on Maughan’s dancers are aways outstanding).

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Simon Brady, Dancer, College of the Arts ground

I now wonder if Maughan isn’t responsible for another ballet sculpture in Melbourne, the bronze figure of the dancer at the front of the VCA. I’m not sure; his webpage doesn’t give much information. (After the publication of this post I get the answer, no, it is by Simon Brady. See the comments.) There is a sculpture of male and female ballet dancers in the garden of the Stokes Collection at Mount Macedon in central Victoria but they look even less like Maughan’s work.

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Tom Merrifield, Dragonfly

None of these ballet sculptures are in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne where there are more about sculptures of footballers than ballet dancers. That’s Melbourne, it’s not my taste; my taste is much more for dancers rather than footballers. Not there is much difference as sculptures of dancers or athletes are both celebrations of athleticism.

I am trying to keep up with the new public sculptures in Melbourne. I feel that I should as the author of a history of public sculptures although my book, Sculptures of Melbourne was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history you can’t include every example. Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments; this does not including privately owned sculptures on public display like Les Belle Hélène, that is owned by the Australian Ballet and on public display on the lawn at the Arts Centre near the Inge King sculpture.


Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).

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In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.

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