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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Street Art’s Institutional Phase

On some walls layers of graffiti and street art have been building up for decades. They are like layers of archeology they could be divided up into phases of work on the street. They are not perfect layers of paint, paper and glue. There are plenty of overlap, early isolated examples and the long tails of previous phases mix with subsequent phases. This leaves plenty of room for argument over when one phase started and finished, so all the dates in the next paragraph are vague.

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Hosier Lane, Meeting of Styles 2016

A short history of Melbourne’s graffiti/street art would consist of the following phases, each with their own distinct group of artists and media. Starting with the white paint and brushes of the old message, the text based graffiti and sgraffito where the art was in the literary aphorism. Followed by, and concurrent with, the muralists of the 1960s and 70s, a left wing political tradition of public art making. Then came the old school, hip hop aerosol graffiti of the 1980s from bubble letter to wild style. Then street art with peaks of stencils, and subsequent peaks in other media: paste-ups, installations and yarn bombing.

In case you hadn’t noticed, and confirmed by Dr Lachlan MacDonald, street art is now the institutional phase, the “mainstreaming of street art”. In the institutional phase there are established career path for artists, established curators, collectors, major exhibitions and civic interest in street art murals. The very fact that Dr MacDonald, Head of Centre for Cultural Partnerships, Faculty of the VCA and MCM, was talking about this at a Street Art Round Table on the 22/4/16 at Melbourne University is evidence of the institutional phase.

Not that this institutional phase is necessarily bad for the ecology of street art. The archeology of this phase will reveal a layers of better quality paint with more durable pigments as spray paint is now being manufactured to suit the needs of aerosol art. In this phase the wild street art and graffiti is not being buffed to extinction but at times, facilitated or conserved. And unlike any of the other phases, the institutional phase understands the place of street art and graffiti in the urban ecology.

The Street Art Round Table was a one day forum present by Asialink attended by students, academics, street artists, curators, collectors, creative directors, arts managers and civic administrators. It was a series of short talks about a variety of aspects about street art, including a talk about street art’s hipster brother the resurgence of sign writing. I was particularly interested in hearing about street art in Singapore presented by Jasmine Choe from Singapore Youth Arts (see my earlier posts about street art the city state of Singapore). Further proof, if it was needed, of the institutional phase of street art.

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Unknown, paste-up cans, Hosier Lane, 2016

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Paul Yore @ Neon Parc

Yore’s exhibition of tapestries and assemblages at Neon Parc’s Brunswick gallery is full of excess, ejaculating penises and a riot of rainbow colours. It is a sensory overload of colours, images, words and sounds; a reflection of a consumer society that has achieved peak stuff. The commercial, sexual and national mix with the religious forms, the altar piece and the temple with tapestries and mixed media art.

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Paul Yore, Love is Everything, 1916 (rear view)

It is impossible to write an accurate or fair review of a Paul Yore exhibition without using an unrestricted vocabulary because it is fucking, intense, gay, psychedelic shit. His art is a mix of the infantile and juvenile with the pornographically adult, full of juvenile humour and childish joy. So if you are offended by any words then you are a small minded person who is part of the fucking problem.

The main work, Love is Everything, 2016, is a small building, 359 wide x 415 high x 680 cm long, made of multi-coloured children’s toys, television sets and other excesses of the “final days” of consumer society. As a church, temple or sacred bower it has exterior and interior spaces.

Out the front of the building there is a fountain with a pissing Justin Bieber. Bieber is one of Yore’s obsessions and Bieber also appears as St. Sebastian in Yore’s anti-Christian altar piece, Slave 4 U.

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Paul Yore, Slave 4 U, 2016

The sound of running water from the piss fountain joins the chaotic mix with of mechanical and recorded sounds that are part of the installation; a tinny electronic version of the national anthem or a jingo keeps repeating. Motors turn wheels, adding more sounds from toy instruments.

There is so much to look at, so many images, messages, televisions screens and flashing strobe lights. Contrasting, contradicting, transforming even as you comprehend them. A spinning messages of “NO” upside down is “ON”.

Part of his installation 2013, Everything is Fucked, is incorporated into Love is Everything. Yore’s work is an accretion of more and more parts, built up, becoming larger and more intense; in the same way that his tapestries are from small pieces of fabric.

In 2013 members of Victoria Police used a Stanley knife to cut out parts of Yore’s installation, Everything is Fucked, at Linden Centre for Contemporary Art. In 2014 the prosecution was ordered to pay all his legal costs. There is a pile of redundant “Free Paul” t-shirts on the table in Neon Parc’s office and a special fuck you pig for Victoria Police included in Love is Everything.

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Paul Yore, Love is Everything, 2016 (front view)

Yore clearly intends to be a great Australian artist; whether he succeeds or not depends more on future art histories than Yore’s art. To be a great Australian artist you have to both make art that is about Australia and make significant progressive art. As progressive art, Yore’s up-cycling assemblages advance on Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbaus and (to advance an ugly, sexist argument) transforms an under-rated ‘feminine’ craft, like an Australian version of Grayson Perry.

Yore continues an artistic critique of Australia that follows on from Juan Davila and Albert Tucker, pointing out the genocide, mass murder and other cruelties. Yore does not preach from a pulpit; he depicts both Australia and Christianity as awful, immature, cruel as his own fantasies. And, it is not all a commentary on obscenity and cruelty, there is a lot of joy and beauty in Yore’s work. In his Computer World tapestry, two images of Tigga bounce on a patchwork of kittens, cartoon characters and kitsch patterns mixed with op-art.

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Paul Yore, Computer World, 2016


Dada 1916

A hundred years ago April 18, 1916 was the first time that Hugo Ball used the word ‘Dada’ in his diary.

“Tzara keeps on worrying about the periodical. My proposal to call it ‘Dada’ is accepted. We could take turns at editing, and a general editorial staff could assign one member the job of election and layout for each issue. Dada is ‘yes, yes’ in Rumanian, ‘rocking horse’ and ‘hobbyhorse’ in French. For Germans it is a sign of foolish naïveté, joy in procreation, and preoccupation with the baby carriage.” (Flight Out of Time, University of California Press, 1996, p.63)

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There is a stupid debate as to exactly who, when, how and where this now quasi-religious word was first uttered. Ball’s diary entry makes no mention of any occult random selection of a word from a dictionary. There is a clear reference to the influenced by the arrival of the four young Romanians, the pretentious teenage poet, Tristan Tzara, the artist Marcel Janco, his brother, and another Romanian, all saying “da da” who arrived earlier that years at the Cabaret Voltaire.

The war had started two years earlier so why did it take until 1916 for the word Dada to be used?

In May 1915 Hugo Ball had left Germany for neutral Switzerland, he had been an idealistic German patriot before he saw the horror war for himself. (For more about Hugo Ball see my earlier post Dada Against WWI.) In Zurich the pacifist journalist and shorthand prodigy, Ferdinand Hardekopf introduced Ball to Hans Richter. The future avant-garde film maker, Richter had already been discharged from the German Army after being seriously wounded at Vilnius in 1914. Germany occupied Vilnius and the rest of Lithuania from 1915 until 1918 but for Richter the war was over.

The following year, on 2 February 1916, in Zurich Ball and his future wife, Emmy Hennings established the Cabaret Voltaire. The Cabaret Voltaire that would morph into Dada as more young men avoiding the war joined in.

It was a critical mass, a youth culture idea that would spread around the world. Dada spread from city to city, like a youth culture, inspired by the stories of the others activities and outrages. From Zurich to New York to Berlin to Cologne to Paris and on. It spread like a viral idea, a meme. In 1923 Tokyo Dada was ‘Mavo’.

Dada finally reached Melbourne in 1958-59; Australia was so conservative that the long delay meant this was at the same time that there was a neo-Dada revival in New York and Tokyo. In Melbourne the tiny band of Dadaists held in exhibition in 1958 which featured art by Clifton Pugh (under a psdonym), Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries. They called it “Wobboism”, allegedly after a Mr. Wobbo a local rubbish collector.

But back to 1916 why were there three Romanians saying ‘da da’ in Zurich?

Romania had been neutral at the start of the war arguing that its treaty obligations to Austria-Hungry were only if it were attacked and as it had started the war there was no obligation. Eventually in August 1916 in a desperate dream to get support for its territorial claims over Transylvania Romania joined the war on the Allied side. Romania’s army was crushed by Central Powers. In a war full of stupid decisions superlatives are insufficient to describe Romania’s involvement. The young Romanian draft dodgers at the Cabaret Voltaire had carefully avoided becoming patriotic dead heroes.


Public Sculptures @ Arts Centre Melbourne

In the shadow of the landmark architecture of the Art Centre’s spire Inge King’s Forward Surge stands between curves of Hamer Hall and the Art Centre. Children try to climb this sculpture by Melbourne’s matriarch of modernism, trying for a moment to surf these four massive black metal waves. Forward Surge is one of the many significant number of public sculptures, many by notable local sculptors, like King, in the grounds of Hamer Hall, the Art Centre and also at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74 (4)

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Now there is an exhibition about these public sculptures; “Sculpture Show: Public Art in the Arts Precinct” is displayed in the curved ‘Gallery’ that runs along the outer wall of the Arts Centre. The exhibition features four maquettes, the scale or working models for a sculpture, a few preliminary drawings and photographs of the sculptures by Mark Ashkanasy and Carla Gottgen. This was rounded out with a new series of drawings of some of the sculptures by Melbourne artist, Jill Anderson present new views of these familiar sculptures.

Amongst the preliminary drawings there are three drawings for a proposed but never completed hanging sculpture by the trio of Melbourne sculptors; Anthony Pryor, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava. Although the three sculptors shared a studio in Fitzroy but collaborative works are rare. The drawing depicts a crazy mobile with pulleys, springs, weights and mini mobiles hanging off larger beams. Parts resemble Bartlett’s “Messenger” 1983 that once stood in the NGV’s moat.

Many of the sculptures around the Arts Centre have moved over the years as their surrounds have been redeveloped. Several of the photographs in the exhibition, especially those of interior sculptural elements in the buildings, reminded me how much has changed. Cole Sopov’s Family of Man has changed from interior to exterior sculptures. Even the five tons of Meadmore’s Dervish has been moved.

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maquettes for Clement Meadmore Dervish, painted wood

After looking at the exhibition I went out into a little sculpture park at the back of the Arts Centre where Les Kossatz’s sheep are still Coming and Going 1979-82, in their comedy routine of doors. The sheep are kept company by an odd trio of sculptures; Tom Merrifield’s tribute to Anna Pavlova, Dragonfly 1988, Anthony Pryor’s Marathon Man 1991 and Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life.

Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life once stood on the river front side of Hamer Hall but this area has been taken over for more eateries. (It is not the only public sculpture along the Yarra River that has been moved to accomodate more dining areas; Deborah Halpern’s Ophelia was also moved for the same reason.)

To complete the experience I should have continued on to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl where there is the sculpture of Sidney Myer by Michael Meszaros, Carl Milles’ Hand of God and Pino Conte’s Miraggio.

I have previously written blog posts about David Maughan’s Les Belle Helénès, as well as the sculptures of Pino Conte and Cole Sopov. I have also written blog posts about the sculptures of Geoffrey BartlettInge King, Anthony Pryor and Andrew Rogers.


Henry Moore & Australian Sculpture

Australian interwar sculptors mark the transition from traditional to modernist. Interwar modernism in Australia was not building on any modernist foundations, it was the start, and it started in England with Henry Moore.

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Henry Moore was the acceptable face of modernism in England. He was English and his easy version of biomorphic surrealism was friendly. Although it was modern sculpture, all smooth with holes in it, everyone could engage with because everyone has a mother.

It was a particularly British sense of modern and Moore did things including making his sculpture from local stone, to maintain the idea that the sculptures were British. The British liked to distance themselves from the mainland of the continent hoping to avoid the French revolution and the other revolutions, like modernism, that might arise after it.

Assisting Henry Moore was almost a rite of passage for Australian sculptors. George Allen, Lenton Parr, Ron Robertson-Swann, and Ola Cohn all worked with Henry Moore at one time. Art in Australia was still part of Britain even if it was on the other side of the earth. Australia was too close to Britain to look to at European art and consequently early modern sculpture in Australia was in part a response to Henry Moore.

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Ola Cohn sculpture at Melbourne City Library

In Ola Cohn’s autobiography, A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R. W. Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne) there are no insights provided about the transition to modernism in Australia. Cohn doesn’t seem like a typical modern artist as she doesn’t express any desire for change, she just goes along with the changes. The lack of insight that Ola Cohn exhibits in her autobiography means that her rambling account of her life has many details with little meaning.

However, there is one insight that is quoted in Cohn’s autobiography. Blamire Young in “Art – Past and Future: Streeton and Ola Cohn” (The Herald 1931 p.86) writes: “Our approach to modern art is surrounded with difficulties, and its effect on Australian students who visit Europe is interesting to watch. They return to Australia with an amazing understanding of its outward and most recognisable  characteristics, but it is seldom they make us feel that they have been through the spiritual suffering that its originators had to undergo.”

For Cohn and many other Australian sculptors modern art meant simply smoothing out the figure into a streamlined form and nothing else. There was no deeper meaning to early Australian modernists as there was no modern revolution or revolt in Australia. Early Australian modernism was simply a copy of British modernism, more a shift in style rather than a revolutionary attitude.

In the progression of modernism another one of Henry Moore’s assistants, Anthony Caro would continue to be a major influence on Australian sculptors, particularly in the work of his students Ron Robertson-Swann and Fiona Foley. The history of Australian sculpture continues to be entwined with British sculpture and the legacy of Moore’s influence in Australian sculpture continues to this day.


Taggers Target Supreme Court

It is hard being the press benches in Court 3 of the Supreme Court on William Street in Melbourne. You are made of wood and you are used by journalists and semi-respectable writers, like myself. Even worse as some of these journalists, like naughty school children, will carve their name into the wood.

The benches date back to the construction of the court in 1884. The older marks are dark with layers of furniture polish/varnish whereas the recent marks are pale. This is old school tagging in block capital letters (I will spare your eyes and have altered all the text to include lower case):

“Wayne Flower 14.15”

“Flower 15”

Wayne Flower is a Herald Sun journalist who, along with his colleague Anthony Dowsley, won the 2012 Quill Award for Best Coverage of an Issue or Event for their series of articles about Jill Meagher. Wayne Flower has also written about the street artist Lush, who Flowers described as a “masked vandal” who “has been terrorising the western suburbs for years”.

I did contact Flower for comment but he has not replied to my email. I would like to know if he thinks that there is a difference in the kind of graffiti/scraffiti that you do in the Supreme Court and the kind that Lush does on the street?

Other journalists have also added their names and place of work. A couple of Flower’s colleagues at the Herald Sun, “Ando” and “E. Portelli” have also added their names. After tracking down street artists based on their tags this is playing on easy level. These are at least a bit more obscure than writing your first and last names. E. Portelli is a bit more obscure but @emilyportelli is the Twitter handle of Emily Purcell former Herald Sun court reporter and currently a news writer for Mamamia.

“Steve O5 The Age” is possibly Steve Butcher, Senior Court Reporter for The Age. Other tags on the press bench include “Colin Dale Herald ’85”, “G.T.” and “K.Osborn”.

I have singled out the Herald Sun because it has often condemned the actions of graffiti writers and street artists for years, so this post has the wonderful flavour of irony sauce on revenge fried hypocrite. Most graffiti and street artists do not tag private homes, religious centres and historic buildings, like the Supreme Court.

I am not able to report on what was occurring in Court 3 of the Supreme Court as that would be a contempt of court as it could, or any of the comments could, prejudice a jury. Nor am I able to present any photographic evidence of the scraffiti on the press bench because cameras are not permitted in the court.


Street Art Sculpture 7

I was aware of the dangers as I wrote about un-commissioned three dimensional works of street art in the final chapter of my history of public sculptures, Sculptures of Melbourne. Placing a current trend at the end of a history is almost predicting the future and that is always open to error.  The danger is that a trend can simply fizzle out and the artists involved have no real influence on the future such that future readers will be left wondering why.

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GT Sewell, Tinky, Kranky in Presgrave Place

Of the street artists that I illustrated in my book about half are still active. Junky Projects is currently exhibiting more of his bottle-cap-eyed figures made of found rubbish at Melbourne gallery, Dark Horse Experiment. GT Sewell has been more active both exhibiting and adding more of his series of works based on the form of a spray can on the streets. Work by Will Coles can still be found around Melbourne but Nick Ilton, Mal Function and CDH are no longer active on the streets.

However, in the last year new artists have made their mark on Melbourne streets. Kranky assembling art from plastic rats, Barbie dolls and other toys. Tinky Sonntag works with miniature figures, toy soldiers and model on a very small scale. Tinky makes uses the infrastructure of the street, drains become rabbit holes, missing bricks become crypts, reusing favourite locations in Presgrave Place for different installations. These assemblages are easily disassembled on the street but missing parts can be replaced or a new work added. Kranky makes up for their work’s lack of durability by being prolific.

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Addition to Delkuk Spirits by Kelly Koumakatsos

Un-commissioned street art sculpture includes the non-destructive augmentation of existing permanent sculptures. Recently on Gertrude Street someone put a knitted dress on one of the Delkuk Spirits by Kelly Koumakatsos.

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It is still too soon to tell almost a year since the book was published and well over a year since I finished writing it. However, I remain confident that street art sculptures will continue as there are still street artists producing three-dimensional work in Melbourne’s streets and lanes. There are still plenty of unknown anonymous artists assembling or casting sculptures for the street. Another reason that I am confident in my predictions for street art sculpture is because it is not isolated to Melbourne; last year I wrote a blog post about street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area.

For more street art sculptures (and I hope that this won’t be the last in this series of articles) read my earlier posts:

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

Street Art Sculpture 5 2015

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009


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