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Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Coz you’re a bore

When I saw the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 2000 I should have been paying more attention to “The Art of the Motorcycle”. The exhibition in the main hall was an exhibition of motorcycles, not modified or customised, just a showroom display. I thought that I was seeing the triumph of corporate design culture over art. Rather this is not about a capitulation of institutional gallery’s reputation that exposes their lack of any educational, aesthetic and moral integrity. The exhibition summed up the attitude of the institution; anything to get the corporate sponsorship, anything to get people through the door.

Different art galleries will tend to exhibit different types of art depending on their objective (see my post on types of art galleries). Some of the crypto-objective of the NGV are now more obvious from its choice of exhibitions — it is all about marketing.

The NGV exists as a high end venue, to sell fashion, market cars (it is the ultimate car showroom in Melbourne), and, most importantly, to be a tourist attraction for the city. The infotainment in a spectacular location to be rented out for corporate and wedding receptions. As such it is little different from the MCG or Flemington Race Course.

The visual arts, like music, is a vast field of styles, techniques and purposes in which there is everything from advertising jingles to some of best things made by humans. There are works that are very popular and make large amounts of money. There are works that can help sell products or make someone look majestic or simply display wealth. High end art can be a manufactured product, the twenty-first century equivalent to handmade lace, very expensive and serving no purpose other than decoration and status. And without political and critical thought the artist remains a decorator for plutocrats.

Granted that there are decorators for plutocrats but that doesn’t mean that they should be exhibited at the NGV or that I should bother to write about them. Selling a lot of product for a lot of money should not be the entry qualification.

I don’t write about art because it is popular or expensive but because there is something worth writing about. So I won’t be writing about any of David Bromley’s, Ken Done’s or KAWS exhibitions. There are a lot of artists whose exhibitions I won’t bother to even attend because the content, aesthetics, style and meaning of their art is so obvious that it bores me. I understand that it doesn’t bore everyone and that some people might want it. However, just because there are is a lot of fans or a lot of money doesn’t make the art any more interesting.

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More than a kick

I couldn’t miss the Terrance Plowright sculpture, More than a kick, in Federation Square. Larger than life, high-kicking the bronze statue is sculptural version of Michael Willson’s photograph of Carlton AFLW player Tayla Harris.

Terrance Plowright, More than a kick

The sculptor, Plowright is from NSW and has made a large number of figurative public sculptures for places in that state but this is his first for Melbourne.

Federation Square will not be the permanent location for the statute — it will be there for a few weeks before being permanently installed (plonked, that’s a technical term for putting a sculpture somewhere that it wasn’t specifically made for) probably out the front of some football ground. Someone who knows more about football (most of Melbourne) will have more of an idea of which football ground.

There are several reasons why it is unlikely to be the MCG. Plowright is not one of the sculptors who are regularly commissioned to sculpt the larger than life statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, Louis Laumen and Julie Squires. His style is realistic, rougher than the highly polished figures around the MCG. Nor is the sculpture’s sponsor (NAB) the usual sponsor (Telstra) for the sports statues at the MCG.

A lot of people love statues of sports heroes but I don’t; it is too archaic a reason for a sculpture. Their active poses ultimately goes no-where, remaining static, on a pedestal, in memoriam.

As a temporary location for statues Federation Square sometimes works and sometime fails. It works because it is central location and a lot of people visit and it often doesn’t work because there is so much else going on there. In another part of the square, some edition of the Fearless Girl stands in front of the entrance to a bar.

One of the few points in favour of both of these statues is that they redresses Melbourne’s statue gender in-balance. (See my blog post Statues of women and women sculptors.)


Five September Exhibitions

On Thursday I went to see five exhibitions in the city and Southbank; all are free and in non-commercial exhibition spaces.

detail from Denise Honan Subterranean

The first exhibitions I saw were in the Degraves Street underpass as I left Flinders Street Station; Denise Honan’s exhibition “Subterranean” and Shanshan Li’s “See the light” at the Dirty Dozen vitrines. Both exhibitions might work for other artist-run-space but had no intention of engaging with the general public, a necessity for successful exhibitions in this very public space.

Lionel Bawden Groundwork

Next a visit to Craft where there is an exhibition about doors — knobs, handles, knockers, lights, matts… Curated by Julie Ewington the exhibition has much more than the mundane theme might imply.

Aunty Lorraine Connelly-Northey Stiletto Heels

In Federation Square at the Koorie Heritage Trust is “They Shield Us” a group exhibition by Indigenous women about how “wearing cultural adornments shape their identities”. The shoes by Aunty Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Waradjari) are the stand-out image from the exhibition but this is not to ignore the necklaces by Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba /Boon Wurrung). Clarke has been studying the necklaces in the Melbourne Museum’s collection and creating her own versions; Thung-ung Coorang (Kangaroo teeth necklace) in 3D-printed form. (For more on Clarke see The Design Files. )

Diena Georgetti Barbicon

The Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the VCA has “Conscious Intuition”; a fun but sparse exhibition that pairs two artists who emerged in the 1980s, Brisbane based sculptor Eugene Carchesio and Melbourne-based painter Diena Georgetti. There is a lot of humour in their art as they transition for the modern to the post-modern, from styles of abstract art to referencing abstraction, from minimalism to post-minimalism.

Bauhaus Now! installation view

Finally to Buxton Contemporary where ‘Bauhaus Now!’ is a playful look at the long tail of the great modern art and design school a century after it was established. It is very playful with Bauhaus inspired games, toys, musical instruments, weaving, costumes and parades. There is work by contemporary artists responding to the Bauhaus aesthetic and work by Paul Klee and two former Bauhaus students, Gertrude Herzger-Seligmann and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack who ended up in Australia. Curator Ann Stephen has created a rich visual experience that expanded my understanding of art history.


Relationships

Two visual exhibition that are part of Melbourne 2019 Writers Festival both with accompanying books.

“Museum of Broken Relationships” at No Vacancy is a fascinating exhibition of objects and stories that connect to broken relationships. It is a mix of local items and some from the museum’s permanent collections in Zagreb and Los Angeles.

These totems reveal more than broken hearts. They are about the relationship with an object that symbolises a formerly beloved person. Even after the break up, through the magic of association, a special relationship to the object still exists.

“Museum of Broken Relationships” is curated by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić and is tied in with this years festival theme — “When We Talk About Love”. I wasn’t at the opening of this exhibition but when I visited at lunchtime on a weekday No Vacancy had about thirty other people looking at it.

I was at the opening of “Duality” at the KSR Bar. Both the gallery and the bar were packed with people for the exhibition opening at 6pm which means that it was the first event in the 2019 Writer’s Festival beating the official opening by an hour. I did enjoy a glass of wine at the opening but it was difficult to see all the work with that many people and even more difficult to say anything about the variety of techniques, styles and artists.

The exhibition is a blind date between twenty-five writers and twenty-five visual artists. They are paired together “to explore the relationship between visual and literary narrative”. All of the artists were working on the same size piece of paper (I’m not sure if all the writers were) that provided a visual unity to the exhibition. I’m not sure what else can be said about the variety of artists and, I assume, writers. Maybe they enjoyed their blind dates but overall the random relationships between creatives didn’t appear to achieve any more than its constituent parts.

Sometimes the visual artist wrote more than the writer, but that is because they are not writers. As Mark Twain reportedly remarked: “It could have been shorter but it would have taken longer to write.”

“Duality” is curated by Shannyn Higgins who also took a series of black and white portrait photographs of all the writers and artists in their studios or desks for the accompanying book and the gallery’s title-page wall.


Maunder about street art and graffiti

I used to write blog posts about my wandering around the city. I still wander around but generally I try to keep my posts more focused than my meandering feet and mind. Now, even if I see a couple of exhibitions I will choose one to write about, or focus on one aspect of street art, or a single public sculpture. However, for this post I will make an exception and maunder about street art and graffiti.

Exploring my local area, Coburg, graffiti and street art continues to expand north along the Upfield train line corridor. I am amazed that there are so many bluestone back laneways in Coburg that I haven’t walked along in the decades that I have lived in the suburb. It is an area that is about to change because of the new elevated railway line.

There are pieces by the talented graffiti writers, Virus and Saem, in the area. But also Luna who works between street art paste-ups and old school graffiti. Calypso, the friendly tagger who often has a smily face at the end of the tag. Tags by God© makes an appearance. Along with stickers by local artist and extreme printer, Joel Gailer that show the cross-over between street and gallery art.

So I continue my travels around greater Melbourne; photographing street art in Footscray, Brunswick and in ‘Lovelands’, a series of alleyways off Queen St, near the corner of Franklin St. which often has some of the best street art in Melbourne. And, around the corner from Lovelands, in Blender Lane, where Blender Studios used to be — no other art studio in Melbourne has had such an impact on its geography.

Keeping my eye on Hosier Lane, where the most significant work are no longer spray painted, they are political. Support for Hong Kong with a ‘Lennon wall’ of post-it notes.

Looking at actual graffiti, the scribbled messages on the street rather than the calligraphic art of the kamikaze paint sprayers.

At guerrilla gardeners along the Upfield bike path who will use anything and everything to plant things in.

I have been writing about and photographing these kind of things for over a decade. So often now it feels like I have seen it all before but even in the antarctic winds of Melbourne’s winter there are some things that catch my eye; photograph and post on this blog.


This is not a toy

I haven’t seen an exhibition of art toys for almost a decade, not since 2010. This year there have been two; the second one, This is Not a Toy Scene, opened last night at B-Side Gallery in Fitzroy.

It was an impressive group show with almost a dozen artists showing their toys, or should they be described as limited edition objet d’art? Perhaps the word ‘toy’ is more of reference to diminutive size, as in ‘toy poodles’, rather than use for play. Miniature polychromatic sculptures many in their own bubble packaging that imitated the commercial versions faultlessly.

Although many of the toys reflect a nostalgia for childhood there was more art than that sentiment and collectability in the exhibition. Cepholopede had some most immediate pop cultural references (egg boy, the milk-crate) by that I have seen in any show in a long time. There were some works that questioned copyright issues (not mentioning any names there). And some hard-core surrealistic work by Wendy Olsen.

There is still some cross-over between Melbourne’s street art scene and exhibitions of toys. I remember seeing the work of Phibs, Deb, and Junior in Villain’s ‘Munny show’ of customisable toys figures (see my post).

I knew that ADi and Facter have been making toys for years but I didn’t know about Russkid’s dragsters 3D doodles. Facter’s Irikanii Corps figures have the same colours as his work on the street and ADi’s toys (featured in earlier exhibitions) riff on Star Wars abstracting the characters to a minimal. Facter says that he now prefers making toys to painting on the streets because he can finish more.

If art toys are not really a happening scene in Australia it is in Asia. GGNW (GoodGuysNeverWin) from Indonesia is now based in Melbourne and promoting the art toy scene here. He told me about the Indonesian art toy scene. There had been a public controversy that some of his toys had created because people got the idea that toys depicting child killers might be sold to children in toy shops rather than to adults at art galleries.

Earlier this year I saw that there was a limited edition toy depicting the American art critic Jerry Salz so I guess we can call this an international toy art movement.


Dan Wollmering’s Dwelling

Dan Wollmering is a Melbourne-based contemporary sculptor. He has works in sculptures parks in the China and the USA, a large metal sculpture Xanthe (also known as “The Future Vitality of Caulfield”) at the corner of Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, and closer to my home, a sculpture on the grounds of the Fawkner Leisure Centre. I took the train out to Gowrie just to see it.

Dan Wollmering Dwelling

Gowrie is a northern station on the Upfield line. It is past the Fawkner Cemetery where the train line goes through the park cemetery. I have only been to this part of Melbourne’s northern suburbs a couple of times before, so the area was all new to me.

Walking to the Fawkner Leisure Centre I asked directions from a sleep deprived young dad pushing his baby daughter around. She had been a “grisly little baby last night”. He was walking that way and happy to help in my search for the sculpture. We walked through the park at the front of the leisure centre where a lot of the outdoor exercise and the playground equipment looked like abstract sculptures, although nothing like Wollmering’s work.

I tried to describe Wollmering’s work to the dad; who said he thought that there was something curved and metal around the side.

Dwelling was commissioned by Moreland City Council with some funds from Monash University) sited in front of the child care entrance at the Leisure Centre in Fawkner Victoria. It is a circle of metal partially surrounded by a curved metal seat with a high back. Public art providing a place to sit is always welcomed by tired feet.

At one end of this bench is a local stone excavated from a council construction site with the word “Willam” (dwelling in the local Wurundjeri language group) carved on it. At the other is form like a half avocado with the seed still in; I had seen this form in Wollmering’s last exhibition (see my blog post.)

Around the back of the bench are more panels with text. It is amongst the most wordy sculptures in Melbourne. The text was written by Moria Bourke, the author of Loosing It (1998, Text Publishing), with lots of  local collaboration; the local Indigenous elder was consulted and much of the text was taken verbatim from the questionnaire about how people felt about dwelling in Fawkner, their incorrect grammar included.

The young dad put the breaks on the baby carriage. We could have sat down but it was a freezing winter day. We didn’t read all the text but we did clear the circle of metal of leaves, sweeping them away with our feet, so that we could look at the full work.

Mission accomplished; the dad and his baby continued on their way and I headed back to Gowrie station to catch the train home.


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