Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Fitzroy Galleries prestige and sales

For the first time since the end of Melbourne’s lockdown, I walked around galleries in Fitzroy. Some were familiar, institutions amongst Melbourne’s commercial art galleries, galleries that have been in operation for decades. Others were new to me. These galleries range from significant to seasonal. Some are improvised, and others polished.

James Lemon’s “Cannibals” installation view

“This Is No Fantasy” has another Juan Ford exhibition; I have reviewed many of his exhibitions in the past and I worry about repeating myself. “This Is No Fantasy” was Dianne Tanzer Gallery (before they merged with another gallery and took on one of the strangest names) while remaining one of Melbourne’s most influential galleries. Their artists, like Ford, win art prizes and whose works are in state collections.

A few doors further along on Gertrude Street, Oigall Projects, a new minimalist gallery has opened on Gertrude Street with an exhibition of ceramics, James Lemon’s “Cannibals”. Lemon is a New Zealand born ceramicist based-in Brunswick. His work  combines brutalist ceramics piles of bricks with brightly coloured and metallic glazes. 

Continuing along Gertrude Street is the Australian Print Workshop (APW). This not-for-profit arts organisation has been there for decades. Although not as influential as This Is No Fantasy, APW produces high-quality prints by established and emerging artists.

Sutton Gallery has been on Brunswick Street for decades representing established artists in the collections of state and regional galleries. At Sutton Gallery, Amanda Marburg reproduces After the Hunt, Uccello’s last painting, and eight scenes from within the picture. Marburg recreated the hunting scene from the early Renaissance painting in plasticine and then painted from those models. She is not the only artist to have painted scenes using small clay models, which painters used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Although they didn’t make it obvious as Marburg does. What does Marburg’s technique add to our view of deer hunting scenes in the Renaissance, or is it just another filter effect?

In Sutton Gallery’s small gallery, Arlo Mountford’s video installation Obscured By Clouds expects too much. “A range of interpretations is encouraged from the viewer.” It just looked like a well-produced collection of clips with some surround sound somewhat awkwardly installed but wasn’t encouraging any interpretations.

At the other extreme, there is Brunswick Street Gallery and some shopfront galleries with no influence and prestige. Brunswick Street Gallery had its usual eight exhibitions in different media in its various spaces: linocuts, oil painting, sculptures, ceramics, mixed-media and photography. And Rose Chong’s Costumiers has turned its display windows into “Chongworld Christmas Gallery” with artworks for sale. None of them made me want to write about, but these artists are not showing to be written about but purchased. I was surprised to see some artists studios, Pól the Painter and graffiti writer Mickey xxi, as for decades, rental prices in Fitzroy have been too high for such ventures.


Flinders Lane Nov 2021

A local cross-disciplinary artist, Amy Hurley, has an installation, A Sorry Semblance, in the Cathedral Cabinet. Cathedral Cabinet is a glass display case at the entrance of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor of the Nicholas Building (another reason to Save the Nicholas Building). It is across the road from where the Bourke and Wills Monument was previously located in Melbourne’s City Square; now, the site of a massive box covering the excavation for Melbourne’s new underground rail loop.

detail of Amy Hurley, A Sorry Semblance

In her installation, Hurley has deconstructed the sculptural head of Bourke as imagined by the nineteenth-century sculptor Charles Summers, who made the memorial. Looking at the parts separately, I failed to recognise the face, hence the title, A Sorry Semblance.

The parts of Hurley’s installation were all relevant, from the quotes from a translation of Camus’ novel The Plague to the location across the road from the monument. However, the connections between Camus, Summers’ bronze statue of Bourke and the white ceramic tiles were not strong enough and the installation looked unfinished.

I was looking around Melbourne galleries around Flinders Lane on Wednesday when I saw A Sorry Semblance. There wasn’t much on; exhibitions installations were being done at Craft Victoria and Platform while Mailbox Art Space stood empty. It was my first time looking around galleries since Melbourne’s long lockdown. Needing to check-in and prove my double vaccinated status at every gallery was slowing me down.

Upstairs at Flinders Lane Gallery, I had to look closely at Kendal Murray’s pieces because they looked similar to those by Tinky, fortunately without the awful puns. Of course, in the last decade, I’ve seen artists from Daniel Dorall, Tinky, the Little Librarian, to Kendal Murray have used HO scale model railway figures (see my post about artists who are the same).

At fortyfivedownstairs, there was an exhibition and launch of a limited edition book, Tales from the Greek – Myth, Beauty and Brutality by writer John Hughes with art by Melbourne-based Marco Luccio. Inspired by classical Greek mythology, this is a titan of an exhibition of paintings, prints and sculptures created over five years. There is a gallery full of images of Trojan Horses, minotaurs, Sisyphus and sirens. And the strongest were Luccio’s rough warriors and other figures made of welded found metal (better than my poor photo). See my review of one of Luccio’s previous exhibitions.

Summarising my excursion amongst the galleries of Flinders Lane reminded me of several things: the long tail of classical Greek mythology, the similarity of contemporary artists, and the work going on in Melbourne’s smaller alternate exhibition spaces, like Cathedral Cabinets.

Marco Luccio, Tales from the Greek, installation view

Imperialist Loot and Stolen Land

Since 2014 National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has returned millions of dollars in stolen antiquities to India. This year they announced that  $13 million of stolen antiquities would be returned. They are still cleaning up after Subhash Kapoor’s massive criminal enterprise exposed the box-ticking exercise that was the NGA’s provenance checking.

The Sri Puranthan Nataraja

The Nataraja from the village of Sri Puranthan in Tamil Nadu brought to light the quantity of stolen Indian antiquities in Australian public galleries. Kapoor had organised its theft, smuggling, restoration, and sale. However, in his career as director of the Gallery of South Australia and then the NGA, Ron Radford purchased not just one but two stolen Natarajas, antique bronze idols of Shiva as Lord of the Dance. As the old saying goes: fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

After the extraordinary amount of stolen goods found in the NGA’s collection, it claims to have reformed its approach to provenance. Its website now contains the following statement: “Provenance decision-making at the National Gallery is determined by an evidence-based approach evaluated on the balance of probabilities, anchored in robust legal and ethical decision-making principles and considerations.” However, this new position on provenance decision-making does not include the land that the NGA is on. Even as the NGA acknowledges, in the footer of the webpage that explains their new ethical provenance standards, “the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country”. 

Based on robust legal and ethical decision-making principles, they would conclude that the land does not belong to Australia. The provenance for the land’s ownership is not “based on documents” as the Australian government has no treaty with Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, nor any other Indigenous people. And documents of ownership from the British Empire have as much veracity as the provenance documents issued by Kapoor’s gallery Art of the Past.

Empires pillage, destroy and steal items from other cultures, pillaging and destroying sacred places.  Consider the stolen Hindu gods and other parts of temples along with the local Indigenous sacred sites that Australian governments allow to be destroyed for mines, dams and roads. They part of the same process and reflect the same set of values.

Australian imperialism is a mutant strain of British imperialism that has become endemic in some Pacific and Indian Oceans islands. For there is an Australian Empire, however, few the islands (Australia, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Norfolk Island, and some uninhabited islands) that it currently consists of. This is not forgetting that until 1975 it included Papua New Guinea and Nauru from 1920-1968.

As an empire’s national gallery, the NGA needs to be an encyclopaedic museum, like the British Museum. Encyclopaedic museums have permanent collections of art from many parts of the world and periods of history. And like the British Museum with the Benin Bronzes and Parthenon marbles, the NGA acquired many items with dubious provenance for its collection. However, unlike the British Museum, the NGA has been forced to return some stolen items in its collection.

Why does provenance decision making at the NGA only apply to the objects in its collection and not the land it is on? How can you have an “Australian National Gallery” in Ngunnawal and Ngambri country? And how can the NGA, and the other Australian state galleries, resolve this contradiction between their provenance policies and the stolen land they occupy?


Skateboards and art

(All photos Mark Holsworth 1. Melbourne Stencil Festival exhibition installation, 2. Sunfigo decorated deck, 3. *scape park, Singapore, 4. Trev on skateboard 1977, 5. Claudia Moondoonuthi, 36 flip on country, 6. Hyunjun Koo decks, Seoul, 7. unpainted decks in art supply shop 8. Jud Wimhurst Van Gogh and Francis Bacon, 9. Viki Murray and Mandy Lane street art, Melbourne 10. Viki Murray street art, 11. Viki Murray and others, 12. skateboards and rollerblades prohibited sign, Melb. 13. Joel Gailer printing skateboard wheels, 14. 15. 16. Performprint skateboarders)

The symbiotic relationship between graffiti and skateboards making each one is stronger from the relationship. The painted concrete of skateparks, the boards, the streets… (I don’t have the photos for this one.)

Two examples of this interaction is Viki Murray stencils of skateboard riders (see my post about her), and Joel Gailer’s Performprint printing using skateboard wheels to print (see my post about Performprint). 


Banj Banj/nawnta

Banj Banj/nawnta (meaning “sisters” in Taungurung/palawa kani) is a joyful collection of paintings with bright colours vibrating and lots of birds. Art that is the antidote for a post lockdown brain, the first exhibition that I saw after Victoria’s fifth lockdown. Eyes dulled with repetition pop. The backstory to these paintings is not so joyful.

Thelma Beeton, A Sign from Our Ancestors

Stacey (Taungurung /Boon Wurrung) and Thelma (Palawa) are close enough to be sisters. The two Indigenous women are from the same regional town and met up again when they were incarcerated at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, Victoria’s maximum-security women’s prison in Deer Park.

Their artistic origin story of these two jailbirds watching and laughing as two galahs flew down to look at them is told in an animated video narrated by the artists. Thelma Beeton records the story in one of her paintings, A Sign from Our Ancestors. She depicts the artists as a couple of emus with big brush stroke feathers behind a bluestone wall.

Beeton’s emus and bees have a cartoon simplicity with their bold outlines and colours. In contrast to Stacey’s meticulous art, a fusion of ancient and contemporary images with the traditional diamond pattern forming a background for her realistic depictions of birds, animals, and insects. There are subtle colour gradations and combinations in these backgrounds that are intensely beautiful.

The two artists works have a different mood and tone that works together in harmony. I wish that there were more collaborative works between these two artists. However, I understand that might be logistically difficult given that Stacey is still in prison.

Stacey and Thelma’s corkboards (installation view)

The two prison corkboards are displayed on a background of bee wallpaper, evoking the decoration that Thelma painted on her cell’s walls. The corkboards are similar to the ones that can be found in every cell at Deer Park. They are self-portraits of each artist, represented who they are personally, socially and culturally in a mixed media of cards, letters and drawings.

The exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is organised by The Torch. The Torch works with incarcerated Indigenous people in Victoria, the most incarcerated people on the planet, providing artistic training, materials, exhibitions and opportunities for sales. I would have seen their art before at the Torch’s annual Confined exhibitions. However, there are hundreds of paintings all competing for attention, so I’m not surprised that I don’t remember them. After this exhibition, I won’t forget them.

Stacey My Children Coming Home

Space is the place

Black space, white space

The space between

The distance between the art

The silence between the notes

The space between words; a space that was lacking for centuries. Inancientlatintherewerenospacesbetweenwordsmakingcomprehensionoftextdifficult. No wonder Julius Cesar was regarded as intelligent when he was able to comprehend writing on first reading. Spaces allowed for easier comprehension, just as the kerning between printed letters makes them more readable.

Ten Cubed Gallery

Is space empty, undefined and unwritten, the tabula rasa, or designed, created? Is space simply a frame that excludes an absence or a defined absence to define another presence? There are both aesthetic and practical considerations to space. Space as a traffic management issue, as a place to be temporarily occupied. Space as a traffic management issue, as a place to be temporarily occupied.

“Where’s the edge?/Where does the frame start?” Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategy

I’ve heard that Brian Eno has a preferred time between music tracks on a record to be included on CDs, but I can’t find a reference. The standard used to be between 3-6 seconds, depending on the record company. It is a space that has been messed around with by DJs and current music technology. The time between events creates daily, weekly, annually rhythms like the time between meals allows for digestion. The space between television episodes can be edited to skip credits and intro. The phrase ‘binge watching’ indicates an unhealthy approach to consuming media.

Exhibitions of paintings started with them displayed tightly packed from floor to ceiling.However, over the last century, the space between works of visual arts has generally increased. Contemporary art is often a single work per gallery space, requiring a corridor or at least a wall to have enough space between it and the subsequent art. This means that there are often enormous art galleries with almost no artworks, a gift to architects who want to design massive buildings containing huge spaces. Part of this requirement for space is because contemporary arts are using the art gallery as a conceptual frame for art while breaking conceptual boundaries like actors breaking the fourth wall. Artists are finding frames outside of the apparent structures and using the space between them. It would be impossible to ‘read’ a room packed with multiple works of contemporary art as one would bleed into the next.  Another reason is the curators values the space almost as highly as the art.

Gallery space is a recurrent subject for my blog posts; lots of words about nothing. In the past I have written about playing with this empty relationship in the great gallery joke, how space is defined and how it defines the art in the art space race, the empty space in art galleries, and the white room.


Maree Clarke’s Ancestral Memories

My main reason to go to the NGV was to see Maree Clarke solo retrospective, “Ancestral Memories”, but I saw another exhibition before – “We Change the World”. After all the world needs to change. However, this is a tracksuit of an exhibition theme, comfortable, shapeless, and accommodating almost anything. The work is from the NGV collection, a random selection including Julian Opie, David Hockney, Guerrilla Girls, and Maree Clarke… (Why Clarke when there is her solo exhibition in the next gallery?)

Maree Clarke, Maree Clarke 2012, inkjet print (image courtesy of NGV)

“Ancestral Memories” is the subtitle of the Maree Clarke exhibition; it was also the title of her exhibition at the University of Melbourne Old Quad in 2019. For ancestral memories are the material that Clarke works with. (Please read my blog post reviewing that exhibition, Clarke’s role as a culture worker, and why she is an important local artist.)

This Yorta Yorta / Wamba Wamba / Mutti Mutti / Boonwurrung woman has been reclaiming and revived many south-east Australian Aboriginal art and cultural practices, including possum skin cloaks to kangaroo tooth necklaces. At the NGV her work is display alongside historical material from Museum Victoria, clearly illustrating how she is reviving her culture. Before Clarke, there were less than a dozen possum skin cloaks in existence, all from the nineteenth century. After Clarke, the number of possum skin cloaks is increasing because she, along with other collaborators, brought the practice back to life.

It is a sombre exhibition with black painted walls. Much of the exhibition is about mourning, another form of ancestral memory. One of the slightly lighter notes is the series of photographic holograms of still life, including native flowers and kitsch Aboriginal Australiana. As Clarke looks from the ancestral memories to a future, including new technology and materials along the way.

This exhibition follows on from the NGV’s retrospective for Bindi Cole; more retrospectives for Indigenous woman artists are a welcome trend.


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