Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Jinks @ the Hellenic Museum

The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?

Sam Jinks, Iris

Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.

However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.

Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?

The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.

Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.

Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.

One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.


Brunswick – March 2021

My rough plan was to start at Jewell Station, walk north to Sparta Place, visit some art galleries, and search for street art or graffiti in Brunswick. I wasn’t sure what I would find; there is only so much research that you can do online before exploring the facts on the ground.

Tāne Te Manu McRoberts, Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins, installation view

Avoiding the busy Sydney Road and navigating all the parallel streets and lanes. The location of all the galleries that I wanted to visit.This is where I thought I had the best chance of seeing some eye-popping graffiti. Much of the area used to light industrial but is now being replaced with multi-storey apartments, so my route included detours around various construction projects. There were knots of rope and green x marking trees spray-painted on the pavement around Jewell Station. Part of community consultation about the redesign of that end of Wilson Avenue.

The first gallery was Blak Dot. Blak Dot has an exhibition by Indigenous people from around the world. Tāne Te Manu McRoberts mixes traditional and contemporary textile art in “Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins”, keeping his culture charged with spectacular feather cloaks and other textile art. A must-see for anyone in Melbourne who is a poi enthusiast.

TCB had two exhibitions that had just opened on Wednesday night; “Medicine Walls” by Fergus Binns and “Cat toys & paperweights” by Brayden van Meurs. Binns five paintings are crazy fun with a fully sick paint technique and references to Dali and William Blake. Van Meurs’ five cat toys & paperweights are sculptures, in other words. Many are titled “lofi cityscape to scratch”, and “scratchable fabric” is included in the long list of materials. Having started the day with a conversation with my cat when I was still trying to sleep, I felt sympathy for van Meurs enterprise. My cat was trying to tell me that she had thrown up on the couch.

TCB on Wilkinson Street is a small, L shaped gallery space in front of the partitions of artist’s studios. This long-running artist-run-gallery that started in 1998 is now in its third location. I remember seeing one of Juan Ford’s first exhibitions at TCB at its first site in Port Phillips Arcade in the city.

I had seen some fresh graffiti pieces north of Jewell, but off the narrowing lane that runs through Bunnings, I saw a wall of graffiti writers of the avant-garde. Modernism, two meters high, as if it was written by graffers and not Greenberg. Pushing letterform  as far as it will go in all directions.

Finally, in Sparta Place, I found the empty former location of Beinart Gallery. Jon is now selling NFT art. Further removing the fantastic art that his gallery stocks from the actual world. At this point, my stomach seized control and directed my legs towards the nearest Lebanese bakery.


The Dolls House

The Dolls House is a not-for-profit gallery space at 110 Miller Street in West Preston run by Isabel Nina Young, a screen printer and surface designer. The gallery is in a dollhouse in the window of a shop in the little local shopping strip where the tram turns from Miller Street into Gilbert Road. It features site-specific installations and is open all hours.

The sturdy wooden dolls house has a pitched roof and a single chimney. It is quartered into four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. It is the second smallest gallery space in Melbourne, after Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. More reasons to think small. It started in 2004, a small project that is sustainable over a long duration.

I meant to write about The Dolls House many years ago and was surprised to see that it is still going. When I visited, it was populated by a multitude of tiny dolls. Well, they were called dolls, cubes and balls of different colours. They were dolls abstracted to geometrics; modernist, logical, and fun. And there was a multitude of them, an absurd status for handcrafted sculpture.

It is an untitled exhibition by Aphra Nolan. Made from bake clay last year in response to a turbulent time in her life. The combination of the idea of dolls and modernism appealed to me. Dolls/puppets have been part of modern art since Höch, Tauber and Hennings made them in Zurich and Berlin Dada.

The site-specific aspect of exhibition at The Dolls House is a unique aspect of this gallery. Not always dolls or miniatures; over the years, there have been small sculptural works, photography, even a local history exhibition when Bell Primary School turned 80.

My only problem has been the difficulty of finding information about the exhibition. Although I don’t expect a shopfront gallery space to have an online media manager. I hope to write more about other shopfront art gallery spaces in Melbourne’s north, as I know some more in the windows of architects and sculptors’ studios. And all these little spaces, like Nolan’s dolls, add up in the chaos of Melbourne’s art world.

Aphra Nolan, untitled dolls

After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


Of Colour and Light

Of Colour and Light – Women Abstract Artists Biennial” is an exhibition of fifty women abstract artists from the state of Victoria; not just any women but a curated selection of notable local artists, including established artists, Irene Barberis, Victoria Cattoni, and Wilma Tabacco.

Irene Barberis, Variations, St Mathew’s Passion 2

This is the third women abstract artist biennial Anna Prifti had curated and she has brought together a wide variety of abstract art. From the serious to fantastically frivolous. From painting to ceramics. From art as formal as pure mathematics or as informal as nature growing. From angelic purity to getting down to the nitty-gritty and celebrating the media.

Irene Barberis’s colourful Variations, St Mathew’s Passion 2 is a synaesthetic expression of J. S. Bach’s oratorio’s second movement. Although the viewer can’t read the overlapping lines of colours, painted on semi-transparent engineering film, the blocks of colours, show the music. For abstract art can be as accessible and easy to understand as music.

Abstract art doesn’t have to be pure spiritual thoughts; it can be strutting your funky stuff. And Pauline Hollyoak struts her funky stuff with Fanta Top. The day-glow orange oval rococo frame around a hard edge stripy abstract brings together two contrary forces with style.

Mandy Gunn takes the Concise Oxford Dictionary, rearranged it, making an ironic rectified readymade. She weaves pages into a single grey strip unfurling from the covers, after all, all words are abstract symbols. Like Barberis’s work, you can’t read it, but unlike Barberis Variations Gunn’s The Unconcise Oxford Dictionary is a dispassionate sculpture.

You could view this exhibition as a sample of the latest iterations of abstract art, a tradition or a genre of art. A genre that has existed for almost a century and a half, if you count those women, like Georgiana Houghton and Hilma af Klint, who did abstract paintings in the nineteenth century. For women have always been involved in abstract art, the most modern of visual genres.

Representational images exist in the Goldilocks zone that is just the right distance to see a picture. Somewhere between being too close and too far away. For both atomic distances shorter than the wavelength of visible light and the universe’s structure, images of the micro and the macro are abstract.

West End Art Space’s new permanent space in West Melbourne is a larger foyer space in a new multi-storey building. Plenty of room for the fifty works in this exhibition to be hung in keeping with the elegant minimalist look.

Stephania Leigh Partial Figure (RYB)

The Anna Schwartz Gallery book

Present Tense is a big beige book thick as a house brick but not as heavy. The subtitle, Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art describe the contents, text and photographs, accurately. Anna Schwartz Gallery is amongst Melbourne’s most influential commercial art galleries. Since 1986 it has represented some of Melbourne’s best contemporary artists, including Mike Parr, Emily Floyd, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell, and visiting international artists. The author, Doug Hall, is the former director of Queensland Art Gallery and now a Melbourne resident.

The beige cover suggests the excitement level of the long, rambling story that the author has bleached of colour. Even some theory and art-speak would be a welcome relief from the narrative, but Hall avoids both. It seems like Hall had almost a deliberate strategy to hide anything that might attract your interest in the middle of chapters. I could not get into it; the writing was that dull. All it got from me was skim reading, dipping into it, reading for research and not pleasure.

At first, I was hoping to find details that I could use in blog posts about some of the artists that Anna Schwartz Gallery represents. Unfortunately, I found nothing in it worth citing. Even the chapter on public sculpture was remarkably unedifying. Apart from a single photograph of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy, the reader is told nothing about the artists that Anna Schwartz represents doing public art. Instead of information, the reader is treated to Hall’s opinions on why it is better not to be involved in public art commissions.

This is not the first time that I’ve read a rambling book about an Australian art dealer. Adrian Newstead’s The Dealer is the Devil – an insider’s history of the Aboriginal Art trade, (Brandl and Schlesinger, 2014) is almost as long and nearly as dull. Still, at least, Newstead can tell stories.

As I persevered through its pages, I wondered if this book was ever intended to be read and I considered the other reason to have a book. Books have a symbolic value both as objects on shelves and as unread ideas, documented in various lists. Many books are not intended to be read all the way through coffee table books, books as art objects, along with phone books and other reference books.

There is an art to being influential. The symbolic value of this big book, almost regardless of its contents, cannot be under-estimated. For its existence is a kind of proof of the influential reputation of Anna Schwartz Gallery. A book about Anna Schwartz Gallery deserves to be written. It is just the writer and editor that were unfortunate choices.

Doug Hall Present Tense – Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art (Black Inc.,2019) 


Uptown along Bourke Street

Uptown is an outdoor exhibition of 26 contemporary artists along the top end of Bourke Street. It is not alienating, obscure art but accessible work ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous that uses street artists’ tactics to respond to the locations. Occupying hoards, walls, and the empty shops’ windows; this is not plonk art, nor is it obsessively site-specific.

Bill Henson’s floating girl looks like a colour photography version of a Baby Guerilla, who has pasted up many floating figures on Melbourne’s walls. A girl floats above a bicycle, in the distance, there are lights of the city at night. Is she sleeping, or has she been thrown from the bike?

The image, printed on a billboard-sized tarpaulin, covers the construction hoarding at the old Metro nightclub/Palace Theatre at 30 Burke Street. Now being rebuilt as a hotel, only the famous, heritage-listed facade will be preserved. Melbourne’s facades remain, a century of old faces, masks made from the victims’ skin, adorn a building that has been a theatre, cinema, music venue, Pentecostal church, and a nightclub.

Destiny Deacon has a paste-up photograph on the wall of a lane; and if you want to see more of her cheeky and deadly insightful, post-colonial art you can at the NGV where she has a major retrospective. Kenny Pittock illustrates a couple of funny points in a lane. And Constanze Zikos brings Vault back into the picture of Melbourne’s public art. It was good to see Kent Morris, who is best known for his work with The Torch, showing his own photomontage work on a billboard above the car park entrance on Mcilwraith Place.

In the window of the former Job Warehouse, that old fabric store, which once displayed bolts of cloth packed to the ceiling, Elizabeth Newman hangs “Enemy of the State”. Those words in blocks of letters are the pattern the dress’s material. The dress hangs in plastic wrap in the window with a row of coloured lights to complete the installation.

There are several empty shops at this end of town, including the Job Warehouse, whose empty carcass still haunts the city. Built in 1848, it is the third oldest building still standing in Melbourne, transforming multiple times. Job Warehouse was operated by Jacob Zeimer, a gruff man who that he had no time for people browsing, buy or get out.  His business closed in 2012 and parts of the building have remained without tenants since. Its restoration is a slow process managed by Heritage Victoria.

Uptown along Bourke Street zests up an area that is well worth walking around and giving another look. The exhibition draws attention to the area and plays well with street art. Perhaps the word that I’m looking for is, ‘complementary’, as in colours, geometry and serving to complete. In this, its curators, Fiona Scanlan and Robert Buckingham, have gone above what would be expected from this kind of exhibition with the installation of the art and the artists chosen.


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