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Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Reko and Turbo, from the street to the NGV

“From Bark to Neon: Indigenous Art from the NGV Collection” at the NGV in Federation Square includes works by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Rover Thomas, Emily Kam Kngwarray in the collection. But I want to focus on two local artists in the exhibition who both have street backgrounds: Reko Rennie and Trevor Turbo Brown.

Blek le Rat, Reko Rennie, Drew Funk, Reko Rennie et. al. in Hoiser Lane & on the internet.

Part of their street background both embraced one of the four elements of hip hop; for Reko it was writing graffiti and for Turbo, breakdancing.

Reko Rennie has a neon crown in his Regalia 2013; as in crown that a top graffiti writer would put a crown above their tag. I first saw his work at the Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008, a magnificent multi-layer stencil of a red kangaroo. Later I saw the same stencil sprayed on a wall in Hosier Lane alongside Blek Le Rat and Stormie Mills. I didn’t know that he was Kamilaroi all I knew is that he was amongst the best street artists in Melbourne. Many street artists were later represented by commercial art galleries but Reko Rennie navigated this transition better than most. In a few years he had work in the NGV’s collection was making public art. Rennie’s public art includes his Neon Natives, 2011 in Cocker Alley for the City of Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions and his Murri Totems, 2012 outside of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science building.

Trevor Turbo Brown, Getting their photo taken by tourists, 2007

The late Trevor Turbo Brown was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. Turbo was a self-taught, outsider artist who had multiple disadvantages amongst them homelessness and an intellectual disability. Turbo had a clear relationship to the street. He got his nickname, ‘Turbo’ breakdancing on the streets in the 1980s and 90s. One day I ran into him Brunswick trying to sell his art. The NGV has three new acquisitions of Turbo’s paintings on exhibition; they acquired some of the best Turbo paintings that I’ve seen, there is a genuine sense of humour his dingos smiling and photobombing for the tourists. Dingos were very significant to Turbo for many reasons.

Hip hop and the street are now part of the greater cultural mix that influences urban Indigenous art in Melbourne.

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Postcards Exhibition

There are two exhibitions at Fortyfive Downstairs by Marco Luccio: “New York Postcards” in the main gallery and  “Immaginario” in the small gallery. It is difficult for one artist to fill the enormous space at Fortyfive Downstairs (I don’t think that I’ve seen a single artist do that before) with work of a consistent quality. This is especially impressive given that most the art in these two exhibition are small works that would each look good by themselves in a someone’s home.

Marco Luccio uses a variety of printing techniques. In “Immaginario” he uses monotypes to create fantastic miniature landscapes, very much in the tradition of Max Ernst’s Surrealist decalcomania landscapes. In his “New York Postcards” Luccio mixes rubber stamps and etching with other mixed media using antique postcards both as a support and an “impedimento”.

However, this “impedimento” on the post-cards, the printing, stamps, postmarks, and ink handwriting is largely ignored. The function of the postcard has been removed by making them art. Likewise the connection between NYC postcards, Luccio’s the neo-classical drawing style with the heavy lines, horses, and bodies appears arbitrary.

In an artist’s statement in video form Luccio refers to the postcards as “artefacts”; as they were antiques I wanted to know the source of the postcard, how were they acquired. Three vitirines offered clues about their construction; filled with materials and old albums of postcards they showed some of the process of their creation.

Although Luccio knows art history, he shows photographs of himself sketching in the Metropolitan Museum, he appears to be unaware of the mail art movement. One of the largest (by number of participants) art movements of the twentieth century, mail art, also known as the “New York Correspondence School”. It used the postal system both to distribute art and play with, as in Ben Vautier’s postcard The Postman’s Choice (1965) with a place for a stamp and address on both sides.

I was intrigued by the poster advertising for this exhibition because it reached Coburg.


Happy Birthday Counihan Gallery

The Counihan Gallery is twenty years old. The Oven’s Street Studios are twenty-one years old. And, the youngest, Studio 23A is nineteen years old. Together there are two exhibitions at the Counihan to review. “Twenty One Today” celebrates the Oven’s Street Studios with an exhibition of its four founding members. And “Endangered Space” celebrates Studio 23A with an exhibition of eleven of its current members.

Doug Kirwan’s paintings seen through George Matoulas’s bronze Eureka Flag

Before the Counihan Gallery there wasn’t much in the way of galleries, or even, exhibition spaces in Brunswick. A room at the Mechanics Institute were used for irregular exhibitions and Moreland City Council had an arts officer. Having a dedicated, purpose-built gallery was a big improvement have a good curator was the next. Starting in 2006 curator, Edwina Bartlem made the Counihan Gallery something more than just a local council gallery and, the current curator, Victor Gris has followed through on improving the quality of the exhibitions.

Over the two decades since it was established I have seen many exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery. I have also seen many of the artists currently on exhibition in the gallery and in their studios (thanks to Brunswick Studio Walk).

I hadn’t seen the work of Doug Kirwan from the Oven’s Street Studios before and was instantly struck by their beauty and intensity. Geometric and organic patterns intersect and grow across Kirwan’s acrylic paintings. I was not surprised to discover that for eight years Kirwan was the in-house designer for a wallpaper company.

An informal look at some of the artists work from Studio 23A

Essential to the “Endangers Space” exhibition were the two tables that assembled work, materials and inspirations from all eleven of Studio’s 23A current members. The most powerful work was Kasia Fabijańska’s magnificent drawing; this huge drawing of a dead tree is almost 3 metres tall and fantastically rendered in graphite, charcoal and pencil.

Happy Birthday Counihan Gallery! Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!


Two Landscapes: Hancock & Smith

It is rare that a landscape moves me, so when I’m impressed by two exhibitions of landscapes it is worth considering why. I don’t find a lot of meaning in landscapes possibly because I am not attached with emotional investment to any place. However this week I saw two exhibitions of landscapes that were full of meaning.

Evan Hancock, Lake Mountain Victoria, 2018

At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, some kind of a landscape but what were all those vertical white marks? At Forty-five Downstairs a series of black and white photographs, “Light.Ash.White” by Evan Hancock that marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires. Each of those vertical white marks was a dead tree.

On February 7 to March 14 in 2009 Kinglake, Marysville and the Lake Mountain regions burnt. The catastrophic loss of trees, scars across a landscape at a scale almost too vast to comprehend. Hancock was not aiming for an emotional response from the viewer, nor are his clinical. Only in a couple can you even see a road often there is only nature to give a sense of scale and time to the images. The photographs convey the vast emptiness.

A few small documentary colour photographs lying flat on plinths in the middle of gallery provided context for the exhibition.

It seems a little ironic that the photographs were frame in black Victorian Ash timber.

Peter James Smith, Of Twilights Repeated Measure, 2018

Flinders Lane Gallery is showing “Round Many Western Islands”, by Peter James Smith. Smith is a polymath: BSc (Hons), MSc, MFA, PhD, the former Professor of Mathematics and Art, and Head of the School of Creative Media at RMIT University. His painting are post-modern landscapes; romantic-style oil paintings of seascapes and landscapes with white notes, like chalkboard notes for a lecture, diagrams and words written on top of them. The contrast between the rich, glossy surface of the landscapes paintings with the dry, matt white matches the contrast the interior comprehension and the exterior views of the scene. Here Smith’s encyclopaedic knowledge finds connections between science and art, mathematics to poetics, from ancient Homer’s tales of the resourceful Odysseus to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, from the ancient Aboriginal footprints in the Lake Mungo Desert to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, and more. A lifetime of knowledge and travel condensed into an exhibition.

This will be Flinders Lane Gallery’s last exhibition in their current location before they more to the Nicholas Building.


Confined 10

I’m standing in line, about to buy a painting when the woman just in front of me buys the very one that I wanted. She must have excellent taste but I am so disappointed. I look at the exhibition catalogue again, before heading to the bar for a consolation drink. The same woman is just in front of me in the queue for the bar, fortunately she didn’t drink the bar dry.

Thursday, January 31 is opening of the Confined 10 in the Carlisle Street Arts Space at the St Kilda Town Hall. Confined 10 is the annual exhibition by The Torch, an organisation that supports Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prisons in Victoria. The gallery is packed to capacity, there is a security guard only letting a hundred people in at a time, and there are hundreds more people in the foyer and the ballroom.

The walls of the gallery are full of paintings, hundreds of paintings; amidst all these you would think that I’d be able to find another painting that I liked. However, there are now there are more dots on the walls, not more dot paintings but red dots to indicate that a painting has been sold. The paintings that are just designs, without any images of animals are selling very well.

“It’s what the painting represents more than the painting.” I overhear the familiar voice of for Premier Jeff Kennett. He is talking to someone else just behind me in the crowd but I’m not surprised to see him. Jeff Kennett has been the Chairman of the Torch since 2016 and ensured that the law was changed so the Indigenous prisoners could sell their art. I don’t know what Kennett means; is he referring to the humanitarian value of helping people in need, or that Indigenous culture is more than just a painting. But I am still feeling the loss of the painting that I wanted to buy, its colours, its designs, Kelvin Rogers bold signature with date.

I shouldn’t have taken so much time looking at whole exhibition, photographing the couple of quirky works, like the wooden model motorcycle by Shane J, and gone straight for the buying. But the art critic in me wanted to look at variety of art on exhibit. For the last two years Shane J has been exhibiting some impressive constructions made from matchsticks and ‘paddle pop’ sticks.

Anyway, enough of the regrets, the speeches are starting in the ballroom. Kent Morris, the CEO of the Torch told the story of how an exhibition, a decade ago featuring 18 artists and 25 art works, grew to its current size with 217 artists and 230 art works. Followed by more speeches from Auntie Caroline, the Mayor of St. Kilda Dick Ross,  and Uncle Jim Berg, Gunditjmara Elder. The award winners were announced: Ash Thomas, Kim Kennedy, Chris Austin, Paul Leroy McLaughlin, Lodi Lovett, Veronica Hudson, and Graham ‘Gil’ Gilbert. 


Perth’s Fake Pollock Exhibition

Considering that there was an entire fake Kusama and Murakami exhibitions in China earlier this year; remember there was a fake Jackson Pollock exhibition that toured Australian in 1978. 

Bohdan Ledwij from Alfred Cove in Perth claimed to be an entrepreneur and art dealer who had amassed a collection of Pollock paintings alleged insured for $4.1 million.  Lewdij presented an exhibition called Paintings by Jackson Pollock in Perth. The exhibition was opened by Elwyn Lynn, the then Curator of the Power Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sydney University. Many other people were taken in by the exhibition including Andrew Saw, The Australian art critic in Perth, who reviewed it for the paper.

It is hard to comprehend that people were taken in by the exhibition, but remember, the people of Perth were amongst the last Europeans to encounter modern art and that the first exhibition of actual modern art in Perth had only been a few years earlier. The name of the American painting Jackson Pollock, if not his paintings, were familiar because of the massive publicity in 1973 when the Australian National Gallery purchase of Blue Poles (Jackson Pollock’s Number 11, 1952).

However, the exhibition didn’t just fool the hicks of Western Australia.  Lewdij then offered Ken Reinhard, principal of Alexander Mackie College of Arts, a teacher training college in Sydney to transport the exhibition to Sydney. Ken Reinhard later told reporters: “I have to admit I wouldn’t have known an original Pollock from a bull’s foot in 1978 but to get a chance to put on a free exhibition of Pollocks seemed too good to pass up.” 

It was only when the Sydney exhibition about to open that Sydney critics express doubts about the authenticity of the decoratively paint dripped canvases. Terry Ingram the arts correspondent for The Australian Financial Review was one who doubted “surely are not those of the great Jackson Pollock, we have come to know, the untidy, neurotic genius who lived in a pigsty and painted Blue Poles.” 

New York Experts were contacted; an incredulous Clement Greenberg and Lee Krasner were shown photographs of the fake Pollocks. The Sydney exhibition cancelled and Bohdan Ledwij claiming that they were going to the US for authentication. It is hard to know what was going on, was it a practical joke or a scam. Unlike the fake exhibitions in China there was no attempt to scam the public or venues and the exhibition appears but it would have been an expensive joke considering the transport, venues and materials.

P.S. The following year, on Wednesday 3 May, 1979 Bohdan Ledwij was sentenced to six years jail, with a minimum of fours years before parole. He had been found guilty of seven charges of stealing $436,156 from Bunbury radiologist Dr. Peter Frederick Pratten. Ledwij was pretending to be buying paintings for Dr Pratten  instead Ledwij was using the money himself. 


Wegman’s dogs

“Sit! Stay! Stay Man Ray!” (Not Man Ray, the artist, but Man Ray, William Wegman’s first Weimaraner dog.) “William Wegman: Being Human” is a survey exhibition of thirty years of photographic work at the NGV International. Wegman’s photographs combine two things that he enjoys: art history and Weimaraner dogs. Wegman’s Weimaraner dogs are his willing, loyal and obedient muse.

William Wegman, On base, 2007

Does the dog’s expression change when it is wearing a wig or standing on a box? Or, am I just projecting my perception of emotions onto the dog? What are his dogs thinking when he photographs them? As Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Meaning that the life of another animal is structured so differently to our own that even a shared language would not be common ground for communication. Wegman believes that his second dog Fay Ray had pride in her work, her balance and poise; maybe she did, maybe she just want to please him. One thing that I am sure about that they are not thinking about is art history or how it can be funny. And Wegman’s photographs are funny and his dogs are the ultimate deadpan-looking ‘straight man’ in this routine.

If we have learnt anything from the social media it is that pet photographs dominate, so it is not surprising that Wegman’s photographs are popular. Wegman has been photographing his dog since 1970, long before social media. Large format Polaroids create a unique photographic print, the complete opposite of digital photography.

I’m not into dogs, I am more of a cat guy and I not into putting clothes on animals. I’m not sure if this simply an aesthetic choice, or a matter of taste, but that it might reflect deeper ethical and existential considerations. So there is too much Cindy Sherman and not enough Sol LeWitt in this exhibition for my taste, however, I still enjoyed looking at Wegman’s light-hearted take on art history and his dogs.


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