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Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

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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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.


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.


Tuesday – exhibitions and craft festival

On Tuesday I was in Melbourne and found myself with about an hour to use. Not many commercial or artist-run galleries are open on a Tuesday but I did managed to see a few exhibitions and have some take-away sushi for lunch.

Mirka Mora and 300 people, c.1980

There was a Mirka Mora exhibition on the first floor of Melbourne City Library on Flinders Lane. If you like Mora’s colourful work then this exhibition is a must and, if you don’t, it is still worth seeing in terms of Melbourne’s art history. The exhibition is a study of her influence on Melbourne’s art; history merging with the present.

Her influence was greater than I thought, because I didn’t know that she was a teacher at the CAE. Although artists rarely cite their art teachers as influence they are an important starting influence. The exhibition features bookplates, painted dolls, memorabilia and photographs, and six panels from the Castlemaine art train in 1978 that Mirka painted assisted by 300 other people.

I then walked up Flinders Lane to 141 where Mailbox Artspace had “The Curiosities”curated by Glenn Barkley. I had walked past the opening last Thursday evening; people crowed into the foyer at 6:30 as I hurried past already late. The curiosity of the wooden glass-fronted mailbox cabinets is matched with the contents featuring the work of nineteen artists that lived up to the exhibition’s title. The exhibition was part at Craft Cubed, the festival of the handmade currently on in Melbourne.

There was more of Craft Cubed festival in the Campbell’s Arcade, the underpass to Flinders Street Station, in the Dirty Dozen vitrines. “Craft Window Walk” features a dozen vitrine of the work a dozen crafters; ceramics, textiles, jewellery, beading and printing. There was more at the Stick Institute with Liminal Magazine and at Shop 8 with the Millinery Association of Australia.

Catriona Fraser’s beaded rock badges were a lot of fun: “What would Dolly do?” “What would Willie say?”And it was good to see Rose Agnew’s boutenniers, flowers made from vintage cutlery and sterling silver.

I had plenty of time to look at the last exhibition because I just missed the Upfield train and had nineteen minutes to wait for the next one. There is twenty minute between trains at the best time on the Upfield line, when the train hasn’t been cancelled, which is more than common. I wish that I lived in a city with a public transport system instead of the pathetic excuse that Melbourne operates. 


Sculptors Association Annual Exhibition

I felt little for the majority of the sixty-three sculptures on exhibition. It is difficult to be daring when there are so many technical challenges and expenses to making sculpture. Consequently many are like a large piece of jewellery — well designed and made but too boring, slick and trite to be anything other than ersatz art. Stuff so bland that zombie formalism looked thoughtful. There were a few made me wince as their combination of materials was the visual equivalent of ice-cream with pickles. There were, of course, a couple of kitsch pieces and one case of questionable cultural appropriation.

Michael Meszaros, Smouder

Finally there were some sculptures that were appealing for various reasons; not bad for a group exhibition. I was surprised when I checked who was the artist of some of the works that caught my eye: Drasko (who I know from his street art and art transport business) and Michael Meszaros (who has done many public sculptures). Meszaros’s wavy bronze piece, Smoulder, is like curls of smoke. Drasko Boljevic’s Baby is almost a minimal comic-book version of Munch’s Scream.

Drasko Boljevic, Baby

Tahani Shamroukh’s A Labour is one of the few pieces of contemporary art in the exhibition and one of the few that had anything to say. It is realism; it doesn’t look like anything other than what it is and it is life. A cube of used work clothes and boots, the kind that labours wear, is as real as the $5 bill amongst them. It reminded me of Ai Weiwei’s Ton of Tea (2011), a one square metre block of compressed oolong tea. I was not surprised that Shamroukh’s A Labour won the Art Almanac Prize.

The Association of Sculptors of Victoria 2019 Annual Awards and Exhibition is at Collins Square, an enormous multi-towered building in the Docklands with a network of foyer areas almost the size of a city block. The foyer works well as an exhibition space for the sculptures. They need this kind of space for their work, not just because some of it is large and heavy, but because it is impressive semi-formal space with an instant audience. The kind of place with marble floors and a paintings the size of sail by John Olsen hanging at the top of one staircase with a painting of the city by Ricky Kasso above another.

Collins Square is also the kind of place that is professionally managed and this has resulted in a peculiar decision to ban one sculpture from the exhibition. The story of the sculpture’s censorship has legs even if the bust of a man didn’t; from Channel 7 to the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets. I don’t blame the Collins Square management for their crazy decision because Australia’s culture of censorship is arbitrary, inexplicable and the consequences for even minor transgressions can be sever. There has been a censorship controversy over images of male nipples in the past, Del Kathryn Barton’s son’s bare chest in 2011, and it could happen again because in this country the irrational is privileged over reason, ethics and taste.


Ash Keating and the Fire-Extinguisher

More powerful than a spray-can. Graffiti writers have long used fire extinguishers filled with paint to spray paint often used to write a very large tag high on a wall. But one Melbourne artist has made the paint filled fire extinguisher his own – Ash Keating.

Ash Keating’s Hume Response Paintings

Fire-extinguishers filled with paint have long been part of a graffiti tradition of improvisation. Using fire-extinguishers to spray paint peaked in Melbourne in 2012.

Ash Keating has been painting massive walls (long before other Melbourne-based street artists got into the mural business) as performances. Painting massive surfaces of concrete walls with a controlled chaos of colour. Action painting at an industrial scale, without an aisle, without drawings. It is also painting with the hand of the artist mixed in with chance. Earlier this year he painted a painted a warehouse of concrete pumping company on the edge of the city A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). (For more on the Hume Response.)

I visited his studio on Saturday afternoon on the 20 July, it was more of a pop-up weekend gallery than an open studio. The Hume Response Paintings are in the same primary colours as A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). The “domestically scaled canvases” are for the domestic market and “invert the whole project” as Keating described it.

Keating has recently moved studios. Ironic, given the surfaces that he paints, Keating’s studio is a brand new tilt-slab warehouse in Bakers Business Park in North Coburg. An added irony is that the only fire-extinguisher in the room is brand new and not full of paint. The pristine beauty of the grey concrete slabs without any drips, layers of paint splatters, misty layers of a thin paint or thick chunky lumps of paint (something that you don’t get with spray-cans) hung with a few paintings.


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