Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

COVID-19 and Melbourne’s art world

If you are like me then you are already bored with all the articles, posts, tweets about COVID-19. So please forgive me for this blog post; I am writing it for a future record rather than for you my present unfortunate readers. On the upside, this short blog post contains my most complete report on what is going on in Melbourne’s art galleries but with fewer images.

The art galleries have closed in Melbourne. Art Almanac has a list of gallery closures and event cancellations but the short version is everything is cancelled or postponed. So instead of my regular wander to view exhibitions and street art this Thursday I will once again be staying at home, as I have since mid-March.

A few commercial galleries like, Charles Nodrum Gallery, continued with their exhibition program during March, without the usual opening drinks, and remained open by appointment, asking patrons to call ahead to arrange a suitable time to view the exhibition.

Some street artists and graffiti writers, normally nocturnal creatures, are still venturing outside to practice their art but they won’t have many actual viewers even in the best locations. The famous Hosier Lane is empty, as it often was a decade ago when the art in it was better. I infer this from what I have seen in recent posts and photos for I have seen little more than a few blocks from my home.

Many artists are working from home or alone in their studio as they have always done. What they produce and what is the cultural impact of this pandemic maybe a topic for future blog posts when the art galleries are open again.


Mr Dimples

Mr Dimples is “pretty upset” and “gutted” that his up-coming first exhibition “No More Suckers” at The Stockroom has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “A years worth of work, ready to hang in two weeks and then boom, postponed.” He told me online. I was intending to review the exhibition so instead decided to write about the postponed show.

Mr Dimples is a street-artist from Bendigo who does these cute robots and aliens. A fan of horror films he started to draw these cute monsters after seeing the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI. There is something defective and absurd about his monsters: they are sewn up, an X for an eye, or are a robot with a joint in his metal hand.

On the street he works with paste-ups and stencils but in the exhibition there will be 53 paintings on canvas. Painting is place for him to express his feelings about the world. “My canvases are where I put my life and soul and display it to an audience. I feel my paste ups and stencils are more like portraits and don’t tell a story.” And he pours out stories about backstabbing mates, controlling partners and “getting rid of toxic people in your life”.

Mr Dimples came up with his name in five minutes and kicked off his career when the Bendigo Advertiser wrote an article about him.

Four years ago, when I first saw his sweet little monsters stuck to a Bendigo wall, Mr Dimples was about the only street artist in the Central Victorian gold rush city. There is a bit more now and the local council have tentatively begun to commission the odd piece but it is still not a flourishing scene.

To compensate for that he has joined forces with Melbourne’s “the ninjas” to bring his art to the laneways of Melbourne. “Working with the ninjas has allowed me to work with a group and share, grow and enjoy other artists company. It’s like a quirky little family, where we do art, laugh and then eat dumplings.”

We will have to wait an indefinite time before we can see Mr Dimples’s exhibition but in the meantime here are a few more of his images.


Several March Exhibitions

On Friday I went into Melbourne to see some exhibitions and street art. With increasing isolation looming, firstly due to the closure of my train line for Sky Rail construction, and the prospect of further isolation due to the pandemic, it might be my last chance to see some exhibitions for a few months.

A walk along Flinders Lane leads to less galleries than it did a decade ago.

Arc One had an exhibition of furniture made of leather part of Melbourne Design Week 2020, it was more like a shop than a gallery. It was “Partu” (the Walmajarri word for skin) by Johnny Nargoodah and Trent Jansen. Most of the pieces looked awkward and you could see the steel armature underneath the leathery contortions.

Fortyfive Downstairs had “Between Horizons” haunting sculptures in the shape of boats by Jan Learmonth and, “Microcosmographia” a group exhibition about animals.

Turning off Flinders Lane I walked down Hosier Lane and although it was less crowded without the Chinese tourists, I was surprised at how many people were still there. I was looking for the aftermath of the great fire-extinguisher spray performance event. You could still see it, high up on the walls, if you knew what to look for and where to look for it. Most of it has been repainted. Local writers are keen to inform the public about the effect that the shop, Culture Kings, is having on the lane’s culture. Culture Kings are the main offender but there are other advertisers with stencils who were exploiting the traffic in the lane. Everything is not a platform to advertise your product; there are more important things.

My main objective was to see the “Japanese Modernism” exhibition at the NGV International and but while I was at there I looked at the art book fair, an up-market and quality zine fair for people who love book design.

“Japanese Modernism” is not a large exhibition, just a large room, with men’s fashion on one side and women’s fashion on the other side. It is mostly design, rather than art, with some great examples of ephemera in the form tourist maps, magazines, make-up and music scores for the popular modern instruments harmonica and ukulele.

There was no shock of the new for Japan as the land already shaken by the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. And Japan adopted modernism with a confidence born from the fact that modernism was always a syncretic mix that included Japanese and European elements.


Big exhibition of small art

Large crowd for an exhibition of small art; there was a queue out the door at Beinart Gallery waiting to get into the miniature art exhibition. I have never seen that at a commercial gallery before. Not that it was uncomfortable or dull standing in that line; under the trees in Sparta Place in Brunswick on a mild autumn evening is very pleasant.

Black Mark at Sparta Place (photo by Catherine)

It is not unusual for Beinart Gallery to have big crowds or to exhibit small-scale art but on this night some of the art was tiny. Carved graphite tips of pencils, by Salavat Fidai that had to be viewed through a magnifying glass or painted Tic Tacs (actually polymer clay). Both of these objects gave a sense of scale and, in the case of Steve Casino’s Tic Tacs, some sweetness to tasteless subjects.

Steve Casino, Shark Breath

The miniature art exhibition had many works and artists using a great variety of media. Co-curated by model-maker and director of Espionage Gallery in Adelaide, Joshua Smith, who brought in fellow model-makers, and Jon Beinart, the director of Beinart Gallery who found the pop surrealist painters working on a small scale.

Joshua Smith, Sushi Noodle Guy

Model making of abandoned buildings has grown in the last five years. It is another way for street artists to express their love for derelict houses and shops. The decay, graffiti, posters are all lovingly recreated; the empty Sushi Noodle Guy shop is so detailed that it even has a poster for the current NGV exhibition on it. However, the realism on these dolls houses for boys leaves little room for a personal style and Joshua Smith’s models look little different to the other models builders in the show, or those of, local artist, David Hourigan (whose work is not in this exhibition).

David Bonnici paintings from Obstruct

The second exhibition opening that night at Beinart was “Obstruct” paintings by David Bonnici. Faces distorted or obscured along with largely empty landscapes with views obstructed by a tree or pylon. Along with a subtle concept, Bonnici paintings have a softer focus than the obsessive detail of the pop surrealism and fantasy art that Beinart Gallery is known for. These are paintings about the unseen and overlooked, as distinct from the visible and the invisible, for there are many more things that obstruct our vision than what a realist imagines we see.


Can’t Do Tomorrow Festival

Can’t Do Tomorrow is a 10 day long urban and street art festival in Melbourne.

Well, it is somewhere between an art fair and a festival, but called a festival because the words ‘art fairs’ is becoming unpopular. And Can’t Do Tomorrow would not want be unpopular. Like an art fair there are entry tickets, booths with art for sale and even a print store with on-demand printing. Like a festival there are exhibitions, a talks program, murals, sculptures, and installations, a line-up of live music acts and DJs. I’ve seen worse art fairs and a single venue festival seems limited even if it is a very large multi-level warehouse; The Facility, in Kensington.

Wall after wall in the former wool warehouse has been painted with mural after mural along with large 3D constructions. There has been good detailing with collections of stickers and little pieces by Junkie Projects, Gigi and Tinky in odd locations.

Tinky

There is a mix of local and international artists.

Badiuca

There was another version of this piece about the writer Liu Xiaobo in Hosier Lane in 2018. The paste-up became a shrine for people to leave flowers and photos. It is the work of Chinese-Australian political artist and cartoonist Badiuca. This slick neon version was intended to match the neon lights of Hong Kong.

Can’t Do Tomorrow states that it is the ‘inaugural festival’ and plans to return. There is no doubt that Melbourne needs a street art festival, a regular annual event for both the artists and the public. Since the Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets folded there have been some attempts to fill that gap, like the international event, the Meeting of Styles. Whether an indoor festival/art fair can do that remains to be seen. How it effects Melbourne’s street art scene also remains to be seen.

Will Can’t Do Tomorrow simply be an indoor urban art experience, a commercial and marketing opportunity or will there be something greater?


Counihan Gallery Expansion

Twenty years ago the Counihan Gallery was established by Moreland City Council in 1999. In the following decades it has become a cultural hub for Brunswick. The regular exhibition openings bringing people together in a physical space. Now it has expanded and is once again open after renovations.

There has been a small change to the large foyer with the addition of two vitrines both hung with prints by Noel Counihan from the gallery’s collection. It always seemed a shame that there wasn’t any of his art on exhibition in a gallery named after him.

Inside the gallery there is a dramatic change; it is now over a third larger. The new space merges seamlessly with the rest of the gallery. The same flooring, the same curved marine-ply ceiling panels hang in the new space. And, most of important of all, at the end of the new gallery space, there is a large window facing onto Sydney Road bringing natural light into the gallery. Curious people passing by look in, some of them now aware that there is something going on in the building.

There was a launch of this new space and the first exhibitions for a new year on Saturday 8 February with a “Welcome to Country” by a Wurundjeri Elder, a couple of speeches and a performance by Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group. I was there enjoying a glass of wine, a pumpkin kibbe (shout out to Zaatar’s, a great local cafe, this is a personal endorsement with no quid pro quo received or expected), meeting new people and catching up with acquaintances.

Tyler Payne, KIMSPO and #doitfortheafterselfie

The three current exhibitions:

At first I didn’t really get Histrionic by Marion Abraham, Saffron Newey and Tyler Payne. There were plenty of attractive and engaging works to look at from Payne’s installation with iPads to Newey’s large painting of a great, green, sea monster. Then Abraham’s art historical references in her two large paintings lured me in to deeper thoughts about contemporary life.

Chris Bowes, Monitor

Screen Time is an interactive installation by Chris Bowes with lots of messy black cables contrasting with the clean colour digital images. It looks like the output of high modernism: the cubist break down of the image onto seperate screens, the dots of colour of the pointillists, and the readymade an-aesthetic of the physical installation.

Nusra Latif Qureshi, Balancing Act II

And in the new space there is  f_OCUS; a selection of works by women from the galleries permanent collection. Twenty artists whose names or works should be familiar to anyone interested in Melbourne’s art; Hoda Afshar, Wendy Black, Megan Cope, Destiny Deacon, Emily Floyd, Fiona Foley, Marlene Gilson, Helga Groves, Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Joy Hester, Deanna Hitti, Regina Karadada, Carmel Louise, Mandy Nicholson, Rose Nolan, Jill Orr, Carol Porter, Nusra Latif Qureshi and Judy Watson. I remembered first seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s post-modern take on traditional miniature painting at the Counihan Gallery’s Women’s Salon.


The scene: Haring & Basquiat

This to-do list by is  Keith Haring is a massive name drop even though mostly only first names are used: Whoopi, Jean Michel, Debbie … It is exhibited as part of the documentary part of the exhibition “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV. It shows the vibrant artistic scene that Haring and Basquiat inhabited.

The scene, the geographic-social environment that an artist lives and works in. The loose association that both inspires and documents them. Often appears as interesting as the artist themselves – Warhol’s Factory scene, the Dadaist or the Surrealists.

I wonder how the geographic-social environment contributes to an artist’s development and success or failure? How much their art is a product of a network of people talking, dancing and otherwise moving around (depending on the type of transport)?

Or is it all about the unique talent of the ‘great man’ independent from the city and its society? If it is all about the person then it is very surprising that two or more great artists, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, would emerge at the same time and place.

Even if it is unique talent of the individual that created it is the social environment that gives meaning to the art. Without the gay club scene Haring would not have created his dancing figures or his art about AIDS. Without his black identity Basquiat would not have attempted to write art history. These topics were not so much chosen by the artist as determined by the scene.

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were living in a particularly fertile art scene, that produced many other artists including the street artists, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. A self-selecting scene, volunteers who had congregated because they wanted to be artists and New York was the place to do it. It was a geographic and social circle that included various clubs, art galleries, flats and people from Madonna to William Burroughs.

The exhibition catalogue for “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” does much to document their scene. It has many interviews, including one with Jenny Holzer and Patti Astor. And a map of lower Manhattan shows the tight geography where everything was within walking distance or a few subway stops. (I can’t emphasis enough how important a walkable geography is to a vibrant arts scene.)

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. See also Haring/Basquiat @NGV and Under the Influence (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition.)


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