Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

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.


Ivan Durrant @ NGV

Ivan Durrant, War, 1981

Ivan Durrant is not an enfant terrible; he is not even a very naughty boy. Durrant is just another painter; often a photorealist painter, but one of the better ones who are interested in light, optics and death. The stories, the legends of blood, slaughter and a dead cow in the forecourt of the NGV on St. Kilda Road don’t describe the retrospective exhibition currently on at the NGV Australia.

The terrible publicity stunt that Durrant is best remembered for, dumping a dead cow in the forecourt of the NGV, resulted in him being fined $100 for littering, ordered to pay $157 in court costs (worth about $1705 in current value). It is the same penalty that was applied to Arlo Guthrie’s narrator in the song Alice’s Restaurant. So there is Arlo and Ivan sitting on bench W with all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly looking people who may not be moral enough to join the army.

The NGV wasn’t that upset with Durrant’s stunt and bought his Butcher shop three years later. For those who remember Durrant’s butcher shop when it was at the entrance to the NGV’s restaurant, to remind the diners.

Looking at the Butcher Shop and his other sculptural pieces again, I see that although the modelling of the meat is excellent, everything else lacks detail. The label and price on the severed hand package, the lack of signs on the butcher shop door or window, even the carpentry around the window is wrong.

Aside from four sculptural pieces, the rest of the exhibition is about paint and traditional themes for paintings: horse racing, football, the artist’s studio, landscapes, farms and animals. Even his paintings of butchered animals are part of a very traditional theme; from Pieter Aertsen’s Butcher’s Stall with the Flight into Egypt 1551 that features a cows head and other carcasses, Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox 1655 showing a butchered carcass to Soutine’s Carcass of Beef, 1925, riffing off Rembrandt.

installation view of a series of Durrant’s paintings

The exhibition shows Durrant development as a painter from his early naive folk style paintings to his current series in saturated colours. Grouped in a series on the massive walls of the NGV Durant’s paintings show a bigger picture and a mind that is more subtle than shock and awe.

If you want to see art that upsets the established order, visit the Destiny Deacon exhibition on the ground floor.

The NGV was so empty that morning just after the reopening after the COVID-19 lockdown. A person played the cello in the foyer, welcoming the visitors back. Entry was by free timed-entry tickets, and there were hand-sanitiser stations on all levels.


Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020

Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020 is Moreland City Council’s eleventh annual exhibition of public art. This year it had several flaws, chiefly that it is not an exhibition of public art but an exhibition of contemporary art in public space. For public art should be for all the public, not only a contemporary art audience with time, mobile phones, headphones and a tertiary education.

detail from Patrick Pound’s The following

Contemporary art appropriates and colonises sites taking them over and exploit them for art. “Monument to Now” suggests a contemporary version of a triumphal arch celebrating this artistic colonisation.

Every year the curator and the participating artists in MoreArt put on a set of blinkers so that they seldom see the street art, graffiti and guerrilla gardens that are going on along the bike path. And there is great, long guerrilla garden along the bike path featuring seating areas, free libraries, children’s play area and lots of junk used for pot plants. Coburg Urban Forest is very active in this area.

Officially MoreArt 2020 goes along the Upfield Bike Path from Coburg Station to Gowrie Station but actually only from O’Hea Street to Forest Road. This northern location is not one of the problems with the exhibition. It is a good ride through some interesting areas with plenty to see including an old mortuary train carriage in the Fawkner Cemetery, yellow ribbons dedicated to free Julian Assange and pieces by Discarded.

This is in contrast to MoreArt 2020, where there was often nothing to see. The title of Liquid Architecture’s work Songs you can’t hear summed up much of the exhibition. Invisible public art doesn’t work like invisible art in an art gallery. To expect that the audience is going to have brought headphones and be willing to spend over an hour walking and listening is a bit much. I came on my bicycle, and the dark clouds threatened rain. So no to the work of Catherine Clover’s Lament, Sarah Walker’s Legs Like Pistons, or Emma Gibson’s A walk from station to station.

I simply couldn’t find Adam John Cullen or Mira Oosterweghel’s work and consequently I only saw two of the works in MoreArts. Patrick Pound’s The following, a series of posters stuck to the bike path; found photographs of women seen from behind and almost predictably, there was a woman with her shopping walking up the hill ahead of me. And, Michael Prior’s trio of simple kinetic sculpture Flos Movens enhancing the space next to the Renown Street Community Orchard. They were engaging even though only one was working fully due to limitations of the photovoltaic cells and the gunmetal grey sky.

Michael Prior Flos Movens

MoreArt 2020 was a contactless, COVID-safe way to see an exhibition just not an exhibition that I would recommend to many people.


Post-lockdown Melbourne

On arrival, I had to sign in to the gallery to assist contact tracing. No Vacancy lived up to its name and was the one art gallery that was open in the city. I didn’t know who was exhibiting as they were still typing up the room sheet (subsequently I have learnt that it was Lineaments by Lana Erneste, Sophie Sun, and Mollie Wilson).

Installation view of Lineaments at No Vacancy

All the galleries on Flinders Lane were all closed. Anna Schwartz had an exhibition of John Nixon, but it wasn’t open to the public. The public, institutional art galleries like the NGV and RMIT are still closed.

The best work that I saw was the #thelittlelibarian, and it wasn’t in an art gallery but in Hosier Lane. It looked like the work of Tinky because of the combination of HO scale miniatures with antiques. “If I was Snow White you’d never be able to poison me with an apple; you’d have to use an eclair.”

This is Hosier Lane like you have never seen it before. Almost empty of people except for a few homeless people meeting up after the long lockdown and relaxing in the sunny weather. There was the smell of aerosol paint in the air, but it wasn’t an artist spraying walls just the manager of Bar Tini painting the bases for small tables.

I wanted to see if much street art and graffiti had occurred during or immediately after the lockdown. Although there were some of the usual graffiti and street art in Hosier Lane, there were also some strange works, outside of the standard, conventional street art and graffiti techniques. Evidence of a greater variety of people participating in street art. And the political agenda was loud and proud: issues of homelessness, “black lives matter”, “horse racing kills” and hero worship of Premier Andrews.

Chinatown

Elsewhere in the city, it looked like Ash Keating, or someone else had taken a paint-filled fire extinguisher to that wall in Chinatown. Below a park is being built on the empty site, instead of using it as a parking lot.

I think that I was a bit too eager; that Thursday, one day after Melbourne’s long lockdown lifted to allow businesses to open. It was too soon for most commercial art galleries. However, after months of lockdown, I was keen to get out of Coburg and return to my pre-lockdown Thursday routine of going to have a look at art in the city and writing this kind of blog post.


Art exhibitions in lockdown

Even though Melbourne is still in lockdown due COVID-19, there are art exhibitions on in Melbourne, but most are entirely online. Sarinah Masukor gives an excellent overview of some of the online works in Memo along with the experience of viewing them online.

Although I have seen some online exhibitions and works during Melbourne’s lockdown, including some that Masukor reviews, I’m not interested in reviewing the online art world. Scrolling through webpages instead of strolling through gallery doesn’t motivate me to write in the same way that the physical art world does. And video art independent of installation is yet another video online.

Why not? What is wrong with viewing art on a screen or in books? After all, that is how most people see most art.

It is not that I have a preference for the actual over the conceptual or precious about how the art is reproduced on a screen. It is because there is a physical aspect to art and culture, the walking, standing and physicality of experiencing. For there is always a space around the art; a space between the lines of poetry, between the episodes of a tv show and the art in the space. The place where we experience art. The physical setting that frames the art, that juxtapositions it with other art, the ghost memories of previous exhibitions in that or similar spaces. Art, in particular public sculpture, cannot be experienced online; from smelling the fumes of the freshly painted walls of graffiti to attempting to climb a sculpture.

Art plonked on our screens is different from art in the anaesthetic whiteness of the art gallery walls, or the surprising location of the street. After all, I could write about any of the other things that I see on the screen: movies, music, games…

Furthermore, there is also a social aspect to art and culture that no zoom meeting can replace. Regular readers of this blog would know that I like the eavesdrop on what other people are saying about the art. Contemporary art and street art was the biggest party on the planet, and the party is over. Even when there is no-one else in the gallery, there is the implication of a social aspect.

However, I did encounter what claimed to be “Melbourne’s worst and only art show” on a wall of Culture Club, a coffee shop on Sydney Road in Brunswick. Local Moreland artist and musician, Ben Butcher describes himself as “Australia’s worst artist”. His paintings were bad but they failed reach his own shit standard of a rainbow shitting unicorn impaling a dolphin on its horn. How bad the original hanging of the exhibition was cannot be said, as one of the paintings had already been withdrawn, but it didn’t satisfy my desire to see some good art.

Installation view of Butcher’s exhibition

Social Hieroglyphics

WTF in 24-carat gold leaf on a marble tombstone sits on an artificial lawn in front of a wallpaper sky. Local artist, Daniel Worth’s small exhibition, Social Hieroglyphics, ticks so many boxes: contemporary yet reflecting on the ancient history of sculpture, complete with interactive, site-specific, performance elements and a sense of humour.

Daniel Worth, WTF

Carving hieroglyphics has been done since the ancient Egyptians, but Worth has updated them carving the emojis and abbreviations that we regularly use today into stone. This isn’t a cheap stunt of contemporary references there is depth to these works. The ancient Egyptian were communicating information by carving hieroglyphics, whereas Worth is quoting; removing the poo emoji from its original context. The difference between an ancient Egyptian carving hieroglyphics and what Worth is doing is art. That short word; ‘art’ is a significant difference, referring to millennia of history while finding new and contemporary expression.

Worth clearly enjoys the beautiful and luxurious materials that he is using. Yet, 90% of the stone in the exhibition has been found or reclaimed. Some of the stone came from stonemason’s off-cut bins and from an 1840s drainage system at York’s first railway station. Only the Carrara marble for the big Stone Phone, the centre-piece of the exhibition, was bought.

Daniel Worth, Stone Phone

I asked Worth about the ethics of sourcing stone. “I feel it important to use stone that is being discarded because it gives it a second life, it also works with my frugal and resourceful nature. Sometimes that chance encounter with a found stone mixes with an idea that transforms it into something new.”

Some of his carvings only exist in a stone rubbing in crayon and 24-carat gold leaf on paper as the carved stones have been installed in undisclosed locations. One a small brick of marble found along Thames foreshore was carved with LOL, and the Worth threw it back into the river. If future mudlarks along the Thames resemble the present ones, they will research these letters and laugh.

There is an interactive aspect to the rubbing carvings. Wax crayons allow visitors to make their own laughing tears emoji rubbing from one of Worth’s carved stones. Visitors are encouraged to use the back-half of the room-sheet to add a rubbing. So you get your own souvenir piece to take home from the exhibition.

Daniel Worth, stone rubbing table

There is so much potential in this solid exhibition. Worth’s art is infinitely scalable; scalable is what every internet business is looking for. Worth could do more with the ideas in this exhibition, more art, exhibitions, even giant works of public art.

This was the first exhibition that I have seen since the COVID-19 lockdown. I had to make an appointment to see it at Noir Darkroom Gallery, and when I did, I was the only visitor to the shopfront gallery on Moreland Road.


Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)

Saddened to learn that Janet Beckhouse died suddenly and unexpectedly this week. Beckhouse sculpted rich neo-Baroque worlds packed with lush foliage, snakes, skulls and goddesses. Intricate and dynamic worlds in transition, moving between the natural and the supernatural, the mythologic and the psychologic.

Christopher Köller, Trust (Janet Beckhouse), 2008

Memories of visiting her studio and seeing her intricate ceramic work come flooding back. Her ceramics are in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Hamilton Art Gallery, Shepparton Art Museum, Bendigo Art Gallery and Victorian College of The Arts but I saw them most often at Craft Victoria.

I didn’t know her well, I just met her a couple of times because William Eicholtz shared a studio with her. Remember visiting the studio and watching in terror as her little black tom cat showed off by jumping through the handle of one of her delicate pieces.

“Nothing of her that doth fade. But doth suffer a sea-change. Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring her knell.”

(Riffing on Shakespeare’s Tempest Act i. Sc. 2)
Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

%d bloggers like this: