Category Archives: Blogging

Melbourne May 2020

Usually I would have gone look at some art galleries but instead I stayed at home for another week. With all of Melbourne’s art galleries closed or only open by appointment or holding online exhibitions I feel that many of my subject matter for blog posts has gone. And there are only so many stories that I can write about local public sculpture, graffiti, street art, and walks around Coburg that I haven’t already written. However, I am not about to complain as I am well aware that the flaneur is in a privileged position.

Nick Miller, the Arts Editor for The Age, asked on the Victorian government “when libraries museums and galleries might open?” Their response: ‘We will have more to say about the further cautious easing of restrictions in due course.’

Various publicist’s emails tell a different story; some art galleries will be resuming their exhibition programmes in early to mid July. Boroondara’s Town Hall Gallery will re-open 11 July, Off the Kerb will re-open on the 4th and Mars Gallery is open now. Getting to them by public transport will be another issue.

I don’t often write posts under my category of blogging; generally at the end of the year or other milestones. I thought that I might have to write a few more of them during this lockdown along with some more book reviews or ‘listicals’, like: 10 artists you don’t need to know about. I didn’t imagine that I would be able to keep writing blog posts 10 weeks into Melbourne’s lockdown. How long I can keep writing these blog posts doing this is another question but when I can’t I’ll take a short break.

I have tried to research an article about Marcel Duchamp and Spanish Flu but it did pan out. You might think that having lived through it that he might have made some mention of it in his letters. All I found a letter from Buenos Aires, 10th January 1919 to Louise Arensberg: “Je suis vraiment navré de la mort de Schamberg et je me demande d’où vient cette vague de mort. Appollinaire, j’ai appris de France, est mort de la grippe il y a quelques mois déja.”C’est désolant.” (I am really upset about the death of Schamberg and wonder where this wave of death is coming from. Apollinaire, I heard from France, died of the flu several months ago now. It’s so distressing.) And three days later describing himself as “your immune baby” in English in a letter to Ettie Stettheimer. (Affectionately, Marcel – the selected correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk, Ludion Press, 2000 p.74 & 77, see my book review.)

In non-COVID lockdown related news, notable Melbourne street artist Lushsux has been hospitalised after being bashed. I am sending him some of my thoughts and all of my prayers.


Staying at home

Most Thursday I go into the city, Fitzroy or somewhere else and look at art galleries and street art but today I am staying at home. Most of the galleries in Melbourne, including the NGV, are in an unprecedented shut down due to the COVID-19 virus. So many things have been shut down and cancelled.

I anticipated that this would happen last week in my last blog post and that day in the city was coloured by the feeling that I won’t be doing this again soon. I had hoped to take a photo-booth photo to memorialise the day but the classic black and white photo-booth at Flinders Street Station was being cleaned. (See my post on photo-booths.)

Instead of my usual gallery crawl, today I am staying at home. Working on the eternal tasks of labelling my photographs, going through the unread emails in my inbox and catching up with my reading. With me are my wife who is working from home and an elderly 12-year-old cat, Stella, that we adopted from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital earlier this year. Stella is very comfortable and experienced with staying at home.

So, as I work out what I’m going to do for the next couple of months, here are some photos that I took earlier. South Korean responses to Marcel Duchamp’s readymade Bicycle Wheel from a design exhibition of street sports. I saw them last year at the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park and I enjoyed their play on the idea. However, the best tribute to Bicycle Wheel that I have seen was by Sean Gladwell.


Goodbye 2018

On my way to Yarra Sculpture Gallery this year I saw a ghost sign painted on an empty building. It reminded me of one of the reasons why I write this blog. I want to record something of the galleries in Melbourne today.

“J Miller Art Gallery / Pictures Framers Restorers / Sales Service & Supplies 419 7516”

The old telephone number before the 9 prefix was added to Melbourne telephone numbers in 1995. Miller’s gallery provided a range of services; contemporary art galleries in Melbourne no long do picture framing as part of their business.

The State Library Victoria has a one folded invitation card and one sheet press release for an exhibition at J Miller Art Gallery. The exhibition was by the Polish artist, Grzegorz Morycinski, March 14, [no year, circa late 1980s?]. Morycinski was a contemporary painter who spent four months in Australia in 1987.

Perhaps my blog posts will simply contribute to a more complete archive of Melbourne’s art world (not a vain hope as this blog is preserved by the State Library of Victoria on Pandora).

* * *

I am still working on my book on art and crime as I have decided to expand it from Melbourne’s art crimes to Australian art crimes. I have been posted a couple these stories from my research, and a couple of times I have been rewarded with more information. 

Perth’s Fake Pollock Exhibition 

The theft of La belle Hollandaise  

The Life and Art of Ronald Bull 

* * *

I have been fortunate to be born a white heterosexual male in an Anglophone culture and it has been a privilege. The only downside was that I was in generation X, a punk anarchist and there are thousands of guys like me. Writing about Melbourne’s visual arts appears to be a good use of my academic skill set. (Thanks to the Australian tax payers for providing me with the free education. I hope that I am paying it forward with my blog.) However, for much of this year I don’t have been trying to listen, learn and leave room for other voices.

* * *

So goodbye to 2018; this blog will return in 2019.


Photographs on this blog

I take most of the photographs on this blog, so I thought that I’d put together a slide show of some of the best. The photos appeared on the blog from 2009 to 2018.

 

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Editorial 2018

A century ago, in 1918, a local reporter reviewed a 14 year-old Salvador Dali’s first group exhibition in the vestibule of the Teatro Principal (now the Teatre-Museu Dali) in Figueres. The reporter wrote of Dali: “He will be a great painter”. (J.L Gimenez-Frontin, Teatre-Museu Dali, trans. Anthony John Kelly, 1999, p.12)

Black Mark at Sweet Streets

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

A century ago, in age of multiple daily papers, there was a lot more room in the papers for regular columnists and reporters who covered a particular beat. The recent decline in newspapers is generally blamed on the internet but would it be more accurate to blame hedge funds? Still only a very local paper would write about a group exhibition with a 14 year-old artist in it.

Maybe that unnamed local reporter wrote that about every young artist he saw hoping that history would remember his one success and forget the many failures. Maybe the unnamed reporter didn’t exist but is a figment of Dali’s self-mythologising. Still I want to be that reporter.

It is now eleven years since I started writing this blog. Eleven years of hoping and trying to be that reporter. The vainglorious aspect of this quest is tempered with the knowledge that arts writers, especially reporters and bloggers, are currently amongst the least powerful people in the arts world. Still I think that it has been about the best use of my time as I could find.

The role of a blogger is not central to visual arts or culture. I suppose it depends on how you want to rate John the Baptist; there is a heresy that claims that he is more important than Jesus, the Johannite or Mandaean heresy, and Tom Wolfe claimed the similar thing about art critics in his 1975 book The Painted Word but I don’t believe him. The quality of the role of the art critic is as debatable as is the quality of any part of art and culture.

I do not only write about exhibitions that impressed me because that would imply that if I didn’t write about an exhibition that I didn’t like it. I don’t write about every exhibition that I see and I do write negative and mixed reviews. I try to write mixed reviews because, in accordance with basic statistics, most exhibitions that I see are average. I believe in kicking up, not kicking down, and that pointing out the flaws of a good exhibition is more productive than those of a poor exhibition.

I to want to continue to provide a view of Melbourne’s visual arts and other aspects of culture. This view is different from connoisseurship, the refined appreciation built up from obsessive repetition and a fandom experience that is over-explained and over-valued. Rather I hope to write about an exploration of the variety, an understanding based on analysis of a larger sample. I want to cast a critical eye on the whole for Melbourne’s visual arts from the major galleries to the ARIs and alternative spaces, from public sculptures to the street art, from art history to fashion.

Perhaps that is more than the un-named reporter a century ago aspired to with his review of Dali’s exhibition but it is right for me.


Where is Tintin?

Where is Tintin? Where is that brave boy reporter from Belgium who uncovers international conspiracies and corrupt corporations? Tintin was a model reporter who  thoroughly and boldly investigated his story. He is there on the spot investigating through coups, international crime and scientific expeditions.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Now the world needs Tintin more than ever. Now, when daily newspapers in major cities are closing down, or in Melbourne’s case now only in a tabloid format. Now, when sports, business and entertainment reporting is being automated. Now, we need the voice of the young boy reporter.

Who didn’t dream of being Tintin and what are you doing about it now? Now, anyone can be a reporter and there are a million stories in your city waiting for you to write them. You might not be able to bring down dictatorial regimes like Tintin – but the opportunity is there.

Even if you are not bringing down governments there are the usual journalistic thrills of finding a story, of being the first to report on a story, of finding that your story’s Google ranking is just below the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

The need for real reporters, or citizen journalists, is greater than ever. The world needs more people to act like Tintin and examine the actions of the state and corporations. To report first hand rather than to rely on media releases and media managed events. We need a greater diversity of voices and we need to cover a greater diversity of subjects.

Bloggers are accused of doing thing that the media does it just as often: lack of fact checking, lack of copyediting, copy and paste… It is said that we live in a copy and paste culture, where content is endless compiled from media releases. These accusations and common faults are evidence of the desperation of reporters/bloggers in these times.

And where is Tintin? Well, what do you think happened after he didn’t get paid for all those stories? On the expedition in The Shooting Star, Tintin is described as “the young reporter who will represent the press” (p.14) but we never see him writing a story, even in the final radio news report there is nothing about his story on the Sãn Rico financier that attempted to sabotage the expedition. It is never clear if he a freelance writer or is he on the staff of a newspaper or magazine. You never see Tintin sending invoices or going to editorial meetings. You never see the sponsorship that Tintin needs to pay for his expeditions.

Neither bloggers nor the mainstream media have developed a functional business model for their online versions and most print newspapers have rapidly diminishing revenue streams. When I get together with other bloggers the discussion always turns to how to monetise our blog: donation buttons, sponsorship, advertising…

The actual cartoon Tintin is a different matter, it is still very profitable and in 2015 there was a court case over image rights.


My next book

When I was busy finishing my last book Sculptures of Melbourne my wife asked me what my next book would be. It was not the question that I wanted to hear then but she did help me work through a few ideas. It was worth asking the question because it was the same question that my publisher asked me just after my book launch. Fortunately by then my wife had helped me find an answer and my publisher liked the idea.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme au mouchoir, 1938

My next book will be A Brush With the Law, stories of true art crimes in Melbourne, or some title like that; I don’t have a deep commitment to titles because my titles have  often been changed. It will be published, whatever the title is, by Melbourne Books in early 2018. To keep to that schedule means finishing writing the book in the next couple of weeks. Then will come meetings with the editor, the copy editor, the book layout designer and eventually the person doing the publicity. For more clues about the content of the book see my blog post from last year.

I have no ideas for another book after this one. I don’t even have ideas to reject and I don’t want to think about that now. Perhaps I will find it writing more blog posts, exploring the city or taking with someone. It is not going to be about taking a walk there are too many people writing books about walking. The best of these books is Frédéric Gros A Philosophy of Walking (translated by John Howe, Verso, London, 2014); this is not ‘philosophy’ as in ‘new age nice thoughts’ but the rigorous hard thinking of Kant, Nietzsche and the ancient Cynics in relationship to ambulation. Not that Gros has written a dense academic examination, it is an entertaining read, but chapters about Ghandi, Rousseau or Rimbaud walking is about as light as he gets.

I haven’t been posting on this blog as often as I usually do because I am working on my book. However after all these years of writing this blog I don’t want to give it up because this is where I get many of my ideas.


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