Tag Archives: 69 Smith St.

Smith and Gertrude Street Galleries

On Thursday I was walking around the galleries around Smith and Gertrude Streets when I saw lots of men in suits out the front of the artist-run-gallery, 69 Smith Street. They were real estate agents packing up from the auction, the old building and small block of land had just sold for $2 million. The gallery was still open with their second last exhibitions; still life paintings by Martin Tighe and a exhibition of graduating regional artists from GOTAFE.

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As an artist-run-gallery 69 Smith Street survived for many years offering some of the cheapest exhibition space in Fitzroy and Collingwood. Consequently there were many exhibitions by students, amateur artists and a few others. Its final years as an organisation was notable only by an ugly year long dispute about who ran the gallery.

Sometimes I wonder what is the value of my practice of going around as many galleries as I can in a day. Sometimes I do this in different locations (Chelsea Gallery Crawl) but most often it the same familiar galleries. What am I doing exploring often the same territory? Why am I bothering with going to some rental space or small ARI?

I am observing the opening and closing of art galleries, the changes in the street, the graffiti and street art? I observe that a few galleries have closed in the area in the last couple of years. Finally I spotted a piece by Utah and Ether, graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde, that will help with the book I’m writing about art crime.

In the past I used to write regular reports of these walks, I still do them but now I use the exercise to find a particular art work or artist that I am will write about or just for the exercise of the walk.

I have a late lunch at the Beach Burrito Company on Gertrude Street. It is the only Mexican restaurant I’ve seen with an empty in-ground swimming pool, presumably for skateboards. As I eat my tacos I look at my notes:

Backwoods had its end of year stockroom show featuring art by the usual street art suspects including Deams, Shida, Roa, Reka, Twoone, and Lush.

Collingwood Gallery, “Nepo Rab” new paintings by Eric Henshall, a whole series of acrylic paintings on canvas depicting colourful scenes in American bars. Why American bars in Collingwood?

Gertrude Contemporary, there was too much to read at the “Gertrude Studios 2016” exhibitions. Pages and pages of notes for a single art work, more pages for another one, along with a room sheet in 10pt font. What ever it is, contemporary art appears to be a form of literature.

This Is No Fantasy, Neil Haddon, “New Works” are lush paintings that fracturing, in several ways, including between sort of landscapes and silly portraits with two round eyes.

Seventh Gallery, several strong contemporary art exhibitions at this ARI, including an upstairs space (shows how long it has been since I was last at Seventh) where Elizabeth Presa “In Playland” depicts the frozen memory of playtime in plaster. Downstairs in the front gallery Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux” is an impressive, expanding weaving of donated clothing, fabric and yarn that grew during the exhibition.

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Elizabeth Presa, In Playland

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Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux”


Random Gertrude Street

A walk along Gertrude Street to look at the current exhibitions at Dianne Tanzer, Seventh and Gertrude Contemporary.

At Dianne Tanzer Paper Trails features new work by Victoria Reichelt and Carly Fischer. It is an exhibition of opposites, replicas of the paper products that have either, in Fischer’s work been casually transformed instead of normally thrown away, or, in Reichelt’s paintings, water damaged archived papers. A few weeks ago I’d seen Carly Fischer exhibition, Magic Dirt at Craft Victoria (see my review). Reichelt’s paintings depict the theme of archiving, files in shelves all with a heart sticker on them and its watery perils, split boxes of wet paper. I hope that Angy Labiris, who was exhibiting some very ordinary paintings at 69 Smith Street, ventures up around the corner and up Gertrude Street to see Reichelt’s great contemporary still life paintings. (I went into 69 Smith Street to see the recent renovations to the gallery, the art on exhibition was as ordinary as ever.)

I was about to go into Seventh Gallery when I was recognised. Diego Ramirez introduced himself, I had previously reviewed his exhibitions Happy Summer Tank and Radish. Ramirez has an exhibition A Primitive Movie in Gallery One and his studio is upstairs. A Primitive Movie is not a movie, it is an installation about a movie, Axolotl, another mutant creature from Ramirez imagination. It was a good idea for an exhibition, the movie poster projected onto the wall, a light box and a wooden kinescope screen but there wasn’t to the installation enough for my taste.

In Gallery Two Louise Meuwissen and Lotte Schwerdtfeger, Intense, Intents, In tents. Remember when you made tents with sheets and blankets in your house and how good it was? Intense, Intents, In tents is much better, it is beautiful, magical fun. Combining LED lights with embroidery works beautifully and reminded me of the artistic possibilities opened by this new technology allowing artists to work with light where previously this would have been a fire hazard. Louise Meuwissen was the winner of the Dumbo Feather Award at Craft’s Fresh! exhibition this year also an interview with her.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition from Gertrude Studios; a good opportunity to see eight artists working in Gertrude Studios. Installations, photographs, painting; Sean Peoples floor work intrigued me, the contrast between the artificial and the natural, and the connection to all the flower arrangements of art. It also reminded me of Duchamp’s Trebuchet, 1917. As an exhibition Gertrude Studios made as much sense as my random sample of exhibitions along Gertrude Street.


Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.

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Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.


Play Money, Radish & other exhibitions

On Thursday night I went to the opening of “Play Money” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition examines ”the anxiety surrounding the acquisition of real estate and the legacy of land ownership in Australia”. It is pertinent subject especially in Brunswick where houses prices are rising in the wake of the artistic revival; Gregor Muir described artists as “the storm-troopers of gentrification.” The irony of the welcome to country at the opening was not lost at either.

Curated by Jane O’Neill “Play Money” is good as far as it goes but it is taking up valuable real estate with an exhibition that didn’t fill up all the walls. The suburban subject is very current in Melbourne art; the Ian Strange exhibition at the NGV Atrium came to mind (see my post) along with the art of Jason Waterhouse and Adrian Doyle. I wanted more.

On my Thursday afternoon gallery crawl I was impressed with “Radish” by Diego Ramirez at Seventh Gallery. The two videos in the installation contributed to the sad story of a radish headed man. The videos had great production quality overall but especially the make-up and prosthetics. I was wondering if the radish headed man finally found a home buried in the back room of Seventh Gallery as the radish top was poking out from the gallery floor.

I also enjoyed seeing Penny Pekham’s “A Taxonomy of (Art) Cats”. A series of prints upstairs in a small room at 69 Smith St amidst some bad and ordinary art, including Pekham’s series of paintings based on Leonard Cohen lyrics. The lino-cut prints reproduced cats by famous artists (Hiroshige, Toulouse Lautrec, Steinlen, Beardsly, Manet etc.) arranged in grids. Simple but effective and combining cats and art history is a way to my heart.

I saw Little Woods Gallery for the first time. It is a small gallery space that is part of the Jesuit Social Services on Langridge Street. Lauren Dunn’s “We are all friends” a series of photographs of Lauren’s friends. The larger than life photographs were too close, both intimate and a bit intimidating. There was some attempt to trace the connections between these faces and Dunn but not enough was made of that.


Gallery Crawl – November 2011

It was a pleasant late November day in Melbourne – blue sky and sun – a perfect day for a walk around some galleries.

Paste-up on Gertrude Street

At Kick Gallery the lighting was still being adjusted for the opening that evening. The gallery was full of small sculptures, in a couple of different styles, until I was given a room sheet I was unsure if it was all the work of one sculpture; Craig MacDonald. One of his styles, the spun profile, reminded me of Renato Bertelli’s “Continuous Profile of Mussolini” 1933, but MacDonald has made a spinning fat woman instead of an Italian dictator. Most of his quirky bronze sculptures have an underlying quiet sense of humour, like the figure of an astronaut without pants.

Ben Millar’s “The Colour Notation Project” in Seventh Gallery front space had an electric guitar plugged in, if anyone wanted to attempt to read the colour notation. It was all explained and the score was on the wall, in several minimalist looking works. The backroom of Seventh contained a video installation (as usual) this time “Place of Tears” a haunting installation by Hermoine Merry and Henriette Kassay-Schuster.

69 Smith St. had one of many end-of-year student exhibitions at this time. I don’t know what to expect of NMIT Diploma of Visual Arts graduates but the exhibition was roughly hung and most of the work reminded me of art fads that I’ve seen several years ago. They really should have been looking at the work at Gertrude Contemporary, if they wanted to do contemporary art and exhibit it well. When I was looking around the “Gertrude Studios 2011” exhibition I thought that the art students rather than gone to NMIT should have just worked on a building site and learnt to build walls, an essential skill in the contemporary art scene. Josh Petherick’s “Leaning, with accompaniment” is a great example of this trend in cutting chunks out of plasterboard walls.

“Gertrude Studios 2011” is a good end of year exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary. I’m consider going to their open studio on Saturday 26th – I went to one several years ago and I wonder what else I have on that day and what the weather will be like.

CPSU demonstration in Melbourne

The day was made even more pleasant by the band on the back of a truck grooving away accompanying the CPSU demonstration that was rallying near Parliament. With music in the air and the day so pleasant I decided to forgo the trams and walked to Collingwood. On the way back I saw many nurses returning from another strike rall. Good luck to both of them; this is why there is an Occupy movement around the world. It is these underpaid but vital care workers who do need better pay and conditions rather than the executive mangers who are getting the pay rises.

Not that there was any deeply political work in any of the galleries or on the street, except for Paul Yore’s “Monument to the Republic” at Gertrude Contemporary, a piss-taking piece of slacker art that represents the Australian Republic perfectly. The boutiques, cafes and galleries along Gertrude and Smith streets looked apolitical, absorbed in their own style. There were lots of things to see on the walk; including an exhibition of modified top hats in the window of Smart Alec’s, and, of course, the street art down the laneways.

"From the Neck Up" - hats by Lu Skace J, Louise Blyton and Henry Maas


A few of Monash’s artists

I saw some exhibitions by artists with connections to Monash University this week.

In the Sample case in Campbell Arcade is Lucy Berglund sculpture Mother/Lover/Other. Lucy Berglund is currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at Monash. Found basalt block of stone, familiar to all inhabitants of Melbourne as ‘bluestone’, wrapped, tied and taped. The tradition of wrapped objects goes back to Man Ray and the Surrealists, through Christo, and Berglund has little nothing new with the idea. However, the stone blocks wrapped in blanket material, nylon stockings, or bound with rope do have a primitive minimalist sculptural quality.

There are former post-graduate Monash Art and Design students exhibiting in a group show at Shifted, a new gallery and studio space on Albert St. The artists are exhibiting work in a variety of media: sculpture, painting, drawing and video art. The theme of the exhibition deals with the body in space but, like the media, there is no uniform method or ideology evident amongst the artists.

One of the exhibiting artists is Michael Brennan, who was once a member of 69 Smith St. proving that in this case an artist-run space can be the step to commercial gallery representation. I instantly recognized Brennan’s vertiginous perspective and surface of wrinkly dried paint. His current painting is less realistic, more urban and more thought provoking than the earlier paintings that I have seen.

This is just a brief sample of Monash fine arts students currently exhibiting in Melbourne. This small entry is my little celebration of Monash University’s 50th anniversary. I am a Monash alumni but that hasn’t influenced my critical judgment, as I never studied Fine Arts or Design at Monash University and have no connection with that department. When I studied at Monash University there was only one campus, at Clayton, and no Fine Arts department.


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