Tag Archives: Anna Schwartz Gallery

The Anna Schwartz Gallery book

Present Tense is a big beige book thick as a house brick but not as heavy. The subtitle, Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art describe the contents, text and photographs, accurately. Anna Schwartz Gallery is amongst Melbourne’s most influential commercial art galleries. Since 1986 it has represented some of Melbourne’s best contemporary artists, including Mike Parr, Emily Floyd, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell, and visiting international artists. The author, Doug Hall, is the former director of Queensland Art Gallery and now a Melbourne resident.

The beige cover suggests the excitement level of the long, rambling story that the author has bleached of colour. Even some theory and art-speak would be a welcome relief from the narrative, but Hall avoids both. It seems like Hall had almost a deliberate strategy to hide anything that might attract your interest in the middle of chapters. I could not get into it; the writing was that dull. All it got from me was skim reading, dipping into it, reading for research and not pleasure.

At first, I was hoping to find details that I could use in blog posts about some of the artists that Anna Schwartz Gallery represents. Unfortunately, I found nothing in it worth citing. Even the chapter on public sculpture was remarkably unedifying. Apart from a single photograph of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy, the reader is told nothing about the artists that Anna Schwartz represents doing public art. Instead of information, the reader is treated to Hall’s opinions on why it is better not to be involved in public art commissions.

This is not the first time that I’ve read a rambling book about an Australian art dealer. Adrian Newstead’s The Dealer is the Devil – an insider’s history of the Aboriginal Art trade, (Brandl and Schlesinger, 2014) is almost as long and nearly as dull. Still, at least, Newstead can tell stories.

As I persevered through its pages, I wondered if this book was ever intended to be read and I considered the other reason to have a book. Books have a symbolic value both as objects on shelves and as unread ideas, documented in various lists. Many books are not intended to be read all the way through coffee table books, books as art objects, along with phone books and other reference books.

There is an art to being influential. The symbolic value of this big book, almost regardless of its contents, cannot be under-estimated. For its existence is a kind of proof of the influential reputation of Anna Schwartz Gallery. A book about Anna Schwartz Gallery deserves to be written. It is just the writer and editor that were unfortunate choices.

Doug Hall Present Tense – Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art (Black Inc.,2019) 


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


Morton’s Monument Park

One of the best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen is Callum Morton Monument Park, 2015, on New Quay in the Docklands. It ticks so many of my boxes for public sculpture. You can sit on it, climb on it, walk through it, it is site specific seamlessly integrated into the paving. At one point it is just ordinary paving and then the paving becomes draped material covering monuments. The draped monuments form a square, a hub, for people to gather. Architecture or sculpture it is hard to see where one starts and the other ends at Monument Park.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

What are these covered monuments before their unveiling? It is not clear, unlike Callum Morton’s earlier exhibition, ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ at Anna Schwartz Gallery (my review of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’), there are no plinths to provide clues. Monument Park has developed from the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ series of wrapped versions of local public sculptures.

Given the recent violence over monuments to Confederate heroes in the USA perhaps it is better if these monuments were kept covered. As the First Dog in the Moon points out, Australia has yet to deal with its problematic monuments. I think that some of these monuments should be put in prison where they will no longer be looked up to. Morton manages a light reference to this discourse in cutting away at the interiors of his covered monuments. The bright colours of the exposed, geometric interior of the sculptures introduces splashes of bright colour to the area.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Wrapped sculptures have their own history in modern art in the work of Christo and, still earlier, Man Ray. These art history references adds to the quality of Monument Park without alienating the little children climbing on it. The mix of post-modern references and humour is typical of Callum Morton who originally trained as an architect before swapping to sculpture. His Hotel is a familiar sight to commuters on the Eastlink Freeway a public sculpture and is based on his early artworks influenced by architectural model making.

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (1 EastLink)

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (photo courtesy of EastLink)


Emily Floyd’s Signature Work

The big black bunny is clearly a toy; it’s blocky features and simplified form is a result of it being a toy and not modern art. I had only seen in Emily Floyd Signature Work (Rabbit) in a photograph that mislead me about its size. As always with these things I was expecting something larger but Melbourne’s Docklands with it’s multi-story buildings is so large that the rabbit would have to be huge to compete.

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Emily Floyd, Signature Work, 2004

When I first saw Floyd’s work years ago in Anna Schwartz Gallery I didn’t like it. I haven’t liked her subsequent exhibition either including; The Dawn, a solo survey exhibition at the NGV in 2014. All the bright colours and toy like forms seem prosaic when you realise the dull question that they are based on: if art is about communication can we learn from it?

Her public sculpture made me reconsider work. Her Public Art Project (Bird and Worm) on EastLink or her Signature Piece (Rabbit) in Docklands work appear to be fun contemporary public sculptures. They work in that they are effective at creating recognisable landmarks for the otherwise anonymous locations.

Her gallery work is different; you aren’t going past it in a car. It is somehow different even when she is using the same toy rabbit form. I keep hoping for fun, irony, or play in them but there is never enough to balance out the serious pedagogical inspiration of her work. The art-speak about her work reduces the fun even more. Phrases like: “text-based sculptures and pedagogically-inspired works which combine formal concerns with an interest in the legacies of modernism.” Is there that much depth to Floyd’s work? Possibly there is but it does suck all the fun out of it. The deeper that Floyd attempts to make her art, the shallower it seems to me.

In her 2015 exhibition Field Libraries, the pedagogical inspiration of her work is clear, as she turned her brightly coloured play blocks into book shelves. The painted aluminium shelves were stacked with booklets printed, “fair use” from the internet. A series of uniques state screen prints illustrating books, representing the idea of Floyd’s ongoing library. Subjects in the library include ‘Zombie Marxism’ and ‘Feminist Autonomism.’

Emily Floyd’s sculptures might look like toys but this is serious art. It is a bit too serious, too prosaic in its pedantic intent. Floyd is not playing with these big toys, she is using them to demonstrate ideas. The more you look at her art the less fun you have.

Does everything have to be an educational experience? What have you learnt from this?

Emily Floyd, Public Art Strategy, 2006 (19 EastLink)

Emily Floyd, Public Art Project (Bird and Worm) 2006, photograph courtesy of EastLink


Sweet Fragonard

What is it to have taste? Most people can taste, in that they are aware of the sense, but that is not the same as having taste. The cultivation of taste is a way that society uses up the excess and there was nothing as excessive as the Rococo, except the contemporary industrialised world.

In his exhibition, “The Fragonard Room” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Stieg Persson comments on excess. There is the excess of the Rococo, with its over the top images and execution. The excess of tagging, the over the top calligraphic curves of tagging letter forms that are carefully copied in gold paint by Persson from stuff on the streets of south-east Melbourne. The excess of food, the over the top coffee culture or the current fad for multi-coloured macaroons. The animals as a symbol of excess; eating like a pig or goat, breeding like rabbits, more monkeys and long haired lapdogs. The empty oyster shells, except for one with a pearl. Yet amid all of this excess there is great restraint in Persson’s art.

For me a key image is a small painting of Prada silk ribbons with the Prada tag, a symbol of luxury, woven into them and the beautiful curves of the ribbons like a cloud, an ephemeral thing of beauty. I have seen Persson’s paintings for years but they have been one or two paintings in large group exhibitions, as in Melbourne Now, and I haven’t really got them. Seeing this solo exhibition with the alternating hanging of sub-themes at Anna Schwartz Gallery it all became clear.

Where is Persson in all this appropriation? The style and taste portrayed in his paintings from the cool modern abstract play with paint, to the fiddly bits of Rocco style painting to the brushstrokes of the tags are all from somewhere else. The hand of the artist in the drawings is obscured by more tags. What is left of Persson is the flickering taste of the consumer of food and images.

Take a virtual tour of the Frick Institute’s Fragonard Room. Speaking from my synesthesia, Fragonard’s art is so sweet that it is like spun sugar that is gone almost after it touches your tongue. The current fashion for cooking and foodie culture is about the cultivation of ephemeral tastes.


Wrapped & Revealed

Callum Morton’s exhibition Neighbourhood Watch at Anna Schwartz Gallery is a lot of fun. Morton’s art is generally a lot of fun; Morton’s Motel is a familiar sight to drivers on the Eastlink Freeway and would also be familiar to listeners of the Triple M breakfast show where mistaking Morton’s Motel for the real thing has become a long running joke.

The game of Morton’s Neighbourhood Watch is a guessing game. If you have lived in Melbourne and are sighted you should be able to guess the identity of the wrapped statues. All the wrapped statues are familiar public statues that are located in Melbourne’s major streets and parks even if only their feet are visible underneath the brightly coloured plastic wrapping. What might also confuse the guess is that although the statues are a quarter of their actual size, the simplified plinths on which they stand have only be scaled down to half their size.

They are all memorial statutes but do we remember? The exhibition could have been extended into a social sculpture with a survey to find out which of these five statues were most recognised and which had been mostly forgotten.

I could go on about these wrapped statues, with reference to the work of Christo or Man Ray, but I think that I’ll use this to segue to another sculpture exhibition Revelations – Sculpture from the RMIT Art Collection at RMIT Gallery. RMIT’s art collection has the benefit that many of the best sculptors in Australia have at one time been students or staff or both. A lot of what I have to say about RMIT and sculpture can be found in my catalogue essay for Revelations “From Great Men to Landmarks”.

Revealing what is in RMIT’s sculpture collection makes an exciting sculpture exhibition that tells the history of sculpture in Melbourne from plaster casts of the Parthenon frieze, through modernism to contemporary sculpture. The exhibition also supplements the Inge King retrospective at the NGV (see my post) with more work by King and other members of the Centre Five group, so I would urge anyone going to the King exhibition to also see Revelations.

It is a great time to see sculpture exhibitions in Melbourne.


Looking for a story on Flinders Lane

Looking for something to write about for a blog post I looked at the galleries along Flinders Lane.

When I went into Arc One I knew that I could write a blog entry about Lyndell Brown and Charles Green’s “The Dark Wood”. Their exhibition is a critical wet dream – I can tell my notebook: “collaboration…war artists…background field of green and browns…the paper sky has been wrinkled, the landscape becomes paper…the contradictions in Aust. foreign policy.” However, I have already reviewed their 2009 exhibition at Arc One.

I went downstairs to Fortyfive Downstairs and there was another possible story. Not the bland plywood architectural influenced work of Dayne Trower – the title says it all “Slow Decline”. But Mike Hewson’s “Under Standing Loss” could make a good story. Mike Hewson is a New Zealand artist whose studio was destroyed in this year’s Christchurch earthquake. He has even tried to recreate his studio in the backroom as well as framing a drawing pinned to the plaster studio wall that he sawed out before the building was demolished. Unfortunately I couldn’t get excited about Hewson’s paintings.

At Mailbox 141 Owen Hammond has a fun exhibition – “The Wonderful House”. Lots of fun with the simple form of a house: “Newton’s House” hangs in a series of pendulums, “Muybridge’s House” rotates on the dark time lapse photography grid, “Barb’s house” is a barbed wire house frame. It’s not substantial enough for a full blog post, and I’d get tired of the puns, but certainly worth looking at.

Flinders Lane Gallery was showing a surreal couple of exhibitions: Jon Eiseman’s quirky sculptures “Ships of the Night” and Juli Haas “Visions after Midnight”. Ann Schwartz Gallery had monumental video work by Gabriella and Silvana Mangano in the main gallery but upstairs Laresa Kosloff had a fun exhibition collecting artist’s signatures on her leg cast at the Biennale de Venezia, 2011. Charles Green and Lyndell Brown signed the cast along with Stuart Ringholt and about 17 other artists. Lots of Duchamp references could be made about this work but that means regurgitating my Master’s thesis, not a fun prospect.

Gingerbread Arts Centre

Later in the day I looked at a gingerbread city at the City Gallery at Melbourne’s Town Hall, very seasonal story, but not really as the Art Centre is shown with icing snow. The RMIT BA Gold & Silversmith Graduate Show, “It Was Like A Fever” at No Vacancy is also seasonal story – ‘tis the season student exhibitions.

When you look at a number of Melbourne galleries chances are one of them will be closed installing an exhibition. This time I was out of luck and two were installing: Craft Victoria and Until Never. While I was at Craft Victoria, I picked up a copy of Das Super Paper. I was looking for this month’s InTrouble to see if my article was in the print edition or just in the online copy. Anyway Das Super Paper is a great read, lots of excellent articles about art.

There are millions of stories in this city and hundreds of them are visual arts stories and these are some of them.


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