Tag Archives: art criticism

Art Bloggers

Who are the other bloggers writing about the visual arts in Australia? What motivates them to do all this work creating original content for their blogs?

Ace Wagstaff – Dead Hare Melbourne Art Review (started May 2008). The title, Dead Hare is a reference to the Joseph Beuys work “Explaining art to a dead hare” (and also one work by his BFA teacher, Geoff Lowe as part ‘A Constructed World’ entitled ‘Explaining Art to Live Eels’). Ace Wagstaff wants “to document and share events and exhibitions that were and are almost invisible comparatively to the larger commercial and government galleries.” He focuses on Melbourne’s smaller gallery spaces, student spaces and ARI’s.

Steve Gray – Art Re-Sources (started Sept 2008) grew from an idea of a resource for Yr 11+ Visual Art Students. Art Re-Sources features many interviews with artists, as Steve Gray explained: “I wanted to offer students and artists a bit more than the usual fix of art magazine heroes and maybe/wannabees who were the flavour of the month. I had a few contacts and a bunch of questions to pose them in a question and answer format.”

Marcus Bunyan – Art Blart (started Nov 2008) reviews exhibitions in Melbourne and around the world. As a photographer Marcus Bunyan has a particular focus on photography exhibitions, he is often the official photographer for exhibitions and consequently his blog has some great photography along with exhibition reviews.

Karen Thompson – Melbourne Jeweller (started March 2009) has a special focus on jewellery exhibitions in Melbourne. Karen Thomspon started the blog with advice and encouragement from Brian Ward who writes Fitzroyalty. Thompson wanted to write her blog: “to document exhibitions (for future interest, and for others outside of Melbourne to read), explore my own reactions, to expand my language and visual ‘well / bank’, and to open up discussion to invite others to give their opinions (not just on exhibitions but also on topical issues).”

Stephanie Pohlman and Ashleigh Clarke – Brisbane Art Collective (started Aug 2010) write their blog because they “felt in Brisbane especially, a city that supposedly is a ‘cultural wasteland’ in comparison to Melbourne and Sydney there was a lack of critical feedback in regards to the art scene. I guess, fundamentally what we wanted to do was to show people that there is an amazing art scene in Brisbane and offer people a forum in which they could read about it.” The Brisbane Art Collective writes about more than just exhibitions, their posts range across a variety of topics including: street art, silence in the gallery and art history.

All of these people write because they are interested in the subject and the by writing a blog they can connect with the subject and other people with that interest. Writing is an outlet for their curiosity. For Ace Wagstaff and Karen Thompson it is a return to the kind of thinking that they missed after graduating. Karen Thompson notes: “the public readership gave me a framework and a kind of discipline I may have not developed without that framework.”

Karen Thompson, Ace Wagstaff and Marcus Bunyan all balance their own art practices with blog writing. Marcus Bunyan commented about this balance:

“… one practice informs the other, they are not mutually exclusive. I usually make 2-3 bodies of works each year, so that when I am not working on my artwork I am studying for Uni (I am studying a Master of Art Curatorship part-time), reading, working on reviews for the blog. All of these things interweave, are intertextual, one informing the other.”

So why write about art exhibitions? Many of these bloggers want to supplement the meagre coverage of the many art exhibitions. The Brisbane Art Collective put it this way: “basically we write art criticism because we want to give people an objective outlook to the art industry, we aren’t publicists and we aren’t interested in just talking about pretty pictures.” Steve Gray is motivated by his own experience: “I have looked at hundreds of shows over a 30 year period, some years more than others. I would see reviews, see the show and agree or disagree. I would also see shows which had not had an ounce of media attention. There was a chance to chat about some of these things and explore it further.”

When I asked the bloggers “who inspires you?” I was surprised to find how many other bloggers are an inspiration to them.

One point that I was relief for me to know – it might also be a relief for artists too – most of bloggers selection of exhibitions to be reviewed is largely random and personal. Only Melbourne Jeweller is so focused that finding out about exhibitions require searching via reader suggestions, gallery websites and internet searches.

It does take encouragement to start a blog and to keep it going. I wish that more people would write blogs about the visual arts in Australia and that more readers would comment on the posts. When Ace Wagstaff considered his doubts and insecurities about writing a blog he then noted:

“I’m reminded of how few people do write about the work that I’m writing about, and how good it is to start dialogues and how affirming it is as an artist to receive feedback, so I swallow my ego and try not to think about whether I am going to embarrass myself with my writing or whether or not I am going to finally expose myself as an art-scene poser, and channel one portion of punk cajones and one part Nike slogan and just do it.”

(Thanks to all the bloggers mentioned for their help in writing this post. There are more bloggers writing about the visual arts in Australia – see my blogroll at the bottom of this page.)


September 2010 @ Blindside

I’m thinking about how to write art reviews/criticism as I consider how to review the two exhibitions at Blindside: Amanda Airs “Beach Box Blue” and Jacque Drinkall “Weather Underwater”. Should I bother to review bad exhibitions when I could just use my energy to write about the ones that I liked? But if I were to only review one of the two exhibitions at Blindside it would imply that I didn’t like the other without exploring the reasons for this choice.

Karen Thompson, Melbourne Jeweller wrote in her blog: “I find I can be affected by reading other reviews and media before seeing or writing about an exhibition, such that my reaction can sometimes be unconsciously formed a little by what I read. I counter this by usually not reading anything before seeing the show and writing my initial response, to be sure I understand my own opinion, and then find it really interesting how that can change with further reading etc. So, I’ll write my initial response before doing any research into the exhibition, and then write more after doing some more reading.”

I agree with this approach; in doing further reading I will first try to find out what the artist has done before this exhibition. I will further investigate the ideas behind the art, where it fits into the history of art and what it means to a culture. I will then read other critics opinions on the artist. So where does reading the artist’s statement fit into this program?

Blindside has been providing single A4 sheet folded catalogues with all of their exhibitions this year. Along with a couple of colour images of the work and exhibition details there is always a statement by the artist in these catalogues.

Jacque Drinkall’s artist statement for “Weather Underwater” is pointless nonsense, as opposed to nonsense with a point, like satire, parody, Dada or Surrealist nonsense. It is mental diarrhea – incoherent and messy. Like her exhibition the initial attraction of the photographs, videos and sculptural objects quickly breaks down on realizing that there is little connections between them. It appears irrelevant, so why bother trying to read Jacque Drinkall’s mind when all indications suggest that it is scrabbled?

“The culture and aesthetics of telepathy and psychic life permeates the ‘everyday’. My art works creatively with telepathy to better understand and change the world.” – Jacque Drinkall (“Weather Underwater”, catalogue)

Amanda Airs exhibition statement for “Beach Box Blue” was both coherent and expanded on what was already visible in her exhibition. She has located her work within the history of art (Bridget Riley and op art), she has explained her technique (spatial distortion through colour and the illusion of movement “through the use of contrasting colour and repetition of line and angle”) and, finally, she has added her personal experience of optical effects.

“Beach Box Blue” is a post-minimal installation of colored threads creating optical effects. I have seen other artists in Melbourne using thread to divide up spaces but “Beach Box Blue” is the most intense and optically satisfying of these works due to Amanda Airs choice of colors and painting the gallery wall to emphasize the contrasting colors.

I don’t think that artist’s statement should be included as a matter of course for all the art exhibited. My advice to most artists is not to write artists statements. Artists are often not the best people to write about their own art – how many media do you expect them to master?

Reality & Art Criticism

People have been asking me: “are you going to see the Dali exhibition at the NGV?” It is a fair question, particularly as I have been interested in Dali ever since reading his Unspeakable Confessions in my high school library. However, I really don’t know if I will and if I do I will probably not write a blog entry about it because blockbuster exhibitions are not the focus of this blog and so much has already been written about Dali. Art Blart managed to write and photograph  the exhibition before any of the other blogs (kudos to Marcus Bunyan). And Melbourne Jeweller also reviewed the exhibition.

The reality is that I get asked if I’m going to see a lot of exhibitions. I welcome all invitations to attend art exhibitions and other events however, I can’t promise to attend or write about the exhibition. The reality of my visits to art galleries and other events is dependant on a large number of factors that have nothing to do with the exhibition. It depends on so many things: my wife, my friends, Melbourne’s extreme weather and the location.

The location of the gallery does play a part. The gallery’s proximity both to me and to other galleries will influence my decision to visit. Trying to explore the numerous aspects of Melbourne’s art world is like an urban orienteering adventure. And although I am fond of urban exploration and I do want to write about new galleries I have to take into consideration the time it takes to find a new gallery in a strange location which may means that I don’t have time to see other exhibitions. Melbourne’s poor public transport system makes it difficult for me to get to some galleries, even some of those in the inner north, like Northcote. I have also neglected to write anything about the galleries in Armadale, Ivanhoe, Hawthorn, Prahran, and St. Kilda for the same reason. I do try to rotate the galleries that I write about along with the variety of types of art that I write about from sculpture to street art.

Sometimes I go to exhibition openings but mostly I don’t; I’ve been to many in the past. Attending art exhibition opening is useful and fun to drink and talk with the artists and other people. However, I can only attend one or two openings in a day or night and the exhibition is sometimes difficult to see the art because of all the people.

Sometimes I see an exhibition and for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with the quality of the exhibition I don’t end up writing about it. I may try writing about it and fail to find the right words. Another story may be more news worthy and so another story never gets written. Sometimes a gallery is inexplicably closed when I visit so I never get to see the exhibition.

Today I went to East Richmond, photographed the aerosol art in around the train carpark and looked at most of the galleries on Albert St. I was delighted to see Tracy Potts exhibiting at Anita Traverso Gallery because she was one of the first artists that I reviewed in my first blog entry in my old blog. I am currently reading Will Self’s novel Great Apes so Lisa Roet’s latest exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery had additional resonances. (See Art Blart’s review of her opening). I talked with Daniel Doral at John Buckley Gallery and looked at the paintings by Gareth Sansom there.

These maybe the only exhibitions that I get to see all week – I check my diary and the weekend is looking busy with family. I will have to do more research and writing before I publish anything about what I saw today.

These are some of the realities of art criticism.

More Arts Blogs!

Melbourne needs more art critics, especially given the number of exhibitions in Melbourne. (I am still exhausted by home renovations and a head cold, so I don’t know when I will be getting out to see any exhibitions.) More critical voices need to be heard and a greater variety of critical voices need to be heard. Where is the aboriginal online art critic? I hope that bloggers can help to solve this crisis because they are easy, accessible and fun.

If you visit art galleries then why not write a blog about your thoughts? There is still plenty room for more online art critics as so many exhibitions remain unreviewed. I want to write something to empower people to be art critics, to talk and write about art beyond simple subjectivist expression of preferences. “Think hard” was the advice that John McKenzie gave in his course Introduction to Aesthetics at Monash. It may sound obvious but actually doing it is hard; maybe I don’t do it enough.

Art criticism doesn’t have to be serious or academic; there is not much variety in art criticism in mainstream publications but that doesn’t mean that is the only way to write about art. For example, there are enough art exhibition openings every week to write a blog of Melbourne’s art world gossip. And there is probably enough poor/unethical journalism in art publications for an arts media watch.

“A critic, especially when he is writing of contemporary work, should be regarded as a guide, rather than a teacher.” Wrote James Gleeson.

Some stupid people believe that you must be an artist in order to be an art critic. Some art critics like James Gleeson have also been artists, others, like Clement Greenberg or Felix Feneon, were not artists; it is not important. I had no insider knowledge of Melbourne’s street art scene when I started this blog but I have learnt as I looked more. I hope that they have provided a different perspective on Melbourne’s street art than a participant/observer.

If you have been thinking about writing a blog about art exhibitions consider this. It is hard work, you will need to think hard, read a lot, check your facts and visit many galleries. There are few rewards to writing a blog about art, aside from glasses of cheap wine at gallery openings. But I’m having fun. And if I can be of assistance to anyone wanting to write an arts blogs please contact me.

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