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Tag Archives: art galleries

The great gallery joke

At first glance I thought that Blindside was completely empty. I looked around for the ‘closed for installation sign’; nothing. There was something hanging on the wall of the second gallery, so I went inside. It was only after I entered the gallery that I saw the paintings.

Jan Murray, Chute (Old Police Hospital) 1, oil on linen, 2017

Three paintings of air vents hung on one wall. There are more tromp l’oeil paintings of hatches, grilles, chutes and ceiling vents. Jan Murray exhibition “Unseen” at Blindside in October 2018; oil paintings of the overlooked architecture of the Nicholas Building and Old Police Hospital. It is the opposite of the old cartoon of the middle aged couple mistaking the gallery’s air vent for a work of art.

The Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty wrote:  “The box, which I have called the white cube, is a curious piece of real estate […] However roughly treated, the white cube is like a straight man in a slapstick routine. No matter how repeatedly hit on the head, not matter how many pratfalls, up it springs, its seamless white smile unchanged, eager for more abuse. Brushed off, pampered, re-painted, it resumes in blankness.” — Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution (2009)

The double act between the art gallery and the artist gives the art its comedic meta concepts. It is a double act as old as Dada. Consider all the art spawn from Duchamp’s readymades that require the gallery to be present. All the readymades, all the installations, all the interrogations of the gallery space from Tracey Emin’s Bed to tomorrow night’s contemporary art exhibition opening.

As in comedy this double act is an uneven relationship; the gallery has all the power but takes the comic artist’s jokes with good humour. This power relationship is questioned, ridiculed, knocked about is at the core of so much modern and contemporary art. Playing on the tension of does the artist or the gallery, the frame, the plinth make the art? The art gallery is the antithesis of the artist, a space without personality.

If the institution displaying the object removes itself from this double act and no longer accepts being the butt of jokes then it becomes a museum, a temple or a palace. In such an arrangement any authority that the artist had over the object is replaced by the authority of the institution and ‘by royal appointment…’ becomes a measure of quality. And both royal and popularity as authority expose the arbitrary and an-aesthetic aspects of such power.

And now I have explained the great gallery joke; a terrible thing to do to any joke.

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Types of Art Galleries on Flinders Lane

There are a variety of galleries along Flinders Lane; if you want to see a variety of different types of galleries then walking down this lane is an education. These types of galleries vary on the way they select the art and are funded. Most of the galleries, look similar, white walled rooms in converted buildings. Only the powerful Anna Schwartz Gallery is in a contemporary purpose-built building.

Craft Victoria 2

When visiting the galleries on Flinders Lane I like to get out at Parliament Station and start with Craft Victoria because this means that I will be walking downhill rather than uphill. Craft Victoria’s exhibitions are regularly amongst the better contemporary art exhibitions that I see. Craft Victoria is a government funded gallery; it is funded by all three levels of government, federal, state and local along with corporate sponsorship and membership of the professional craft association. It also has a gift shop with a fine selection of high quality local craft products.

45 Downstairs is a not-for-profit theatre and gallery space that was founded by Mary Lou Jelbart and Julian Burnside in 2002. Exhibitions are by application and it is funded by rental of the space and donations.

Mailbox Art Space is an artist run space is a series of mailboxes that have been converted into one of Melbourne’s smallest art spaces. Exhibitions are based on an application and it costs nothing to exhibit.

There is also community access gallery on one wall of the upper floor of the City Library. Exhibitions are based on an application by “artists in the early stages of a professional art career”. It costs $800 to exhibit in the gallery for the month, substantially lower than other far less attractive rental spaces in Melbourne, as the costs of the space are mostly funded by the City of Melbourne.

Flinders Lane Gallery 2

The majority of galleries in Flinders Lane both historically and currently are commercial galleries, like Arc One, Anna Schwartz and Flinders Lane Gallery. These galleries select their artists from a stable of artists that the gallery represents. Flinders Lane Gallery opened in 1989 and is the oldest of the exiting galleries on the lane. It represents “emerging, mid-career and Indigenous Australian artists”.

When I last walked along Flinders Lane last weekend Arc One and Flinders Lane Gallery were both having shows from their stockroom, group shows of the artists that they represent. It is always interesting to see a commercial gallery’s stockroom for the same reason that a stockroom show is interesting. Australian Galleries used to have a whole building in Collingwood devoted to their stockroom but it has now closed. In contemporary galleries a stockroom may not be a drab utilitarian store room, Fehily Contemporary has an attractive upstair’s ‘stockroom’ that would put to shame many people’s lounge rooms.

For more on different there is my earlier post on types of art galleries.


A Hipster Conversion

I love the way that real estate agents describe the city. “In the heart of Brunswick bridal district.” There is a poetry to their succinct phrases flavoured with slight exaggerations. “For Lease, A Hipster Conversion” sign on the factory in Albert Street that previous was the studio of 3 Phase Design. “Ideally suited for cafe/restaurant/brewery” the sign continues, describing the range of larger hipster businesses. Hipster fashion boutiques, coffee shops and barbers would be looking for smaller premises.

DSC00202

This is not a sign of the apocalypse. I don’t object to the gentrification of a suburb, but I prefer the hipsterfication because it improves cycling and other things. It is interesting that ‘hipster’ has entered real estate agent’s vocabulary. (See my post on Hipsters.) The long term industrial decline in Brunswick and Coburg, two suburbs in the north of Melbourne, left vacant many shops and factory spaces that were used as art galleries and studios.

I thought that the sign would be a good a way of introducing a list of art galleries in the area that no longer exist; I couldn’t list all the artist’s studios in the area, like 3 Phase Design, as that would be a very long list. For the all the local art historians; this is probably not an exhaustive list and corrections and additions are welcome. It does not include all the pop up gallery spaces that had one or two exhibitions nor business, such as cafes or bookshops that exhibit art.

696

696

696, 696 Sydney Road, from 2008 to 2009 street art shop and alternative commercial art gallery that stocked one off artist creations along with spray paints and magazines. It had a small back room exhibition space with bi-weekly exhibitions and events. 696 also had one-night only exhibitions in “the Yard” in the backyard. Toby and Melika went on to establish “Just Another Agency” representing illustrators and organising exhibitions. 696 then became 696 Ink, a tattoo parlour with exhibitions of pop surrealism. Some of the street art the 696 commission can still be seen in the alley way along one side of the shop.

Circus Gallery in North Coburg (2004-2008), a single room shop front gallery that has to be the most northern art gallery ever in Melbourne. It was up the hill from the old Kodak factory in North Coburg amongst a culture of old shops. The shopfront room alternates as a studio space for Andrew May and an exhibition space; a heavy curtain is drawn across the front window to make it a studio. The gallery had the Starving Artist Prize; the cost of entry for the prize was a can of food and the winners received the cans of food.

Eisenberg Gallery – The Victorian Museum of Experimental Art was at 126A Nicholson St. in East Brunswick on the intersection of Nicholson and Harrison streets. It was an artist run initiative that ran for a few years in a former shop space. The small space was not open but visible from the street through the large shop windows. Exhibitions changed regularly but mostly they were seen by the passing drivers stopped at the lights.

Dudespace was an ordinary private suburban house at 22 Cassels Road, Brunswick. Run by Geoff Newton who went on to open Neon Parc in the city. The house would become an art gallery when a t-shirt bearing the word “Dudespace” hung out the front. The exhibitions in a room in the house would only last a day and featured some notable artists including Juan Ford in 2006.

Pan Gallery was a small commercial gallery in the corner of a pottery supply shop specialising in ceramics that closed in 2011. (See my blog post.)

Ocular Lab, 2003-2010 an artist run initiative, meaning “a site for experimental and alternative models of artistic representation and activity that encouraged the development of professional practice” in a converted shop space in Brunswick with an external ‘billboard’ space.

OM Gallery, was well located opposite the Brunswick Town Hall and ran for many years. It was both a photographic studio and rental exhibition space in a converted factory.

Rinaldi Gallery on Victoria St., Brunswick was an attractive single shop front white room gallery with some one-off designer furniture and objet d’art also for sale. It was run by a very tasteful Italian woman for several years and exhibited serious emerging and mid-career artists.


The National Gallery & Nationalism

There is a vast unexamined area of the reason for national art galleries along with a lack of coherence in explaining why they exist. This lack of coherence and examination rests on another idea that lacks both coherence and examination, the nation state.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art , Gwacheon, Korea

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art , Gwacheon, Korea

The idea of nations and geography makes the artist is built into the very structure of most major art galleries, after all they are often called ‘National’ or ‘State’ galleries. The artificial divisions these gallery make between nationalities and even races perpetrates the idea that the nationality or race is important. (The NGV has a separate gallery of artists who identify as aboriginal.) This nationalism is reflected in the hanging of the art although it does not help our understanding of art history nor the appreciation of the art anymore than hanging the art on the basis of the artist’s gender. The underlying assumption is that there is an underlying core aesthetic to a particular nationality or race is absurdly racist and is not supported by any evidence.

John Burrow writes “For Hegel, in the last part of his Philosophy of Right (1852) (324, 325), it was crucial that the State, in war, could call on the citizen to sacrifice his life. War was no longer, as in the eighteenth century, an affair merely for mercenaries. The State’s right to individual’s life was not just an instrument for his protection (the contract theory), or for the production of welfare (Enlightened Despotism), but a higher spiritual entity than the individual. The requirement of his life was not tyranny but self-sacrifice, submission to one’s own higher will and participation in the life of a higher entity.” (John Burrow, A History of Histories, Penguin Books, 2007, p.459)

The nation state is a religion, a belief in a higher entity. God might be dead and buried but the nation state is very much alive. Several assumptions are made about the sacred nation state but given that nation states are a human invention only a few hundred years old it is not necessary that any nation state exists.

The claim that the state has a right not to be divided and that protecting that state, in the words of Radovan Karadzic before the UN tribunal in the Hague, “holy and just.” (The Independent 20/3/10)  The assumption that a nation state has a right to exist implies that it is a higher entity. This higher entity, the god of the nation, has a unique history, a unique culture, if not a unique language and national identity, is legislated, paid for and demanded by the nation state. Where there is no evidence of this unique culture it must be invented, developed and manufactured. It is assumed that there is such a thing as Australian art but nobody assumes that there will be Australian philosophy (philosophy in Australia is predominately Anglo-American philosophy with a little bit of continental European philosophy).

 

National galleries are must have items for countries as if they were playing some giant game of Sid Meier’s Civilization but what are the benefits of having a national gallery, like the NGV: “the richest treasury of visual arts in the southern hemisphere”? (The National Gallery of Victoria is a wonderful example because it is now a “national gallery” without a nation since the independent colony of Victoria federated with other Australian states.)

Is the nation state to coil up like old Smaug around its treasure, exuding power and basking in the envy of others? To have a national collection that to use in soft diplomacy to representing the state? As an educational tool to train future artist and designers to better the nation’s productivity? As infotainment, a tourist attraction to bring customers to the city’s restaurants and hotels and improve the tax revenue? Or is it to be sold off when the city goes bankrupt as was suggested for the Detroit Art Gallery?

 


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