Tag Archives: art reviews

Gushing

There is an ugly glut of gushing praise in the art world. Wonderful, amazing, fabulous, great, fantastic, must see … gushing praise is just so much balderdash, soap bubbles of words that don’t tell you anything. Turn the flow of praise down and find something else to say about art.

In the past the partisan politics of the modern art world attracted many defenders convinced that appreciate progressive art was the same as supporting progressive politics. A small, marginal cultural practice might need a gushing review from an insider to promote it but Melbourne’s contemporary visual arts scene is neither small nor marginal. It can stand on its own merits and doesn’t need a constant flow of gushing praise to sustain it.

The arts media is seen as a free promotional forum whose role is to attract a larger audience for an event. These gushing comments are poncy (“poncy” as in pandering, procurering and pimping) praising all the artists and every exhibition or event. There is even a Melbourne blog called Art Pimp by Din Heagney, artistic director of Platform Artists Group (2006-2010). But all this pimping isn’t going to improve the quality of the art.

There is a lot of gushing in the Australian art media because too many the writers and presenters can’t say anything else due to massive conflicts of interests. Andy Dinan who presents “Gallery Girl” on Channel 31 is the director of Mars Gallery. This conflict of interest that is left unmentioned on the show, even when Andy Dinan reports on her own gallery. “Gallery Girl” is not community television but a half hour advertisement for some of Melbourne’s commercial galleries. There are so few independent critics who can comment without conflicts of interests that it goes unmentioned in the arts media. Even the ABC’s “Art Nation”, the national broadcaster’s visual arts show is full of gushing; one of their commentators, Reko Rennie’s artistic career influences what he has to say about art.

When was the last time that you read a negative review of a contemporary art exhibition? When was the last time that you read that a notable artist was under performing or that an exhibition wasn’t worth a look? These kinds of comments are common in film and book reviews, even from sports commentators but they are rare in the visual arts. One of the reasons for this blog is to improve the quality of critical discussion in Melbourne’s visual arts not to gush.


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.)


%d bloggers like this: