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Tag Archives: artist run initiative

Openings and Closings: Brunswick Arts and Neon Parc

One gallery closes and another one opens: Brunswick Arts is closing and Neon Parc has opened a new second space.

Brunswick Arts is an artist run gallery that opened eleven years ago in a converted factory space built out the back of a suburban house. The factory space opened onto Little Breeze Street and served as an art gallery while various artists lived in the house, a key part of the gallery’s business model. However, recently building inspectors ruled it out the combination of a residence and gallery.

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An opening at Brunswick Arts

“Burnt out” were two of the words used by Alister Karl, who has been on the committee running Brunswick Arts for at least a decade. To keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results is a sign of madness. You don’t have to keep on going, you can change.

The new Neon Parc second space on Tinning Street in Brunswick does not look like much from the outside, just another warehouse, but the detail of the name embossed door handle indicates of what is coming. Inside is an elegant white walled space for exhibiting contemporary art without compromise.

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Dale Frank exhibition at Neon Parc

The current exhibition of sweet and shiny works by Dale Frank would have been impossible in Neon Parc’s small city space. Big and shiny, sweet and sticky are the aesthetics that Frank is playing with, or rigorously pursuing through variations. Basically what you can put, pour, smears, sticks and hangs in a camp parody of modernism on a shiny sheet of perspex. Complete with neo-baroque theatrical flourishes of the black frames and the white chocolate fountain.

Geoff Newton, the director of Neon Parc has lived in Brunswick for decades. Newton said that he was a bit worried about getting collectors in Melbourne’s south to cross the Yarra to see a gallery in Brunswick, instead he has collectors from Essendon visiting the gallery.

Neon Parc joins Tinning Street Presents… the first art gallery on the street along with artists studios and other creative endeavours. Tinning Street in Brunswick is becoming an artistic centre in Brunswick. Turning Tinning Street into a cul-de-sac by blocked off rail-crossing to cars has given some kind of character to the former industrial area dominated by two grain silos. The silos and Ilham Lane off Tinning Street are good street art and graffiti areas.

Galleries have opened and closed in Brunswick before; read my post A Hipster Conversion.

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Rosemary Coleman (1930-2014) artist

On Wednesday the 23rd of July, Geelong artist, Rosemary Coleman after a long illness passed away at her home of natural causes. She was 84 years old.

Rosemary Coleman’s life as a serious contemporary artist with a thirty-two year career deserves to be remembered. Rosemary Coleman was a determined woman with vivacious personality that was expressed in her art. She had delayed her artistic career by a couple of decades to be a housewife and mother but with her art she was her own woman. Her paintings are frequently abstractions of landscapes with female figures, for example, Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting in the collection of the Geelong Art Gallery.

Her art was part of the return to painting and she was interested in linear forms and the calligraphy of brush strokes. Her art was experimental, not in the sense of avant-garde but in that she kept on experimenting with how to express her vision in media from printing to painting. Every mark was an experiment in creating the image.

She was involved with the development of local Geelong art scene. In the 1980s and 1990s her work was often in group exhibitions at the Geelong Art Gallery. In 1983 Rosemary Coleman was included in the annual exhibition, Survey 5 at the Geelong Art Gallery along with a younger generation of local artists; Robert Drummond, Lachlan Fisher, Don Walters. Later in the 1980s Rosemary Coleman was amongst a half dozen artists who initiated Artery, the first art-run gallery in Geelong. Rosemary also taught art history at the Geelong TAFE in 1980s. She also exhibited in Encounter Confrontation–Australia–Itay, a group exhibition exchange with a city in Italy organised by the Geelong Art Gallery.

The Geelong Art Gallery has two of her works in their collection: Mixed Media Man (1986) a coloured linocut and Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting. There are four of her works in Swan Hill Regional Gallery’s collection: two from 1987, Media Man and Graffiti, and two from 1992, Icarus flees the crowd and Icarus flees the hand.

There is also art by Rosemary Coleman in the collections of the Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Warrnambool Art Gallery, Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Deakin University, Geelong Grammar School and private collections. During her artistic career she had eleven solo exhibitions and many more group exhibitions in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, Geelong, Castlemaine, Swan Hill, and overseas in Italy and Japan. In 1991 she received a high commendation in the Blake Prize for Religious Art. Her first solo exhibition was at Young Originals Gallery in Melbourne in 1974 and her last exhibition was at Rinaldi Gallery in Brunswick in 2006. Unfortunately in the 1970s and 1980s Australia’s contemporary art gallery scene was still a developing and Rosemary Coleman did not have good luck with the galleries representing her; she complained that they kept on closing down.

I first encountered Rosemary Coleman’s art in the lounge room of a shared house in Clayton where I lived for a year. I was surprised to learn that this work was by the mother of one of my housemates, John Coleman. John was always happy that his mother had her own interesting life as an artist. It was a mixed media work on paper with ‘J’ai froid’ (I am cold) written amongst the calligraphic brush stokes. It was appropriately located about the single, inadequate gas heater in the uninsulated, run-down weatherboard house. I would look at it and sympathise with Rosemary painting in a cold studio.

Since then I have seen her art regularly, several of her exhibitions and hanging in the houses of friends from that shared house. In 1986 Niagara Galleries had exhibition of her large abstract paintings. I remember one in particular, as it currently hangs in a friend’s living room, a densely coloured field of flowers and faces that has been painted over, obscured by a thick white swirls of brushstrokes and a cyan calligraphic gesture.

detail Rosemary Coleman 1986

detail Rosemary Coleman 1986


Art Space Race

I keep on writing about art galleries, a room or series of rooms where art is exhibited, whatever it is called: “gallery”, “projects”, “art space”, or “artist run initiative”. I’m not sure that this has been a good idea. Few galleries state what they are above their door, ACGA members have the association logo sticker on their door, and 45 downstairs now states “a not for profit artspace” above their door. And this raises a important question: does it matter?

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“Projects” are currently in fashion in Melbourne, everyone is starting a project space from Sutton Gallery to Dianne Tanzer. “Projects” is short for “side projects”. What kinds of side projects do commercial galleries? Exhibitions in non-gallery spaces and so some galleries now have non-gallery spaces for exhibitions.

Why do structural analysis of the art world? This structural understanding of the art world has lead to a whole genre of art that refers to this structure. Questioning the institution of the art gallery may have started with Duchamp’s readymades but it became an art movement in the 1970s. Examining the institution revealed issues of power and ownership and cultural and sexual identity – some of this work has been fun but it is not what art is all about. And along with this some people have confused attacking the art gallery with analysis of its role.

Tom Wolfe’s sardonic comments on the emergence of contemporary art outside of the gallery have something of zeitgeist in them. “…the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and theorists began to hail Earth Art and the like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex’, after the ‘military industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into their biggest museums, they’ve had it.” (Tom Wolfe The Painted World, Bantam, 1976, p.102) Tom Wolfe, the artists, their dealers all knew that this would not be the end of the museum-gallery complex anymore than it would be the end of the military industrial complex but it was a story that would sell.

After all a “gallery” is just a fancy word for a room with some art in it. I don’t know about your house but mine does not look like a contemporary art gallery. The walls are the wrong colour for one thing and then there is all this stuff lying around. I do have art on my walls and a few sculptures around the place but it doesn’t look like any art gallery that I know. Even the serious art collector’s homes don’t look like art galleries.

I sometimes ask people after visiting a major art gallery about what they would most like to have in their home and remind them that it has to fit in their home. Where are you going to put it? Some work of art, like a Duchamp readymade, would mean less alienated from the gallery space. And what are you going to do with all that video art? Buy a flat screen TV and DVD player for each one, or just keep them in a draw?

This is not because I think that art should not respond to the gallery, or that galleries have made art worse but that the obsession over the space, including all my writing about galleries, has been a distraction from the main event – the art. How much does the space, what ever you want to call it, change the art?


Nicholas Building – June

I hadn’t been to galleries in the Nicholas Building for sometime (I get tired of visiting the same galleries all the time). It is worth visiting the Nicholas Building if you are interested in art, fashion, literature, or just urban exploration but I’ll stick to the art galleries for this blog post.

I took the old elevator to near the top of the building for on the eighth floor is the Stephen McLaughlan that sells seriously beautiful art for the serious art collector. The current exhibitions featured beautiful lights and a video installation. The light works by Veronica Cavern Aldous are beautiful, simple and effective – I saw another work by her last year in a group show at Guildford Lane Gallery. Josephine Telfer’s installation “Billabong” is a romantic multi-layered work that combines text and two videos of the moon reflected on a billabong.

I walked down the stairs one floor to Blindside, an artist run space supported by the City of Melbourne, on the seventh floor. Blindside has two gallery spaces. In Gallery One, Elizabeth Pedler’s exhibition “Interventions in the Present Moment” features two giant teleidoscopes, a kind of kaleidoscope without coloured beads, focused on the intersection of Flinders and Swanston Street. But for much of this exhibition Pedler is pushing the mirror thing to far; every couple of years I see an exhibition with mirrors in white gallery corners.

In Blindside’s Gallery Two Canberra based artist, Steph Wilson “Ain’t Got No Business Doing Business Today”. A painting and the actual thing; every couple of years I see an exhibition that does this but Wilson has done a cool corporate-style version of this trope. It creates a strange vibe; I kept on looking at the differences between the painting and the installation of coach, table, pot plant, the black border on one wall – it is like the spot the difference puzzle drawings.

I continued walking down the stairs of the Nicholas Building, taking in the ambience of the old building to the second floor where there is the Edmund Pearce Gallery (where the Pigment Gallery used to be.) Edmund Pearce Gallery is a contemporary art space dedicated to photography with two exhibitions. There was Peter Drinkell’s “The great road climbs of the Alps and Pyreness”. It is a very topical exhibition given the current Tour de France and sponsored by a cycling clothing and accessories company. And Gary Heery’s “Undergrowth”; the deathly beauty of Heery’s photographs is spooky like a butterfly collection. The young nude women are pressed on glass, this and the frame of photographic print reminded me of Laura Palmer wrapt in plastic, or Snow White in her crystal tomb. The spiky plants and thorns contrast the soft mortal flesh of the models.

Two more floors and I’m back under the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade. It was worth visit the Nicholas Building – I must do it again soon.


Happy 20th Birthday Platform

In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc. 20 years on and it has become Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project in the CBD. It is open to the public every weekday and Saturday mornings all year. It is a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council.

Megan Clunes writes about the Platform’s 20 years in Broadsheet Melbourne. The photograph accompanying the article shows the original Platform in the curved underpass at the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station). The vitrines in the Spencer Street underpass were curved streamlined modern cabinets that became redundant after failing to predict the future of advertising. I remember seeing some early exhibitions in the Platform cabinets and being under-whelmed by the experience.

The cabinets at Flinders Street Station originally were known as Platform 2 and were opened 5 years after the original Spencer Street space. It was known as Platform 2 when I exhibited there in 1995 with members of Dada tribe #373.

“Celebrating 20 years of Platform” is an anniversary exhibition at Platform. There are lots of familiar names in this exhibition; not just from Platform but from the whole artists run spaces of Melbourne. (Try entering their surnames in this blog’s search box – don’t bother with their first names, it is a simple search system and will return every entry with that word.) I reviewed Brad Haylock’s neon “them/us” when it was originally exhibited at Platform; this is also a review of an exhibition by Simon Pericich, who is also in the anniversary exhibition.

This time when I looked at Platform’s cabinets I was most impressed with the Christopher Scuito’s exhibition in the “Sample” cabinet (next to the coffee shop booth and the exit to Flinders Street). “Sample” presents the work of art school students. Scuito’s has collaged beefcake cigarette lighters onto reproductions of classic sword and sorcery fantasy images emphasizing the S&M and homoerotic quality of these illustrations. Patrice Sharkey has beautifully curated Scuito’s exhibition; the details are tremendous from the black backboard supported by stacks of comic books to the whip on top of the black-framed images.

There is a publication, What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 edited by Angela Brophy. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it (I did ask at Sticky Institute but they didn’t know anything). Platform has rarely made history; its internal chronology has not been tumultuous either. In 2008 the roof of the Campbell’s Arcade collapsed when road works on Flinders Street broke through but this only damaged the shops and not the exhibition spaces. Later that year Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ was censored for nudity. But it was overshadowed, a week later, by the subsequent attack on Bill Henson.

Looking back over my blog entries I have reviewed so many of the exhibitions at Platform, not because of the quality of the exhibitions but because it is so accessible. I can easily see the exhibition a couple of times before writing about it.

Enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass each day on their way to or from Flinders Street Station. Platform’s exhibitions space presents a variety of works by mostly student and other new artists. 20 years is a remarkable achievement for any artists-run initiative, it is an institution for a whole generation of Melbourne artists. Platform will probably continue providing exhibition space to new artists until the subway is renovated which is unlikely to happen in the next 20 years.


New Ways of Selling Art

There is always some entrepreneur trying some new idea to sell art. This year there is “Innovative Art” adverting on heavy rotation on late night TV. A company selling you art in your own home with 70% off works on canvas – no gallery space needed. The “art” in the advertisement looks like something from a mass production painting factory.

The current gallery system was established a century ago. It is time for more changes and radical experiments with new ways of selling art. Slight variations on the gallery model like a framing service or a bar/coffee shop, have helped some art galleries but have not addressed the real problems of providing access for artists, encouraging quality art and helping artists achieve the best financial return for their work.

The previous experiments of rental art spaces and artists-run spaces have not solved these problems. Many of these spaces have no effective control of the art that they exhibit and their reputation is only as good as the last exhibition, a situation that I experienced as part of the management committee at 69 Smith St. The rental art spaces and artist-run spaces put the financial risk on the artist. The artists have to pay two or three weeks rent for these spaces, as well as, publicity and wine for the opening making it a financially precarious proposition to exhibit.

Online art galleries have been around for over a decade now providing access for artists. Internet galleries of images have been instrumental in street art and the current wave of illustration. But online galleries have made little real impact on art sales.

After a few years of running Artholes as a rental space gallery in Fitzroy Tony Knolls had a radical vision. It was a radical vision best summed up as do the opposite of what every other gallery is doing. He has good reasons to try something different as the current gallery system is failing artists economically and in providing exhibition opportunities. Tony Knolls radical experiment was a one-week group exhibitions with the work sold by silent auction, letting the market establish the price rather than the artist guessing. Opening nights were out; closing nights were to be the event.

Exhibition at "The Yard"

Another experimental gallery space, “The Yard” at 696 was an outdoor gallery that only operates during the summer months. Shows at “The Yard” were only open for one night as most art in galleries sells at the opening.

Neither Artholes nor 696 are still operating in this way – the experiments did not last long. However, it is important that these radical experiments in art galleries are tried because the current system needs improvement.


Keith Wiltshire @ 69 Smith St.

I walked past a house in my neighbourhood of Coburg and noticed a carved stone amid the foliage in the front garden. The geometric form of the stone would have been a feature but it was a bit too small. At least it wasn’t kitsch, cast garden sculpture that they sell further up Sydney Road. What they needed is one of Keith Wiltshire’s sculptures.

I don’t see a lot of sculpture suitable for domestic garden settings on exhibition; most contemporary sculptures appear suitable only for indoor locations, preferably an art gallery. It is harder to make sculpture that can survive exposure to the weather. There is a demand for contemporary garden sculpture it; my mother was always asking me to make something for her garden but that is another story. People spend thousands of dollars buying other things for their house but when it comes to garden sculpture they are stingy.

Keith Wiltshire’s exhibition “Sacred Stones” is in the sculpture garden out the backyard of 69 Smith St. This location will give you an idea of what the sculptures would look in your own backyard. The prices range from $300 (for one of the “Tsukubai” a set of large bowls carved from local volcanic bluestone basalt) to $4700, for the impressive “Totem” of copper, steel and quartz.

“Stones have held great significance for humans and arte often invoked as facilitators for spiritual requirements.” Keith Wiltshire, artist statement, 2010

There are sacred stones in cultures around the world; the acropolis in Athens is built on one enormous sacred stone, the ancient Greek equivalent of Ayers Rock. In his exhibition Keith Wiltshire has found influences for his stones in many cultures, most obviously Japanese Zen. Wiltshire is exploring many sculptural techniques and styles in this exhibition; the sculptures are not highly original but they are elegant, tasteful and well made. The two cast bronze hands holding a split stone in his “Binary” is the most technically complex work in the exhibition.

If you want a standing stone for your garden you should consider the sculptures of Keith Wiltshire, the exhibition continues until the 19th of September.


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