Tag Archives: artist-run

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.


Art Squats

For some reason Melbourne’s main daily paper the Age published an article on the Tacheles art squat. I suppose it is cheaper to buy a syndicated article than actually report on Melbourne’s art scene. I visited Tacheles when I was in Berlin in 2001, there were several floors of a former department store turned into studio/exhibition space and, of course, like in all Nth European art galleries, eating and drinking space. There was a big beer-garden out the back, a cinema and venue for bands.

I emailed my friend and artist, Simone Haack who lives in Berlin to ask her views of Tascheles and other art squats. Simone replied: “to be honest, I don’t know so much of them here (except Tacheles), cause I am in a less alternative art scene here (if I could claim that I am in an art scene) but some months ago I saw a good exhibition in Tacheles, it was about being stranger, artists from several countries participated (I forgot the title!).”

I told Simone that I had been thinking about writing an article comparing the art squats in Europe with Artist-Run-Initiatives (ARI) in Melbourne. There are no art squats that I know of in Australia even though residential squatting is still relatively common in Melbourne (a squat in a house owned by Melb Uni has recently been brought to an end but the squat around the corner from my house has continued for years).

Both art squats and ARIs are run by artists but there the similarities end. Art squats are not galleries but mix studios with exhibition and performance space, they are chaotic, dynamic and political. It might appear that this is the genuine avant-garde art. However, as Simone pointed out: “I wonder why art squats are often so similar to each other: you’ll always find this particular type of person: politically engaged (left), punks, autonomies, vegans, special dress codes… so I don’t think they are really free.”

The ARI, in contrast are structured like art galleries, the exhibition space is organized, structured and static throughout the exhibition period. Politically they are basically bolshevik; controlled by a small committee of artist/insiders who determine what and who will exhibit. This does mean that there is some filtering, unlike in the art squat where everything is on exhibition. This lack of filtering means that art squat art tends towards craft or popularist or popularist provocations against official art. Whereas the ARIs tend towards the official non-commercial side of gallery art aimed at the insider arts circle of other fine arts graduates.

I was disappointed to find that the art squat Chez Roberts had closed last time that I was in Paris but according to its webpage it is once again open.

Not Making Sense

Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull, Making Sense, Bus Gallery

Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull are involved in artist-run-initiatives; between them they have exhibited at most of them in Melbourne. Katie Lee and Harriet Turnbull are both on the committee of Conical Inc. another of Melbourne’s artist-run-initiatives. The “artist-run culture” as described in Conical’s website is an aesthetic preserve mostly for post-graduate fine arts students. Artist-run-spaces are not a culture, perhaps a sub-culture, but I doubt that it is even that, more of a clique, a circle or set of people aware of contemporary art.

As I moved around the exhibition I thought about what the exhibition could mean. The relationship between an artist’s practice and exercise; the logistics, movement, the exercise of mounting a contemporary exhibition like this compared to other kinds of movements. Making Sense is definitely contemporary art following the now academic history of contemporary sculpture from 1960s on. Bridie Lunney’s use of the artist’s body as a sculptural medium and Katie Lee’s deconstructing of the art gallery are serious features of contemporary art. I was then given the artists statement and had a second look at the exhibition.

Climbing around the gallery and finding the connections in the artists activity could have been fun. Katie Lee’s taking the gallery apart; cut a hole in the wall to show the space behind the ubiquitous white gallery wall. Climbing over the obstructive white plinths piled up in the doorway to the third gallery. However, any sense of play and fun is negated by the Spartan space and the neutral colors. And although this is a serious exhibition ultimately it appears as pointless as hoping on one foot on a spot, a motion that is repeated in the exhibitions videos.

Why bother replicating some types of interactions (unsuccessful collaboration, unstable interactions) in the world? It is not much of an end in itself. Especially if it “soon degrades into something that whilst resembling its origin, begins to make a lot less sense.” (Making Sense artists’ statement). Interacting with the exhibition is disappointing because in the end because Making Sense does not make sense, nonsense or fantasy, it just makes contemporary art.

Happy anniversary 70th CAS!

The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) of Victoria is celebrating 70 years with an exhibition at Fortyfive Downstairs. 70 consecutive years is impressive for any arts society, a great deal changes in the art world in that time. CAS has survived the philistine conservatism and retrograde arts policies of the Menzies. It was an artist-run-initiative long before the idea became popular in the 1980s. And the choice of ‘contemporary’ in the society’s title shows remarkable presence.

The CAS has an important place in Australian art history but it is not being recognized with an historical retrospective in the NGV or other major gallery. And this is because it also a history of the declining importance and relevance of the society (at least according to Gwenda Robb and Elaine Smith’s Concise Dictionary of Australian Artists).

The CAS was founded in 1938 with a committee of artists that has since become major names in Australian art history. George Bell was president, Rupert Bunny was vice-president and Adrian Lawlor was secretary. However, within two years these notable artists had left the CAS because of the domination of the society by amateur artists. But this is not the end of the story. In the 1950s CAS was lead by John Reed and Georges Mora. In 1961 David Boyd was president and John Perceval was vice-president.

The CAS organises many group exhibitions for its members like the one celebrating its 70th. However this anniversary exhibition also included a display of the history of the society; a collection of their newsletters and exhibition catalogues including a notice about an Anti-Fascist Exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in December 1942.

At the exhibition opening Fortyfive Downstairs was packed with people as you might expect for a large group exhibition. Current president of the society, Robert Lee made a short speech and then prizes were awarded. This included a prize for the innovative use of materials showing that CAS is still encouraging innovation.

Some of the art in the exhibition is good, especially the sculptures, and some of it is bland, derivative or overworked. That is to be expected in an open entry group exhibition. The quality of the work is somewhat irrelevant; the CAS is important to the ecology of Victoria’s art world in providing affordable entry-level exhibitions for artists for 70 years. 

Anthropology Sociology

I prefer to see imaginary anthropology rather than real sociology in art galleries. I understand the historical development of presenting real sociology in art galleries; it emerged from realist photography that documented the world. Sociology can be presented as art rather than social science. Sociology is not without interest or value but when I walk into a gallery it is not the most appealing of exhibits. Perhaps if it was in a gallery or museum of sociology I might be better mentally prepared.

The word ‘dull’ springs to mind when I think about both sociological exhibitions at Conical Inc. Lily Hibberd’s “Bordertown” is both depressing in content and the way it has been exhibited with a curved black wall dividing the gallery. Emidio Puglielli “Through” is not depressing but failed to excite my interest. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details.

West Space Inc. has three exhibitions about identity over time, an excellent achievement for an artist run gallery. ‘Two’, photographs by Vivian Cooper Smith and David Van Royen, contrasted the permanent and transient. Fassih Keiso’s fun digitally manipulated photographs and video exhibition ‘Generations’ that engages with the next generation of her own family. And Mark Guglielmetti and Lisa Broomhead’s cultured skin grafts and installation: ‘Toowongs Don’t Make a White’ was a quasi-scientific and psycho-geographical study of identity.

I greatly enjoyed the imaginary anthropology of “Brothers & Sisters” by Belle Bassin and Alasdair McLuckie at Utopian Stumps. It was exciting, like finding the art of an unknown people who practice unknown rituals. The centrepiece of the exhibition is large ritual gateway with a narrow passage dangerously decorated with glass shards.

There are pyramids, triangles, repeating net pattern, knitted wool tubes, strange symbols and esoteric iconography waiting for interpretation. The foundation of this unknown culture is the shamanic visions of Jim Morrison, ‘Celebration of the Lizard’ (Absolutely Live, 1970). Bassin and McLuckie started collaborating in 2004 and I hope that they continue to create imaginary anthropology.

Utopian Slumps, a non-profit art space that opened in 2007, is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Utopian Slumps is down an alleyway full of rubbish and up a flight of stairs behind the Melbourne Fringe building in Collingwood. It has a foyer and a single gallery room.

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