Tag Archives: Australian art

Paul Yore @ Neon Parc

Yore’s exhibition of tapestries and assemblages at Neon Parc’s Brunswick gallery is full of excess, ejaculating penises and a riot of rainbow colours. It is a sensory overload of colours, images, words and sounds; a reflection of a consumer society that has achieved peak stuff. The commercial, sexual and national mix with the religious forms, the altar piece and the temple with tapestries and mixed media art.

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Paul Yore, Love is Everything, 1916 (rear view)

It is impossible to write an accurate or fair review of a Paul Yore exhibition without using an unrestricted vocabulary because it is fucking, intense, gay, psychedelic shit. His art is a mix of the infantile and juvenile with the pornographically adult, full of juvenile humour and childish joy. So if you are offended by any words then you are a small minded person who is part of the fucking problem.

The main work, Love is Everything, 2016, is a small building, 359 wide x 415 high x 680 cm long, made of multi-coloured children’s toys, television sets and other excesses of the “final days” of consumer society. As a church, temple or sacred bower it has exterior and interior spaces.

Out the front of the building there is a fountain with a pissing Justin Bieber. Bieber is one of Yore’s obsessions and Bieber also appears as St. Sebastian in Yore’s anti-Christian altar piece, Slave 4 U.

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Paul Yore, Slave 4 U, 2016

The sound of running water from the piss fountain joins the chaotic mix with of mechanical and recorded sounds that are part of the installation; a tinny electronic version of the national anthem or a jingo keeps repeating. Motors turn wheels, adding more sounds from toy instruments.

There is so much to look at, so many images, messages, televisions screens and flashing strobe lights. Contrasting, contradicting, transforming even as you comprehend them. A spinning messages of “NO” upside down is “ON”.

Part of his installation 2013, Everything is Fucked, is incorporated into Love is Everything. Yore’s work is an accretion of more and more parts, built up, becoming larger and more intense; in the same way that his tapestries are from small pieces of fabric.

In 2013 members of Victoria Police used a Stanley knife to cut out parts of Yore’s installation, Everything is Fucked, at Linden Centre for Contemporary Art. In 2014 the prosecution was ordered to pay all his legal costs. There is a pile of redundant “Free Paul” t-shirts on the table in Neon Parc’s office and a special fuck you pig for Victoria Police included in Love is Everything.

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Paul Yore, Love is Everything, 2016 (front view)

Yore clearly intends to be a great Australian artist; whether he succeeds or not depends more on future art histories than Yore’s art. To be a great Australian artist you have to both make art that is about Australia and make significant progressive art. As progressive art, Yore’s up-cycling assemblages advance on Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbaus and (to advance an ugly, sexist argument) transforms an under-rated ‘feminine’ craft, like an Australian version of Grayson Perry.

Yore continues an artistic critique of Australia that follows on from Juan Davila and Albert Tucker, pointing out the genocide, mass murder and other cruelties. Yore does not preach from a pulpit; he depicts both Australia and Christianity as awful, immature, cruel as his own fantasies. And, it is not all a commentary on obscenity and cruelty, there is a lot of joy and beauty in Yore’s work. In his Computer World tapestry, two images of Tigga bounce on a patchwork of kittens, cartoon characters and kitsch patterns mixed with op-art.

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Paul Yore, Computer World, 2016


Lurid Beauty and Australian Surrealism

Although the island of Australia is included in the 1929 Surrealist map of the world, this is probably due to Australia’s aboriginal population rather than its artists. It is shown as smaller than New Guinea and about the same size as Borneo.

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What surrealism created by Australian artists was mostly an off-shoot of English surrealism. England being that black dot on the map between Ireland and Germany. Importing surrealism directly from the European mainland, in the case of the Marek brothers, was not well received. Surrealism in Australia was, like international art speak, poorly translated from French texts.

Lurid Beauty, Australian Surrealism and its Echoes at the NGV Australia is an awkward exhibition as most of the art in the exhibition is not surrealism. Lurid Beauty fails in distinguishing between being the current style trend and being old-school or hardcore, like James Gleeson or Eric Thake. These are important distinctions to make when you are considering something between an arts association and trend. Roy de Maistre painted in at least three other modern styles and his involvement in surrealism is like Picasso’s pieces working in the current trend and the exhibition’s mix of modern art with contemporary art is not resolved well.

Every generation needs a look back at surrealism in Australia and each time that they do the same small set of paintings are exhibited. Almost all the older work was last exhibited together in the 1993 Australian National Gallery exhibition Surrealism Revolution by Night section of Australian art. Lurid Beauty does include some great new James Gleeson paintings but only the series of Clifford Bayliss drawings have not been regular features of previous exhibitions of Australian surrealism.

Peter Daverington, The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh, 2014 (courtesy of Arc One)

Peter Daverington, The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh, 2014 (courtesy of Arc One)

There are plenty of great works of art to see in the exhibition but my question is did we need to see them all together? Did surrealism transform or have that much of an impact on Australian art? The relationship between the artists that would identify as surrealists and the contemporary artists influenced by surrealism is tenuous. For example, Peter Daverington’s The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh 2014 looks surreal but has so many other references to all of art history in this painting from Renaissance landscapes to modernism in the drips along the lower edge. For the surrealists there was only Freudian psychology but now there is a multiplicity of psychological theories.

There is no cross over between the old school surrealists and the contemporary artists because there were so few hardcore surrealists in Australia. Erik Thake’s Accidental Animal 1967-68 series of photographs of found paint splatters is as close as it gets.

The curators of Lurid Beauty only hint at the conservative Australian art world; the NGV, Australia and surrealism were all very different places then. Blink and you would have missed the important progressive role of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS).

It was CAS that advanced modern art in Australia in response to then Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies reactionary attack on modernism at the opening of the Victorian Artists’ Society show in April 1937. The evidence for the CAS transforming Melbourne’s art world is there, the first to exhibit photography as art in Melbourne and if you look carefully at the frame of Gleeson’s We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit 1940 you will see that it is “presented anonymously through the Contemporary Art Society.” (For more on the history of CAS in Australian art see my post on their 70th anniversary).


Antique Guide to the NGV

Cleaning up her piles of books that belonged to her aunt Catherine discovered a guide to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from 1968, the year that it opened the St Kilda Road building. (Well, it is not yet an antique, but it soon will be.) This piece of ephemera is a portal to another time of art in Australia.

NGV Guide 1968

NGV Guide 1968

The guide is small booklet with a purple paper cover, stapled binding and 32 pages with black and white illustrations. Printed by the Aldine Press Pty Ltd., a commercial printer specialising in book and periodicals, still operating in Prahran. There is no price on the booklet but the cover does fold out to include a membership form for the Gallery Society.

The purple cover has the stylised image of the roof of the gallery with the three central courtyards. In the plan of the gallery the courtyards are named both by the architect and after the donors: the oriental courtyard, named ‘Coles Court’; the sculpture courtyard, named ‘Lindsay Court’ and the ‘playhouse courtyard’ named ‘Keith Murdoch Court’.

It starts with a dry introduction from Eric Westbrook, the then director of the NGV, mostly about the gallery’s benefactors. There are maps of the two floors of the gallery, showing the original layout of the exhibition space.

The rest of the publication is an introduction with illustrations to the main areas of the galleries collection. It is interesting to note what is missing from the text. The term ‘ethnic art’ is used instead of ‘aboriginal art’. Reading about the European art collection it is remarkable to notice how much is about English art and that France is not mentioned, although the Impressionists are.

“Highlights of the European twentieth century are works by Modigliani, Rouault, Delaunay, de Stael, Tapies, Soto and others.” (p.23)

The description of Australian art, then housed on the second floor of the St. Kilda Road gallery, clearly shows Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’.

“Australian Art is essentially a colonial art drawing its stylistic impetus from the metropolitan centres of the world. Originally English traditions were paramount while in the later nineteenth century, French influences predominated. To-day, the styles of Western European Art have become universal and interacting. American abstract expressionism and the kinetic experiments of the French Groupe de Recheche d’Art Visuel mingle with traditions of the School of Paris and have their influence there. However, the particular life of this country and the individual attire of its people, flavour the work of its artists creating a distinctive Australian art. Though the idiom has brome international, the accent remains Australian.” (p.27)

Many aspects of the NGV have changed but I did note that the galleries collection of William Blake drawings remains a consistent feature of the galleries exhibition of Prints and Drawings department; Blake’s “The Whirlwind (Angel Crossing Styx)” is illustrated on page 11 and his drawings were on exhibition again this year.


Capon needs a Spanking

“The Art of Australia” is a three-part series television documentary by ABC presented by Edmund Capon. Part one, “Strangers In A Strange Land”, was a disappointing start presenting the same old story of 19th Century Australian colonial art. The couple of references to some contemporary art in an attempt to freshen this stale history didn’t help or hinder. There was too much about landscape art emphasizing the traditional view of Australian art as all about the landscape. Capon’s narrative is full of too much hyperbole, clichéd metaphors (describing Australia as “coming of age” as if a country is a person with a body, heart and head) and contradictions.

Australia can’t be defined as Capon tries as “a unique and diverse culture” because one (unique) cannot be many (diverse). The assumption of the documentary is that Australia has an Australia art, when in the 19th Century the British and Australian art world was basically the same. Capon only examines the art of Melbourne, Sydney and Tasmania as if the history of the SE corner of Australia is representative of the rest of Australia. How art and artists helped to shape Australia’s national identity is assumed rather than demonstrated; if art in anyway shaped Australia’s national identity it played a very minor role.

Capon avoids saying anything negative; he avoids the using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the attempted extermination of Tasmanian aboriginals and he avoids the mentioning the Australian banking crisis of 1893.

To describe the Heidelberg School as painting “Australia as it was” ignores the fact that Tom Roberts painted the romanticism of the manual shearing technology in 1890 when mechanical shearing had already been superseded in 1888 with the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine. Although Roberts rebelled against Eugene Von Guérard at the National Gallery Art School he apparently absorbed romanticism from his former teacher. Capon’s description of Robert’s Shearing the Rams as an “icon” is made apparently oblivious to the religious meaning of the word.

Edmund Capon was Director of the Art Gallery of NSW and his expertise is in Chinese art. Capon needs a spanking as an embarrassing punishment for his sloppy thinking in this glib and very ordinary history of art in Australia.

Two and a half stars.


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