Tag Archives: Barry McGee

Models of Milk Bars, Shops and Galleries

A few thoughts about the history and aesthetics of artists making model buildings, shops, art galleries and other architecture in response to Callum Preston’s Milk Bar 2017.


Callum Preston behind the counter of his Milk Bar (photo thanks to Callum Preston)

In tracing the art history genealogy of similar installations we could look back to the pop artist Claus Oldenburg’s 1961 Store. Store was a pop-up gallery in a lower east side Manhattan shop front where he sold roughly painted and moulded plaster versions of products from undergarments to cakes and pastries. Or more recently to Barry McGee (aka Twist), Todd James (aka REAS) and Stephen Powers (aka ESPO)  bodega-inspired installation, Street Market 2000 that was exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale.

Looking at local examples a different aesthetic and intentions are apparent. In Ivan Durrant’s Butcher Shop (1977-1978) a butcher shop window display of dead animals that was on permanent exhibition next to the entrance to the NGV’s restaurant. Although the square, tiled front of the shop with a window and door wasn’t precisely detailed the window display was uncannily accurate and gross.

Callum Morton Reception 2016

Callum Morton Reception 2016

Callum Morton’s work Reception 2016, is a one to one replica of the reception foyer of Anna Schwartz Gallery on Flinders Lane was complete with an animatronic model of gallery director, Anna Schwartz. Entering the gallery and moving through the real foyer to the replica in the gallery was uncanny. It is similar in aesthetic and subject to Dan Moynihan’s Lost in Space 2013. Moynihan’s two-third scale replica of the outside and interior of Neon Parc gallery on Bourke Street built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary created a similar mood. Two-third scale is uncanny because although you can fit inside you know that you are too large to be comfortable. Like Morton, Moynihan’s work is about architecture and the uncanny feeling. There was no art in either model of the art galleries.

What Preston’s Milk Bar offers is comfortable nostalgia. It is not uncanny, the wooden versions of the familiar products are hand-painted and flat. Perhaps I should be considering it in relation to David Wadelton’s series of black and white photographs, Milk Bars of Melbourne 2010-2013 that documents the terminal decline of these shops.

All my examples are the work of male artists, this trend is even more obvious if you consider the male street artists, Goonhugs for example, making smaller models of shops and other buildings. I haven’t included the Hotham Street Ladies icing sugar models because their work was about interior decoration rather than architectural space or shops. At least the men are making models rather than groping models.

2013 – my year in review

I did a lot of travelling this year in Nth America and Korea this year. All this travelling meant that I now have a category for my posts about travel, mostly visiting art galleries and looking at street art in various cities around the world. Seeing New York was the personal highlight of the year. I needed to see to fill a gap in my in my knowledge of the art world with a few days worth of New York galleries that. I’m still processing all that information. One of the highlights of my trip was seeing the Barry McGee exhibition in Boston. Visiting galleries in Seoul filled in gaps in my understanding of art that I didn’t even know were missing. The rise of Korea in international art is impressive given that a century ago it was an antiquated colonised backwater. Seeing Korean contemporary art has changed my thinking in so many ways.

Barry McGee

Barry McGee

Meanwhile I was trying to keep my reviews of exhibitions very local this year for various reasons (cycling, ease, tired of public transport and keep mixing it up) while still trying to keep up with Melbourne’s street art and get a publishing deal for my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture.

HaHa robot in Coburg

HaHa robot in Coburg

Normally when I check the messages from the Black Mark Facebook page or my gmail there is another invite to an exhibition on the other side of the city, or some artist wanting attention. Rarely there someone is giving you a blog post or a story on a platter. This year, for sending me two stories, I’d like to thank Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site see my post “Melbourne Street Art Blogs” and also sent me the photos that made up the my post “Sexy Girls Girls Girls”.

I’d also like to thank all the guest bloggers who wrote posts this year: CDH (“Street art Salvage”, February), Pauline (“White Night with kids”, March), Jess Knight (“Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey”) and Vetti (“Peter Fraser’s Lizard: A Box of Gaps”). I thought that I’d try having some guest posts – again to mix things up a bit.

I thought that I’d like to try having a monthly series of articles; I tried with my Persons of Interest. The Persons of Interest were people that had influenced my thinking about art so it was, in a way, autobiographical. I’m not sure how well that went as a series but it was interesting writing them.

Paul Yore, "Fountain of Knowledge", 2013

Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013

Meanwhile Australia’s own culture was going through a low point. On Saturday 1st of June in Melbourne Australia police raided the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed 7 collage works by artist, Paul Yore alleging that the art was child pornography. Then in September Bill Henson withdrew from the 2014 Adelaide Biennial after a campaign by an Adelaide police officer, Brevet-Sergeant Michael Newbury against art that he had not seen. With the police in Australia becoming the unofficial art censorship board any hope that Australia might become a liberal society capable of intelligent and informed debate has been dashed.

Enjoy the end of year festivities, knowing that I will be hard a work on my sculpture book during that time, and good luck for 2014 – I think we’re going to need it.

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

Barry McGee – Drawing From The Street

Barry McGee (aka Twist, his street tag) also uses the personas of R. Fong and Lydia Fong. McGee’s art has been described as “Mission School” (after the San Francisco Mission District) and “New Folk” but I’ll just call it street art. McGee’s art brings together graffiti, comics, hobo art, sign painting and surfing.  His art on the street or in the gallery has clean lines and he uses a blocky sans-serif font with drop shadows. His art is based around grouping and clustering materials and images. He is inspired by the eclectic mix that is found in bodegas and on the street.

Barry McGee 1

McGee enjoys working collectively and collaboratively. There are collaborations with his long time collaborator Josh Lazcano, his late wife Margaret Kilgallen, or his collaboration with Boston graffiti artists for this exhibition.

You can enter this retrospective from two directions at the ICA. You can start with McGee collaborating with local Boston street/graffiti artists to create his own exhibition (for more on Boston graffiti see http://www.bostonsgraffitighosts.com). Or you can start where the curators started.

The curators mention that there is a “central contradiction” in McGee’s art between the street versus the museum. I don’t know about that, museums/contemporary art institutes are (or should be) just place to display art, whatever it is rather than the art having to conform to the institution. McGee is not a naïve, outsider artist – he studied art the San Francisco Art Institute in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And McGee can easily fill whole gallery walls as easily as he can fill walls on the street. In one gallery an animated wooden head repeatedly bangs against a bulging wall of scrap plywood. Maybe the central contradiction that McGee explores is between kitsch versus tasteful, quality versus junk, good versus bad art.

There is along with all the images, sculpture, junk and stuff a lot of sound in the exhibition, the animatronic spray painting figures squeak, there is tower of televisions – it is not a silent tomb of an exhibition.

Barry McGee 2

I took some time out from walking around the exhibition to sit down in the Poss Family Mediatheque to take another look at the art of McGee in videos, photographs and text on an interactive screen while looking out the window to Boston’s bay. This gave more depth to the exhibition and meant that I wasn’t on my feet the whole time.

Barry McGee 3

“I can live with the rats but I can’t live with graffiti” says a local resident quoted in The Boston TAB 7/8/90. You can get diseases from rats, like the plague, but I’ve never heard of anyone dying from exposure to graffiti. In the NYC flat that I was staying in last week the cat was sitting proudly behind the cockroach that it had killed.

The constitution of the USA does not include private property as an inalienable right; the inalienable rights (those that a person cannot be alienated from are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness seems like surfing and the art of Barry McGee.

This exhibition at the ICA Boston is billed as “the first-ever retrospective of acclaimed artist Barry McGee” expecting that there will be more, I hope there will be.

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