Tag Archives: conceptual art

Art Vs Reality Fail

Art Vs Reality is a six part YouTube series of videos. “The aim of the series is really to save art from the curse of luxury imposed by a corporatised artworld,” says Peter Drew, the presenter in the series. The words “save” and “curse” is an indication of the kind of magico-religious thinking about art behind this series.

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

There is plenty of this kind of fuzzy thinking in the series. In Episode 3 Peter Drew appears to claim that artists who sell art lack integrity and are basically guilty of simony for selling the sacred. This obsession with money is a popular take on the institutional theory of art and money features prominently in Art Vs Reality right in the graphics at the start of each episode.

The fixation of money is perhaps due because Peter Drew is a street artist from Adelaide and street art is the most commercial of art movements since the Surrealism. From Futura, Kaws and Os Gêmeos marketing Hennessy cognac, to the entrepreneurial street artists selling street fashion, to quasi religious idealists, like Drew, there has always been a focus on money in graffiti and street art. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t begrudge any artist a single dollar that they make, or don’t make, but you might regard it differently if you have a fantasy about simony.

It is the word ‘reality’ in the title that is symbolic of the its simplistic fantasy of art; it continues to measure art on its Procrustean bed. A fantasy based on a rather simple understanding of a largely French focused version of European art history, ignoring art before the 19th century and most other cultures and countries. The ‘reality’ that Art Vs Reality is referring to is an imaginary popular idealised ‘reality’ that frequently has a tenuous relation to the facts.

Facts, like what happened in the creation of Duchamp’s Fountain that Drew blames for the starting conceptualism. Drew is unaware that the New York Independent Show that Fountain was excluded from had no jury (nor as Drew claims judges to “dismiss it out of hand”). How then was Fountain excluded from the exhibition and where the first edition of Fountain is far more complex than Drew’s ‘reality’.

Ironically it is the conceptual art of the Duchamp that Art Vs Reality, in Episode 2, blames for what it see as what is wrong with art. With a more complete reading of art history Drew might have been aware that the initial attacks on art institutions and the idea of great artists first launched by the Dadaists, followed by the conceptual artists in the 1960s, weren’t concerned about the influence of money but on the ideological support that the galleries gave to the state/war criminals.

Drew’s light-hearted approach lacks any subtly, depth or understanding of art or social history. He doesn’t take the audience to anything new or offer any new insights. Given the subject matter that he wants to deal with it is a shame that Drew does not appear to have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or, even the arch and sardonic Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (as Wolfe was at least informed about modern art history when he wrote it). For a much more detailed analysis of the contemporary art market I would recommend reading Judith Benhamou-Huet’s The Worth of Art – Pricing the Priceless (Assouline, 2001).

Unfortunately Art vs Reality is just another jeremiad, posing as a comedic commentary, a general complaint about how art has lost its way, declined and become decadent.


Painting Ideas

I must really like the Tim Johnson exhibition, Painting Ideas, because I’ve seen it twice. Last year I saw it at GOMA and this year I went to see at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And I keep on thinking that I want to think about this exhibition a bit more before I write anything – but the exhibition is over already.

The exhibition reminded me of the Gilbert and George exhibition that I saw at the Tate Modern in 2007. Although Painting Ideas is considerably smaller, the story is the similar. A conceptual, performance artist in search of a way of turning ideas into images. After some difficult and strange art the artist finds their voice and now their art is in the collections of major museum.

When I saw “Painting Ideas” at GOMA the open plan gallery arrangement lead me chronologically through the development of Johnson’s now familiar style. At the Ian Potter Museum, the history was told backwards from galleries filled with Johnson’s now familiar style and then upstairs to his early work. Telling a history backwards or forwards does not make a big difference; it is just another way of looking at the causal relationship.

Tim Johnson’s early work was not familiar to me but I’ve seen plenty of similar art from that era. The punk energy that Tim Johnson pushed on the boundaries is familiar. The variety of conceptual and performance art of the time indicated a growth in the arts, as well as, a desperate search for a solution. And the solution for Johnson was to return to painting images and to collaborate with other artists. And Tim Johnson collaborators with many other artists: Tibetean born artist, Karma Phuntsok, Brendan Smith from Brisbane, Vietnamese born, My Le Thi, or the Australian Aboriginal painter Clifford Possum Tjapaitjarri. Not that you can tell where the work of one artist begins and ends, given that the images in the paintings are all from somewhere else, some other tradition.

Tim Johnson’s mature paintings are post-modern pastiches (as in “cut up” – see the comments for more about the word pastiche, which isn’t esactly right) of icons from everywhere contained in a field of dots over a field of colour. They are not so much paintings of ideas but the flow of images in a visual hypnagogic revelry of consciousness.

The paintings are images of a mindscape of a multi-cultural, multi-faith Australian identity. The use of dots is an attempt breaking down the apartheid walls in Australian art. The paintings are landscapes of the mind; mytho-geographic landscapes of Buddhist/Hindu and Australian Aboriginal mythology mix in his paintings along with contemporary manga and pop images.

There is a Youtube Video of Tim Johnson in his studio.


Wanda Gillespie @ Seventh

“The Museum of Lost Worlds presents: Swi Gunting (reconstructing artefacts from the lost island of Tana Swiwi)” must be the longest title for an exhibition that I’ve seen this year – it is on at Seventh Gallery and it is worth seeing.

Swi Gunting are carved and decorated wooden scissor-lifts constructed by the Jatiwangi Arts Factory from Jatiwangi West Java. The craftsmen at the Jatiwangi Arts Factory have produced beautiful carved and painted work. And the wooden scissor-lifts do actually work; they are capable of being cranked up and down with an adapted bicycle chain and sprocket wheel. Since these scissor-lifts are too small and decorative to have a practical use archaeologists would classify them as ceremonial objects and we know that they must be contemporary art.

Wanda Gillespie is the artist behind this spectacle of the Museum of Lost Worlds; her website has images and details of the sculpture on exhibit. For more information about her residency see Creative Journeys.

I like imaginary museums like the Museum of Lost Worlds; I have also seen the Museum of Modern Oddities and the Museum of Soy Sauce Art. The idea of a museum, the older relative of the art gallery, has an aesthetic impact on the art displayed. The artist becomes the curator and gallery director of their imaginary gallery. Unfortunately “The Museum” part doesn’t really work, it didn’t make me believe in a museum, and feels like an excess of words. Some didactic cards, a website, other exhibits or souvenirs from the imaginary museum would have helped make it more complete.

Wanda Gillespie is a Melbourne based-artist who mixes the conceptual and sculptural. I first saw her exhibition “Flying For Dummies and failed attempts” at Blindside in 2006. I thought that it was a good exhibition when I saw it but Swi Gunting is much better. For two years Gillespie was the secretary for Seventh Gallery, an artist run initiative, in part explaining why Seventh Gallery consistently has good exhibitions of quality contemporary art. She was also founding director of Twentybythirty, a miniature gallery, in Melbourne’s CBD.


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