Tag Archives: COVID-19

COVID-19, street art and graffiti

Melbourne street art and graffiti riffs on topical themes, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most topical. And there has been a mix of politics and personal responses in street art and graffiti.

This is not a collection trawled from the internet, to attract page views without knowledge or information on the background, but a limited selection that I have gathered on my walks in Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg. Some of these images have appeared in previous blog posts, but there is also some new work. Cell Out paste-up in Hosier Lane refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s problems.

In a surprising practical move, the City of Melbourne stuck social distancing markers in Hosier Lane. It is one of Melbourne’s tourist hotspot, but without international tourists, there are now far fewer people in the lane.

I saw a couple of visual references to the virus combined with other images. The grenade is obviously explosive. The tennis ball is a reference to the 2021 Australian Open spreading the virus, remembering that the state government favoured sporting events over culture consistently during Melbourne’s several lockdowns.

Stickers were the most political media on the street during the pandemic. They focused on state politics. Although State Premier Daniel Andrews gained many fanatical supporters during the pandemic, he was also hated by others. (I have the opposite view to Daniel Andrews on many things. He supports the police and cutting down trees, whereas I support cutting down the police and not trees.)

Given Victoria Police’s history of racism and connection to extreme right-wing politics, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was surprised that I didn’t see more graffiti and street art about the use of police to enforce the lockdown.

Other pieces were more personal and representing the change of image from wearing masks. Given that graf writers tend to mask up anyway it wasn’t much of a change.


Over 2020

At the start of March, I was at a packed exhibition opening at Beinart Art Gallery in Brunswick. At the time COVID-19 was in the news but not in Australia. There were so many people at the exhibition it was like rush hour on a Sydney Road tram. I thought that the crowd was such a potential vector for all kinds of diseases and that this art party would be over.

Unknown local artist, 2020

Along with the weeks of bushfires, and months of lockdown, among the many things that I didn’t expect from the year:

… I didn’t expect that in the whole year I’ve seen about a dozen exhibitions, plus one art fair – Can’t Do Tomorrow. In other years I might see a dozen exhibitions in a single fortnight.

… I didn’t expect to be writing obituaries for Melbourne artists, Janet Beckhouse and Adrian Mauriks. I realised that they needed to be written as the newspapers wouldn’t be covering it.

… I didn’t expect that people would be so interested in public art this year. Part of this was due to people walking more as exercise during lockdowns and consequently seeing more public sculpture. It was also due to a post-colonial interest in public statues became a mainstream political issue this year, and I am so glad that it did. Statues that celebrate colonialists and other racists were removed in Belgium, Canada, NZ, South Africa, UK, US, Martinique, Cameroon, as well as, in other places. No statues or memorials have been removed in Australia. It is one of the many disgraceful and disgusting features of Australia and symptomatic of this conservative country’s many deep-rooted problems. (See my post on the Statue Wars 2020.)

And amongst everything that I didn’t expect, the least surprising events of the year was that the arts and tertiary education in Australia were being abandoned in the COVID-19 crisis. Gambling and Pascal’s wager (religions) are more important, for they were given more support and exemptions during lockdown; a position contrary to all medical evidence. And the state premier, Daniel Andrews cutting down more trees, including one of the Djab Wurrung Trees, in an egregious act of cultural vandalism. Giving less reason for optimism than a Leonard Cohen song. 

Now that I almost at the end of the year I have no plans to write any more blog posts until the new year. So, finally here are a few photos to sum up the year.


Ivan Durrant @ NGV

Ivan Durrant, War, 1981

Ivan Durrant is not an enfant terrible; he is not even a very naughty boy. Durrant is just another painter; often a photorealist painter, but one of the better ones who are interested in light, optics and death. The stories, the legends of blood, slaughter and a dead cow in the forecourt of the NGV on St. Kilda Road don’t describe the retrospective exhibition currently on at the NGV Australia.

The terrible publicity stunt that Durrant is best remembered for, dumping a dead cow in the forecourt of the NGV, resulted in him being fined $100 for littering, ordered to pay $157 in court costs (worth about $1705 in current value). It is the same penalty that was applied to Arlo Guthrie’s narrator in the song Alice’s Restaurant. So there is Arlo and Ivan sitting on bench W with all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly looking people who may not be moral enough to join the army.

The NGV wasn’t that upset with Durrant’s stunt and bought his Butcher shop three years later. For those who remember Durrant’s butcher shop when it was at the entrance to the NGV’s restaurant, to remind the diners.

Looking at the Butcher Shop and his other sculptural pieces again, I see that although the modelling of the meat is excellent, everything else lacks detail. The label and price on the severed hand package, the lack of signs on the butcher shop door or window, even the carpentry around the window is wrong.

Aside from four sculptural pieces, the rest of the exhibition is about paint and traditional themes for paintings: horse racing, football, the artist’s studio, landscapes, farms and animals. Even his paintings of butchered animals are part of a very traditional theme; from Pieter Aertsen’s Butcher’s Stall with the Flight into Egypt 1551 that features a cows head and other carcasses, Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox 1655 showing a butchered carcass to Soutine’s Carcass of Beef, 1925, riffing off Rembrandt.

installation view of a series of Durrant’s paintings

The exhibition shows Durrant development as a painter from his early naive folk style paintings to his current series in saturated colours. Grouped in a series on the massive walls of the NGV Durant’s paintings show a bigger picture and a mind that is more subtle than shock and awe.

If you want to see art that upsets the established order, visit the Destiny Deacon exhibition on the ground floor.

The NGV was so empty that morning just after the reopening after the COVID-19 lockdown. A person played the cello in the foyer, welcoming the visitors back. Entry was by free timed-entry tickets, and there were hand-sanitiser stations on all levels.


Post-lockdown Melbourne

On arrival, I had to sign in to the gallery to assist contact tracing. No Vacancy lived up to its name and was the one art gallery that was open in the city. I didn’t know who was exhibiting as they were still typing up the room sheet (subsequently I have learnt that it was Lineaments by Lana Erneste, Sophie Sun, and Mollie Wilson).

Installation view of Lineaments at No Vacancy

All the galleries on Flinders Lane were all closed. Anna Schwartz had an exhibition of John Nixon, but it wasn’t open to the public. The public, institutional art galleries like the NGV and RMIT are still closed.

The best work that I saw was the #thelittlelibarian, and it wasn’t in an art gallery but in Hosier Lane. It looked like the work of Tinky because of the combination of HO scale miniatures with antiques. “If I was Snow White you’d never be able to poison me with an apple; you’d have to use an eclair.”

This is Hosier Lane like you have never seen it before. Almost empty of people except for a few homeless people meeting up after the long lockdown and relaxing in the sunny weather. There was the smell of aerosol paint in the air, but it wasn’t an artist spraying walls just the manager of Bar Tini painting the bases for small tables.

I wanted to see if much street art and graffiti had occurred during or immediately after the lockdown. Although there were some of the usual graffiti and street art in Hosier Lane, there were also some strange works, outside of the standard, conventional street art and graffiti techniques. Evidence of a greater variety of people participating in street art. And the political agenda was loud and proud: issues of homelessness, “black lives matter”, “horse racing kills” and hero worship of Premier Andrews.

Chinatown

Elsewhere in the city, it looked like Ash Keating, or someone else had taken a paint-filled fire extinguisher to that wall in Chinatown. Below a park is being built on the empty site, instead of using it as a parking lot.

I think that I was a bit too eager; that Thursday, one day after Melbourne’s long lockdown lifted to allow businesses to open. It was too soon for most commercial art galleries. However, after months of lockdown, I was keen to get out of Coburg and return to my pre-lockdown Thursday routine of going to have a look at art in the city and writing this kind of blog post.


Art exhibitions in lockdown

Even though Melbourne is still in lockdown due COVID-19, there are art exhibitions on in Melbourne, but most are entirely online. Sarinah Masukor gives an excellent overview of some of the online works in Memo along with the experience of viewing them online.

Although I have seen some online exhibitions and works during Melbourne’s lockdown, including some that Masukor reviews, I’m not interested in reviewing the online art world. Scrolling through webpages instead of strolling through gallery doesn’t motivate me to write in the same way that the physical art world does. And video art independent of installation is yet another video online.

Why not? What is wrong with viewing art on a screen or in books? After all, that is how most people see most art.

It is not that I have a preference for the actual over the conceptual or precious about how the art is reproduced on a screen. It is because there is a physical aspect to art and culture, the walking, standing and physicality of experiencing. For there is always a space around the art; a space between the lines of poetry, between the episodes of a tv show and the art in the space. The place where we experience art. The physical setting that frames the art, that juxtapositions it with other art, the ghost memories of previous exhibitions in that or similar spaces. Art, in particular public sculpture, cannot be experienced online; from smelling the fumes of the freshly painted walls of graffiti to attempting to climb a sculpture.

Art plonked on our screens is different from art in the anaesthetic whiteness of the art gallery walls, or the surprising location of the street. After all, I could write about any of the other things that I see on the screen: movies, music, games…

Furthermore, there is also a social aspect to art and culture that no zoom meeting can replace. Regular readers of this blog would know that I like the eavesdrop on what other people are saying about the art. Contemporary art and street art was the biggest party on the planet, and the party is over. Even when there is no-one else in the gallery, there is the implication of a social aspect.

However, I did encounter what claimed to be “Melbourne’s worst and only art show” on a wall of Culture Club, a coffee shop on Sydney Road in Brunswick. Local Moreland artist and musician, Ben Butcher describes himself as “Australia’s worst artist”. His paintings were bad but they failed reach his own shit standard of a rainbow shitting unicorn impaling a dolphin on its horn. How bad the original hanging of the exhibition was cannot be said, as one of the paintings had already been withdrawn, but it didn’t satisfy my desire to see some good art.

Installation view of Butcher’s exhibition

Lockdown Psychogeography in Coburg

Reports of various psychogeographical walks around my neighbourhood in Coburg. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around these streets during this lockdown or even what day it is. Of course, I saw some fresh street art, some other stuff and cogitated on the conundrums of Coburg’s street design. I don’t know if it is valid psychogeographical if you aren’t drunk or stoned, but I could write a book about what I don’t know.

The streets of Coburg, laid out in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are a grab bag of experiments in suburban road design. Wide nature-strips, no nature strips, broad central road division with a park area dividing a street. There is a single road with the backs of houses on one side and the fronts of houses on another. There is no uniformity to even the width of the streets, one even suddenly narrowing by about half a metre at one point.

Spotted the first COVID-19 street art, a sticker, a virus grenade, I’ve seen. And more of the work of the UBM Crew; the UBM crew includes Luna who alternates between graffiti and street art. (I should write a blog post about the artists who do both street art and graffiti because there are a few; Stanley is another example. I like artists who change style because it shows that they are developing.)

In case anyone was wondering graffiti artists do paint their own fences when they can.  One aspect that is worth mentioning about street art is that it is incredibly satisfying for the amateur part-time participants. Unlike other art forms where amateurs and professionals have different venues, audiences and public awareness, they meet on the street like masked pedestrians. There are many successful, amateur, part-time artists in street art; no doubt more than any other area of visual arts. Perhaps a subject for another post.

I could write a blog post about all ideas I’ve had to write blog posts. You will know that I am getting desperate when I write one about the murals of Coburg. There is this terrible painting of Marilyn Monroe, with her skirt blowing up of course, on the side of some restaurant that I never want to see again.

Aside from street art and graffiti, what else have I seen on the suburban streets of Coburg? A few pleasant front gardens, a strange sculpture and a lot of tasteless, late-capitalist stuff. (Who was that masked man?)


Melbourne May 2020

Usually I would have gone look at some art galleries but instead I stayed at home for another week. With all of Melbourne’s art galleries closed or only open by appointment or holding online exhibitions I feel that many of my subject matter for blog posts has gone. And there are only so many stories that I can write about local public sculpture, graffiti, street art, and walks around Coburg that I haven’t already written. However, I am not about to complain as I am well aware that the flaneur is in a privileged position.

Nick Miller, the Arts Editor for The Age, asked on the Victorian government “when libraries museums and galleries might open?” Their response: ‘We will have more to say about the further cautious easing of restrictions in due course.’

Various publicist’s emails tell a different story; some art galleries will be resuming their exhibition programmes in early to mid July. Boroondara’s Town Hall Gallery will re-open 11 July, Off the Kerb will re-open on the 4th and Mars Gallery is open now. Getting to them by public transport will be another issue.

I don’t often write posts under my category of blogging; generally at the end of the year or other milestones. I thought that I might have to write a few more of them during this lockdown along with some more book reviews or ‘listicals’, like: 10 artists you don’t need to know about. I didn’t imagine that I would be able to keep writing blog posts 10 weeks into Melbourne’s lockdown. How long I can keep writing these blog posts doing this is another question but when I can’t I’ll take a short break.

I have tried to research an article about Marcel Duchamp and Spanish Flu but it did pan out. You might think that having lived through it that he might have made some mention of it in his letters. All I found a letter from Buenos Aires, 10th January 1919 to Louise Arensberg: “Je suis vraiment navré de la mort de Schamberg et je me demande d’où vient cette vague de mort. Appollinaire, j’ai appris de France, est mort de la grippe il y a quelques mois déja.”C’est désolant.” (I am really upset about the death of Schamberg and wonder where this wave of death is coming from. Apollinaire, I heard from France, died of the flu several months ago now. It’s so distressing.) And three days later describing himself as “your immune baby” in English in a letter to Ettie Stettheimer. (Affectionately, Marcel – the selected correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk, Ludion Press, 2000 p.74 & 77, see my book review.)

In non-COVID lockdown related news, notable Melbourne street artist Lushsux has been hospitalised after being bashed. I am sending him some of my thoughts and all of my prayers.


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