I felt little for the majority of the sixty-three sculptures on exhibition. It is difficult to be daring when there are so many technical challenges and expenses to making sculpture. Consequently many are like a large piece of jewellery — well designed and made but too boring, slick and trite to be anything other than ersatz art. Stuff so bland that zombie formalism looked thoughtful. There were a few made me wince as their combination of materials was the visual equivalent of ice-cream with pickles. There were, of course, a couple of kitsch pieces and one case of questionable cultural appropriation.
Finally there were some sculptures that were appealing for various reasons; not bad for a group exhibition. I was surprised when I checked who was the artist of some of the works that caught my eye: Drasko (who I know from his street art and art transport business) and Michael Meszaros (who has done many public sculptures). Meszaros’s wavy bronze piece, Smoulder, is like curls of smoke. Drasko Boljevic’s Baby is almost a minimal comic-book version of Munch’s Scream.
Tahani Shamroukh’s A Labour is one of the few pieces of contemporary art in the exhibition and one of the few that had anything to say. It is realism; it doesn’t look like anything other than what it is and it is life. A cube of used work clothes and boots, the kind that labours wear, is as real as the $5 bill amongst them. It reminded me of Ai Weiwei’s Ton of Tea (2011), a one square metre block of compressed oolong tea. I was not surprised that Shamroukh’s A Labour won the Art Almanac Prize.
The Association of Sculptors of Victoria 2019 Annual Awards and Exhibition is at Collins Square, an enormous multi-towered building in the Docklands with a network of foyer areas almost the size of a city block. The foyer works well as an exhibition space for the sculptures. They need this kind of space for their work, not just because some of it is large and heavy, but because it is impressive semi-formal space with an instant audience. The kind of place with marble floors and a paintings the size of sail by John Olsen hanging at the top of one staircase with a painting of the city by Ricky Kasso above another.
Collins Square is also the kind of place that is professionally managed and this has resulted in a peculiar decision to ban one sculpture from the exhibition. The story of the sculpture’s censorship has legs even if the bust of a man didn’t; from Channel 7 to the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets. I don’t blame the Collins Square management for their crazy decision because Australia’s culture of censorship is arbitrary, inexplicable and the consequences for even minor transgressions can be sever. There has been a censorship controversy over images of male nipples in the past, Del Kathryn Barton’s son’s bare chest in 2011, and it could happen again because in this country the irrational is privileged over reason, ethics and taste.
A visit to the Sunshine Lane (Ann St, Brunswick) is always worthwhile to see quality street art and graffiti. There are other great locations for street art in Brunswick hidden away in the backstreets. Few laneways in Melbourne get a 5 star review on Google but this is one; Google describes it as an art gallery and in a way it is. Sunshine Lane is one of the locations in Brunswick where street art graffiti thrive because it is semi-curated by Dean Sunshine, whose family owns several of the warehouse in the area. There are some permanent works, like this one by Slicer that I videoed when he was spraying it six years ago.
In the video I wanted to convey the action painting aspects of painting with a spray can (as in the action painting of the Abstract Expressionist 10th Street School). Aspects that Slicer embodied well, but it is his footwork, the dance that is also common to all artists spray painting large walls that I was also watching. The person dances along the wall with their spray can, steps back, pause, steps to the left, or to the right, and then steps back up to the wall to once again paint across its surface.
A couple of stencils by Drasko and others around the area reminded me that a decade ago the main focus on Melbourne’s street art was stencils. It is not that stencils are making a come back, they never went away, it is just that the street art scene is so much larger that stencils no longer dominate.
No-one would have predicted what is still happening with street art; what was underground and wild is now mainstream. A decade ago I was told so often that Melbourne’s street art had peaked that I took it too mean that the person in question was getting out of the scene. However, for every person who left the scene to pursue other goals it seemed that five took their place.
Rapid urbanisation has been the fuel in this expansion in many ways. The growth of the city, not just spread, but vertically has created many more walls filled by many more people who want to paint them. The walls get larger, whole sides of multi-storey buildings and more and more get painted. There are now building sites around Sunshine Lane, small laneways have vanish or are now cut off by construction works.
Off the Kerb is a favourite for street artists exhibiting and the exhibitions that opened last Friday night were very much about street art.
“House of Ghosts” by Barek features both paintings and sculptures of Barek’s whimsical ghosts. A large ghost house model serves as centre-piece for the exhibition, visible from the street through Off the Kerb’s shopfront window. Barek’s ghosts and other characters have a narrative sense but often they seem like the ghost of rabbits frozen in the headlights of the artists vision. Although he has long had a presence on Melbourne’s street’s with his paste-ups Barek is now based in Melbourne after moving from Brisbane.
Akemi Ito, Wisdom
Drasko, B-29 Super fortress
“Hard Boiled Wonderland & The end of the World” by Akemi Ito and Drasko (who signs his work DB) is an exhibition of stencil art. Akemi Ito looks to Japan for inspiration whereas Drasko looks to America. They also have a different approach to stencil making; Akemi hand-drawn stencils emphasis the line whereas Drasko uses the blocks of colour to create his images. Drasko’s spray painted rubber floor-pieces are both effective and unusual.
Tinky, “Sam knew this was going to be his most impressive topiary attempt yet.”
Tinky, Wilbur loved going for his evening walk in the park.
“Tinkyville: Land of Folly” by Tinky packs in 30 of her Lilliputian models to one of the upstairs rooms. Her tiny HO scale figures are often oblivious of the larger scale objects that they are set in. The humorous scenes are full of action, their titles adding to the narrative and the joke, like “Sam knew this was going to be his most impressive topiary attempt yet”. Even at this scale Tinky’s work can also be found in Melbourne’s streets; I first saw her work in Presgrave Place.
Mie Nakazawa, Untitled
“Same Same and Different” Mie Nakazawa monoprint line drawn heads; I hesitate to use the word ‘portraits’ because they are all untitled. They looked inspired by the Austrian Expressionist artist, Egon Schiele. Unlike all the other street artists Nakazawa is a Sydney-based contemporary printmaker who has also painted a few murals in Sydney.
There were galleries with exhibitions opening all along Johnston Street on Friday night. There was a group exhibition with work by more of Melbourne’s artists associated with Melbourne’s streets. Be Free, Baby Guerilla, HaHa and Suki amongst almost twenty artists exhibiting at a pop-up exhibition at 178 Johnston Street, as part of the first birthday celebrations for Qbank gallery from Queenstown, Tasmania.