Tag Archives: Fitzroy

Gertrude Street Cool

What do I think about Time Out naming Gertrude Street as “the second coolest street in the world”? Time Out’s opinion was based on the combination of food, fun, culture and community. I will focus on one of them — the culture.  

The magnolias were blooming as I examined the street’s current cool state. It is pleasant to walk along, although the car sewer in the middle makes crossing dangerous. However, it is absurd to say, as Time Out Melbourne editor Eliza Campbell suggests, that it hasn’t been “gentrified” like Brunswick and Smith Streets. Don’t tell me that the street hasn’t been gentrified. All those boutiques and fancy cafes are gentrification defined. The Foodworks supermarket is still there, the one ordinary shop left on the street. A new apartment block has been built where the paint and hardware shop once stood. The barbershop has closed… How when barbershops open all over Melbourne?

If you like street art and graffiti, then the lanes off Gertrude Street are well worth looking at. That hasn’t changed; it has, if anything, improved in both quality and quantity. My first blog post on this blog (back in 2008) was about Debs, Phibs and others painting one wall. 

I’ve been up and down this street many times in my life. Amongst the first was going to an opening at Max Joffe’s gallery, Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA), in the mid-80s. Later Joffe would be jailed for stealing paintings from Albert Tucker. It was next recommended as the best place to avoid the uncool 1988 bicentennial of the continent’s colonisation. The old post office, then the Aboriginal Health Centre, was painted with the Aboriginal flag’s red, black and yellow. In the 1990s, it was the centre of Melbourne’s heroin dealing.

Oigåll Projects

Once seven art galleries were on Gertrude Street, there are now four: Art & Collectors, Australian Printer Workshop, Oigåll Projects, and This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

Art & Collectors is a recently opened art dealer in upstairs rooms. Whereas the Australian Printer Workshop was established in 1981. It was showing the works by the 2020-2022 APW George Collie Memorial Award exhibition for contributions to the field of Australian Printmaking recipients Barbara Hanrahan, Deborah Klein, Hertha Kluge-Pott, and Ann Newmarch.

Oigåll Projects has a photography exhibition by Annika Kafcaloudis, “Family History”, that spilled onto the street with a large paste-up. Oigåll Projects describes itself as a “gallery and conceptual testing ground”, as well as “a love letter to her (Gertrude Street)”.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer had Michael Cook’s new series, “Enculturation”, a parody reversal of the stolen generation. This Is No Fantasy shows how much commercial gallery practice has changed over the decades it has been on the street, exemplified by its name and the table with chairs in its front window.

There have been many art galleries on Gertrude Street. Still, amongst all of them, 200 Gertrude Street (later Gertrude Contemporary) stood out. It was Melbourne’s first contemporary art space. Gertrude Contemporary has moved to Preston South, and Gertrude Glasshouse is a project space of Gertrude Contemporary in Collingwood; both retain the connection to the street in their name.

Maybe it is the coolest street in Melbourne (but not the coolest lane).


Fitzroy Galleries prestige and sales

For the first time since the end of Melbourne’s lockdown, I walked around galleries in Fitzroy. Some were familiar, institutions amongst Melbourne’s commercial art galleries, galleries that have been in operation for decades. Others were new to me. These galleries range from significant to seasonal. Some are improvised, and others polished.

James Lemon’s “Cannibals” installation view

“This Is No Fantasy” has another Juan Ford exhibition; I have reviewed many of his exhibitions in the past and I worry about repeating myself. “This Is No Fantasy” was Dianne Tanzer Gallery (before they merged with another gallery and took on one of the strangest names) while remaining one of Melbourne’s most influential galleries. Their artists, like Ford, win art prizes and whose works are in state collections.

A few doors further along on Gertrude Street, Oigall Projects, a new minimalist gallery has opened on Gertrude Street with an exhibition of ceramics, James Lemon’s “Cannibals”. Lemon is a New Zealand born ceramicist based-in Brunswick. His work  combines brutalist ceramics piles of bricks with brightly coloured and metallic glazes. 

Continuing along Gertrude Street is the Australian Print Workshop (APW). This not-for-profit arts organisation has been there for decades. Although not as influential as This Is No Fantasy, APW produces high-quality prints by established and emerging artists.

Sutton Gallery has been on Brunswick Street for decades representing established artists in the collections of state and regional galleries. At Sutton Gallery, Amanda Marburg reproduces After the Hunt, Uccello’s last painting, and eight scenes from within the picture. Marburg recreated the hunting scene from the early Renaissance painting in plasticine and then painted from those models. She is not the only artist to have painted scenes using small clay models, which painters used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Although they didn’t make it obvious as Marburg does. What does Marburg’s technique add to our view of deer hunting scenes in the Renaissance, or is it just another filter effect?

In Sutton Gallery’s small gallery, Arlo Mountford’s video installation Obscured By Clouds expects too much. “A range of interpretations is encouraged from the viewer.” It just looked like a well-produced collection of clips with some surround sound somewhat awkwardly installed but wasn’t encouraging any interpretations.

At the other extreme, there is Brunswick Street Gallery and some shopfront galleries with no influence and prestige. Brunswick Street Gallery had its usual eight exhibitions in different media in its various spaces: linocuts, oil painting, sculptures, ceramics, mixed-media and photography. And Rose Chong’s Costumiers has turned its display windows into “Chongworld Christmas Gallery” with artworks for sale. None of them made me want to write about, but these artists are not showing to be written about but purchased. I was surprised to see some artists studios, Pól the Painter and graffiti writer Mickey xxi, as for decades, rental prices in Fitzroy have been too high for such ventures.


Attempted Banana Split

Another fortnight and another attempt to decapitate another sculpture in Melbourne. Last time it was Gandhi, this time, a 2 metre tall, half-peeled banana with a skull carved into its flesh. Like the Gandhi statues Adam Stone’s Fallen Fruit, 2021 had only recently been installed. The last time I blamed right-wing Australians this time, I don’t know what to think. What is it about Melbourne that is causing people to attack sculptures?

Adam Stone, Fallen Fruit

Various Melbourne commercial TV and radio tried to create some controversy over the sculpture’s price. Consequently, a likely suspect is your typical conservative “concerned citizen” seeking revenge for what they consider is misspent public funds. There are a lot of crazies who used to stay in their suburbs in the city street post-lockdown, and this fruit has fallen amid rotting vegetables.

Most of the media have loved the image, and it has made news as far away as Nigeria. The vandalism has been given a temporary patch filling in the cuts. The saw marks go all the way around in what was clearly an energetic but inefficient attempt to chop the skull off at the jawline.

I remember seeing Stone’s Fallen Fruit at a smaller scale and cast in bronze in an exhibition at  Fort Delta in 2016. I remember because it is a memorable  image, and Stone had a few other faces appearing out of the flesh of peeled bananas. (See my post.)

It is a striking image intended to slow down car drivers entering the partial pedestrianisation of Rose Street. Funding for the sculpture came from the TAC (Transport Accident Commission). It is definitely cheaper than the cost of emergency services at a single fatal collision. The funding also paid for a road’s resurfacing, a road mural by Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung artist Otis Hope Carey, along with new public seating, planters growing native species, more bicycle hoops and a bike pumping station.

Scaled up in fibreglass, steel and automotive paint on a concrete base, Fallen Fruit is on the corner of Brunswick and Rose streets in Fitzroy. The intersection is busy with pedestrians enjoying coffee and the other attractions of Brunswick Street. It fits in with the area; there is graffiti by Phibs and the rest of the Everfresh crew on the wall behind it and a paste-up of Grant Alexander McCracken (1961–2020) poet and a human installation used to stand at that corner spruiking the Rose Street Artist Market.

Tim Van, Eyes Wide Shut

Bananas have a remarkable presence in contemporary art. Maybe because they aren’t apples, lemons, pineapples and grapes, fruits with traditional meanings, or simply because of the phallic humour from their shape. The following gallery, Brunswick Street Gallery, I visited had a painting by Tim Van with a boxing gloved hand holding a banana. It was bananas in art for the rest of the day, from Andy Warhol’s album design for the Velvet Underground to Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian.


Created in the last lockdown

On Tuesday night, there were two exhibitions opening at fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit gallery on Flinders Lane in Melbourne: William Eicholtz ‘Greedy Pixiu’ and James Grant ‘Retreat’. Both were created during last year’s lockdown but the sense doom has not left Melbourne.

William Eicholtz, Pufnpixiu

There were a few cases of COVID-19 in greater Melbourne that night, and masks became mandatory indoors at 6pm. I’ve had one shot of the vaccine, and I was determined to get to another exhibition opening before another lockdown. Not even Melbourne’s cold, wet weather was going to keep me away.

At the exhibition opening, William Eicholtz told me about last year and being alone in the studio, which he usually shares with four other people, without a model, without students, without commissions, wondering what to do. There were many artists, musicians, dancers, etc., in Melbourne wondering the same thing.

“I first saw pixiu, a pan Asian mythological chimera, on an artist’s residency in Beijing… Alone in my studio, the sketches I had done of Pixiu years before beckoned to me, and this group of sculptures was born.”

Made from glazed earthenware ceramics, some with embedded vintage Swarovski rhinestones, the pixiu are meant to represent good fortune through greed and over-indulgence. Money-boxes that you will never open. Others are greedily consuming social media or chocolate or eating lotuses. Other pairs of pixiu are dressed up in various costumes, invasive species, cicadas, and even 70s tv dragon H.R. Pufnstuf.

James Grant, Liv’s Apartment (photo courtesy of Grant)

In the large gallery at fortyfivedownstairs was James Grant’s ‘Retreat’. Landscapes and still life of the familiar world around Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. Scenes of living rooms, artist’s studios, garages build on the modern democratic attitude of depicting the ordinary rather than the great and the grand. A world full of stuff, books with recognisable titles and products with labels. Paintings that show an appreciation and enjoyment of local life. Familiar environment because we were all looking at similar scenes for so much last year. Retreating from the pandemic, we watched our world become smaller and smaller.

On reading Grant’s artist statement, ‘Retreat’ turned out to be another lockdown inspired exhibition. I emailed him to let him know about his blog post, and he told me about painting them in his home studio in Collingwood during the second lockdown.

I left the exhibition opening minutes before mask-wearing became mandatory and headed home. Victoria is now in a fourth lockdown. Back to drinking Shiraz, doom-scrolling Twitter and getting flashbacks of last year.

These, and all other exhibitions, performances, etc., will close for at least the next seven days. Some might be able to go online, others may be rescheduled, but the majority will have to be cancelled. Remember that these two exhibitions represent about half a year’s work for the two artists. The resilience of Melbourne’s culture looks like it will be determined through destructive testing.

James Grant, Fitzroy Houses (photo courtesy of Grant)
William Eicholtz Cornocopia Pixiu

After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


This is not a toy

I haven’t seen an exhibition of art toys for almost a decade, not since 2010. This year there have been two; the second one, This is Not a Toy Scene, opened last night at B-Side Gallery in Fitzroy.

It was an impressive group show with almost a dozen artists showing their toys, or should they be described as limited edition objet d’art? Perhaps the word ‘toy’ is more of reference to diminutive size, as in ‘toy poodles’, rather than use for play. Miniature polychromatic sculptures many in their own bubble packaging that imitated the commercial versions faultlessly.

Although many of the toys reflect a nostalgia for childhood there was more art than that sentiment and collectability in the exhibition. Cepholopede had some most immediate pop cultural references (egg boy, the milk-crate) by that I have seen in any show in a long time. There were some works that questioned copyright issues (not mentioning any names there). And some hard-core surrealistic work by Wendy Olsen.

There is still some cross-over between Melbourne’s street art scene and exhibitions of toys. I remember seeing the work of Phibs, Deb, and Junior in Villain’s ‘Munny show’ of customisable toys figures (see my post).

I knew that ADi and Facter have been making toys for years but I didn’t know about Russkid’s dragsters 3D doodles. Facter’s Irikanii Corps figures have the same colours as his work on the street and ADi’s toys (featured in earlier exhibitions) riff on Star Wars abstracting the characters to a minimal. Facter says that he now prefers making toys to painting on the streets because he can finish more.

If art toys are not really a happening scene in Australia it is in Asia. GGNW (GoodGuysNeverWin) from Indonesia is now based in Melbourne and promoting the art toy scene here. He told me about the Indonesian art toy scene. There had been a public controversy that some of his toys had created because people got the idea that toys depicting child killers might be sold to children in toy shops rather than to adults at art galleries.

Earlier this year I saw that there was a limited edition toy depicting the American art critic Jerry Salz so I guess we can call this an international toy art movement.


Indigenous Culture on the streets

On Friday 5 July I met the NAIDOC Week march as I was walking to Fitzroy. The march was coming the opposite way walking from Fitzroy to Federation Square. I felt inspired by the march – I want a treaty and truth (like South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission). Australia needs a treaty with its Indigenous population; Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people.

I considered my options joining the march or continuing my walk into Fitzroy. I decided to continue on looking at public art, street art and art exhibitions but with a focus on indigenous history. My methodology for these walks is asystematic, random, and often without preconceived objectives. This is because I want to take unfamiliar routes and find new things.

This is No Fantasy, the Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stien’s gallery on Gertrude Street was showing Vincent Namatjira’s exhibition Coming To America. Vincent is a Western Arrernte man from Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and the grandson of the famous artist, Albert Namatjira. It was Vincent Namatjira’s fifth solo presentation at this prominent Melbourne commercial gallery. Black dots beside the works showed that every painting had sold.

Vincent Namatjira’s crude but effective style has an absurd sense of humour. The exhibition has a series of paintings depicting his trip to America, including his time in Hollywood, the White House and relaxing on beach chair at the Miami Beach Art Basel. On one wall was a grid of black and white portraits of alternating black and white people. Namatjira seems to be saying: why so serious when this is fun?

Gertrude Street was named after the daughter of Captain Brunswick Smythe who acquired the land in 1839 in colonial exploitation; in spite of it colonial origins Gertrude Street has many reminders of Melbourne’s Indigenous history. There are several plaques by the City of Yarra Aboriginal Cultural Signage Reference Group and the Aboriginal Advisory Group: The Koori Club, the Aboriginal Housing Board and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. (As well as public art I am now looking at plaques — how dull can I get?).

At the corner of Lt. Napier Street, there is the recent ‘Sovereignty’ mural by Robert Young, Heesco and Makatron. They are all Melbourne-based artists but only Young is a Gunnai/Gunditjmarra/Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man – Heesco is from Mongolia and Makatron is probably from outer space, or Adelaide.

A bit further along Gertrude Street, at the corner of Gertrude and George Streets stand three “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria.  The yarn bombed dress on one of thin bronze figures has been there for years, it implies that it a woman and makes the group more inclusive.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On the same corner is Maysar, the Melbourne Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative with glass design in the windows and glass doors by Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson’s work is familiar to me as she designed Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank and the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam.

I turned left onto to Smith Street, named after Melbourne’s Mayor Smith 1855-64 a publican turned politician. At first there was much less reminders of Indigenous history on Smith Street, just on plaque for the Victorian Aboriginal Co-operative Limited at 108 Smith Street, one guy in an Aboriginal flag t-shirt getting lunch and a small flag painted on a house in one of the streets off Smith.

That was until I reached the corner of Stanley and Smith Street where the Glenn Romanis has designed the combination of a micro-park, seating, public art and a map. Glenn Romanis is from the Wurundjeri/woi wurrung and Boonwerrung people of the Kulin Nation, and like Nicholson, Romanis’s public work was familiar from his carving at Birrarung Wilam. The sites are mapped in fossilised wood with granite streets cutting across the sedimentary rock that flows like rivers. Carved in the rock “Wominjeka Wurundjeri Bik” (Welcome to Wurundjeri Country). It was a good place to continue an exploration of Indigenous culture in Melbourne.


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