Tag Archives: fortyfive downstairs

Flinders Lane Nov 2021

A local cross-disciplinary artist, Amy Hurley, has an installation, A Sorry Semblance, in the Cathedral Cabinet. Cathedral Cabinet is a glass display case at the entrance of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor of the Nicholas Building (another reason to Save the Nicholas Building). It is across the road from where the Bourke and Wills Monument was previously located in Melbourne’s City Square; now, the site of a massive box covering the excavation for Melbourne’s new underground rail loop.

detail of Amy Hurley, A Sorry Semblance

In her installation, Hurley has deconstructed the sculptural head of Bourke as imagined by the nineteenth-century sculptor Charles Summers, who made the memorial. Looking at the parts separately, I failed to recognise the face, hence the title, A Sorry Semblance.

The parts of Hurley’s installation were all relevant, from the quotes from a translation of Camus’ novel The Plague to the location across the road from the monument. However, the connections between Camus, Summers’ bronze statue of Bourke and the white ceramic tiles were not strong enough and the installation looked unfinished.

I was looking around Melbourne galleries around Flinders Lane on Wednesday when I saw A Sorry Semblance. There wasn’t much on; exhibitions installations were being done at Craft Victoria and Platform while Mailbox Art Space stood empty. It was my first time looking around galleries since Melbourne’s long lockdown. Needing to check-in and prove my double vaccinated status at every gallery was slowing me down.

Upstairs at Flinders Lane Gallery, I had to look closely at Kendal Murray’s pieces because they looked similar to those by Tinky, fortunately without the awful puns. Of course, in the last decade, I’ve seen artists from Daniel Dorall, Tinky, the Little Librarian, to Kendal Murray have used HO scale model railway figures (see my post about artists who are the same).

At fortyfivedownstairs, there was an exhibition and launch of a limited edition book, Tales from the Greek – Myth, Beauty and Brutality by writer John Hughes with art by Melbourne-based Marco Luccio. Inspired by classical Greek mythology, this is a titan of an exhibition of paintings, prints and sculptures created over five years. There is a gallery full of images of Trojan Horses, minotaurs, Sisyphus and sirens. And the strongest were Luccio’s rough warriors and other figures made of welded found metal (better than my poor photo). See my review of one of Luccio’s previous exhibitions.

Summarising my excursion amongst the galleries of Flinders Lane reminded me of several things: the long tail of classical Greek mythology, the similarity of contemporary artists, and the work going on in Melbourne’s smaller alternate exhibition spaces, like Cathedral Cabinets.

Marco Luccio, Tales from the Greek, installation view

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

Several March Exhibitions

On Friday I went into Melbourne to see some exhibitions and street art. With increasing isolation looming, firstly due to the closure of my train line for Sky Rail construction, and the prospect of further isolation due to the pandemic, it might be my last chance to see some exhibitions for a few months.

A walk along Flinders Lane leads to less galleries than it did a decade ago.

Arc One had an exhibition of furniture made of leather part of Melbourne Design Week 2020, it was more like a shop than a gallery. It was “Partu” (the Walmajarri word for skin) by Johnny Nargoodah and Trent Jansen. Most of the pieces looked awkward and you could see the steel armature underneath the leathery contortions.

Fortyfive Downstairs had “Between Horizons” haunting sculptures in the shape of boats by Jan Learmonth and, “Microcosmographia” a group exhibition about animals.

Turning off Flinders Lane I walked down Hosier Lane and although it was less crowded without the Chinese tourists, I was surprised at how many people were still there. I was looking for the aftermath of the great fire-extinguisher spray performance event. You could still see it, high up on the walls, if you knew what to look for and where to look for it. Most of it has been repainted. Local writers are keen to inform the public about the effect that the shop, Culture Kings, is having on the lane’s culture. Culture Kings are the main offender but there are other advertisers with stencils who were exploiting the traffic in the lane. Everything is not a platform to advertise your product; there are more important things.

My main objective was to see the “Japanese Modernism” exhibition at the NGV International and but while I was at there I looked at the art book fair, an up-market and quality zine fair for people who love book design.

“Japanese Modernism” is not a large exhibition, just a large room, with men’s fashion on one side and women’s fashion on the other side. It is mostly design, rather than art, with some great examples of ephemera in the form tourist maps, magazines, make-up and music scores for the popular modern instruments harmonica and ukulele.

There was no shock of the new for Japan as the land already shaken by the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. And Japan adopted modernism with a confidence born from the fact that modernism was always a syncretic mix that included Japanese and European elements.


Postcards Exhibition

There are two exhibitions at Fortyfive Downstairs by Marco Luccio: “New York Postcards” in the main gallery and  “Immaginario” in the small gallery. It is difficult for one artist to fill the enormous space at Fortyfive Downstairs (I don’t think that I’ve seen a single artist do that before) with work of a consistent quality. This is especially impressive given that most the art in these two exhibition are small works that would each look good by themselves in a someone’s home.

Marco Luccio uses a variety of printing techniques. In “Immaginario” he uses monotypes to create fantastic miniature landscapes, very much in the tradition of Max Ernst’s Surrealist decalcomania landscapes. In his “New York Postcards” Luccio mixes rubber stamps and etching with other mixed media using antique postcards both as a support and an “impedimento”.

However, this “impedimento” on the post-cards, the printing, stamps, postmarks, and ink handwriting is largely ignored. The function of the postcard has been removed by making them art. Likewise the connection between NYC postcards, Luccio’s the neo-classical drawing style with the heavy lines, horses, and bodies appears arbitrary.

In an artist’s statement in video form Luccio refers to the postcards as “artefacts”; as they were antiques I wanted to know the source of the postcard, how were they acquired. Three vitirines offered clues about their construction; filled with materials and old albums of postcards they showed some of the process of their creation.

Although Luccio knows art history, he shows photographs of himself sketching in the Metropolitan Museum, he appears to be unaware of the mail art movement. One of the largest (by number of participants) art movements of the twentieth century, mail art, also known as the “New York Correspondence School”. It used the postal system both to distribute art and play with, as in Ben Vautier’s postcard The Postman’s Choice (1965) with a place for a stamp and address on both sides.

I was intrigued by the poster advertising for this exhibition because it reached Coburg.


Two Landscapes: Hancock & Smith

It is rare that a landscape moves me, so when I’m impressed by two exhibitions of landscapes it is worth considering why. I don’t find a lot of meaning in landscapes possibly because I am not attached with emotional investment to any place. However this week I saw two exhibitions of landscapes that were full of meaning.

Evan Hancock, Lake Mountain Victoria, 2018

At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, some kind of a landscape but what were all those vertical white marks? At Forty-five Downstairs a series of black and white photographs, “Light.Ash.White” by Evan Hancock that marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires. Each of those vertical white marks was a dead tree.

On February 7 to March 14 in 2009 Kinglake, Marysville and the Lake Mountain regions burnt. The catastrophic loss of trees, scars across a landscape at a scale almost too vast to comprehend. Hancock was not aiming for an emotional response from the viewer, nor are his clinical. Only in a couple can you even see a road often there is only nature to give a sense of scale and time to the images. The photographs convey the vast emptiness.

A few small documentary colour photographs lying flat on plinths in the middle of gallery provided context for the exhibition.

It seems a little ironic that the photographs were frame in black Victorian Ash timber.

Peter James Smith, Of Twilights Repeated Measure, 2018

Flinders Lane Gallery is showing “Round Many Western Islands”, by Peter James Smith. Smith is a polymath: BSc (Hons), MSc, MFA, PhD, the former Professor of Mathematics and Art, and Head of the School of Creative Media at RMIT University. His painting are post-modern landscapes; romantic-style oil paintings of seascapes and landscapes with white notes, like chalkboard notes for a lecture, diagrams and words written on top of them. The contrast between the rich, glossy surface of the landscapes paintings with the dry, matt white matches the contrast the interior comprehension and the exterior views of the scene. Here Smith’s encyclopaedic knowledge finds connections between science and art, mathematics to poetics, from ancient Homer’s tales of the resourceful Odysseus to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, from the ancient Aboriginal footprints in the Lake Mungo Desert to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, and more. A lifetime of knowledge and travel condensed into an exhibition.

This will be Flinders Lane Gallery’s last exhibition in their current location before they more to the Nicholas Building.


The Australian amorality

In Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) one of Byrne’s repurposed porcelain figure the wistful girl seated on a rock has sewn her lips together and has slashed her legs and arms, self-harming in despair. Byrne is also a ceramics conservator and uses the same conservation techniques to alter mass produced kitsch ceramics. She gives them a new political meaning with the judicious application of enamel paint.

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

I feel that I have failed as a critic this year because I did not write about “All we can’t see – Illustrating the Nauru Files” at Forty-Five Downstairs in August. Byrne’s figure was just one of the exhibiting artists in that exhibition. I wanted to address the deep systemic problems in Australia that have lead to this, however at the time I felt the pain depicted in the art too much and lacked the energy to write.

The Australian concentration camps are not the responsibility of one political party but are symptomatic of a deep lack of morality. There are so many examples of institutional child abuse, war crimes, genocidal activity in Australia’s recent history that all the apologies in the world cannot disguise the fact the country is amoral.

The cause of this Australian amorality is that either the majority of Australians or basic the structure of Australian politics is or both. At the foundation of this structure is the Australian constitution; a document without any protection of civil or human rights, a document that permits voting laws to be made on the basis of race. However the Australian constitution cannot be entirely to blame, it is merely facilitates a system without a conscience.

Nationalists consider that it a good thing for the subject of Australia’s criminality never to be raised. Denial, distraction and ‘no comment’ are the national character of a criminal state. You cannot have a civil debate when one side does not want to have one. Criminals charges must be brought against all those who participated in these crimes; only following orders, only doing your job, even only obeying the law are not excuses for crimes against humanity. And the Australian constitution completely rewritten so that these crimes can never happen again.


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


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