Tag Archives: Gilbert and George


“Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century” at MUMA (Monash University Museum of Art) pays tribute to Duchamp’s conceptual invention. A century after Marcel Duchamp’s lost Bicycle Wheel, 1913 and Bottle dryer, 1914 it is a difficult challenge to sum up the impact of this seminal work of contemporary art, even if this is only from public and private collections in Australia, but this exhibition has succeeded.



There are over forty artists – from internationally renowned artists of art history textbook fame to notable Australian artists. This is an important exhibition for anyone interested in the history of the last century of art. It takes the viewer to some of the most important works of 20th Century artists: Duchamp, John Cage 4’3”, Christo and Jeanne Claude’s Wrapped Coast, Gilbert and George’s The Singing Sculptures and Martin Creed’s Work No.88. The art alternated from the sublime to the ridiculous, the sacred to the profane, from transfigured value to ordinary stuff. I particularly enjoyed seeing Meret Oppenheim Eichhörnchen (Squirrel) 1969 because I hadn’t seen it before, Rosslynd Piggot’s etched glass because I haven’t seen her work for a while and pages of Peter Tyndall’s blog, Blogos/HA HA because I’ve seen it often (there is a link in my blogroll in the right bar of this page).

At the opening of the exhibition, once the noise from the bar and cheese table had subsided, there were a number of speeches including one from Scott Tanner, Chief Executive of the Bank of Melbourne. Tanner commented on the work by Andrew Liversidge IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE, 2009. Liversidge consists of 10,000 $1 coins that the Bank of Melbourne had loaned for the exhibition. Tanner talked about the coins or art “going in and out of circulation.” This an important point about readymades because they do not exist at all times, they go in and out of circulation. We take chocolates from Gonzalez-Toress’ Untitled (a corner of Baci) but there is an endless supply as long as the factory keeps manufacturing them. Martin Creed’s Work no.88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball, 1995 exists in an unlimited edition of which this was #625. The readymade art on exhibition does not necessarily exist in W.E. Kennick’s imaginary warehouse as distinguishable objects. (See: Kennick, “Does Traditional Aesthetics Rest on a Mistake?” Mind v.67 1958) It does not necessarily exist in a real studio as Susanna Duchamp demonstrates when she threw out the original Bicycle Wheel and Bottlerack when cleaning out Marcel’s Paris studio.

The idea that a readymade is not be warehoused or the art might return to the circulation of ordinary objects is a not a mistake. As a banker Tanner would know banks do not actually have all the money on paper sitting in a vault. That Liversidge’s art exists, like money, in the documentation and the power of the authenticating signature and the physical instance, when required. That money exists in the same way the Michael Craig-Martin’s An oak tree, 1973 exists in the exchange of the idea represented by the tokens of the exchange.

“We do not so much need the help of friends as the certainty of their help” – Epicurius. This was the message wrapped in the Baci chocolate that was part of Felix Gonzalez-Toress’ corner. Readymades do need the help of friends but not the certainty; they need the galleries, the plinths, the curators and gallery attendants for without them we might trip over them or shovel snow with one of them (a gallery worker really did shovel snow with Marcel Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arm). Once again praise to the curatorial team of Max Delany (former MUMA director), Charlotte Day, Francis E. Parker and Patrice Sharkey.


Seven Years With Banksy

This post is about the curious case of Banksy allowing people around him to exploit their relationship with him. For example Mr. Brainwash and his part in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop or Robert Clarke’s book Seven Years With Banksy (Michael O’Mara, 2012). I suppose that Banksy has no choice given that he wants to keep his identity anonymous but to tolerate these exploitations rather than face exploitative exposures. Being an anonymous artist clearly has it drawbacks.

Robert Clarke’s Seven Years With Banksy is a terrible read, even with low expectations. Like Mr. Brainwash and Exit Through the Gift Shop there is more of Clarke in the book than Banksy. Clarke spends two or three chapters just meeting Banksy. He actually has very little and sporadic contact with Robin/Banksy. If Clarke were honest the book’s title would be Seven Years of occasionally meeting Banksy.

I stopped reading the book the first time when Clarke started to recount his dreams about Banksy; it was too self-indulgent. In the words of Wm. Burroughs: “Such dreams radiate a special disinterest. They are as boring and commonplace as the average dreamer.” (Burroughs, My Education: a book of dreams, 1995 p.2)

I put the Seven Years With Banksy aside and read a couple of other books but when I came to the end of Daniel Farson’s Gilbert and George – a portrait (Harper Collins, 1999) the author wandered into a dream he had about Gilbert and George. I started both at the same time and enjoyed reading G&G more – G&G are so charming. And Farson’s occasional meanderings were forgivable because they showed his systematic commitment to the project. There is real content in the book about G&G, the people that they worked with and the people who bought their art.

I thought that maybe I was being too harsh on Clarke, so I went back to Seven Years With Banksy but I think that I should stopped reading the first time as it didn’t get any better. My opinion, don’t bother reading it in the first place. I’ve read it so you don’t have to.

Arndt Migration

On the first really hot Tuesday of this spring I arrived to see Berlin gallery owner, Matthias Arndt for a tour of Migration, his first Melbourne pop-up exhibition at Ormond Hall in South Melbourne. I was waiting for him in this amazing ballroom with a few other people. From the outside Ormond Hall looks like a modest gothic revival building. It was built for the RVIB (Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind) in 1891 but on the inside it was remodelled in 1922 in the art deco style when a new dance floor  was installed. It has seen performances from Dame Nellie Melba, AC/DC and Skyhooks.

This is the way that I want to be treated for an exhibition opening; a glass of good champagne on arrival, a media pack and then a tour around the exhibition before the general public arrived. It is good to be introduced and to have the opportunity to talk with people involved in the exhibition. This was not just another exhibition invite in the email box where I have to introduce myself and identify the exhibiting artist. (I hope some people are taking notes.) Gabrielle Wilson, of [art]iculate, the publicist for the exhibition has done a great job promoting the exhibition and after the second glass of champagne I honestly wanted to tell people to see this exhibition.

I was a bit concerned before seeing it that this would be yet another slick commercial gallery with a lot of prints and other multiple editions from some big name artists. But the list of artists intrigued me, as did the mention of ”the Berlin style of staging exhibitions in abandoned and unexpected spaces.” The art on exhibition is serious and impressive – not just the names. In the end I wasn’t so impressed with the Berlin style of staging as it was like is seeing another artist-run-space. The art was exhibited in the stripped-out former offices and classrooms on the upper floors of Ormond Hall. They still have their fluoro lighting and ceiling fans but anything is better than another white cube.

Matthias Arndt explains the art, Gilbert and George “Killers Straight” 2011 in background

Matthias Arndt was honest about the reasons for his own migration to Australia; there are personal, professional and strategic reasons. In the week that the Australian Government released their Asian strategy white paper Arndt has made this own strategic move for the Asian art market. His Australian wife and 4-year-old son were the personal reason. He has already had a pop-up exhibition in a building in the Rocks in Sydney and now he is announcing his presence in Melbourne.

I asked Arndt if this was basically high-end art for institutions and other serious collectors. “No” he replied, padlocking the built-in cupboards that had been converted into display cases with the addition of a few glass panes, “there is work from $50 and up.” Indeed there was art jewellery and DGTMB, a street artist’s limited edition t-shirts, trucker caps and bags. Along with the jewellery there was a small Renaissance altarpiece and a smaller painter by Joe Coleman in the cupboard. In another room there is modern furniture.

I would recommend a visit before the 15th of December at least to see the world famous artists, like Gilbert and George, Georg Baselitz (“can’t avoid certain German artists” Arndt remarks), Joseph Beuys. Martin Kippenberger, Eko Nugroho and Sophie Calle surrounded by walls of peeling paint and to see Ormond hall’s art deco ballroom.

Modern Artists & Graffiti

During the 20th century artists looked to the street and graffiti for inspiration. Street art has a century of artistic interest from modern art. I hope to show in this short and incomplete history that street art is not a transitory fad but the flowering of long established trends in art history.

At the turn of the 20th century modern artists attempting to connect with authentic, democratic creativity turned to the naïve, folk, primitive and street art. Graffiti was the logical conclusion as it was both urban and, at that time, primitive. Modern artists like Francis Picabia, Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly found inspiration in graffiti and tried to imitate it in their paintings.

Balla, Bankrupt, oil painting, 1902

The urban landscape of the street, including its graffiti, was important theme in modern art. As early as 1902, the Italian painter Giacomo Balla, who later was a member of the Futurists, painted a realist urban scene that focused on the chalk marks on a door – “The Bankrupt”. Brassaï photographed graffiti on Paris streets in the 1920s. English Pop artists reproduce graffiti in their art just as they reproduced other signs from the modern world. David Hockney used graffiti in some of his early paintings. And Gilbert and George used photographs of graffiti in ‘The Dirty Word Pictures’, 1977. All of these artists were working with graffiti before the aerosol spray paint drastically improved the quality, at least calligraphically, of contemporary graffiti.

When aerosol graffiti emerged on the streets and subway cars of New York about 1968 it obtained a new sophistication and, with the late 60s focus on youth culture, a new relevance. In the same year the Situationalist International covered the streets of Paris during May riots with graffiti slogans bringing graffiti firmly into the attention of art students, including Malcolm McLaren. Graffiti was no longer the source material and inspiration for art; it was now art.

Graffiti and street art has since spread around the world. Some of its exponents quickly moved into art galleries: Robert Combas, Harold Naegeli, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring and, most famously, Jean-Michel Basquiat all emerged from a street art background.

And graffiti continues to be the source of inspiration for contemporary non-street artists. Most notably, Gilbert and George have returned to using contemporary graffiti in their recent work, with mirrored images of tags in their ‘Perversive Pictures’, 2004. “Like the other pictures incorporating found text – whether graffiti, personal advertisements or street flyers – they form an idiosyncratic map of the city, tracing the artist’s endless wanderings” Wrote Simon Bolitho about the Gilbert & George Major Exhibition (Tate Modern, 2007)

“We’re making pictures out of the subjects that talk to us: religion, graffiti, sexuality.” Gilbert & George (interviewed by Michael Fitzgerald “We are two people but one artist: Four decades of Gilbert & George” Art & Australia v.47 n.4 p.577)

This is just a rough draft the future history of art will have a lot more to say about the relationship between modern art and graffiti that has developed into contemporary street art.

Busker Artists

There are a variety of types of busker artists: the street corner portraitists, the caricature artists, the chalk sidewalk artists, the guys making outer space scenes with aerosol spray cans (using the lids to stencil in planets). There are lots of these guys doing the same routine in all the cities around the world.

The sidewalks of Southbank in Melbourne are covered with the chalk of sidewalk artists. “Screevers can sometimes be called artists, sometimes not.” Wrote George Orwell; I re-read part of his book Down and Out in Paris and London to see what has changed in street art since the 1930s. Orwell classifies all street entertainers as “beggars” even the street acrobats. “As the law now stands, if you approach a stranger and ask him for twopence, he can call a policeman and get you seven days for begging. But if you make the air hideous by droning ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’, or scrawl some chalk daubs on the pavement, or stand about with a tray of matches – in short make a nuisance of yourself – you are held to be following a legitimate trade and not begging.”

There are still the occasional street entertainers who are basically begging, like the guy on Swanston Street with his naïve drawings of buildings, but the majority of buskers and sidewalk artists are proficient and professional. Musicians with paid gigs later in the evening, magnificent chalk drawings (generally copies of old masters) on rolls of heavy paper taped to the sidewalk or little craft stalls full of bicycles made of twisted wire.

Living sculptures as a special type of mime busker artist. Their stiff painted clothes and painted skin. These buskers have been around in since the early 1990s. Maybe Gilbert and George, the living sculptures, and their “Underneath the Arches” performance in 1970, inspired the busker living sculptures (or was it the other way around?). Melbourne and Barcelona have the best living sculptures that I have seen. These artists really put effort into their costume and routine. In other places they are little more than begging with a mask and simple costume.

Living sculptures move in response to a coin being put into their tin. At other times they remain as still as a statue, in this way it has some relation to modelling for an artist. One of the best living sculptures that I have seen is Albert Stone. Albert Stone, as his name suggests, is a Magrittean stone man with platform incorporating roses.  The burgundy baroque lady in Melbourne is another living sculpture of exceptional detail. Perth artist Christian de Vietri has created a sculpture based on living sculptures. Her robot sculpture – “Tim” (2006, aluminium) is in GoMA’s collection. Robots are common image for living sculptures especially as they can combine simple light and sound effects in their costume.

Christian de Vietri - Tim (2006)

Street entertainment is now expected by public, and is licensed, or even funded by local councils. Buskers, sidewalk artists and living sculptures are part of life on Melbourne’s streets; there is more art on the streets than just graffiti. The change in street art may, in part, be due to the romantic focus that George Orwell and other writers placed on them, but there has also been a change in the culture of the street.

%d bloggers like this: