Tag Archives: GoMA

Bloody Awful

For an artist to produce a bad painting is inevitable, it happens all the time. There is even a Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts. The curator of the Museum of Bad Art, Michael Frank says that bad art “must have been created by someone who was seriously attempting to make an artistic statement – on that has gone horribly awry in either its concept or execution.” And a good artist can still create a bad painting – creating bad art is a risk that every artist must accept.

Gordon Hookey “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009

Gordon Hookey’s oil painting “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009 has gone horribly awry in both its concept and its execution. It is possibly the worst painting created in Australia in 2009 and yet it is in GoMA’s collection. I have, unfortunately, seen a couple of uglier paintings last year, exhibited in artist run spaces but none of these had the size, the lofty ambitions nor the important subject of Hookey’s painting.

“Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” is a terrible painting because it should have been Australia’s Geurnica. At approximately 3m x 5m, it almost has the size of Guernica. It is intended to be a great history painting to mark the homicidal, racist and unjust behaviour of the Queensland Police Force on Palm Island in 2004.

In 2005 and Robert Nelson (in a review of Gordon Hookey’s exhibition at Nellie Castan Gallery) wrote: “Gordon Hookey has fun with his medium, his ideas and his background.” ‘Fun’ is one of my favorite words for art and I have no doubt that in the paintings that Nelson was reviewing Hookey was having fun for Hookey is capable of having fun with images, as I’ve seen it in his other paintings. Perhaps the horror and injustice of the events on Palm Island are too awful a situation for fun images.

The painting itself has problems from its design of a V shape dividing the mob of kangaroos from the Tazer wielding force arrayed against them. The mix of literal and metaphorical images has been poorly thought out. There is blood dripping from a palm tree but where it has come from is not clear. The mob of kangaroos is well armed with gun/spears and appears a formidable force in tightly packed wedge. These mutant aggressive kangaroos appear to be something out of the comic book Tank Girl. In the foreground there are few menacing figures with their large sparking tasers; why these figures are not shown in police uniforms is a mystery when they are meant to represent the Queensland Police Force. It appears that the painting avoids representing any of the people or any of the events.

Hookey’s painting crudely illustrative style of painting with its dark outlines and bright colours has its inherent risks – it can easily become ugly. The colour in the painting have been chosen for their illustrative quality, the kangaroos are in a variety of different colours of brown to help define one from another. I presume that the kangaroo’s eyes have been painted blue to make them a different colour from the brown.

The didactic panel at GoMA did much more to explain the horror and injustice on Palm Island than the painting. It did not explain why the artist had chosen to represent the events in this peculiar way. I don’t want to blame Gordon Hookey entirely for this very ugly painting; it is not entirely his responsibility that I was exposed to such an ugly painting, it might be decaying in storage. It is the curators and acquisition committee of GoMA that are responsible for its exhibition. I presume that GoMA purchased it for historic references rather than artistic merit.

It is a shame that the events on Palm Island, yet another death of an Aboriginal man in custody, part of the continuing genocide in Australia, is trivialized with a bad painting. If only Hookey had seen Juan Davila’s scathing versions of Australian history paintings. But the first solo public gallery exhibition of Juan Davila in Brisbane only took place at Griffith University in 2009.  Davila’s history paintings are full of transgressive references to art history and Australian history. They are full of details that build a complex of ideas about the historic event and relate it to the contemporary world. Hookey has simplified the history into a ‘them and us’ position; the painting becomes a simple partisan illustration. The title “Blood on the wattle” is a Henry Lawson reference that falls as flat irony in the face of the current Queensland Labor Party government. This is not a rally to insurrection that the line in Lawson’s poem proposes but a way to support the state’s image of being a liberal democracy by having critical art in GOMA.

“Like charging a regiment of tanks with a defective sanitary device from 1920.” Wm. Burroughs commenting on John Hartsfield’s photomontages.


“Modern Art” in Brisbane

The modern world started at different times in different places in different disciplines. In philosophy the modern world started in 1600. In the visual arts it is a few centuries later; modern art starts sometime in the mid 19th century and continues to around 1965. Contemporary art, is the current term used to describe galleries showing art created post WWII. But in Queensland, one of the more conservative states in Australia, the term “modern art” appears to still be with us.

I was under the misapprehension that GoMA, which opened in 2006 in Brisbane, was a contemporary art gallery. It looks like a contemporary art gallery. GoMA has three floors of contemporary gallery space and cinemas around a rather empty main foyer space. It has a dedicated children’s art area, an important feature of any new art gallery. There are also reading spaces, a reference library, and elegant outdoor balconies.

GoMA has contemporary art by Gilbert and George, Julian Opie and Ron Muerk in its collection. I didn’t see any art there created prior to WWII; that was all over in the QAG (Queensland Art Gallery). But when I looked I realized that GoMA stood for “Gallery of Modern Art”. So why is it still a “gallery of modern art”? Perhaps it is a slavish imitation of New York’s MoMA, established in 1929.

But it is not just GoMA with that is behind the times hanging on to the term “modern art” in Brisbane, there is also the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Fortitude Valley. And, like GoMA, the Queensland Government funds IMA. It is even stranger because IMA is in the same building as the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. There is no modern art at IMA; it shows contemporary art exhibitions.

You would have thought that someone would have said that the term “modern art” is not the correct term. Just next door the State Library of Queensland when I visited was showing the touring exhibition “Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia”. For this exhibition modernism in Australia was defined as between 1917 and 1967.

Art history definitions aside, it is very difficult to understand the difference between the QAG and GoMA except that they are different buildings on Brisbane’s South bank precinct (another example of Brisbane’s slavish copying). The same artists are exhibited in both galleries: Ah Xian has art currently on exhibition in both. Both share the same website. QAG appears to have simply extended into another building with a silly name. QAG is more of a modern art gallery than GoMA with modern artists like Tatlin, Miro and Picasso in its collection. Typical of modern art galleries, QUG has a history of art sampler collection with example work, second or third rate, collected to illustrate the history of art. This historical approach to the collection at QUG is in contrast to the contemporary style of themed exhibition of GoMA’s permanent collection.

I don’t know why Queensland still uses the term “modern art”. Art is not an important feature in a state where beach holiday tourism, sugar cane and horse racing have always been more important. The QAG is the major state art gallery but only had a permanent home in 1982. Perhaps there is still “modern art” in Queensland because of the belief that “a better future” can be made in Brisbane. Or maybe the Queensland’s politicians are too parochial, stupid and ignorant to the listen to anyone else.


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