Tag Archives: Mars Gallery

New public art procurement process

Consider the commissioning process for public art. Artists spend days working on proposals, grinding through hundreds of points, jumping through paper hoops, trying to put their art into words. As well, they have to design an almost complete work that only has to be fabricated. Days, if not weeks …

Installation view of Mikala Dwyer Apparition, 2021 night-time digital projection onto holo-gauze screen. Photo by Darren Tanny Tan

And then they don’t get the commission because of hundreds of reasons. It could have gone to another artist or an architecture firm with a staff member specialising in creating beautiful CAD rendering of designs. Leaving them wondering if all that work was worth it.

It is a process that was designed in another century when the choice was between different statues of the same hero. It was about who could produce the best quote to erect some carved stone or cast bronze. Now public art can be a permanent sculpture to a temporary audio installation; it is comparing apples to underwear. The brief for a commission is about addressing a long list of themes and other obscure planning and budgeting requirements becoming a bureaucratic hunger games.

So it was good to hear someone other than an artist explain why the procurement model of the commission process is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, the City of Melbourne is trying out an alternative, a governance-led model. This brings the relevant people together at the start of the process, for many people are involved in public art, including city engineers, maintenance…    

The artist for the program is selected not from a long and detailed proposal but a far shorter, job-application-like, based on their previous work. And rather than responding to the commission document, the artist is involved in a collaborative discussion from the start

This new approach has been tested with a temporary work, Apparition, by Mikala Dwyer. Her holographic possum can be seen at University Square in Carlton intermittently for the next six months. And this new approach is planned to next be used to acquire new permanent works. 

Amy Barclay, the Public Art Project Lead for the City of Melbourne, didn’t have much time to explain all the details of the city’s new approach at a forum on public art hosted by Mars Gallery but the image comparing the size of the applications was dramatic.

The forum, Public Art Now, creating new public art from commissioning to fabrication. From the people like Lisa Dunlop, Manager for Urban Design and Urban Planning at the Level Crossing Removal Project, who are commissioning art, to the consultants like Andy Dinan of Mars Gallery who advise and facilitate, the artists, represented that night by Lisa Roet, who create the art (see my post on her sculpture), and the fabricator Jason Waterhouse, makes it.

That Fundrêre Foundry, a traditional bronze casting enterprise, now has an art fabricator indicates an ongoing change in the materials used for public art. However, aside from the environmental mitigation consideration by the artist and the fabricator, there have been few other changes in creating public art. So the City of Melbourne’s new approach tried in their ‘Test Sites’ commissions represents an improvement not in the art but in the process of making it.


Spring 1883

The Hotel Windsor opened in 1883 on Spring Street; a grand nineteenth century hotel that has survived into the twenty-first century. For four days at the start of August it was used as the venue for an alternative art fair. A hotel as setting for an art fair is not an original idea; it started with the Gramercy International Art Fair at Gramercy Hotel in New York in 1994 and has been replicated in several other cities.

Patricia Piccinini, Bear Couple

Patricia Piccinini, bed installation at Spring 1883

The Melbourne Art Fair has returned after a four year absence but I didn’t have the time or energy to spend a whole day looking at forty galleries stands. Nor did I want to go to The Other Art Fair in Kensington because I had been to it last year. Surveying twenty-four galleries in the attractive and comfortable surrounds of the Windsor suited me better.

There were major commercial galleries from Melbourne, NSW, SA and NZ on all of the Windsor’s four floors displaying their art in most of larger suits of rooms along with some smaller rooms. Sharing rooms with Fort Delta was Dutton from New York.

Video art was on many of the tvs in the rooms. The setting of the hotel was more intimate and you could see what the art looked like in a furnished room rather than an unfurnished gallery. Standing in a bedroom with gallery staff encourages more conversation. Some of the smaller galleries were also using the space for both exhibition and accomodation.

The Project Room: In Bloom was curated by Madé Spencer-Castle and Jeremy Easton was the best smelling art space that I’ve ever been in thanks to the flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox.

flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox at Spring 1883

Flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox

There was an unofficial competition to have the best display on a bed or in a bathroom. My own award for best bathroom goes to Arts Project Australia which was full of ceramic snakes and sharks. My own award for best bed goes to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery with a couple of Patricia Piccinini creatures in bed and an honourable mention (if those are the right words) to Mars Gallery for an impressive Simon Pericich work with bondage themes. The tower made of bales of hay in Bowerband Ninow, a NZ gallery, was a surprise but unfortunately nothing more.

Simon Pericich installation

Simon Pericich installation in Mars Gallery’s room


Vexta’s Wildness

Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.

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Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.

Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.

Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.

The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?

Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist.  Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.

Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.

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Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).


New Mars & Carbon Black

VIP Preview at Mars Gallery, the new Mars Gallery in Windsor; the last time I went to Mars Gallery it was in Port Melbourne. The new gallery has only been opened for four months.

The new Mars Gallery elegant contemporary architect designed art gallery with three floors and a six star environmental rating. In the basement there is the video room, another small gallery space and the stock room which is also has a lift for larger paintings to the main gallery space. Mars’s Director, Andy Dinan emphasised the accessibility of the design; the large glass front that can be completely opened and the main gallery is still wheelchair and pram accessible, one of Dinan’s original desires for a gallery.

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, a Tasmanian artist with a background in architecture makes strange wooden machines and psychedelic paintings. At first it is difficult to imagine the same mind behind both but on closer inspection the detailed connections and architectural arrangements in both become clear. Packed with both factual and poetic content, Tricky Walsh is like a psychedelic version of Tatlin’s artist engineer. The intensity and detail of her paintings cannot be captured with a photography, tiny text reveal that the parts of the images are scientific diagrams about electromagnetic spectrum.

Walsh’s wooden machines are replicas of actual analogue machines, specifically Daphne Oram’s eponymous Oramics machine, along with a waveform scanner and valve amplifier. (See the You Tube video of the Oramics Machine. For those who don’t Daphne Oram was responsible for the sounds in the original Dr Who theme.) However accurate the exteriors of these machines contain the idea that there are tiny people inside machines making them work. Tiny wooden villages take up the space where components would have been. It is all very strange and fantastic.

Also on exhibition at Mars was Alexis Beckett upstairs in the works on paper room. Her exhibition Second Nature is full of beautiful botanical detail in a restrained palette both on paper and an embroidery series and works on paper. In the basement video room there is a three screen video by Brendon Lee about male culture: The Great Divide. It is very long (57 minute duration) so I haven’t seen it all; three screen used very effectively with the two male competitors on the outer screens, separated by the neutral space of the middle screen. Finally in the small basement space there was Jud Wimhurst’s series of skateboards Art Pros. The skateboards are like prop comedy art; I’m not sure if they are commenting about consumerism and art or being more consumer product. On my way to the toilets in the basement of Mars Gallery I spotted Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust standing in the corner.

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

While I was in the area I also had a look at Carbon Black Gallery, a shop front gallery on High Street. It was showing Darren Madafferi’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures: Bush Week.  Madafferi surreal figures inhabit a limited landscape, a small psychic theatre, full of inventive intensity, like Albert Tucker meeting Yves Tanguy in the bush. There was also an exhibition by Carla Gottgens, Hope Longing Loss; I last saw Gottgens stories and photographs of model worlds in MoreArts 2014.


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