The first exhibition opening that I’ve attended this year. I enter No No Gallery from a lane in North Melbourne, with the ubiquitous Drew Funk painting. There is a small banner above door and then down a short very pink corridor. It is like a small bar, with carpet and club chairs and low red lights. The bar was selling bottles of Dutch or German beer for a “$3 donation”. Up a short flight of polished wood stairs was the small wooden floor and white walls of the gallery space with exposed ceiling beams and brick wall.
On the mezzanine floor people were waiting there turn to listen to the headphones at two of the exhibits. Maybe I could get into Daniel Jenatsch’s “para- archaeology society”, it is amusing in a pataphysical way but it doesn’t really go anywhere.
At first everyone was drinking beer and reading the catalogue essay: “Containment Structure” by Robert Nelson. Then they were wearing pink moustaches, something to do with Clare McCracken’s “Megafaunna Mo”. More and more people arrive, there are about 40 people at the opening, and more pink moustaches are applied. Very amusing but you’d have to have been there.
Why am I concentrating on the scene of the exhibition opening rather than the art? There wasn’t that much to see really, there never is at No No Gallery. It is one of those contemporary galleries that believe in lots curatorial space between the art and it is not a large space. This time there were 5 artists and 11 pieces of art. Stephanie Hicks’s 5 woven collages of pages of rocks and minerals were possibly the best, beautiful in their rigid crystalline structures. Jessica Brent’s two photographs were competent but I didn’t see the point in the way they were hung.
I think I’ll have another beer. The exhibition was too insular, it was like the self-recording of Heidi Holmes that edits out everything but the “I”. It wasn’t a containment structure; it was just another excuse for a group exhibition.
“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo” – T.S. Elliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
“What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?” – Roger Waters, Empty Spaces
I heard about the opening last month of Dear Patty Smith, a new gallery in Fitzroy. It was just the opening of the space; there was no exhibition, just a space. And as people arrived at the gallery there was less and less of the space. It would have been better if they had kept the doors locked then the space would have been perfect.
In my blog entry about “The White Room” I discussed the milky homogeneity of Melbourne’s art galleries. In this entry I want to ask why so many look less than half filled. What is so important about all this empty space?
The space acts as a framing device for art without frames, the space acts as a plinth for sculptures without plinths. The art gallery space has become essential to so much contemporary art but at the cost that over half of it must remain empty, that more and more space must separate each work. So there is not much to look at.
Often there is only room for a single work, like Kristin McIver’s “Divine Intervention” at Blindside Gallery Two. “Divine Intervention” consisted of a circle of neon letters spelling out “Life Unlimited” hanging over a collection of artificial plants. In Blindside Gallery One, Harriet Parsons “Homeland” occupied one wall. And it is not just contemporary art, contemporary craft is also adopting this aesthetic of excessive space. At No No Gallery, in North Melbourne, Stephanie Hicks “A Short Season” occupied a little more than one wall, with a few wreaths of paper flowers made from children’s books and four A3 size photographic collages, but did not even include the image used to promote the exhibition.
In contrast to the packed aesthetic of the 19th Century the contemporary art gallery is the architectural space par excellence, consider the difference in architectural significance between the Guggenheim (New York or Bilbao) and the Louvre. The minimalist purity of the space exudes an aura of scientific seriousness to the activity within it. It is a hospital for the soul, a hygienic space concerned with healing the world spirit. It is a clinical space that presumptuously expects that some essential quasi-religious activity will take place in it when it is just somewhere to install art.