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Tag Archives: op art

Anti-Modern Art Ideological Idiocy

It is hard to believe that the Australian Communist Party and Catholic Church in Australia in the 1950s and 60s shared a position on anything. But, as I discovered when I was searching through old newspapers, they both hated modern art.

Newcastle Sun ran the article: “Vatican Slams Modern Art” on Thursday 11 March 1954. Quoting the Vatican magazine, Faith and Art, Cardinal Celso Constantini said that abstract art “is dying out. Why should the church accept such a repulsive near-corpse?” Cardinal Constantini also declared that Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Gaugin, Roualt and Corbusier produced “blasphemous religious works.” (Chagall was Jewish and many of the other artists now have work in the Vatican Museum.)

Eleven years later, in the Tribune (the official newspaper of the Australian communist party) on Wednesday 15 December 1965, the Australian social-realist artist, Noel Counihan declared that abstract art, Pop Art and Op Art were over. According to Counihan Australian artists were “reacting against the recent spate of mediocre imitations of overseas fashions.” Aside from trend following Counihan’s main warning about abstract art was that “the newly rich achieve social status with an abstract on their walls.”

“Op Art I feel will prove the most ephemeral of the latest fashions despite its immediate appeal to novelty mined youth.” wrote the communist Counihan advocating a reactionary nationalist position.

It is probably pointless to further unpacking these two short articles to point out errors and inconsistencies. It is clear from both articles that neither had a coherent argument and were simply appealing to the predefined reactionary prejudices of their groups.

I find the confluence of prejudices expressed by these ideologically opposed groups a proof of the lack of both group’s ability to reason. The intensity of both writers commitment to their ideology reduced their ability to critically think about their subject. If both writers had put aside their ideological based, rhetorical dog whistles and actually thought, and researched abstract art, they probably could have come up with better reasons to explain their dislikes. Unfortunately these reasons may not have appealed to their readers as much as their prejudices did. These reasons may have simply exposed them for only wanting art that expressed their ideology.

Would Australian Catholics and Communists today be interested in reading warnings about zombie formalism? 

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Current Hippy Art

Last year in July Matthew Watts exhibited in Off the Kerb’s back room now he is exhibiting more hippy inspired images at Shifted. “What Time is Love” is a strange scene that looks like it could be from the late 1960s when Matthew Watts was a child. Actually the mix of figurative ink paintings and op art along with an installation and neo-dada plaques would not have occurred in the late 1960s but it looks like it could have.

Op art circles create empty spaces where the faces of the hippies would have been. Watts combines romantically painted in ink or drawn in graphite with hard edge abstraction. The subtle faces drawn in the rock of dolman in “Om Station #1” is approaching kitsch but the geometric image above it goes off in a different direction. And Watts’ work keeps on going off in different directions with the work in the exhibition. Framed plaques with “Eternity Ltd.”, “Utopia Inc.”, and “Freedom Corporation” are amusing ideas. And “Ampwood”, the installation of white mattress, white shoes, white stereo speakers and white wooden blocks amongst reddish brown leaves took the exhibition in another direction. The exhibition gives no clues about if Matthew Watts is doing. Is it a re-examination or a continuation of the hippy subculture?

Penelope Aitken’s exhibition at West Space’s Gallery 3, “You seem so settle for one that doesn’t belong” is in a similar aesthetic to Matthew Watts. The exhibition is lit exclusively with an ultraviolet light and reminded me of the day-glo sixties. The ultraviolet light makes the white lace dollies glow. The white circular dollies are like sixties spirograph images in their geometric intricacy. The white dollies reminded me of the growth of lichen on rocks, reinforced by the installation of a large glowing boulder in the gallery. Along with the installation Aitken is showing paintings of the boulder with dollies.

I feel ambivalent about both of these exhibitions even although both of them are fun to look at. There is something uncertain about both of these exhibitions or maybe that is just my attitude to hippy art. In 1980s ‘hippy’ became an insult, a word that meant a naïve optimists who will soon betray their ideals. 


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