Tag Archives: publicity

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.


Dali Mania

In the last months Melbourne has become gripped with Dali-mania. Everyone has been talking about it. It doesn’t take much to whip the public into a frenzy about Dali because he is a very popular artist around the world. Posters of his paintings are popular decorations as are the countless coffee-table books about him. Stories about his life form a contemporary hagiography. In Singapore in the forecourt of a grand art deco style apartment I had to laugh to see a statue of Dali was included, amongst statues of the great and the good, along side Mozart and Rembrandt.

Statue of Dali in Singapore

Statue of Dali in Singapore

The Dali exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria has been a blockbuster. The publicity for the exhibition has been everywhere: banners, advertising on trams, magazines, even chalk stencil adverts on railway platforms. In its final weeks it has been going 24 hours a day. Crowds are queuing for the exhibition into the great hall of the gallery into the night. Musicians in the great hall entertain the long queue for the exhibition.

Chalk stencil advertising for Dali

Chalk stencil advertising for Dali

Inside the exhibition the crowds shuffle around trying to see all the exhibits – doing the Dali shuffle. Is the exhibition worth the price, the wait and the crowded gallery? Sarah Winter of BMA magazine gushes about the exhibition and describes Dali as “the father of Surrealism” (which he certainly was not). Only the art critic Robert Nelson avoids the hype and writes a critical and balanced review.

I went with my wife and friends and it took us about two hours to shuffle through the exhibition. There are some good paintings and drawings but there is also a lot of padding typical of blockbuster exhibitions such as publicity photographs and the Alice Cooper connection. However, all of this “padding” does more completely tell Dali’s story than the paintings and drawings alone, as it is this padding that makes Dali a superstar for the contemporary audience. (It is far better than the dreadful touring commercial exhibition of Dali’s awful late prints and sculptures that was in Melbourne in 2003.)

The curators of the NGV exhibition are slightly defensive about Dali’s own penchant for publicity; noting beside a photograph of Dali and Warhol that Dali was criticized for his publicity seeking whereas Warhol wasn’t. (This is forgetting that Warhol’s art was about popularity and publicity and that Dali’s art isn’t.)

Will this immensely popular exhibition have any cultural effect in Melbourne? Will the Dali-mania have any lasting effect or will it just fade away after the exhibition closes?  What will the effect be to Melbourne’s own few surreal and fantastic art and artists? Or is it just more infotainment, another dead artist whose relics the crowds make pilgrimages to see?

Dali in aerosol in the Collingwood Underground

Dali in aerosol in the Collingwood Underground

Meanwhile, aerosol artists spray a face of Dali in the Collingwood Underground during the Melbourne Stencil Festival. And in Sydney there is a play running titled: “References to Dali Make Me Hot”.

Toddler Art

The selection process in rental space galleries, like Brunswick Street Gallery (BSG), is primarily based on renting out the space and not artistic ability. So I was not surprised to read on the front page of The Age that BSG has found that they are exhibiting the paintings of Aelita Andre, a 2-year old girl.

Most of Melbourne’s galleries close for January so BSG must have been happy to find someone who wanted to rent a gallery so early in the year.

Mark Jamieson, the director of BSG has made the best of the situation securing front-page publicity for his gallery. Along with a review by the Age’s art critic, Robert Nelson of the artist’s work. Artists exhibiting at BSG rarely get reviewed. There was more media coverage from NineMSN and the Sydney Morning Herald. (And now I am writing about it.)

Years ago I made a similar mistake, prompted by the quality framing of a large abstract painting on paper that was hanging in a friend’s study. It resembled drawings by William de Kooning. I asked who the artist was only to be told that it was his daughter aged 2 or 3 years old.

I would recommend to parents of all 2 and 3 year olds to follow the example of Aelita’s mother, Kalashnikova, in part, renting gallery space is going a bit far. Buy a couple of large canvases (this way you don’t have to pay the expense of framing and mounting) and some artist’s acrylic paints. Paint a background colour onto the whole of the canvas; Indian Red (terracotta colour) works well. Then let your child paint. Do not write your child’s age on the front of the canvas, as it will only detract from the composition, recording it on the back is sufficient. Hang your favourite canvas on your wall; it will be a beautiful memento of your child’s early years.

I would recommend to all rental space galleries that either they improve their selection processes (actually meeting the artist might be a good first step), or to remember that all publicity is good publicity.

It would be a mistake to conclude that this episode demonstrates anything about the quality of abstract art in general. 

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