Tag Archives: rock bands

Mushroom @ RMIT

Melbourne + Me at RMIT Gallery celebrates “40 years of Mushroom and Melbourne’s popular music culture”. This should be a great exhibition and I must tell all my friends.

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I have no argument with the proposition that popular music should be the subject of serious exhibitions. I have no argument with celebrating Australian music with the focus on Mushroom records. Rock music and art converged at the Velvet Underground gig at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in 1967. Now, decades later there is so much that needs to be remembered and preserved from the development of this important multi-media art form.

At the time it might have appeared ephemeral entertainment but now it is being exhibited in major institutional galleries, like this exhibition at RMIT and ACMI’s music video exhibition, Spectacle.

However, Melbourne + Me does raise the problem is how to display rock music in an art gallery. Lots and lots of photographs, posters, magazine covers, record covers and videos don’t make very exciting viewing. There were several technical issues going on with various videos and computers when I visited – technology is only part of the solution on how to present the multi-media spectacle of rock’n’roll. There is a huge public program of talks and film screenings to accompany the exhibition.

There are some spectacular costumes from Kylie, Skyhooks and Crowded House. However even the giant Skyhooks backdrop and Pegasus from Kylie’s Aphrodite Les Folies 2011 world tour didn’t really do it for me.

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There are attempts to make the exhibition more coherent with the sticky carpet room about the band venues (but without a carpet sticky with beer) and the imagery office of Michael Gudinski, the director of Mushroom records. Here there are trophies, records, autographed guitars, gold records and odd bits of paraphernalia. The crates of records to flip through was a good touch.

There is no outrage at the idea of an exhibition of Australian popular music, as there is with street art (see the comments on my post about a street culture centre); maybe, rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment. Maybe there should be more outrage as lack of context was the main problem with the exhibition. Sometimes it felt like a random display of stuff – why are Kylie’s costumes on the same platform as outfits worn by Skyhooks? Why are the international acts and local acts all mixed up? I feeling of being lost at the exhibition wasn’t helped by the layout of rooms at RMIT Gallery.

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Person of Interest – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol is an obviously a person of interest to art history. David W. Galenson ranks Andy Warhol as the 8th most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art (Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). But this monthly series is about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact, so I have to write about Warhol. He was the most famous living artist in the world when I went to university and studied art history. He was already part of history and his name and influence was everywhere from textbooks to t-shirts.

I remember being at Linden Gallery for a film festival on the day in 1987 that news in Melbourne broke that Andy Warhol died. There was a jam session in one room, a group of people were drumming and chanting: “Andy Warhol’s dead. There will be no trash.” (Trash being one of Warhol’s films.) It was a strange vibe but Warhol’s influence was unavoidable and a few years later I was playing in Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose – a Velvet Underground tribute band fronted by Ron Rude with Frank Borg on drums.

There is so much to say about Andy Warhol – did you see that two-part documentary on his life on the ABC? What quickly became apparent to my youthful interest in Warhol is all of the interesting people around him. There was The Velvet Underground for one. And all the people mentioned in Lou Reed’s song “Walk On the Wild Side”: Hollywood Lawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe, the Sugarplum Fairy and Jackie Curtis many of whom also appear in Warhol’s movies.

There are so many biographies and books by people associated with Warhol that they rival the Dadaists in this sub-genre. Do read Hollywood Lawn’s A Low Life in High Heals (St. Martins Press, 1991, New York). Do not read Ultra Violet’s Famous For 15 Minutes (Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1988, Orlando).

Last year I read All Yesterdays’ Parties – The Velvet Underground in print 1966-1971 edited by Clinton Heylin (Da Capo Press, 2005). It is collection of original articles about The Velvet Underground arranged in chronological order.

Aside from watching the evolution of the mythology of the Velvet Underground in the original press articles, there is also the media’s view of Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was associated with the Velvet Underground long after he stopped producing the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show and the Velvet’s first album. Andy Warhol was the famous name promoting the band and attracting the media.

The early social elements described in the article are the most revealing, little details like: the waitresses at the clubs, Sterling Morrison’s green suit, the Velvets playing music at a wedding. These little details reveal elements that are often forgotten in the broad brushstrokes of history.

The evolution of the light show in rock history is extensively discussed by a number of the authors. Light shows and projecting moving images are now an essential part of a rock shows and discos that it is difficult to image the world without them or their rapid development during the Velvet Undergrounds early gigs. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was Warhol’s vision for a total sensory art experience complete with his silent films running as part of the light show.

Extreme sixties weirdness does creep into later in the reviews, especially in the long and rambling essay by Wayne McGuire that originally appeared in Crawdaddy. The book also marks the emergence of the 60s underground and music press – with the first appearance of serious rock magazines like Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone. But Wayne McGuire does take the Velvet Underground seriously, way too seriously, unlike the trivialization of mainstream press.

For me the connections between art and rock’n’roll were obvious because of Warhol. Considering Warhol as a rock impresario is another dimension along with his painting, photography and filmmaking. As an art form it was something that Malcolm McLaren would later master. Part of Warhol’s artistic legacy would for be to ever confuse the distinctions between art, rock and fame and his influence is still present in the galleries, in music and in street art.

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012


Rock Chicks @ The Arts Centre

Not a performance but an exhibition that spans a century of Australian female music performers. Although it spans a century, the first fifty years are over in an introduction and the story really starts in the 1960s with rock’n’roll.

The exhibition can be read as a history of Australian popular music with a focus on female performers. It is an exhibition of ephemeral fashion captured in countless band photographs and album sleaves; the length of hair or dresses along with the music style. There are mannequins displaying rock chic fashion; from the crocheted red dress that screams 1971 of Margaret RoadKnight to the Gallery Serpentine designed red tartan bodice and black tutu worn by Nitrocris’s Moragana Ancone.

It could also be read as documentation of sexual politics in Australian popular music. There is the politics of band structures from chanteuse, to girl bands, to rock chicks playing in mixed gender bands. What were the acceptable instruments for a woman to play – from Judith Durham’s tambourine to the grungy guitars of contemporary rock chicks? There is the representation of sexual politics in popular music and the politics of the gender image for a woman/girl performer. It is an exhibition that exposes the complexities of these gender issues rather than simplifying them. Chrissy Amphlett’s schoolgirl tunic and stockings are confusing enough without the promotional panties from Rebecca’s Empire.

I found myself interested in the fertility of rock’n’roll as a platform that allows the performers to contribute creatively to more than just the music and lyrics, for example the collaborative collages that Beaches make preparing for album covers. And that rock allows some performers to spring board into other creative work, e.g. Sara Graye from Nitocris now has a fashion label, 50ft Queenie. Obviously amateur creative work is also displayed like, Girl Monster’s decorated make up case and painted bass drum face. Or, Deborah Conway’s needlework which is good enough to make a stage costume; up close it looks a bit lumpy.

Some of the Rock Chicks posters

There is a lot to see in this exhibition however you want to read it. It is so packed with rock chick memorabilia that it continues with an exhibition of rock posters around the side of the Arts Centre.

There were just guys in the bands that I was in but my friend, Jamie Saxe, formerly of the Ergot Derivative, says that women make better drummers than men. So lets hear it for the rock chicks.


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