Some people froth at the mouth at the mention of Duchamp, I know as my master’s thesis was about Duchamp’s readymades and I have been on the receiving end of their vitriol. Marcel Duchamp is still seen by them as the ultimate slap in the face to their idealization of art. Other people, like Rosalie Gascoigne, find Duchamp’s readymades as an inspiring liberation.
The Rosalie Gascoigne retrospective exhibition at the NGV shows how from a starting point of Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel”, along with training in Sogetsu ikebana. Gascoigne developed her own unique style of formal abstract collage with found wood and corrugated iron. Gascoigne’s style is so clearly defined that a few years ago I saw some fake Gascoigne’s (not forgeries since there was no claim of authenticity) on sale in a trendy Fitzroy furniture store.
The NGV was encouraging the children to this exhibition to imitate Gascoigne’s style. Tables and chairs had been set up in the third floor foyer outside the Rosalie Gascoigne exhibition with glue sticks and exhibition promotion material to cut up and collage. It was school holidays and the chairs were packed with children, parents and grandparents all making Gascoigne style collages.
Art always starts with imitation and Rosalie Gascoigne started her artistic career imitating Joseph Cornell’s boxes of collaged material. Aside from the boxes with an obvious Australian references, like “Pub” (1974), or her use of local materials, like Toohey’s Flag Ale beer cans, Gascoigne’s early boxes are very similar to Cornell’s. Gascoigne, like Cornell, would include references to European art in her boxes and early assemblages, including a bicycle wheel for Duchamp. Imitation is a learning experience and after successfully imitating Cornell Gascoigne found her own style.
Gascoigne then recognized what was different about her boxes from Cornell’s. Her materials were more weathered by the harsh Australian environment than Cornell’s American materials. Gascoigne was familiar with the wabi-sabi of Japanese aesthetic from ikebana and looked for it in the materials she selected.
Moving on to the rest of the rest of rooms of the Rosalie Gascoigne exhibition at the NGV there were some curatorial problems. The narrative of the retrospective was occasionally confused by a work that chronologically belonged in the previous gallery. There was only one short didactic panel explaining the exhibition but did not even note her death a decade ago.