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Tag Archives: Sutton Gallery

March Exhibitions Fitzroy

On Thursday I saw a few exhibition at galleries in Fitzroy.

Sutton Gallery has a post-humous exhibition of paintings by Gordon Bennett, part of his “Home Decor (After Margaret Preston)” 2014 series. The hanging of this exhibition has three pairs of paintings, which felt both tasteful and awkward. This feeling of tasteful but awkward is at the core of Bennett’s “Home Decor” series. Like Margaret Preston’s appropriated Aboriginal shield designs of the Central Australia and Northern Queensland Indigenous communities that Bennett has re-appropriated for this series. These are some of the most appropriate works of appropriation art.

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Gordon Bennett, Home Decor

Also on exhibition at Sutton was a single large painting by Vivienne Binns, “Minding Clouds”. A large blue painting was broken up with vignette scenes, that might represent dreams or memories, painted within clouds raised from the textured surface of the painting.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer is showing series of sexy drawings by Arlene Textaqueen. Textaqueen’s technique with coloured marker pens (fibre-tips and watercolour on cotton rag) just gets better, her compositions are more dynamic and her message about gender, race and Australia is clear.

The exhibitions at Seventh Gallery didn’t grab me. Sorry, Cameron Bishop and Simon Reis, “Leisureland”, and Jenna Pippett, “Grab a Partner”, but I have seen exercise equipment and artists doing exercises in art galleries too often in recent years.

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If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary

If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary is a large exhibition about the community radio station located just around the corner. Curators Spiros Panigirakis and Helen Hughes have created an impressive and interactive display, even building the frame of a house in the main room. The exhibition  not only tells the history of the station but is a contemporary art exhibition that includes works from several notable artists including Emily Flyod and Reko Rennie.

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Flexible sculptures @ Sutton and Seventh

On my way to Sutton Gallery on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, one of the problems of rigid sculptures was made brutally obvious to me. One of the legs on Peter Corlett’s Mr Poetry was broken, the rigid bronze shell was fractured and the leg was only attached by the greater strength and flexibility of steel armature. The plinth had also been damaged where it was hit by the leg. Serious damage, but probably not irreparable.

Damage to Mr Poetry

An alternative to the standard rigidity of sculptures in both materials and concept is demonstrated in two current post-minimalist exhibitions: established international artist, Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery and emerging artist, James Parkinson’s exhibition Free Time at Seventh Gallery.

New Zealand artist, Peter Robinson has cut pieces of black and yellow felt sculptures that are pinned to the wall, stacked in piles, place against the wall and laid out on the floor. Some parts suggested letterforms, the new words of the title like the embossed text of a plaque. Robinson uses both the positive and negative forms and there doesn’t appear to be any waste material – it is all present.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery

Neologisms appeared to be commenting on the history of modern sculpture. From Marcel Duchamp’s 1918 Sculpture for Traveling made of rubber and string with ad lib dimensions. The grid of modernism hangs on the wall distorting its rigid geometry, the cube of the minimalists is made of felt sheets stacked in a corner. There is even a playful piece of figuration while other forms looked like early Geoffrey Bartlett sculptures.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms detail

Although flexible sculptures do not so much define a space, as they are defined by the space and the pull of gravity, Robinson’s Neologisms determined the viewer’s movement around the gallery. Clear paths are laid out between the blocks of forms, there are linked chains across part of the gallery blocking movement and a reference to Robinson’s earlier sculptures involving styrofoam chains.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery

A few blocks away from Sutton Gallery at the shopfront artist-run-space of Seventh Gallery was another post-minimalist exhibition by an RMIT fine arts student, James Parkinson, Free Time. People kept on coming in from the street and asking: “What is this place?” Only to be told by the attendant that it was an art gallery and yes, you could play in the ball pit.

The main gallery at Seventh is filled with plastic balls of different colours, you have to wade through the balls to see the other rooms at Seventh. Parkinson calls his ball pit, ‘Prison’; the balls are in a prison, contained within the low walls at the front and back of the space. This prison gives freedom to enjoy the ball pit and playing in the ball pit is fun.

James Parkinson Prison Seventh Gallery

Free Time consists of a ball pit, a post-minimalist sculptures made of many plastic balls and four walls pieces, walls of plastic Lego blocks in uniform colours: grey, sky blue, orange and pink. (Where do you get Lego in those colours?) There is a fun contrast between lack of play in the rigid walls of Lego blocks and play of the ball pit contained with its rigid walls.

Post-minimalist adds a degree of play, levity and oxymorons to the serious formal rigidity of minimalism. This flexibility gives the sculptures freedom,  their flexible form has play in it, in that the materials have give and there is some slack.


Views of May Exhibitions

On Thursday I was looking galleries in Fitzroy and attended the opening of two exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

Dianne Tanzer Gallery has Michael Cook’s “The Mission” a beautiful series of photographs showing the role of the church missions in the genocide of Australian aborigines. The subject, narrative and staging of these photographs reminded me of the work of Tracey Moffat even though Michael Cook, a Bidjara man from southwest Queensland has his own style combining symbolism and antique photography.

In the front gallery and window of Gertrude Contemporary is Anastasia Klose “Can’t Stop Living” with her “Home Video” and suite of drawings of cats. Klose describes this as “everyday love”; the transfiguration of the commonplace into art doesn’t require deliberate eccentricity or challenging content. In the back gallery there is “Bellowing Echoes”, curated by Marcel Cooper and Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris that is part of the 2012 Next Wave Festival. Anna Kristensen’s “Indian Chamber” is an impressive and beautiful 360-degree cycloramic painting of the Jenolan Caves. The installation by the Slow Art Collective has a rich smell as the powdered spices vibrate in speaker cones turning sound into a visual and nasal experience. This is the best smelling art that I’ve ever encountered.

Also part of the Next Wave Festival is George Egerton-Warburton’s show “Living with Living” at the Sutton Gallery Project Space. The video was the best part of the show. The other parts: the tables as readymade chairs and the ugly piece with the saw, photograph, noodles and tar didn’t fit with the other work. “The exhibited works appear as chapters severed from their context” – that’s a nice way of say it is an incoherent exhibition.

I picked up the Next Wave Festival magazine; it is a satisfying and intelligent alternative to the ubiquitous festival program.

The Counihan Gallery has two exhibitions: “A Room for Ordering Memory” by photographer Melanie Jayne Taylor and “First and Last” by the committee from the Brunswick Arts Space, an artist-run-space. The committee from the Brunswick Arts Space regularly has exhibitions of their own work in other galleries. I particularly enjoyed the fun of Max Piantoni “The Descent of the Dodo: Part One”, Carmen Reid’s surreal altered furniture and Alister Karl’s mobile of a series of large drawings. (See my 2009 reviews of Carmen Reid @ Brunswick Arts and Alister Karl’s Drawings.)

Those are my views of these exhibitions – what did you think of them?


Spirit, Slackers and Contemporary Art

Various art galleries around Fitzroy – March 2012

At Sutton Gallery Brett Colquhoun’s “Spirit” is two separate bodies of work. There are landscapes where the condensation of the breath of the viewer is visibly obscuring the scene. And, in the main gallery, there is a larger series of drawings and paintings, “The Invisible”. In these painting geometric radiating rays of white, like hallucinatory radar grids, filling in the black surfaces. Breath + The Invisible = Spirit.

“Origins” by Damian Vincenzi at Kick Gallery is an exhibition of photographs of nature with a mirror image of one half. It is an old trick but Vincenzi has found some more beauty and magic in it creating visions of animals from mineral structures.

Seventh Gallery packs in three exhibitions into its small space. “Constructing Comfort” by recent Monash Fine Arts graduates, Rowan Moyle and Nickk Hertzog is in Gallery One. Slacker art like this installation is deliberately ugly, unappealing, shoddily crafted and dumb in such a way that it argues, with cynicism, that it must be great art because you and I can’t appreciate it. “Constructing Comfort” is anything but comfortable, although there are tarpaulin-covered shelters.

Leela Schauble’s “Dyeing Waters” installation in Gallery Two at Seventh Gallery is engaging with new visions of the body. In Seventh Gallery small Project Space “New Frontier” by Thomas Breakwell looked like so many other pieces of video art.

Brook Andrew “Maybe it’s meant to happen” 2010 at Gertrude Contemporary

Gertrude Contemporary has “No Name Station – China/Australia Cultural Exchange” The exhibition presents indigenous art from a remote Australian aboriginal community alongside work by contemporary urban artists from Australia and China. The journey into and out of the gallery is the strongest uniting element of this exhibition. From Brook Andrew’s neon installation (“Maybe it’s meant to happen” 2010) the front window to the back office there is a path, sometimes clearly delineated with a fence of branches by Liang Shuo (“Visiting a Show” 2012). There is art along the way there are paintings, videos, weavings and installations. I particularly enjoyed the photograph of the intervention by Zhao Zhao (“Cobblestone” 2007), a stone glued out of place in Tiananmen Square, and the woven Pandanus gift mats with witty slogans by Newell Harry.  Is this cultural exchange the colonization of Aboriginal art by the contemporary art empire?


Commercial Galleries

I arrived at Sutton Gallery just as one of Gordon Bennett’s large canvases, “(Abstraction) indigene” 2011, sold for $38,500. The gallery assistant goes over the wall and sticks a red pin in to the wall beside the painting. Sutton Gallery would get about half of the $38,500 sale price on the Bennett canvas – what do they do that is worth $19,250? Commercial galleries are at the business end of the art world. They are galleries reviewed most often and that sell the most art to major art galleries and collections. And they control the art cannon through promotion, authentication and appraisal.

“The museums are run, more or less, by the dealers. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art is completely in the hands of the dealers. Obviously this is a manner of speaking, but it’s like that. The museum advisers are dealers.” Marcel Duchamp to Cabanne (p.98)

There are about 100 commercial art galleries in Melbourne; it is hard to identify them precisely as there are several types of commercial galleries operating. You can see the obvious differences – a designed gallery space, the staff area and office space. The two big differences about commercial galleries that are not immediately obvious are the staff and the stock room. The staff and gallery director know what they are doing and what they are selling  – art. They know their products and they knew their clients, they have been cultivating some collectors and corporate clients for years. They may also have a gallery space featuring examples of work from their stock room.

You can’t see the gallery’s business plan and there are degrees of the commercial nature of the gallery and a variety of particular business plans. Most commercial galleries do not focus on a particular type of art but try to balance their exhibition program – some like, Paul Silverman Gallery only exhibit a certain type of art, in this case animation frame art. However, for the purpose of this post I will focus on high-end commercial galleries that are part of ACGA (Australian Commercial Gallery Association) as these are the galleries that have the close relationship with the institutional art museums, the art magazines and the remaining broadsheet newspaper reviewer.

Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne is a notable example of a commercial gallery that regularly sells work to the NGV and other institutions. It has regularly rotating exhibitions from artists represented by the gallery. They represent their artists not just during exhibitions but the whole time they represent the artist. They do this by documenting their work, pursuing ongoing sales and exhibition opportunities for the artist outside the gallery including commissions. The gallery advocates for and monitors the artist’s interests and legal rights. And the gallery collaborates with the artist on competition, grant and commission submissions; explaining why their artists receive the bulk of these opportunities.

“ACGA members represent and exhibit Australian artists, driving standards, excellence and innovation in the representation and presentation of contemporary Australian art. ACGA members represent artists in the full sense, developing and promoting their interests with honesty and integrity over their professional careers.” (ACGA website)

The ACGA website has some interesting documents about green gallery practice, authentication, guidelines for art prizes and competitions.

(For more information about other types of galleries see my post about Types of Galleries).


Gordon Bennett @ Sutton Gallery

The title of Gordon Bennett’s latest exhibition: “(Abstraction) Citizen” is just waiting to be deconstructed. They are tempting text to use as a springboard for an examination of Australia’s race relationship and representation.

The paintings themselves, Bennett’s series of double portraits invites more critical discourse about the dichotomy between words and identity, abstraction and representation, citizens and non-citizens. In Bennett’s painting the pink lines that make one face are on top of the black/brown X-ray, geometric figures that are reminiscent of figures by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 1998 Bennett started to channel Basquiat in his paintings. Bennett saw similarities his Anglo-Celtic and Aboriginal ancestry and Basquiat’s Haitian/Puerto Rican, as well as, that Basquiat’s art that was an amalgam of visual images and ideas.

Underneath the double portraits of imaginary people Gordon Bennett has written words on the canvas, titling the portraits with text: “suburbanite”, “burgher”, “indigene”, “citizenry”, “colonist” and “population”.

The philosopher Max Stirner wrote: “…in order to be a real I, a ‘free burgher’, a ‘citizen’, a ‘free and true man’, they too see the truth and reality of me in the reception of an alien I and devotion to it. And what sort of I? An I that is neither an I nor a you, a fancied I, a spook.” (The Ego and Its Own p.225)

Max Stirner argues that identities like ‘citizen’ are alien abstractions; that I am not a citizen, a suburbanite, a burgher, an indigene, citizenry, colonist, or even population. The words that Bennett has written on his paintings are abstractions; they are not representational or representative of an individual. The words suggest a membership of an abstract group. It is also a reference to Bennett’s alternate identity as “John Citizen”.

Gordon Bennett keeps on changing his style of painting. I remember seeing his retrospective of twenty years of art at the NGV in 2007 and being struck by the variety of media, besides painting, that Bennett has used including videos and self-portraits in the form of installations with dressing tables. Bennett’s ‘cut & paste’ aesthetic appropriates everyone; he mixes Pollock with Pop Art, Phillip Guston with De Stijl, going from one extreme to another. He could, at this stage of his career be resting on his achievements and like many other established artists continuing to turn out trademark style paintings but instead he keeps on changing.

Gordon Bennett is a post-modern stylistic master of appropriation mixing Western and Australian aboriginal art with a post-colonial agenda. This sounds very serious but Bennett makes post-modernism visual delight. Gordon Bennett’s art will remain a critical favourite with his references and thought provoking work but his art remains fun and visually appealing.

Commemorative plaque @ Queensland College of Art, Brisbane


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