Avant-garde artists may push the boundaries of art in one direction and often people will remark: “That’s not art”. But what about the other direction, when does that cease to be art? I don’t mean popular arts, lowbrow or folk arts as these have life and fun in them. They aren’t dead. The stuff that I’m considering is too safe, too stale, too dead to be art. This is a brief entry on the atrophied appendix of Melbourne’s art world; enter the realm of the living dead, the art zombies.
What I mean by too safe and too stale to be is art are artists who are so passé or conservative that they are dead – the zombies of the art world. Like, Artuno “oil painting from your photo” on the corner of Russel and Lt. Londsdale St. Along with selling paintings copied from images by Dali, Keith Haring and Australian aborigines.
One of the largest concentrations of the art world zombies in Melbourne is the Victorian Artists Society. There is no hope of any revival as the Victorian Artists Society, as its rules are drafted to inhibit change. Membership of the society is restricted to a thousand members and that figure was reached in 1979.
The Victorian Artist’s Society’s original 1874 bluestone art gallery was replaced with Richard Speight’s 1893 building in a Romanesque revival design. This architectural design sums up the conservative nature of the Victorian Artist’s Society. The building is located on Albert St. opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne. If it were not for the Victorian Artist’s Society this heritage-listed building would have long ago been put to a better use and enjoyed by many more people.
The Victorian artists society has an early controversial history for being conservative, male chauvinists but they have not even managed to generate a mummer in the last sixty years. Their last notorious achievement came in 1937.
When Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies opened the Victorian Artists’ Society show in April 1937 he singled out for attack a wall of modernist paintings. In the same year Hitler made a speech inaugurating the Exhibition of German Art and, like Menzies, attacked “so-called modern art.” (This is not the only similarity between Menzies and Hitler – both were genocidal racists.) Menzies’s attack led to the formation of the Contemporary Art Society in the following year. An attack obsequiously described as “perceived conservatism” in the history that the Contemporary Art Society has on their website.
I’ve been in the Victorian Artists’ Society’s galleries a couple of times over the years but the paintings have always been so pathetic that it never encouraged me to return. The last time I looked in at the Victorian Artist’s Society nothing had changed. It is from a bygone era of polished wood. There are a couple of rooms for galleries with offices and other facilities tucked away behind a magnificent staircase. Somewhere in the building they give art classes. An old gentleman invigilating rattled away about the exhibition, which consisted of a few pathetic still-life paintings along with some landscapes and portraits. If I keep moving then he can’t eat my brains.