Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher, artist, musician and philosopher. Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

January Exhibitions

As I set off to explore Melbourne’s art on Thursday I wonder how many art exhibitions would be open this early in the year. I knew that the major institutional art galleries would be open, but I had already seen Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the NGV and Manifesto at ACMI.

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Anthony Pryor, Landscape 3, 1982

I started at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane with Craft Victoria where there is Timber Memory, a survey exhibition of woodwork in Victoria from the 1970s to the present. It is a rather interesting group of exceptional woodworkers including a block of huon pine inlaid with ebony, granite and jarrah, Landscape 3 (1982) by the sculptor, Anthony Pryor. It is Pryor’s response to the minimalist cube.

At 45 Downstairs there were two exhibitions that were part of the Midsumma Festival, Meridian a group exhibition and Découpages d’hommes a solo exhibition of photographs of nude males by Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon). The compositions and backgrounds in Eureka’s photographs reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who had suddenly realised how similar many Renaissance and Baroque paintings are to pornography. I was stunned, assuming that everyone who has studied art has read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

The Midsumma Festival generally has a good visual arts section and I could have continued along Flinders Lane to the Melbourne City Library where there was another of the Midsumma Festival’s exhibition.

Arc One had a solo exhibition by Tracy Sarroff Barbecue Stalagmites, Balloon Drumstick, but Sarroff’s brand of weirdness and obsessive mark making left me in outerspace.

Further along Flinders Lane the Mailbox Art Space had yet another group exhibition: Cells. Using the individual glass fronted mailboxes as cells in a three-dimensional comic book. The exhibition text makes other references to cells but the artists involved are focused on comics.

Instead of continuing down Flinders Lane because of a lunch date I then turned north. I briefly stopped at No Vacancy gallery in the QV Centre where there was a trade exhibition of Okayama Sake  and Bizen Ware from Japan. Bizen Ware is a traditional type of Japanese pottery made in wood burning kilns.


Recent Walls

Everything in the city is competing to be the spectacle and all that Situationalist shit.

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Lush reading my mind in Hosier Lane

Lush is Melbourne’s piss take king, taking the piss out of street art and graffiti. Lush appears to have made Hosier Lane his own arena for his spray up comedy, ever since he staged his “secret show” there last year. Lush is full of extra confidence because he was the Melbourne street artist chosen by Banksy to exhibit at Dismaland. This is not surprising given that both Lush and Banksy produce easy to read work with a similar sense of humour.

In the visually dense jungle of the city there is an ecology of images. Different styles of street art compete for attention in the streets as they also compete for likes online. La Lune cuts paper and does paste-ups, filling a gap in the aesthetics of the street left by Miso and Suki.

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La Lune, Moreland

Looking at my recent photos I ask myself if there currently a return of the stencils or do I have a selection bias? But it is not just me, a reader sent me a photo of a whole wall of stencils something that I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. Even a new Jamit stencil appearing recently on the street; Jamit claims to the first artist on Melbourne’s streets to have used stencils.

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More recent stencil artists include Luv[Sic] and Mikonik, who are doing some great multi-coloured stencils. Mikonik’s images are all sprayed on jigsaw puzzles.

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Luv[sic]

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Mikonik

There are also plenty of stencils that work just because of their aphorism, the current pop culture references or just because they have the minimalist simplicity of Sunfigo’s stencils.

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Sunfigo


Ballet sculptures in Melbourne

In December I was walking passed the Arts Centre in Melbourne when I noticed some new sculptures being installed at the top end of lawn. Actually I first recognised the small spider-like crane of  J.K. Fansham Pty Ltd, that I last saw installing Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, before I saw the sculpture.

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David Maughan, Les Belle Hélène, 2015

Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan was being installed on the lawn of the Arts Centre Melbourne. The title is a reference to La Belle Hélène an operetta by Jacques Offenbach. The sculpture depicts two female ballet dancers both en pointe, one in an arabesque balancing on one leg while the other with her arms spread is fully extended on both feet. The sculpture is a gift to the Australian Ballet and the semi-classical bronze figures match the tradition of classical ballet.

Melbourne sculptor David Maughan has done many sexy sculptures of slim ballerinas. David’s wife, Helen Choules was a dancer. This explain both the obvious sexual interest in and the technical accuracy of the female figures in Maughan’s sculptures (the nipples on Maughan’s dancers are aways outstanding).

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Simon Brady, Dancer, College of the Arts ground

I now wonder if Maughan isn’t responsible for another ballet sculpture in Melbourne, the bronze figure of the dancer at the front of the VCA. I’m not sure; his webpage doesn’t give much information. (After the publication of this post I get the answer, no, it is by Simon Brady. See the comments.) There is a sculpture of male and female ballet dancers in the garden of the Stokes Collection at Mount Macedon in central Victoria but they look even less like Maughan’s work.

None of these ballet sculptures are in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne where there are more about sculptures of footballers than ballet dancers. That’s Melbourne, it’s not my taste; my taste is much more for dancers rather than footballers. Not there is much difference as sculptures of dancers or athletes are both celebrations of athleticism.

I am trying to keep up with the new public sculptures in Melbourne. I feel that I should as the author of a history of public sculptures although my book, Sculptures of Melbourne was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history you can’t include every example. Melbourne City Council itself has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments; this does not including privately owned sculptures on public display like Les Belle Hélène, that is owned by the Australian Ballet and on public display on the lawn at the Arts Centre near the Inge King sculpture.


Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).

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In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.

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Manifesto @ ACMI

With 13 screens, a dozen characters played by Cate Blanchett and over a century of artist’s manifestos Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto at ACMI is overblown. It sounds very impressive, at first glance it looks spectacular but in the end the advertising was better than the exhibition.

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Posters for Manifesto

The advertising campaign featured a juxtaposition of some words about art and the face of Cate Blanchett made-up to play a role side by side in posters. In the urban environment the posters were intriguing, especially as there was almost no information on the two posters about who wrote the words and what was being advertised. The information about the exhibition on the poster was impossible to read as you passed by, you had to make an effort to read it.

The actual exhibition on close examination was unfortunately incoherent. The various manifestos are cut up, recombined, and re-written into scenarios making them into so many words. The elaborately scenarios did not contribute to any complimentary, ironic or contrasting meaning, that the manifestos might have had. Conceptualism set in a news studio and pop art around a traditional family dinner table.

Due the position of screens and speakers the manifesto’s would suddenly pile up as Blanchett and another Blanchett from another screen would both launch into different speeches. This possibly synchronised cacophony drains meaning from the vocalisation.

It could have been insightful rather than simply impressive and overblown. It seems like faced with so many manifesto’s Rosefeldt responded to a lack of any meaningful insight by emptying the meaning from the manifestos.

Rosefeldt’s three other videos on exhibition at ACMI are impressive, witty and coherent works. The dual realities of the actions and the foley sounds in The Soundmaker are fascinating, as are the dual realities of Stunned Man. Dali and Buñuel could only have dreamt of Rosefeldt’s Deep Gold which a credible and worthy addition to their L’Âge d’Or. Here Rosefeldt’s talent for designing complex camera tracks over tableaux is used both visually and intellectually to great effect.


Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei @ NGV

“Why do people think artists are special? It is just another job.” Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again, p.160)

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The pairing of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei at the NGV produces an exhibition with more vitality than cultic history. The art of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei is like social media; it is about selfies, photo of what we ate for lunch, music, videos and ideas but why is it art?

Firstly, seriously consider where you see most art and that the answer is online.

Secondly, contemporary society needs to have a big talk about popularity, in art, in politics, in religion, in consumerism… in everything but especially populism in politics, currently the most dangerous force in the world.

We need to remember the difference between being popular and a populist. Popularity is measured by how many people like you whereas populism is design to attract the uninformed and unthinking public. It is the element of design and manipulation, that aesthetic preoccupations in the populism that makes it so attractive.

Part of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei’s popularity is because they are not populists. They are popular because they are working for and with people, not just the majority of people but any and all people. Warhol considers the democratisation of fame, what if everyone was equally famous, fabulous and fantastic for at least 15 minutes. What if everyone could be an artist.
When Lego refusing to supply Ai Weiwei with brick for an installation on the grounds that his art is political. Ai Weiwei gots around this with an online call for donations for Lego bricks to be deposited through the partially open sun roof of a car. (Actually he used another type of brick but never let the truth get in the way of good art.) Using the internet and the public to get around officialdom is a similar strategy to Ai Weiwei’s response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Online volunteers circumventing the official blocks and censorship is modelled with the many repeating plastic blocks.

“Perhaps it will be the task of an artist as detached from aesthetic preoccupations, and as intent on the energetic as Marcel Duchamp, to reconcile art and the people.” The French art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote this in the final line in a short essay about Duchamp’s early paintings. In the essay Apollinaire wrote: “Duchamp has abandoned the cult of appearance” and that he “goes to the limit, and is not afraid of being criticised as esoteric or unintelligible.” (Marcel Duchamp, ed. Anne d’Harnoncourt, Kynaston McShine, Prestal, 1989, p.180)

It is hard to believe that Apollinaire could write this in Paris in 1912 before Duchamp even made his first readymade but the advent of still photography anticipated both moving images and social media. Duchamp’s two successors Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei make clear Apollinaire’s prognostication about “abandoned the cult of appearance” and “reconcile art and the people.” Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei are popular and like Duchamp are “not afraid of being criticised as esoteric or unintelligible.” The increase in the reproduction of images increases their display value (the number of times and places where it can be displayed) brought on in the age of digital reproduction destroys the cult of the original (the idea of a uniquely beautiful object created by special person). From the Velvet Underground rehearsing in the Factory to Ai Weiwei dancing Gangnam style aesthetic preoccupations are no long the primary considerations of the art, but its relationship with the people.

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There are some great selfie opportunities at the exhibition.


December 2015

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Exit 2015, Friday 11th December, Brunswick Arts

On Friday night across Melbourne many galleries and studios were holding their end of year celebrations. But it wasn’t just the end of another year at Brunswick Arts (aka Brunswick Art Space, Brunswick Art Gallery), it is closing permanently. Eleven years ago Joel Gailer established the gallery in a building that featured an old house at one end and a factory space that opened onto laneway at the other end. On Friday there was a final one night only exhibition using the whole now empty building.

I like the tradition of the end of the calendar year but every year I write these terrible end of year blog posts. Barely coherent rambling pieces of writing but what do I expect? As if I could sum up a year in a few hundred words.

Normally in these end of year posts I write that I won’t be posting anything for another month but the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei has just opened at the NGV and Julian Rosefeldt’s brand-new thirteen-channel work Manifesto has just opened at ACMI. I anticipate that I will slow down my rate of writing but you never know what will happen. I hope I will take a break, part of being a self-employed professional means taking holidays, otherwise you will burn yourself out. (There is also professional development, or you will decay over time.)

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

Personally 2015 was a great year, a real point of self actualisation as my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne was published. I had two book launches, conducted several walking tours of Melbourne’s public sculptures (one of these was part of Melbourne’s Writers Festival) and a book talk at Brunswick Public Library. So support a local publisher, your local bookshop and buy my book.

Consequently I am being invited to visit a lot more sculptors at foundries or in their studio, however there has rarely been a story in it. In other public art new this year Mr Poetry on Fitzroy Street had his leg broken by a truck, nobody celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and Alex Goad’s Tethya was installed on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda.

This year I missed covering the story of Makatron’s Kama Sutra Burger at Land of Sunshine. Censorship, street art and Brunswick, it had all the elements of one of my blog posts, but I can’t write about everything. I also missed the story of the guerrilla exhibition about tagging in the Alexandra Avenue underpass under St. Kilda Road; I finally saw it this week and it had been systematically tagged.

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Grit, an exhibition of tagging, Melbourne

Next year I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post (this is number 992) with a psychogeographical walk in Brunswick on Sunday the 31st January. In March I will also be exhibiting a few of my paintings for the first time in many years. Doubtless I will also be doing a few tours of public sculpture too. (See my events page for more details).

Seasonal greetings and thanks for reading this terrible end of year post.

Live Christmas Decoration 2


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