Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Bohemian Melbourne

Looking at the Bohemian Melbourne exhibition at the State Library of Victoria brought several ideas that I had been thinking about into sharper focus. “Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?” reads the subtitle of the exhibition, given that I have been some kind of bohemian in Melbourne for all my adult life and that I have encountered some of the subjects of this exhibition, I have a lot of thoughts and there are several hyperlinks to previous blog post.

Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, Liz Ham, 1997

Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, Liz Ham, 1997

Firstly, it is not necessary to be a bohemian to be an artist and I pity to fool that thinks that it is sufficient.

Whatever a bohemian is, it is definitely a biographical genre, frequently autobiographical, and often exists in a multimedia format, even before the idea of multimedia. It is a story about a person who is outside of conventional society.

In Richard Miller’s book Bohemia, the Protculture, Then and Now (Nelson-Hall, 1977, Chicago) Miller distinguishes between the wealth and the poverty models of bohemian life exemplified by Doyenné and Murger respectively. He also distinguishes between bohemians on the basis of class background and political attitudes, something that Bohemian Melbourne neglected to emphasise, mixing and right wing bohemians, Percy Grainger being the epitome of a right wing radical. (See my post on the Grainger Museum.)

I believe that understanding bohemians would be helped with a better understanding of demographics and the sociology of different sizes of populations. For if x% of the population are bohemians and the population of a city is 100,000 will bohemian behaviour change when it is 1,000,000? Will it change again when the population reaches 5,000,000?

Bohemian Melbourne reminded me that art styles are in reality clubs, exclusive groups based not so much on a logic of stylistic similarity but membership. Melbourne’s early art history was established around clubs. Some like Buonarotti Club, The Cannibal Club, Savages Club were bohemian. Others like, Stray Leaves, the Victorian Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria were not. The first of these was the Victoria Fine Arts Society established in 1853, it last four years until 1857. In 1874 the Victorian Artists Society was established and still continues today (see my post on Zombie Artists).

Like most gangs these clubs defend their members and their territory, be that territory intellectual, as in Surrealism or geographic, as in the Cabal of Naples. Artist colonies, residences or even restaurants, like Montsalvat or Heide, can be the nexus of the group’s activities. (see my post on Montsalvat)

In part, artist clubs replaced the artists workshops, the guilds and apprenticeships in trying to answered the question of who qualifies to be a called an artist. Membership of these clubs takes various forms but it is essential that other members of the club recognise each other as members of the club. Non-members are excluded from being authentic. For example, being an Australian Aboriginal artist is not dependent on ancestry but on being recognised as Aboriginal by the local aboriginal community. Likewise, if you are not known to paint illegal pieces on buildings or trains without permission then you will not be recognised as a graffiti writer by other graffiti artists.

The reduction of clubs in society in general as an aspect of Australian society, is reflected in the art world. Sure the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria and the Victorian Artists Club still exist, like antique reminders of the past. The reduced numbers and lack of influence is one reason why there are no clearly identifiable art styles in contemporary art. (See my post Happy 70th Anniversary CAS)

The most important arts clubs that still exist in Melbourne are in the form street art crews. Street art and graffiti are movements rather than styles, a movement is where multiple similar clubs/crews/organisations/etc exist. Movements are larger than clubs and are not defined by the artists/members but by historians.

I could go on about artistic lifestyles and living a bohemian life on social security payments but I will save that for future blog posts.


James Voller’s Urban Interventions

I was disappointed when Voller’s giant colour paste-ups on the public toilets came down but then MoreArts is only a temporary urban art exhibition. Voller’s paste-up on the industrial rubbish bin at the station carpark, although slightly damaged, is still clearly visible and creating a wonderful illusion. Now there is a new image of another house by Voller on the public toilets, appropriately for Melbourne’s summer, it has a stripped awning.

James Voller, Coburg

James Voller is a photographer from New Zealand who is now based in Melbourne furthering his studies. His urban interventions with paste-ups the cover the whole surface make powerful works of art.

In 2011 I saw James Voller’s exhibition “Constructing Site” at Beam Contemporary. Voller’s photographs his urban interventions that used architectural paste-ups the play with the size and meaning of urban objects. I didn’t get around to writing the exhibition at the time, it was just some interesting photographs and I’d seen big paste-ups before.

Now that I’ve seen Voller’s work on site regularly in Coburg, very regularly, just about any time I go anywhere, as I pass by the public toilets opposite the mall or see the bin on the way to the train station, I think they are fantastic.

James Voller

What I find fantastic about Voller’s urban installations is that suburbia is often used as a metaphor for dull and unattractive and Voller is one of the few artists who can make impressive art about the subject. Public toilets are rarely seen as the site for art, although see my post on the Russell Street Sculptures, but we all need public toilets and rubbish bins.

Voller’s two installations improve this with flare. They have done so much to improve the ugly heart of Coburg, the massive stretch of tarmac supermarket parking lots around the railway station on the second block west of Sydney Road.

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns


Why Look At Dead Animals?

A young male polar bear balances on top of a fridge floating like an industrial iceberg, a male lion free from its collar and chain rolls on a king sized bed, two Magellanic penguins have made a nest of plastic soldiers. This is the stunning, impressive and thought-provoking taxidermy art of Rod McRae in the setting of the National Trust’s historic Tasma Terrace.

Rod McRae, Born Free, 2013

Rod McRae, Born Free, 2013

Often, it is taxidermy about taxidermy: The Dome of Doom, one of McRae’s smaller installations, refers to the nineteenth century displays of birds or butterflies in glass domes. The headless animals reminding the viewer that they were shot for their heads as hunting trophies, the cost of shooting a zebra… It is also about what humans are doing to other animals and their habitats.

It might seem an odd idea to use stuffed animals as art about conservation but all McRae’s animals have been ethically sourced. What does “ethically sourced taxidermied animals” mean? In the case of the polar bear it was shot by Inuit hunters and the skin sold to support their community.

For centuries humans have been looking at dead animals, mostly as a source of food and also, for information about the animal. Natural history museums are full of display cases of dead animals, there are many more preserved in storage for species identification. Displays of hunting trophies along with still life paintings that include dead animals amongst the food depicted made an art of looking at dead animals. Toulouse-Lautrec’s father would regularly sketch and then eat what he hunted. With the increase in human population this aesthetic interest in dead animals was unsustainable and most people now avoid looking or, even, thinking about dead animals.

Along with the environmental ethics there is a religious tone to the exhibition, the lion lying down with the lambs, makes it obvious and McRae has twice been a finalist in the Blake Prize for religious art. Not that this is uncritical belief with McRae noting Christian hunting organisations on the zebra’s crate. (See Derek Beres ‘The Cult of Christian Hunting and America’s Gun Problem’.)

Rod McRae started as a children’s book illustrator and there are still some elements of that in his art with clear visual communication in the illustration of idea. Five years ago he started creating taxidermy installations to illustrate ideas about animal conservation.

Rod McRae, Serengeti, 2013

Rod McRae, Serengeti, 2013

The original occupants of Tasma Terrace in East Melbourne, or Easthill as it was once known, would have had their own collections of taxidermy animals. The Victorian interest in exploring the natural world and collecting has come full circle with contemporary art reflecting the on its legacy.

Tasma Terrace was built in 1879 by George Nipper who two years after Tasma Terrace was completed he build the majestic Windsor Hotel and then went bankrupt. Tasma Terrace was saved from demolition in 1969 by the public and National Trust. The conservation of this piece of built environment creates itself parallel theme to the exhibition’s theme of natural conservation.

For more on taxidermy and contemporary art see my blog post or just enter ‘taxidermy’ in the search box in my sidebar. It is surprising just how many contemporary artists are working taxidermyfrom the gothic, bejewelled work of Melbourne-based Julia Devilla to New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang who had an exhibition of faux-taxidermy at GOMA in 2014. There are so many that there is a book Taxidermy Art by Robert Maybury that covers many of the notable taxidermy artists that includes Maybury, himself, along with Rod McRae and Julia Deville.

Rod McRae and the National Trust presents Wunderkammer at Tasma Terrace, 6 Parliament Place in East Melbourne. ‘Wunderkammer’ has to be the most overused title for an exhibition in the last two years.

Rod McRae, The Case of the Laughing Hyena, 2012

Rod McRae, The Case of the Laughing Hyena, 2012


Allegories of the PRB

Allegories of the PRB is an exhibition of sculptures by Daniel Dorall and drawings by Steve Cox that reflects on and refers to the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). The exhibition notes describe the PRB as “a radical and revolutionary 19th Century art movement” but I would disagree with almost every word except “19th Century art”. Extreme and reactionary, this eccentric circle of seven artists was originally thought of itself as a secret society. Not that this excludes them from being worthy of further reflection.

Daniel Dorall’s sculptures are architectural models populated with model railway figures. Normally I would avoid an exhibition of architectural models because mostly they appear to me as lifeless design studies. However, there is a special appeal to something when it overcomes the original dislikes and objections to that category and Dorall’s models are populated and overgrown, suggesting not just life but archeological and psychological depth.

Dorall’s self-contained labyrinthine architecture sums up the psychology of the PRB. In Love Triangle – Ruskin, Effie, Millais, 2009 each person is trapped in their own box that each contains its own hedge maze. The Good Shepherd sums up the PRB’s approach to Christianity. Other works, like Tennyson and Ophelia are more illustrative, creating a homage to the famous paintings by Waterhouse and Millais in H0 scale models.

Steve Cox’s fine drawing in pencil and watercolour on paper, condenses the brotherhood into a series of studies and portraits. They also contain several keys to Dorall’s PRB references, like The Blind, and both parts of this exhibition would be poorer without the other.

Daniel Dorall, The Good Shepherd, 2007-14

Daniel Dorall, The Good Shepherd, 2007-14

The Prosopopoeias by Olivia Pintos-Lopez at first reminded me of a small scale version of Linde Ivimey’s only less grisly without all the bones. There are a few teeth and bones amongst the all the found materials. The figures have a voodoo doll aspect incorporating reused materials, bits of antique lace, embroidery, buttons, beads and kid leather. On a shelf that runs along the gallery wall groups of figures, posed in a variety of ways, stand and sit. Often, in the gestures there is a strong maternal feel that contrasts the sinister, bound, hooded (blinded or blinkered) figures. The rabbit ears of many of the figures adds to both the sinister and the maternal elements as the childhood anthropomorphising of toys turns feral.

Olivia Pintos-Lopez, Untitled, 2015

Olivia Pintos-Lopez, Untitled, 2015

Both of Allegories of the PRB and The Prosopopoeias are currently on at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.


Somatotype Workout

Matto Lucas’s performance, “Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph” in the front gallery of Off The Kerb on Friday night was about body building, working his body, using his body as a media for his art. He writes: “The body is the site where identity as defined by gender, race and sexuality is located, performed and challenged.” His workout was accompanied by his personal trainer and sound artist, Cat Tyson Hughes.

Matto Lucas

In one way it was very traditional art, a reference to Ancient Greece bring the gymnasium into the art gallery, the almost naked male body posed in the gallery, the contrapposto feet in his weight lifting stance.

During the strenuous workout Matto’s skin turning first pink, then red and even purple on the top of his shaved head, around his mohawk, as he became more exhausted. By then Matto’s performance, and the crowd, was spilling out onto the sidewalk but still visible from my seat at the window of the shopfront gallery. Personally I felt like a cat watching the workout while I drank Coopers Pale Ale. Work is very interesting; there is truth in work, if not beauty.

There is a great deal attention to detail in the performance and exhibition. The walls are covered in plastic as if the sweat from the workout was going to run down the walls. Aside from the performance there are two videos at the gallery. One video shows Matto’s body morphing into different shapes, absurd variations of his actual shape and the other of him in the gym.

Matto Lucas

In the upstairs gallery at Off The Kerb Sarah Louise Brownlow’s exhibition “The Great Pretender” is the antithesis of Matto Lucas’s “Somattotype” (note the double t including Matto’s name in the body type). Brownlow’s exhibition is about photographs and videos of the obscured body, the covered or masked face.

I first saw the work of Matto Lucas in the Metro 5 prize four years ago. Although he was the youngest artist in the prize I thought that he had an outside chance if the judges wanted something truly radical. (See my blog post: Metro Art Award 2011) Since then Matto has exhibited widely and is currently painting an Australia Post postie bike with a queer manifesto written by an anonymous activist in the 1970’s for the Midsumma Festival. He has also done some photographs for my forthcoming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures.

Matto Lucas’s work is about his own body, a body that he develops at the gym and that he also loathes. I’ve been wondering if  I could sell a story about his weight loss to some magazine? You know the usual weight loss story I lost x kilos in x time, proposing an artist diets and noting that overweight artists are rare. Matto and I could only think of Diego Rivera (height 6ft 1inch 316 pound in 1931), Pierre Manzoni (the Italian conceptual artist), William Turner and Isaac Julian (an installation and fine art film artist who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001). Do you ever skip a meal or eat a lighter meal so that you can continue working? Do you have a full time job? Can you afford food? Do you ever try to eat enough at a party to put off having your next meal?


First New Exhibitions for 2015

Melbourne’s art galleries have started exhibitions again; on 9th January, Friday evening Kings ARI opened first new exhibition for the year. A surprisingly early start with many people still on holidays and Melbourne’s fickle summer weather. A few other larger galleries, like the NGV and RMIT Gallery, have also reopened after the holiday season with exhibitions from last year.

Simon Crosbie's installation at Kings ARI

Simon Crosbie’s installation at Kings ARI

At King ARI there are three exhibitions in their three small upstairs exhibitions spaces. In the front gallery there was a group exhibition of four women artists, Amber Stones and Green, curated by Alison Lasek. In the middle gallery, Reveal & Conceal featured a great knitted installation by Simon Crosbie, two videos by Paul Candy and a large text based wall work by Amanda Laming. In the dark of the Side Gallery, the flickering colours of the screens reflected on the white wall creating an image of such a basic beauty. This work, Flickr  Films by Christopher Handran focused my thinking about the technology and art.

Regarding technology and art I finally had the time to see Experimenta Recharge, the 6th International Biennial of Media Art at RMIT Gallery. There was a humming from behind the, now, automatic door into RMIT Gallery as if it was housing immense electoral machines, which indeed it did. There were one hundred digital televisions for, Khaled Sabsabi’s 70,000 Veils a 3D video work of transcendental beauty.

This exhibition of  international artists has been extensively reviewed so I will only add the comment that I had seen a better version of the braking mirror that Anaisa Franco presented, “Broken Mirror” by Lee Yongbaek was much smoother and more beautiful. Franco’s other work the motion activated screaming mouth was just prop comedy. Teamlab answered my question about the watchability of long works of video art with one that last for 100 years.


Final Post for 2014

This is my final post for another year. May I wish Happy 10th Anniversary to Richard Watt’s SmartArts on 3RRR, the Melbourne Prize, Blindside, Brunswick Arts Space and Trouble Magazine; all of which have made an impact on Melbourne’s art scene in their first decade. Another milestone worth recording is that John Buckley Gallery closed at the end of this year.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Thank you to everyone around the world who has read and has subscribed to this blog. It has been a strange year for me as one of the least powerful people in the art world, an online art critic, an independent writer and researcher, a blogger. I have been trying to be more professional about this doing freelance writing for a number of publications. I have my ABN (Australian Business Number) number now. (See my About page for links to most of these publications and also a few of my oil paintings).

I have spent a lot of time in 2014 in the Melbourne’s Magistrates Court covering the Paul Yore case. I have been out of my depth and out of my areas of expertise but it was important to report on the events. (See my post Are You Experienced?) Although Yore was found not guilty and police were ordered to pay all legal costs it left me with this feeling of dread that this will repeat as Australian culture refuses to learn. That case along with so many other aspects of Australian culture, racism, crimes against humanity, lack of human rights, all make me pessimistic about the future.

Sally Field

Sally Fields installation at the Conspirators

It seemed as if some of the major themes of the year was exhibitions titled Wunderkammer and doing art with the idea of taxidermy. Amongst my favourite exhibition this year were the Conspirators curated by Carmen Reid, Performprint by Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti at the Meat Market, and In Your Dreams, curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

For a summary of Melbourne’s street art in 2014 see my previous post.

DSCF0396

I would like to take a break, have some more time for reading, my own painting and just relax in the summer heat but as I contemplate a break I start to receive the first invites for exhibitions in the new year. Unlike previous years many Melbourne galleries aren’t closed for all of January, there is an opening at Kings ARI on the 9th of January. So I hesitate to forecast how long this break will be.

I am looking forward to 2015 as my book on Melbourne’s Sculptures is now planned to be released in April.

Cheers,

Mark

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


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