Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

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.


Skunk Control @ The Dirty Dozen

Has it only been half a year since Platform closed and the dozen glass vitrines in the tile lined underpass at Flinders Street Station were left empty? The artist-run initiative Platform ran the space for twenty years and I regularly wrote about their exhibitions. Now Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program have taken over management of the dozen vitrines in Campbell Arcade. They have rebranded them The Dirty Dozen because, as Creative Spaces’ Eleni Arbus puts it, ”It’s a pretty grungy site”.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

The Dirty Dozen brings a new direction for the vitrines, filling them with the work of what Eleni Arbus calls “creative practitioners” rather than artists. Hopefully this will make the exhibitions more engaging for the commuters who use the underpass. The work of many contemporary artists failed to produce site specific art and failed to speak to the thousands of people who continued walking past.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control

The first exhibition at The Dirty Dozen, Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control, a team of engineers and scientists from Victoria University demonstrates what Arbus means by “creative practitioners”. The vitrines were full of a forest of animatronic blooming flowers and caves of crystals, both with prismatic light effects from rotating polarised screens. Another vitrine contains a motorised kaleidoscope and another, rotating tanks of liquid. The attention to detail to create these complete other worldly visions is impressive.

Parts of this exhibition is similar to what was seen in Rose Chong’s display window last year when Skunk Control won the People’s Choice award at the annual Gertrude Street Projection Festival for Pestilent Protrusions. That People’s Choice award is an indication of engaging beauty that Skunk Control produce. The elegant engineering and science are used to present engaging and intriguing work rather than lecturing the audience.

Skunk Control was formed in 2012 by Nick Athanasiou a lecture at Victoria University in the College of Engineering and Science. There are a surprising number of engineers in Melbourne creating exciting art, including the street artist CDH. I wish that more artists today, instead of doing their Masters or Doctorates in Fine Arts, studied something else, something apparently unrelated to their art, because this would improve both the content and the art. I am looking forward to seeing what other “creative practitioners” will next be exhibiting at The Dirty Dozen.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control


Post Nuclear Art

On Tuesday 26 May I went to an artist talk at RMIT Gallery by Ken and Julia Yonetani that brought their collaborative art together, at least for me, I’m sure that there are people who have been following their art for years now.

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace, 2013, photo from artist's website

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace, 2013, photo from artist’s website

I had seen the work of Ken and Julia Yonetani before but I hadn’t tied it all together. At the Melbourne Art Fair 2014 there was their market of inedible food cast from salt, The Last Supermarket. In 2012 at an earlier RMIT exhibition, “2112 Imagining the Future”, I had seen their Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) a play on traditional European still life with a table, glasses, fruit bowl, cutlery, fish and crayfish all cast from the pinkish salt of the Murray River. And I was aware of Ken Yanetoni’s Sweet Barrier Reef , a Zen garden made entirely of sugar, raked sugar and icing sugar coral formations as it was chosen to represent Australia in the satellite exhibition held in conjunction with the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Ken and Julia Yonetani were exhibiting two of their chandeliers made from uranium glass in the RMIT Gallery exhibition “Japanese Art After Fukushima”. The uranium glass glows green under ultra-violet light with a fantastic beauty just like radioactive material always does in movies and cartoons. The artists explained that uranium glass “is made from depleted uranium and is a by product of the uranium enrichment process – so its like recycling the byproduct of nuclear power.” The uranium glass isn’t that radioactive compared to background radiation but it does link the beginning of consumerism to the advent of electricity and the invention of ultra-violet lights.

Considering its current impact on human life radioactivity has not featured prominently in contemporary art. In the immediate aftermath of WWII some artists did focus on the catastrophic destructive power of atomic weapons. Salvador Dali talked about atomic art and there was the Nuclear Art movement founded in 1951 by the Milanese painters Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo. But Fukushima brought all of this back for Ken and Julia; Ken now wears a wrist watch with a built in geiger counter. The danger of atomic weapons has been dwarfed by the dangers of billions of consumers buying sugar and using fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Ken and Julia Yonetani are collaborative artists, a not uncommon feature in the contemporary art world where artistic partnerships are common, the most notable and enduring of contemporary art partnerships are Gilbert and George. In Australia there are several other artists that work in partnership, like Brown and Green or Gillie and Marc. For this Japanese/European couple the most obvious artistic partnership is that of  John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Ken and Julia Yonetani have played with the work, “War is Over! IF YOU WANT IT”, turning it into “global warming is over, IF YOU WANT IT”.

However, even compared to Lennon and Ono, Ken and Julia Yonetani are far more political and it is also far more personal as, Ken changed career from a financial broker to an artist. We might all need a change of career if don’t prevent global warming.

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) photo from artist's webpage

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) photo from artist’s webpage


Types of Art Galleries on Flinders Lane

There are a variety of galleries along Flinders Lane; if you want to see a variety of different types of galleries then walking down this lane is an education. These types of galleries vary on the way they select the art and are funded. Most of the galleries, look similar, white walled rooms in converted buildings. Only the powerful Anna Schwartz Gallery is in a contemporary purpose-built building.

Craft Victoria 2

When visiting the galleries on Flinders Lane I like to get out at Parliament Station and start with Craft Victoria because this means that I will be walking downhill rather than uphill. Craft Victoria’s exhibitions are regularly amongst the better contemporary art exhibitions that I see. Craft Victoria is a government funded gallery; it is funded by all three levels of government, federal, state and local along with corporate sponsorship and membership of the professional craft association. It also has a gift shop with a fine selection of high quality local craft products.

45 Downstairs is a not-for-profit theatre and gallery space that was founded by Mary Lou Jelbart and Julian Burnside in 2002. Exhibitions are by application and it is funded by rental of the space and donations.

Mailbox Art Space is an artist run space is a series of mailboxes that have been converted into one of Melbourne’s smallest art spaces. Exhibitions are based on an application and it costs nothing to exhibit.

There is also community access gallery on one wall of the upper floor of the City Library. Exhibitions are based on an application by “artists in the early stages of a professional art career”. It costs $800 to exhibit in the gallery for the month, substantially lower than other far less attractive rental spaces in Melbourne, as the costs of the space are mostly funded by the City of Melbourne.

Flinders Lane Gallery 2

The majority of galleries in Flinders Lane both historically and currently are commercial galleries, like Arc One, Anna Schwartz and Flinders Lane Gallery. These galleries select their artists from a stable of artists that the gallery represents. Flinders Lane Gallery opened in 1989 and is the oldest of the exiting galleries on the lane. It represents “emerging, mid-career and Indigenous Australian artists”.

When I last walked along Flinders Lane last weekend Arc One and Flinders Lane Gallery were both having shows from their stockroom, group shows of the artists that they represent. It is always interesting to see a commercial gallery’s stockroom for the same reason that a stockroom show is interesting. Australian Galleries used to have a whole building in Collingwood devoted to their stockroom but it has now closed. In contemporary galleries a stockroom may not be a drab utilitarian store room, Fehily Contemporary has an attractive upstair’s ‘stockroom’ that would put to shame many people’s lounge rooms.

For more on different there is my earlier post on types of art galleries.


Vacancy @ No Vacancy

It was the worst exhibition that I have seen for a very long time. Of course I have seen some bad art in my time, many more simply poor exhibitions, but at the far extremities of the bell curve, which ever way you go, examples become rarer. This exhibition was so far off so many critical scales that it is hard to measure back from any benchmark; no talent, no content, no point, no…

Spenceroni’s Hello Play at No Vacancy is a crass, crap collection of swiggles that makes Ken Done look sophisticated. I look at art as a very broad category but this could barely even count as design.

Why aren’t I writing about some other, better exhibitions? There are plenty of average exhibitions on. I could be reviewing Made In House, “works of Redbubble’s Artist in Residence” at No Vacancy’s other space in Fed Square.

Most of the artists, photographers, painters, illustrators, commercial, amateur, are working on something called culture. Their average individual efforts are tears in the rain, significant to them and those who share that moment, but only a drop in the ocean of culture. I am writing about this exhibition because it is not average, it is extremely bad.

A selfie-wall, WTF! All that I can think is that this smug, social-media-friendly, creep ticks all the boxes for being a narcissist who thinks that some suckers will buy his shoddy stuff. Spenceroni has made it easy for the suckers with multi-level marketing of multiple editions from the wrapped letterpress cards at $7 to the acrylic paint on paper, framed in hardwood frame, 800 x 1050 mm for $1450. According to his blog he has been working on this for six months; I hope that he is very lazy and wasn’t working full time on it.

I try to be sympathetic to young artists with their first exhibitions. Mostly when I’m critical of an artist I mean the best, I want to help them with tough love. With zombie artists I just wish that they would stop. I rarely want to destroy their soul but I doubt that Spenceroni has a soul. This is his first exhibition and I hope that it will be his last.


Collingwood Gallery Crawl

Who is this beautiful woman decked out in exotic jewellery standing in front of a ceramic skull surrounded by snakes and sea shells? I know that face. The b&w photograph captures her powerful beauty, a mature beauty that admits death. It is Janet Beckhouse photographed by Christopher Köller in an exhibition at Strange Neighbour.

Christopher Köller, Trust, 2008

Christopher Köller, Trust, 2008

On Thursday afternoon I went on a gallery crawl around Fitzroy and Collingwood with Matto Lucas, who writes Melbourne Art Review. We met up at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP). I thought that the main exhibition might tie in various interests that I have about sculpture and photography but it had the least interesting photography exhibition that we saw all afternoon.

As well as Köller’s photographs at Kick Gallery we saw Bon Mott’s powerful and impressive photographs and video of her performance: It Wasn’t the First, it Wasn’t the Last.

At Fehily Contemporary we saw Camille Hannah oil paintings on perspex, Skin Flick, generate a feeling of dynamic glowing beauty. The sense of light is comparable to old master paintings but also owes much to the calligraphic energy of the brushstroke.

We were wandering around galleries more or less at random. I have a mental map of galleries and Matto has his cell phone. There are all kinds of art galleries in the area from shopfront to warehouse conversions, from the institutional CCP to the commercial to small galleries, like Off the Kerb and Little Woods, where drawings dominated.

We were about to walk past Collingwood Gallery, as we had Hogan, when Matto recognised the artist, Magupela. If you just wanted a lively informal colourful painting to hang your house that would give you years of enjoyment without becoming stale then Magupela’s Flight to my dreams would be a good exhibition to see. I write this to raise the question of what do you want from art.

We looked in at the launch of UnMagazine. The last issue of UnMagazine was unreadable, not just because of the text but also bizarre layout on coloured paper. The current issue looks a lot more readable. There were a lot of people at the launch but we didn’t want to sit through a panel discussion as we had started drinking at Mr Fluffy’s at five and now just wanted to continue, so we moved on to the exhibition opening at James Makin Gallery.

At James Makin we discovered the current location of Lindberg Gallery, it is at James Makin. This is the third location that I remember for Lindberg. Now L and M share the building and swap between the larger and smaller gallery spaces. In larger gallery, M this time, there is Fabrizio Biviano’s paintings of matchbooks in a cool painterly pop art style. In the smaller, L this time, Eugenia Raftopoulos’s Feminine Masquerade, a series of paintings of strategies for depicting obscured female faces. Matto pulls out his camera and starts to do his thing for the Melbourne Art Review.

Matto Lucas photographs Eugenia Raftopoulos

Matto Lucas photographs Eugenia Raftopoulos


Memories of David Bowie

I remember that David Bowie Is… a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum that will be at ACMI in Melbourne from 16th July and 1 November. Not that I’ve seen the exhibition, I remember seeing the exhibition in the film. My brain felt like a warehouse… the lyrics sheets of familiar songs, the photographs, models of stage sets, over 50 costumes, memorabilia and lots of videos.

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Russell Briggs, Head of Exhibitions & Collections at ACMI described the media preview as “a Russian doll, a film of an exhibition of a biography…” There are a lot of Russian doll aspects to anything about Bowie, the actor playing an alien rock star, as you unpack one doll it is revealed to contain another and another. And David Bowie is hyperreal, he is more real in simulacra than actually.

During the film I remember thinking that blockbuster exhibitions and stadium rock have a lot in common and even with the audience for the exhibition capped at 200 visitors per hour the experience will be similar. Do I want another experience like Bowie’s Serious Moonlight concert in a packed (40,000+) at VFL Park, the Waverley Football stadium? From my position in the stands I saw most of it on the big screen, so maybe it would have been just as good to have watched it on TV. Andrew Peacock, the then Liberal opposition leader was also in the audience and Bowie was going through a 50s retro phase. Even though they are on the cutting edge there is something conservative about successful trend spotters, like Bowie.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

The exhibition does over hype Bowie and it would like you to forget that Bowie with Mick Jagger ever sung a cover of “Dancing in the Streets”. I’d like to forget that too but having seen it I can’t. After watching David Bowie Is… (the movie) and during the writing of this post I avoided listening to any classic Bowie hits and restricted myself to an aural diet of his soundtrack for Labyrinth, the Laughing Gnome and Rubber Band. I started to wonder if Bowie hadn’t changed the whole history of the novelty song; taking it from a statistical minority of pop songs to the majority.

But remember that with all this novelty Bowie demonstrates the art/politics of constructed identities. The constructed identity is opposed to both the idea of a given or a natural identity and this is a very important contribution that liberated many people. The diversity of Bowie’s artist practice, from actor to visual artist defies assumptions about work and identity, but also a celebrity art practice in the role of producer/director and collaborator. But does this qualify as genius?

The discourse on this subject and the greater discourse around Bowie is another layer of Bowie’s much vaunted collaborations. The absence of Bowie is significant, the long periods between albums, the points where his only presence is in the public discourse about his career. Along with the exhibition there will be a two day symposium on The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie, presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne and Deakin University with the support of the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.

David Bowie Is… would like to define how David Bowie will be remembered, a creation of art and design. I expect that in 2050 a scholarly book on the history of a century of rock music will be published but how many references to David Bowie will there be in the index? It depends on the way that author tells the history. If the book is about popularity, the mass effect of rock music or icons of rock then there may be a many references to Bowie. If the book is about the development of rock then there may less; there is only one reference to Bowie in the index of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces.


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