Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Comparing Modern Art Oxford

On a recent visit to Oxford I went to the city’s contemporary art gallery Modern Art Oxford (MAO). MAO and my local gallery, the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick are similar kinds of art galleries and yet very different and differences shows the impact of both local and national arts funding priorities on a small contemporary art gallery. Prior to my visit to Oxford I had seen a DVD from my local library about MAO.

Both of galleries are on property owned by the local city councils and city councils have roughly the same population; the population of the city and non-metropolitan district of Oxford is 157,997 (2014) and the City of Moreland has a population of 147,241 (2011). MAO was established decades earlier in 1966, has a larger staff and is much better funded Arts Council England. It does not benefit from the international tourism in Oxford; the tourists are there to see old Oxford and not contemporary art.

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

A major difference why MAO is far better gallery is that it is bigger. It has almost twice the size of galleries as the Counihan, plus other spaces over three floors. There is a bookshop, a basement performance space, a cafe (with kitchen) and a community access space for other exhibitions and events. It is in an old repurposed building that has been refitted for purpose.

The new entrance way to MAO makes a clear statement about its existence and purpose, unlike the entrance to the Counihan which is inside the foyer of the Brunswick Town Hall, past the stairs and beside the window where you pay licenses and fines. This is typical of Moreland City Council and following long established practice of using some other building (‘temporarily’ for decades) as a gallery or a library.

Both MAO and the Counihan show a program of free exhibitions. Due to its larger space Modern Art Oxford presents unique exhibitions from international contemporary artists, whereas the Counihan is more limited in its choice of artists. When I visited MAO there were two exhibitions on: Josh Kline Freedom and Kiki Kogelnik Fly Me To the Moon.

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline’s Freedom was enjoyable on many levels. Healing post-9/11 America will require the fantastic vision of telly tubbies in full riot gear. It will require cops to unhand-cuff  themselves from their obscene donuts of stereotypes. I really felt deeply satisfied at seeing digitally altered George Bush and his co-conspirators saying sorry for all that they had done. (If John Howard had been amongst the digitally altered figures it would have been very difficult to believe him saying sorry for anything).

Kiki Kogelnik’s art felt very dated especially in comparison to Kline’s exhibition. Kogelnik’s bright vinyl human figures  hang limply on clothes racks. Kogelnik who was part of an early and desperate revival of figuration died in 1997; we no longer go to the moon.

ASV Sculpture Awards 2015

The Association of Sculptors of Victoria’s Annual Awards Sculpture Exhibition is located in a suitably grand location, the marble and glass foyer of Bourke Place, 600 Bourke Street, Melbourne. There were hundreds of people at the exhibition opening, a classical quartet, cheese platters and wine (I was enjoying the Kooyonga Creek cab sav from North East Victoria). All the usual hype of an awards night.

ASV exhibition 2015 at Bourke Place, Joel Gailer's Mirror State on left.

ASV exhibition 2015 at Bourke Place, Joel Gailer’s Mirror State on left.

And all of this couldn’t happen without sponsors and donors. “Artists make difficult business decisions all the time,” ASV president Jan Indrans told the audience as he thanked the sponsors and donors.

Internationally known sculptor and land artist Andrew Rogers made a speech encouraging the exhibiting sculptors not to give up, to enjoy it and “dream a little.” Rogers always reminded the audience that sculpture is always a team effort and acknowledged the Meridian Foundry, the association and the all the other people involved in sculpture.

Sculptors have alway mixed business and the arts for their mutual benefit, symbiosis is a more dynamic relationship than domestication or master and servants. Sculpture is a very expensive art form to work in, there are expensive materials, the expense of transporting them before the sculptor starts to work.

With a 130 sculptures in the exhibition there is a huge range of sculptures by amateur and professional sculptors. There are sculptures in traditional material of cast bronze or carved marble. Modern sculptures in steel or ceramic. Contemporary sculptures in polycarbonate plastics or found materials.

The exhibition is only on to October 16 and it is worth seeing for a survey of the variety of current sculptural practice. Not the academic avant-garde vision of the future of sculptural practice but current practice with all the long tails of various styles. From the corny, traditional, kitsch, the visual equivalent to hyperbole, subtle, elegant there are sculptures to suit and offend everyone’s taste.

Andrew Bryant’s Moods7 DSC00663

I was amazed by Andrew Bryant’s Moods7 because it moves, a lozenge of limestone rotates on a stainless steel pivot. I don’t think that I’ve seen a stone sculpture that moved before.

Daniel Worth, My Nose

Daniel Worth, My Nose

Daniel Worth’s My Nose is a marble and granite memorial to all the missing noses on classical sculptures.

The Suburbs in Melbourne’s Art

In Melbourne’s suburbs we still live in houses with bullnose verandahs, wooden fretwork and other Victorian architectural ornamentation built on a network of roads laid out in nineteenth century. The dream of domestic bliss was transported to the Australia, much like rabbits, foxes and other introduced species. Now the British home, like the other introduced species has gone feral creating sprawling suburbs around Melbourne and Sydney.

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember' 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember’ 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Mass suburban living was a nineteenth century invention. It’s inventors, the local councils and property developers, had very little experience of suburban life; they might have grown up in a suburb but it was very unlikely that their parents had, and highly improbably that their grandparents had. Without experience, or any other evidence, many assumptions were made about suburban life. One popular assumption about the suburbs are that they are devoid of culture and yet this is where the majority of artists now live.

Just as modernists painters strived to depict the new urban environments of the modern city, the post-modernists strive to depict the suburbs. Generations of artists have grown up in Melbourne’s suburbs and some are now countering the romantic myths of locations of creativity by depicting the suburbs in their art. How to depict the suburbs is an important question for contemporary artists. What is important in a depiction of the suburbs?

Performance artist, Michael Meneghetti told me, “My house looks exactly like a Howard Arkley painting.” Meneghetti lives in Brooklyn, the outer suburb of Melbourne and not the one in NYC. The suburbs with all their ‘featurism’ was the main complaint of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. Yet the Howard Arkley celebrates this featurism of the patchwork of patterns.

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

In Melbourne sculptor, Jason Waterhouse plays with the familiar shape of houses and by distorting the materials of suburban life. Urban intervention artist, James Voller installs photographs of suburban houses on suburban objects. And Adrian Doyle has long used the suburb as the central feature of his art.

There aren’t that many, in Melbourne. I could include Reg Mombassa’s pop-surrealist images mythologise suburban landscapes and Ian Strange’s (aka Kid Zoom) painting, film, photography, sculpture, installation and site-specific interventions involving suburban houses. Many artists must still be in denial about their suburban roots for there is a lot of anxiety and paranoia in the assumptions about suburban life.

In his recent exhibition of paintings and installations, ‘Never Forget to Remember’ at Dark Horse Experiment, Doyle returns to the pitched roof form of the suburban house. Doyle’s ‘Coin House’ consists of a basic house form made of one dollar coins on a marble slab. It is the obvious image for suburbia but does it tell the enough of the story of suburbia? Perhaps, Doyle’s patchwork of images in his paintings are better at depicting the diversity housed in the uniform buildings. His paintings of suburban existence tries to get that mix of ‘sarcastic nostalgia’ in a mix of techniques and paint. Of course, Doyle’s suburbia is a matter of nostalgia, memories and dreams because he has lived in the Melbourne’s inner city for years now.

Institutional Art Galleries in Melbourne

This continues my occasional series of posts examining the different types of galleries. For more information about other types of galleries see my post: Types of Art Galleries.

NGV Ian Potter

Institutional art galleries exhibit art without intention of sales and so are free from the usual commercial interests in the art that they exhibit. Most are funded by some level of government, although there are some institutional art galleries are run by private individuals or organisation, like the Saatchi Gallery in London or MONA in Tasmania, however Melbourne does not have any private institutional art galleries.

The purpose of institutional art galleries is far from clear. Is their purpose educational or entertainment? Is their collection representative or a treasury? The idea of an art collection is part of a tradition that extends back to a world owned and dominated by royalty. Royal Collections, rather like private house museums but on a far grander scale, the Vatican Museum and the Prado are amongst the largest of these. Although Melbourne does not have a royal collection it does have another kind of national treasury in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

There are differences in what are called ‘National Galleries’ some have encyclopaedic collections for the purpose of teaching the history of art others have collection of art by the nation. Encyclopaedic collections maybe good for the local population exposing them to art from around the world but unless they have destination art works they aren’t of great interest to tourists. What tourists, like me, who visit a lot of galleries, is to see the history of local art. National Galleries like that of Greece or Nepal, that collect and display the arts of a particular nation or other group identity. So, if I were a visitor to Melbourne I would see the NGV Australia at Federation Square in preference to NGV International.

James Cuno, in his book Museums Matter (University of Chicago Press, 2011, Chicago) argues in favour of the what he calls “enlightenment museums,” the major encyclopaedic, didactic museum as if these were the only kind of institutional galleries. The enlightenment ideal of a universal gallery that combines the intention an educational feature in the structure of the gallery, for example, the NGV International. However there are more reasons for an institutional art gallery than the encyclopaedic, didactic  enlightenment museum that James Cuno believes in. Cuno has a very narrow view, see a review of Museums Matter, and his type of museum does not cover most of the institutional galleries that I regularly visit from the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick or the Ian Potter Museum at Melbourne University.

There are many different types of institutional art galleries from kunsthalles, sculpture parks, house museums and community access galleries. Regional galleries need to have balance of gallery spaces for community access exhibition spaces, their permanent collection, and small touring exhibitions.

To cut through the technical language: ACCA, “Australia’s only ‘kunsthalle’” (or ‘art hall’ in English) where the focus is on commissioning and exhibiting living artists rather than collecting. And ‘community access entry exhibition spaces’ are at local libraries and in other local council run spaces.

Melbourne, so far, only has one house museum, The Johnston Collection in South Melbourne that was established as the legacy of antique dealer and collector, William Robert Jonston (1911-1986). The Nineth Edition has a review of the Johnston Collection.

The Victorian Craft Awards And why I didn’t vote in the People’s Choice.

I went to see Victorian Craft Awards with Melbourne writer and textile artist, Celeste Hawkins who writes the blog The Art and The Curious. The Victorian Craft Awards are part of Craft Cubed, a festival of the handmade. While we were in the city Celeste and I also looked at the exhibitions at Westspace, Karen Woodbury Gallery and Mailbox Art Space (the current exhibition Freaks of Nature is also part of Craft Cubed) but as I haven’t written about craft for a while I will stick to writing this post about the Victorian Craft Awards.

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

The Victorian Craft Awards is a huge exhibition with over a hundred entries and spread across four venues all accessible from Flinders Lane: Craft Victoria, 45 Downstairs, the foyer of 1 Spring Street and the foyer Sofitel on Collins.

One of Craft Victoria’s attendants asked us if we found the luxury surrounds of the lobby of the Sofitel on Collins Street intimidating. Actually it was very comfortable and the exhibits didn’t look out of place as exhibitions in hotel lobbies often appear. Karen Terrens beautiful, intricate quilt, Sanderson’s Apprentice, matched the luxury of the Sofitel’s lobby.

Along with the judges awards there were also a People’s Choice Award. I’m not sure about popular choice awards for a number of reasons. It is not that I dislike the popular opinion or don’t think that it should be recognised. I have questions about the kind of judgement made in an unsystematic manner. What is it to judge something a popular choice? Is it what I would choose for myself, for someone else, for the world.

I haven’t given much thought about how to compare the practical and ornamental works. Nor have I though about how to compare the great variety of the crafts from in a wide range of materials used to creating jewellery, furniture and art.

Just because I like a work, get a laugh from it, does that mean that I want it to win the People’s Choice Award? Sun-Woong Bang’s Unexpected Linkage robot figure made of 3D printable polyamide, alcohol ink, acrylic paint and sterling silver is funny. Maybe that’s why it was the winner of the Jewellery Encouragement Award. Commenting on the ceramic work of Kenny Pittock’s All My Eggs in One Basket, Celeste tells me that he also has an amusing blog.

I suppose that I already have some biases as I’ve previously written about several of the entrants. In 2008 I reviewed Davern’s exhibitions at Craft Victoria and it was good to see her continuing this theme with three collaged broaches cut from biscuit tins in this exhibition. I mention seeing a Nicholas Bastin’s exhibition at Craft Victoria in a blog post about the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Culture Program in 2012.  I know the work of Sarah crowEST from exhibitions at Craft Victoria and her sculpture that was part of Plinth Projects at Edinburgh Gardens in 2013. I’ve often mentioned Julia Deville’s spectacular mix of taxidermy and jewellery in this blog and I reviewed one of her solo exhibitions last year. I visited Janet Beckhouse’s studio last year and in this exhibition she has a sweet ceramic figure of Ganesha reclining.  And I saw a sculpture by Takahiko Sugawara that I’d reviewed in an exhibition in April of this year.

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Personally it seems like work for me to narrow down a list of quality work to a single work and the chance to win a $100 voucher at the Craft Shop wasn’t an incentive. Given that you can ‘vote’ as often as you like, it seems more like a free lottery than a popular choice.

Walking and Thinking about Sculpture

Taking advantage of the winter sunshine on Friday I walked around Melbourne thinking about sculpture. I have to plan my sculpture tour for Melbourne’s Writers Week walking around Melbourne looking at sculptures. I am amazed that I am in Melbourne’s Writers Week with my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne.

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida

I am doing a few things to promote my book – I’m writing this blog post and pointing out my up coming events, like Melbourne’s Sculpture Walking Tour on Sunday 23rd August and my talk at Brunswick Public Library on Thursday 10th September. For more details see my events page.

I’m glad that I’ve scouted out the walk as there was test drilling along Swanston Walk for the new underground rail line going on. There was temporary fencing around Akio Makigawa’s Time and Tide. The fencing and drilling rig might be gone by the time of the walk but I probably won’t take the tour that far up Swanston Walk.

Walking up Hosier Lane I noticed that there are more street art sculptures. Lots of new mixed media assemblages by Kranky, including a spectacular painted skull and a lot of rats. From Blek to Banksy rats are a traditional theme for street art.

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

After my walk around the city I noticed that there was a very small retrospective exhibition of Lenton Parr’s sculptures in the foyer of the NGV Australia. Lenton Parr (1924-2003) was born in Coburg and initially studied engineering. Another engineer – I keep writing about  engineers – see my recent post on Skunk Control; several of Melbourne sculptors started studying engineering (Lenton Parr, Clement Meadmore and Anthony Pryor). Parr was a member of the Centre Five, Melbourne’s modern sculpture group but what surprised me about Parr’s modern steel sculptures was the number of titles with classical references: Perseus, Andromeda, Orion… It seemed that even in the early 1980s the classical names still retained an artist aura. Now, classical references, even in the titles of sculptures, are very rare.

Lenton Parr, Orion

Lenton Parr, Orion

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.


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