Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Sensations of Art

I walked down the stairs that connected the sun lit modern gallery to the darker contemporary gallery in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. My eyes had not yet completely adjusted and I found myself walking on something. I recall the sensations of walking on metal. Instinctually I stepped back to see what I had trod on. I then realised that I had walked onto a Carl Andre minimalist sculpture made of eight squares of plate steel laid out in a rectangle.

The rubber souls Dunlop Volleys would have had no effect on the plate steel. The gallery’s curator had probably intended such a sequence. Three distinct mental activities occurred in this interaction with Carl Andre’s sculpture: the sensations, the reaction to the sensations and an assessment of that reaction. The reaction to the stimuli, in this case was almost immediate, but distinctly different to my later neutral reaction to the sculpture.

Full-Length-Output120_800.jpg

People react to Chunky Moves, Depth of Field, 2015 (images courtesy of NON)

To give another example, this time from contemporary dance. In the 2015 Chunky Moves dance production, Depth of Field choreographed by Anouk van Dijk these distinct mental activities were separated further. During the performance the audience was sitting at one end of the forecourt of the ACCA listening to the soundtrack on FM headphones and could see the forecourt, two roads and part the city sky line. Lots of visual sensations in the line of sight but which ones were part of the performance? The man who seemed to be watching from across the street, the two young women on bicycles, the man walking his dog , etc.? It was when the position of the man standing across the street matched the line of the dancers in the forecourt that I realised that the performance was larger than I had at first thought. My reaction to the sensations of the position of the man had changed, instead of extraneous sensations it was now being aesthetically assessed as part of the dance performance.

I cannot go further back to my initial sensations, or when I became aware that these sensations were a significant part of the performance. I cannot assess my reactions before I have the sensation, I cannot make an assessment before I react to the sensations.  Analysing this progression from sensation, to reaction, to the aesthetic assessment I cannot go further back, because there is no reaction before a reaction, no assessment prior to assessment.

I also become aware that this progression is essential to understanding both minimalism and some conceptual art. The neutrality of Duchamp’s ‘anaesthetic’ readymades, trying to reduce the reaction and the aesthetic to zero. Considering neutral reactions to sensations, John Cage’s 3’44” asks the audience to consider the background sounds that they would normally ignore from their aesthetic assessment.

Most art jumps from sensation to assessment as fast as it can. From the shock jumps of horror movies to being turned on by porn to the visceral power of rhetoric to the near panic attack of a Stendhal syndrome (the last time I experience a Stendhal syndrome was sitting down watching Chunky Moves Mortal Engine). I am not making an aesthetic judgement about how fast you move from sensation to assessment because, I’m not a fan of minimalism, nor am I making a judgement about how powerful the experience. But it is interesting to break the experience down into the smallest units.


Psychogeographical Walk: shoes and artists

A small group of determined psychogeographers set off heading south from the corner of Illan Lane and Tinning Street. We were examining the transition zone between Sydney Road and the Upfield railway line, exploring some of the streets that running parallel to the railway, before doubling back along Sydney Road for a drink at Edinburgh Castle.

DSC00915

We stopped at Tinning Street presents, the only art gallery that we actually visited on the walk. Michael Thomas’s photographs, Night Works looked as if they had come from Thomas’s nocturnal psychogeographical walks. The huge Duratran colour print photographs mounted in Tasmanian oak light boxes made the suburban look impressive.

Some of us were very familiar with the area but there are always something new to see when you feel like exploring. As well we had several fortuitous accidental encounters with local artists. The first was with Julian di Martino on his bicycle. I think Julian mentioned that he’d been to Soma Gallery, a shop front gallery on Sydney Road. Next we ran into Jon Beinart who was busy preparing to open a pop-surrealism gallery in Sparta Place, it is a great location for a gallery.

Brunswick Kind.. 8:13

Then, and we had just been looking at Brunswick Kind on the Victoria St carpark wall when Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown came along carrying two paintings. Turbo is a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. He was hoping to raise some money by selling paintings on the street, a tough gig with colourful bold paintings. We gave him some money to pose for a couple of photos.

DSC00921

The larger painting is Turbo Brown Dingo Man, about his spirit animal. The smaller is about a story of hiding in the bush with his son to jump out and scare, “just to scare, not kill” Turbo explained, two white men who are running away.

The area that we were walking through is a place of shoe factories, new appartments, warehouses, art galleries and studios; this included the iconic Australian footwear of an Ugg Boot factory. The industrial machinery in the carport at the back was an interesting mystery until I noticed the shoe sizes and word “heel”.

Several shoe related warehouses and the Middle Eastern Bakery are still surviving. Other places aren’t doing so well.

DSC00923

Maybe the shoe businesses are the last hold-outs of Brunswick’s industrial past. There are new empty blocks and new buildings. The entrance of The Wilkinson shows the poetic spirit of real estate developers is at its best when singing the praise of one of their own.

DSC00917

We were an interesting mix of psychogeographers talking of such things as industrial graffiti, ghost-signs, graffiti, the surface archeology of architectural accretion in the urban environment. I am such a romantic that I have to take a photograph of love paste-ups.

DSC00918

I wanted to do something to celebrate my 1000th blog post, something that wouldn’t matter if there was three or twenty people and that would require almost no preparation, so a walk fitted that description perfectly. I had requested gifts, drinks and I was rewarded with both including the latest issue of the Clan McGillicuddy magazine Th’Noo, from New Zealand.


Blockbuster Nightmare

I have a nightmare of seeing a blockbuster exhibition riding through the exhibition in little carriages on something like a ghost train. You would buy your tickets and, after another queue, be strapped into a little carriage that would take you around the exhibition on a track with an audio track. The frightening thing is that it would probably work; after all it worked for Banksy with Dismaland in 2015. The queue would go around the block.

It was the projected video faces on the mannequins at the Gautier exhibition, like the animatronics at Disneyland. That along with memories of the coin operated art at the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain that gave me this idea. Dali himself must have been inspired by The Surrealists pavilion at the 1939 at the New York World Fair, “Dream of Venus” was very popular due the live mermaids (see a home movie of it). Banksy’s Dismaland is not a new idea.

The art train would solve many problems for the organisers of blockbuster exhibitions in managing numbers people and the time they spend at exhibition. Currently there are conflicting issues traffic jams in an exhibition. These can be caused by the audio guides but as there was a financial return on the audio guides, various galleries prohibit sketching and even note-taking to manage the traffic through the blockbuster exhibition (see my 2008 blog post for more on that subject).

Those readers who, like me, are horrified by the idea of riding through an exhibition in a rattling, little carriage maybe thinking about the gallery architecture as a meditative space, as an alternative to going to church or a temple. (For more on the aesthetics of space influences the brain see “How Museums Affect the Brain” by Laura C. Mallonee on Hyperallergic.) Or that modernist dream that museums, art galleries, public libraries, botanical and zoological gardens are like a university where the public is free to educate themselves. The reality is that the art gallery has always been a kind of infotainment mixed with a quasi-religious aura along with a vague idea of educational or even therapeutic purposes.

The art gallery has transitioned from a giant royal wunderkammer into the spectacle of early twenty-first century infotainment culture. I was about to indulge in a popular jeremiad that museums were becoming infotainment when I reminded myself of all the infotainment to be had in nineteenth century Melbourne.

Melbourne had Maximilian Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration – Anthropological Museum and Madame Sohier’s Waxworks. Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration presented moving dioramas, huge rolls of canvas painted with a narrative progression of images. Frederick Hackwood in his book Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England (Sturgis and Walton, 1909) records public house with collections of antiquities, taxidermy, fossils and pictures, so doubtless some of Melbourne’s many pubs also had collections worth visiting. Certainly the erotic nude Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre is still on display upstairs at Young and Jacksons opposite Flinders Street Station.

Should I continue to live in horror at this aspect of art or just get on board the ghost train carriage for an amazing ride?

Cloe

Chloe at Young and Jackson’s


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.

DSC00893

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.


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.

DSC00807

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)

DSC00828

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.

DSC00837

There are some great selfie opportunities at the exhibition.


Vexta’s Wildness

Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.

DSC00788

Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.

Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.

Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.

The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?

Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist.  Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.

Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.

DSC00789

Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,404 other followers

%d bloggers like this: