Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Slap Pals Potato Art

I love exhibition where I leave with free numbered artwork, even if I had to stamp and tear it out from the pad myself. It is more efficient that way.

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

“Slap Pals present Slap Pals get sacked – an art improvement program” in George Paton Gallery at the Union House, University of Melbourne. The art improvement program that Slap Pals is talking about, is not about improving the quality of the art but the efficiency of producing art. The exhibition text is a parody of contemporary corporate language and has the best written room sheet that I have read in years.

It is also a potato based exhibition opening a day late for St. Patrick’s Day. The potatoes used in the show was supplied by their sponsor Georgie’s Harvest at South Melbourne Market. There are many potato references in the exhibition including potato battery power and potato prints but You, Tuber, a beautiful and sickening work, uses both a YouTube tutorial on tuba playing and colour mashed potatoes. And Slap Pals know that video art projections are an efficient means of filling a gallery space.

“Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Joe Strummer asked the audience at the Roundhouse, London on the 23 September 1976.

Sure we all might feel like we are being cheated but who is doing the cheating is the real question. Are Slap Pals cheating at creating art? Is Joe Strummer cheating the audience by asking that question instead of The Clash belting out another song? It is not as if the combined activities of Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and every other contemporary artist that you might hate, caused the global financial crisis. That was done by very different people, who made vastly more money.

Do I make myself clear? It is a parody, a shock, a punk action and shooting the messenger is never solution when you listening to the message. “Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Is this efficiency really an improvement? Is your manager talking complete bollocks? Fantastic work Slap Pals, who ever you are; you should get the sack in the next efficiency drive.

In the entrance gallery at George Paton Gallery there is Nik Lee’s “Polo for NASA: Listening to Lorde @ UniLodge”. Nik Lee’s sense of humour expressed in cryptic assemblies of commercial objects. His rearrangement of readymades creates a funky futuristic rootless world with strong sculptural qualities.


Marrnyula Mununuggurr @ Gertrude Contemporary

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Gertrude Street in Fitzroy only had only a single gallery on it at 200 Gertrude, the gallery remains although the name has changed, Gertrude Contemporary. A decade ago there were seven galleries on Gertrude Street and now there are only four, Gertrude Contemporary. The artists supply shops are a more stable feature of the street that the transient galleries. Throughout the decades it is the gallery where for contemporary art in Melbourne without any compromises for attendance, popularity or commercial.

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

I followed the window washer with his bucket and brushes into Gertrude Contemporary. It is strange to see the window washer at work in the front gallery with all the shavings of stringing bark (eucalyptus tetrodonta) on the wooden gallery floor. It is another world from the street or a gallery, it smells different and smell is something that visual artists rarely capture. The exhibition is Ganybu by Marrnyula Mununggurr.

Walking across the stringing bark, I notice that some of this stringing bark is the same as the pieces on the wall, except that the pieces on the wall have been painted with vertical and horizontal lines. The delicate geometric painted lines on the bark reminded me of post-minimalism with the small parts building up to a greater image. For this not just an arrangement of geometric lines in natural ochers Marrnyula Mununggurr is reproduces her Dajapu clan design of the fish trap and water. The greater image created with all the 252 bark paintings is the Ganybu, a fish trap.

Marrnyula Mununggurr caught me with the fish trap within the fish trap.

At the far end of the gallery, from the same string bark tree, is a larrakitj, a ceremonial pole painted with the same design. It all comes from the same tree, completing the beautiful minimalism of the exhibition.

There is a major difference between the esoteric use of Marrnyula Mununggurr’s clan design and the eccentric painting of David Egan. I was not as impressed with Egan’s Actually Energy Help Light in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary, not that I expect to instantly like every exhibition that I see. There was little catch my interest just incoherence. When I read the curators notes I find that five out of the seven footnotes were to David Egan. A couple of the paintings weren’t bad but I don’t have a clue why anyone would care about it, aside from Egan and the curator.

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

I forgot to look at Slide, the tiny space at the front door of Gertrude Contemporary. I am always forgetting to look at Slide.


Geelong Art Gallery

Geelong Gallery is currently one of the smallest regional galleries in Victoria considering that Geelong is Victoria’s second largest city. The declining city of Geelong is planning on attracting both sporting and cultural tourism and planning for a more substantial art gallery is well underway.

Geelong has good possibilities for cultural tourism, well preserved buildings from different eras of Australian architecture from the colonial, art deco to modernist brutalism and contemporary. It is only a short train trip away from Melbourne with the Geelong Art Gallery only a block from the train station. It also has a charming beach front on the bay.

The objective of the Geelong gallery redevelopment is to “triple the number of annual visits from around 60,000 to up to 200,000” by having space for “major (‘blockbuster’) ticketed exhibitions, increase the percentage of collection items on display, provide education, interactive workshop and lecture facilities and develop its shop offering and a café/restaurant.” (Geelong Gallery—Proposed redevelopment)

Currently the Geelong Gallery has a modern entrance with amenities and a gallery shop built on the back of the original gallery that was established in 1897. The gallery has turned around, so that the original palladian facade entrance is now redundant apart from providing views of the park outside.

Aside from its current size Geelong Gallery is worth seeing because of the thematic hanging of the collection that mixes modern, contemporary and nineteenth century paintings in the same galleries. The thematic hanging brings art together in an intelligent and insightful manner. For those who think that contemporary painters lack the technique of nineteenth painters you can see, hanging side by side, that the paintings of Jim Thalassoudis, Peter Daverington and Sam Leach are clearly the equals of painted by Eugène von Guérard.

Frederick McCubbin A Bush Burial 1890

Frederick McCubbin A Bush Burial 1890

Also hanging side by side two very large paintings both titled “A Bush Burial” one by Frederick McCubbin (1890) and the other by Juan Davila (2000). McCubbin’s sentimental nineteenth century mood is contrasted with Davila’s iconoclastic and anti-sentimental. The painting techniques are very different; the dark shades of McCubbin compared to the bright sun drenched colours of Davila’s palette.

Juan Davila A Bush Burial, 2000

Juan Davila A Bush Burial, 2000

There are three smaller galleries that are used for temporary exhibitions. When visited I was pleased to see an exhibition of artist books, “By the Book.” It showed the same curatorial vision as the hanging of the permanent collection, showing other insightful objects from the collection along with the books. There was also a contemporary exhibition of neon light art, “Written in Light” with work by Janet Burchill, Jennifer Mccauley, Jon Campbell, Sanja Pahoki and Kiron Robinson. Although the work is attractive and witty the use of neon as medium seemed dated.

For more on the visual arts in the Geelong area see the blog Artin’ Geelong.


Love/City II

On Friday night I went to see Love/City II: of Time and Country, an artist run festival at Testing Ground. On the train I sat next to the Doritos Space Warrior, covered in orange triangles scale armour, illuminati triangle shield and cardboard laser rifle. He said that he was on his way to a costume party. There were a lot of people in strange costumes on missions in the city that night.

Mira Oosterwegel, Negotiating Stasis at Testing Ground

Mira Oosterwegel, Negotiating Stasis at Testing Ground

Testing Ground is an empty corner lot behind the Art Centre, all around it there are multi-story apartment buildings, hotels, the new ballet school. The empty lot has several converted containers that formed the bar and the gallery. Palette islands are the main architectural form creating towers, benches and platforms. It is a bit of urban acupuncture providing a temporary fix to an urban problem area.

Three food vans were there; food vans are now typical of festivals in Melbourne. I get some samosas from the African food van; yes samosas are African, I first had samosas when I was a primary schoolboy in Kenya.

I had a drink with photographer, Fiona Blandford, who had installed a photographic series of light boxes in one of palette islands, We Are Our Landscape: Butchers Creek, East Gippsland. Little viewers provided a magified view of the small photographs, this close up examination felt like looking for evidence in crime scene photographs, which it was, in a way. Butchers Creek was named after a 1841 massacre when Angus McMillian and his men killed an unknown number of Gunaikurnai.

In the gallery there interactive digital art works, Clark Beaumont’s Waiting for Barcelona, three channel video installation and Lyndal Irons, Goodbye Oxford Tavern, a series of photographs exploring the bright lights and tired world of strippers. There was a lot of photography and projected video art work but really worked for both the space and made me think about art was the live art. On stage was In My Hetroroclitic Body doing a hardcore electro-acoustic sonic performance with great costumes.

In My Hetroroclitic Body

In My Hetroroclitic Body

Mira Oosterwegel’s Negotiating Stasis was impressive with the perspex vitrine and florescent lights. The male performer, Lachlan Tetlow-Stuart was perfectly still. He was “relaxed and comfortable” to echo John Howard’s words about his ambition for the Australian public. The performer’s head was resting on an Australian flag beach towel, with his sunglasses he was isolated from the world in the perspex box.

Fitting perfectly with the location was Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II, an extremely physical endurance performance artwork using nineteenth century cut bluestone blocks, an archetype of Melbourne’s construction and a sledgehammer. Watching Jory smashing the granite blocks I was reminded me that Melbourne’s unemployed also broke these stones for ‘sustenance’ work during the Great Depression and the precarious financial position of performance artists.

Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II at Testing Ground

Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II at Testing Ground

On the way home to Coburg on the number 19 tram I saw a mass of people on the oval in costume and waving weird weapons. Over a hundred people were in a massive melee but by the time I got off the tram and across the road the battle was over. I thought that I might see the Doritos Space Warrior but these were more conventional fantasy warriors with foam swords and shields. Every Friday night at Crawford Oval, Princes Park south in Parkville, there is Swordcraft, a live action role-playing game.


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


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