Tag Archives: CDH

Street Art Against Money

“I wonder why people think that it is ok to sell your paintings from a gallery but as soon as someone gets a public commission its called selling out… I think it is kool that people can make a living off their art… artists need to help each other support each other… at the moment its like we are all pitted against each other… it should not be like that” – Adrian Doyle, artist (Facebook post)

Kranksy, Melbourne

Kranky, Melbourne

From time to time we all become concerned about money and when an artist is concerns about money it can take them in some strange directions. This gets even more warped when street artists get involved. I’m not surprised that street artists feeling worried about money as most are working for free and then suddenly finding themselves in a hot market. (see my post Hot Market Dealers).

Often responses of this anti-capitalist influence artists does not appears much different to the scene that the writer and social commentator, Tom Wolf archly describes:

“Now it was in the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and artists and theorists began to hail Earth Art and like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex,’ after the ‘military-industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into the bigger museums, they’ve had it. A few defiant notes like this, plus the signing of a few dozen manifestos against war and injustice – that was about as far as New York artists went into Left politics in the 1960s.” (Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, Bantam Books, 1976, p.102)

Back to worrying about money and that feeling of being cheated and worrying about the effect of money on art. Are dodgy practices, fraud, forgery and other corruption in the art world? Yes, there is. Deanna Brown reports that “Art Fraud in Australia is relatively minor compared to that of international art markets; however it is believed to account for at least 10 percent of the Australian art market.”

Yes, but that is spare change compared to the corruption of the politicians in NSW or the corruption in sport. I am not going to start worrying about artists making money from their art until some artists regularly make more money than most company CEOs.

Following the money like watching the auction prices instead of the art. It follows the popular obsession with the money trail (and the monied) is totally out of perspective and distorts or ignores the other aspects of the institutions of the art world such as those highlighted by the Guerrilla Girls (for other examples see my post on National Galleries & Nationalism).

2014 was a bad year for this obsession amongst street artists with CDH’s torn-up cheque and Art vs Reality. I am very glad that both CDH and Peter Drew have found something better to do with their time this year. Peter Drew has been much more successful with his “Real Australian’s Say Welcome” meme.

Book Launch

8057932_orig This weekend I have had two book launches for my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne. It was better than my 50th birthday party but that happened during a heatwave in February earlier this year. It was so great to see so many old friends and to actually meet people that I have only interacted with virtually online.

Why two book launches? The second book launch came about when the publisher, Melbourne Books got a stall at the Art Book Fair at the NGV. So it has been a big week. I have been working social media and writing two speeches for the two book launches.

The book launch at Gallery One Three was amazing, Richard Watts gave a great opening speech. Thanks to Fatima for organising the launch at Gallery One Three. I have so many people to thank for helping me with my first book, I am very grateful for all the help. You might not have thought that you have done much but think about it from my perspective where any help at the right time is so appreciated. Melbourne Art Review covered the book launch and check out the great photos by Matto who took the front cover photo for the book.

Left to right: CDH, Mark Holsworth, David Tenenbaum (Publisher Melbourne Books)

Left to right: CDH, Mark Holsworth, David Tenenbaum (Publisher Melbourne Books)

The second book launch at the NGV’s art book fair in the great hall. I got CDH to introduce me because he is in the book and I thought it would be slightly ironic after his Trojan Petition if he was officially talking at the NGV. It turns out that he is a very entertaining speaker and quickly got the audience to laugh. I talked about how I developed the book from writing about public sculpture in this blog. Then there were more books to sign.

book launch

There is a video of the launch of my book at the NGV, made by Chloe Brien who edited my book and consequently is a well edited video.

The art book fair is another example of the new direction that Tony Ellwood, the NGV’s director is taking the gallery. There were lots of stalls with zines and artist books. Catherine bought a couple of little publications by  Gracia & Louise (Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison). Although there hasn’t been any main stream media about my book (yet) several bloggers have posted about it.

Interview on The Art and The Curious.

Invurt on the book launch.

Art and Architecture on my book.

Public Art Research mentions my book.

Interview on Invurt about my blog and my book.

You can buy the book, Readings bookstore stocks it, or you can borrow my book from the following public libraries: City of Boroondara Library, City Whitehorse and Manningham Library, and Yarra Plenty Library. My events page has more information on my promotional free lunchtime sculpture tours next week. Normal Black Mark blogging will resume shortly.

Scandal Shock!

“… as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.” Australian Cultural Terrorists claim of responsibility for the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV in 1986.

Melbourne love an art scandal. This is assisted by having some top rate scandals, for example, the unsolved theft of the Weeping Woman. Although sometimes these scandals seem to be borrowed from US culture wars, as in the case of the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in 1997.

Art scandals have been ruined careers and lives, some of them were crimes and art has been destroyed. Melbourne never gave Vault a fair go. Juan Davila sighs at yet another repetition of the cry of ‘obscenity!’ Some of the unfortunate victims of these scandals and some naive realists might be thinking: “what has this got to do with art?” but this discourse is part of what defines art.

In the wake of an art scandal, even people who have not been to an art gallery in decades will express an opinion. The media is full of the story and more comments and from the informed comments to the mad ignorant rants it is this discourse that, in part, defines art. The year of debate about Ron Robertson-Swann’s modernist sculpture Vault in 1980, although driven by local city council politics, inspired the next generation artists to think hard about art and express their ideas not just in their art but in public forums.

This love of art scandals has created its own artists, CDH and Van Rudd for example, who create their own mass media interactive art works by provoking police, politicians or the public. These artists and their art are well known, although not exactly popular. Creating a scandal that goes viral is not the easiest thing to do and not every attempt succeeds in being both a scandal and art.

It has also helped create the environment that fostered Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene by giving their contentious and audacious actions a wider public eager to discuss them and collect them.

These accidental and deliberate scandals are interesting because they expose the cracks in the facade of our culture and deep divisions in the airbrushed idea of a united society. These scandals raises more questions than they answers prompting further thought, action and creation.

Archibald Entries Media Round-up

Each year the media start to report on the arts or specifically on the merging of art and celebrity that is the Archibald Prize for a portrait of “ … some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia during the 12 months preceding the date fixed by the trustees for sending in the pictures”. The $75,000 prize further hypes the media’s attention.

Here is a media round-up of who has been reporting on what entries; it is more than obvious why each media choose their subject except for Athena Yenko’s report in the International Business Times on Robyn Ross’s entry of a double portrait of Christine Forster, Prime Minister Abbott’s sister and partner, Virginia Edwards in a naked embrace. Ross’s entry is is also reported in Same Same with photos.

Same Same also reports on the portrait of Shelley Argent OAM by Iain Wallace.

The Herald Sun reported on stencil artist E.L.K. or a portrait of comedian, Will Anderson in the Entertainment section.

ABC Local Golburn Murray reports on a Marijana van Zanten, plans to enter a portrait of Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan, who defeated Liberal incumbent Sophie Mirabella.

The North Coast’s Echo Net Daily about local artist Liesel Arden portrait of “Byron identity”, Tommy Franklin.

The Age reported on Melbourne street artist CDH portrait of anti-public advertising campaigner, Kyle Magee painted on a Streets ice-cream advertisement stolen from a bus shelter. CDH also wrote a report in Vandalog about Tame DMA entering his tag as a portrait.

Dustin Stahle entered a portrait of Film Producer/Director, Jacob Oberman and Jacob mades a two and half minute film about it.

The Guardian reports on Myuran Sukumaran’s entry self-portrait, encouraged by Ben Quilty who visited him Kerobokan jail in Bali contradicting earlier media reports that Sukumaran would not be allowed to enter. The Guardian also has a photo essay of some of the thousands of entrants.

The Archibald portrait prize about the one percent, the one percent of artist who are exhibited doing portraits of the one percent who at a stretch could be described distinguished. (Christine Forster and Myuran Sukumaran are not “distinguished in art, letters, science or politics” and even to say that about Will Anderson or Tame DMA is a bit of stretch.) There are portraits this year of John Safran, Michael Leunig, Cathy Freeman and Hugh Jackman. You don’t get to paint a portrait of Nick Cave easily, as Sydney-based artist James Powditch discovered and Katrina Lobley reports on Powditch’s entry in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The finalists will be announced on 10 July but I doubt that any of these entries, with the exception of James Powditch and E.L.K., will be finalists. The winner, to be announced at noon on the 18 July, will most likely be a self-portrait by an artist who has already won the Archibald, the judges, like the media reporting on it, generally go with what they know and is close to home.

All this media coverage is not surprising given that J.F. Archibald was a media man, the founding co-owner and editor of The Bulletin magazine. Archibald’s idea was that portraits showing the physiognomy and bearing of distinguished Australians would add to the Australian identity.

Flame, Remember My Name

I was going to comment that this year in street art had a bit dull… the same old same old stuff on the streets, no innovations or developments like yarn bombing or street sculpture. But then along came Doyle with his Empty Nursery Blue in Rutledge Lane. And the division between the technical and the conceptual elements in street art was brought into even sharper contrast with CDH’s article “The Commodification of Street Art” in the September issue of Art Monthly Australia and E.L.K.’s reply “The mouse that sunk the boat” on Invurt.

Mask sticker, 2009

Mask sticker, 2009

I am used the word “technical” in the last paragraph to describe the work of artists with the technical skill of stencil cutting, aerosol spray skills, etc. in contrast to the conceptual, thinking of and executing an idea. I am using ‘conceptual’ in the way that Galenson uses it, to refer to conceptual break through from collage to video art, and not to exclusively refer to works of conceptual art; David W. Galenson contrasts modern and contemporary conceptual and experimental artists in his book Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). I’ve used the word ‘technical’, rather than ‘experimental’ because there aren’t that many experimental artists, in Galenson’s terms, on Melbourne’s streets, most are content to become technically proficient, although Slicer, Reka, Conrad Bizjak and others might count as experimental.

Aside from the conceptual versus the technical there is a contrast in the ideological purity of CDH’s position opposed to the pragmatic concerns of E.L.K. The utopian ambitions of the politics of conceptual artists have often caused them to cry: “sell out” (in various ways, like all the “expulsions” from the official Surrealist movement). This usually been countered with accusations of lack of talent or technique but this doesn’t address the real differences between the two radically different approaches to art. The conceptual artist is not interested in the technique but the politics or philosophy of artistic progress and likewise the technical artist pragmatic has little time or interest in philosophy or politics.

Specifically in reply to CDH’s article I would argue that street art is not held back or corrupted by its commodification because that was happening since the beginning of street art; Fab 5 Freddy was exhibiting in galleries in 1979, it is part of the street art system. Nor is being distorted when graffiti goes mainstream that was also happening since the beginning, appearing in pop music videos like Blondie’s “Rapture” (1981) and the 1983 PBS documentary, Style Wars, for example.

In Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt’s introductory essay “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion” the authors examine Alvin Toffler’s mainstream absorption model where “the potential disruptive energies of the subculture are controlled, and the hegemony of mass culture is continually reasserted” and provide a counter example, hip hop, where “the process of mediation and commoditization were factored in all along”. (Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, ed. Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, V&A Publisher, 2011, p.53) To put it bluntly not all subcultures have the same relationship to mass culture as hippies or punks.

Finally, I have no aesthetic or political opinion on the matter for without conceptual artists there will be little or no innovations or developments in street art but without the technical artists there wouldn’t be as large an audience or the interest. What I think is holding Melbourne’s street art back is the conservative traditionalists in street art and graffiti that believe that they can enforce their various definitions; in this respect they have a similar attitude to their traditional opponents, the police, railway security and city councillors.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station, 2012

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station, 2012

Worst of Fed Square

“Paparazzi Dogs” was specially commissioned and made for Federation Square. It was intended as a backdrop for more selfies (photos of yourself). “Visitors can go there to take their own photos with the paparazzi, allowing them to become their own celebrity.” (Gillie and Marc’s website.) Do tourists really measure their enjoyment of a place in photos? Is a photo opportunity the best function for a public sculpture?

Gilles and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

Gillie and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

The street artist CDH subverted “Paparazzi Dogs” by replacing the plaque with his own notice using the same layout and font as the official Federation Square notices. (See his website under reviews.) CDH’s notice read:

“The sculpture equivalent of ‘dogs playing poker’, the work is symbolic of the culturally vapid public art commissioned by Melbourne’s civic institutions. / The dog/human mutations in suits reference the base and deficient character of a bureaucracy as a system of selecting art. / The cameras pointing outward invite the viewer to go into Melbourne’s laneways in search of the authentic and organic street art culture that the city is internationally renowned for.”

Instead of committing to a single image for Federation Square it keeps on changing with temporary sculpture. Instead of committing to a single public sculpture when tastes will change in another decade or two Federation Square has decided to have a series of temporary sculpture exhibitions. Now this might be a good strategy and some of these sculptures have been good, like Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” in 2012, but recently the sculptures have been kitsch, like Gillie and Marc’s “Paparazzi Dogs” or Xu Hongfei’s “Chubby Women” sculptures.

Xu Hongfei series of fat women sculptures is currently in Federation Square. Xu Hongfei is the president of the Guangzhou Academy of Sculpture and the Chinese government sponsors his sculpture tour of Australia. His “Chubby Woman” series was exhibited earlier this year in Sydney and at the National Art Museum of China. In this case the bureaucracy of selecting sculpture for Federation Square has gone for diplomacy over taste.

As Xu Hongfei said about his sculptures on Radio Australia: “Many people enjoy this type of artwork very much, it’s very direct, not very deep nor complicated.” (Girish Sawlani, “Chinese sculptor brings ‘Chubby women’ exhibition to Australia”, Radio Australia 16/7/2013)

Deep and complicated do not preclude being enjoyable to many people. Theo Jansen’s walking machines was fascinating to all ages. And Jansen’s work can lead to deep and complicated thinking about kinetic art, engineering, wind power and biology as well as being enjoyable aesthetic experience. Xu Hongfei’s work leads to nothing but more selfies, BBW sculpture porn and filling Federation Square.

Kitsch functions as a cultural gap-filler, ersatzes culture filling the spaces instead of work that might lead to thought. In filling the gap it excludes better work.


Sexy Girls, Girls, Girls

Yes, lots of young, beautiful, sexy girls with big round tits all over Melbourne.

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site, sent me these photographs of the paste up dialogue attached to Sofles and Deb’s new piece on Hosier Lane. (Thankyou Kevin.)

“Hey babe does it worry you that exaggerated, big titted girls like us are saturating street art iconography these days?” the speech balloon puts these words in the mouth of Sofles girl.

And Deb’s girl replies “No silly. From Rone to Adnate to Herakut, empty portraits of young girls with big eyes are the best way to make it commercially. Think anime or porn culture or fashion photography; this is about rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif. It’s not about finding beauty in new ways, it’s about reconstructing beauty in the most standard and insipid way. So girlfriend, stop trying to use your brain and just look pretty. Tee-hee.”

The speech balloon dialogue caps Sofles and Deb in the best possible way because it improves the work and opens up an interaction that wouldn’t be allowed in art galleries. The paste-ups are a wonderful piece of Situationalist provocation detouring and subverting the cartoon images. The dialogue is not puritanical; I enjoy porn and fashion photography but I wouldn’t want to look at them all day (I hate anime but this involves a reaction caused by an over-exposure to anime). Like me the dialogue is worried about “saturating” with over-exposure and not about the images themselves. It is calling for more progressive street art and attacking the conservatism of commercial art (the old school tattoo, comic book and fantasy art the influences street art). It is also a challenge to think about the issues of gender and commercial art.

Looking for the vocabulary to write about street art illustration work like Rone, Sofles and Deb, I turned to Japanese art and find bijinga (beautiful-girl picture). I was happy to find the word for there is little else to these bijinga pictures except for a beautiful girl. They are just, in the words of the speech balloon, “rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif” with different themes and in different styles. As art these bijinga pictures are simply eye candy and the artists who create them will enjoy ephemeral fame.

But what are the consequences of this abundance of images of wide-eyed buxom girls? Will people become bored with them and cause an opposite reaction in images?  Will girls follow their example?

P.S. Later the speech balloons were revealed to be the work of Melbourne street artist CDH, see his webpage for more about it.


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