Tag Archives: Melbourne

Future of Arts in Melbourne

Imagining that Melbourne would become the centre for the arts and literature in the late 1970s could only be done with assistance of copious amounts of alcohol or other drugs. The post-industrial future of Melbourne was not secure and sections of Australia society was still openly hostile to any arts. The arts were considered a foreign, effeminate, waste of time and money compared to the macho occupation of exploiting natural resources by farming or mining. At the time Australia was suffering from ‘the cultural cringe’ that rejected any local cultural achievement as automatically inferior, the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ that strived for a mediocre undistinguished population and, consequently, a brain and creative exodus. It is amazing that Melbourne got this far, after all it could have become like Detroit.

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

The “Future of Art in Melbourne” was public forum on Thursday 13 August held on the upper floor of Melbourne Town Hall. There were about two hundred people were there but for anyone who missed the event the City of Melbourne has put three videos of it on YouTube.

Keynote by Councillor Rohan Leppert

Panel One: Ben Eltham, Eleni Arbus and Tony Yap (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Panel Two: Fiona Tuomy, Lynda Roberts and Christian Thompson (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Not that you missed much. Ben Eltham pointed out the eternal fault line between the underground and mainstream culture in Australia but then Luke McManus at the forum representing graffiti and street art, so it is not a major fault line.

The plan for the future of the arts in Melbourne does not address the megacity that Melbourne has become, it is just a plan for the City of Melbourne. What is needed if for the multiple local councils, at least in the inner city (is there life north of Bell Street?), to have a united plan for the arts. Actually the City of Melbourne’s plan addresses only a small part of the City of Melbourne; most of the focus of planning is on Melbourne’s cultural precinct. Even with a percent for public arts from the developments at Docklands the area has been written off as a cultural wasteland, well, what could you expect from Yuppies?

The biggest mistake of the forum was to think that future of arts in Melbourne is about art; it is not, it is about culture, life and everything else. It is not just the millions of cultural tourist attending major events in the city, the arts in Melbourne effect the shopping and hospitality sector and real estate prices. Although underground artists are very familiar with their impact on real estate prices, as they are slowly price them out of the areas that they first colonised, it appears from Eleni Arbus’s talk that some real estate developers remain ignorant.

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

At the risk of all that interstate rivalry bullshit, Melbourne is in competition in the culture stakes with all the other capitol cities in Australia, except for Perth. At first only Melbourne and Sydney were really in the race although Adelaide has the long established Arts Festival. Canberra has the national central position but lacks the history. Queensland has recently started with major exhibitions at GOMA. Hobart is also in with a running with MONA.


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

Kranksy, 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.


My Melbourne Writers Festival

People have been asking me how my book, Sculptures of Melbourne is doing since it was released in May.  I am still working on promoting it, as well as, writing bog posts, pitching for articles and applying for writers awards, the last two without much luck except for a couple of reposts in The Daily Review.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I do have a few more events and other things coming up to promote Sculptures of Melbourne. On Sunday there is my sculpture walk for the Melbourne Writers Festival (you can book for on the festival website).

I can’t believe that I am in the Melbourne Writers Festival with my first book. My neighbour Jane, who has written several books and a fun blog about her job on Melbourne’s railways (Station Stories), is green with envy.

The festival liked the idea of a sculpture walk, everyone likes the idea of walking. Last week I was working a sculpture walking map for Walks Victoria. It is almost finished; just a few more photos to upload. Anyone can map out a walk on their website and I notice that there are a couple of street art walks (I am doing my walk for an exchange for publicity).

During the Melbourne Writers Festival I hope that I run into the great pedestrian and writer, Will Self, who is also appearing at the festival. The ultimate horror of an intoxicated fan and first time author who wants to tell him that the solution to his, and J. G. Ballard’s, problem with ending their sci-fi novels is that they should be writing their stories as role-playing scenarios. Actually I’d probably just tell him about Nick Gadd’s superb psychogeography blog, Melbourne Circle. (Don’t worry Will I’m not a stalker.)

Anyway, fantasy conversations aside, Melbourne Books has done a fantastic, unbelievable job at promoting my book. I’ve had the experience of going into a bookshops and not being able to find my book because it has been so prominently displayed.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, a stop on my walk.


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.


Fragments from the history of Melbourne’s graffiti

Graffiti, fly-pasting and stencil advertising have been around in Melbourne for a long time, at first it was mostly advertising. The traditions and media of Melbourne’s street art were created by the advertising industry, only the product changed, from commercial to self-promotion or art.

DSC09005

It was also the advertising industry that brought the law down on these techniques as Andrew Brown-May in his book, Melbourne Street Life (Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew). “In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 by By-Law No.134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No. 156 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing of any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street, or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne.'” (p.50)

Later, after graffiti became illegal, there was protest graffiti and tagging in Melbourne. This was painted with a brush and can of paint or written in ink and sometimes documented by Rennie Ellis in three paperback books of photographs of graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and The All New Australian Graffiti (1985). In 1971 as part of Anti-Vietnam War protests the word “PEACE!” was painted in large white letters on the pillars of the north portico the Shrine. Tagging and slogan writers had no limits, there was graffiti on Vault in the City Square and even more when it was moved to Batman Park. For more on this phase see my earlier post Remembering Australian Graffiti History.

At the start of 1980s aerosol hip-hop style graffiti started in Melbourne. An early article to explore Melbourne’s graffiti culture in depth was Chris Everett, “Adrenalin” (Youth Issues Forum, Dec 1988 – Jan 1989). “As a result of the pervasiveness of rap, spray can art ‘crews’ sprang up in a wide range of often contrasting areas around Melbourne. These areas are possibly best delineated by the railway lines. In 1984 crews were most active along the Belgrave, Frankston and Hurstbridge lines. These were their home lines and the artists tended to work within these boundaries. Home suburbs included West Heidelberg, Macleod, Burnley, Elsternwick and Mentone. By 1985 crews were leaving their mark on most other lines though some, such as the Gowrie line have remained relatively untouched. Lines which have produced the most crews comprise all those from Epping to Frankston inclusive.”

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In the article Everett points out some of the standard elements of graffiti youth culture, especially the conflict between the graffiti artists and the rail transport authorities, laying the blame this on the heavy hand of the transport authorities. Aside from the heavy hand of transport authorities and police Melbourne was receptive to the new graffiti style. There was a graffiti wall in the original City Square that along with Central Station Record’s shop creating a hub for graffiti writers. Everett mentions exhibitions of graffiti at the National Gallery of Victoria and the City Gallery but doesn’t give any details about either of these (I’m guessing that the NGV exhibition might have been Keith Haring painting the water wall window in 1984).

There was no mention in Everett’s article of the anti-American attitude in Australia towards aerosol graffiti that was seen as an imported cultural product along with the rest of the elements of hip hop. But Everett does make one interesting cultural point about graffiti writers in Australia. “Their continued confidence and desire to have their bold art ‘on display’, whether on walls or in a gallery , needs to be nurtured in a country notorious for its cultural cringe and tall poppy syndrome.”


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.


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