Julia deVille: Phantasmagoria and Leslie Rice: Bacchanalia at Sophie Gannon Gallery.
After the dining room theme of her installation, Degustation in Melbourne Now, deVille’s Phantasmagoria is more from the bedroom and the nursery. In Beatrix, a rabbit, wearing a black formal coat with tails, sits alert on an antique high chair. Rocking Alpaca has a white, baby alpaca standing on a rocking horse base. In other works a fawn and a rat lie in a crib and a piglet, decorated with antique lace, lies in an antique baby carriage. There are wind up keys in many of the taxidermy animals suggesting toys with a clockwork mechanism.
Julia deVille’s art is beautiful but it is the emotions that it causes, ranging from cloying sentimentality to mawkish horror, that amplify the charge this beauty. The spectacular sensationalism of her taxidermy installations give them a neo-baroque style. Her art makes it seem that aesthetics, like cute, horror, sentimental and nostalgia are more about emotions than beauty and that beauty is only another quality, added on top of an emotional response.
To concentrate on deVille’s taxidermy, especially the delicate work with the extremely tiny young animals, is to forget other aspects of the exhibition. The contemporary techniques of assemblage and installation, most notably in her jewellery work and the installation itself. Jewellery has always been a kind of assemblage technique, reusing old materials, resetting old stones but deVille makes it contemporary art. Her installation aspect combines with collecting antiques with contemporary art’s interest in the mechanics of display.
Although the installation of antique furniture that the work is displayed on does somewhat, alleviate the clinical white of the gallery. The paintings of Leslie Rice, dark bacchanal scenes painted in acrylic on black velvet, also help with the atmosphere. When I first saw Rice’s paintings I thought that they must have been bad ‘old master’ paintings with fugitive colours, that had been dug out as an accompaniment to deVille’s Degustation. Now that I am aware of them, I still have the same opinion; they seem stuck in the past and lack the contemporary sensibility that deVille brings to her assemblages of antiques.
It has been a couple of years since I have been to the galleries in Albert Street, East Richmond and things have changed. Where there were once half a dozen galleries now only two cling on (or three if we include the artist run space that was closed when I visited). Along with Sophie Gannon Gallery, Anita Traverso Gallery is still in Albert Street. It is not that they have all closed. John Buckley Gallery is now located in Prahran, Jenny Port Gallery is now in Collingwood and Karen Woodbury has moved to Flinders Lane.