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Peak Books, Free Libraries and Art

We live at a time of peak stuff and consequently it is also the time of peak books. What once was rare and valued is now a glut. Collecting printed matter used to be a virtue and now it is the vice of a hoarder. Perhaps, we can only understand everything about books is when there is an excess of books.

Nicolas Jones, Holman Hunt book

My own book shelves are overflowing, packed two deep with books. More books are stacked in various strategic positions. Are they simply trophies of previous reads? How many of them will I ever read again or repeatedly consult?

Now, e-books might be an alternative to having physical books. I have read only one e-book, Medieval Graffiti, but I no longer have a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopaedia takin up space on my shelves. I no longer keep newspaper clipping or photocopy of articles as they are available online or in PDF files.

Peak books is a disturbing concept to bibliophiles and bookshop workers especially second-hand bookshops because peak books means more free libraries. I have been taking some of my excess books to the free libraries. There are free libraries at Coburg and Moreland stations, more around the streets and even one at Barkley Square shopping centre. I first noticed a free library in my neighbourhood in 2014 but the recent growth in them is a sure indicator of peak books.

Peak books means that there will be art made from the excess books, as art is made from excesses in a society. Art from books has been happening since before I started this blog and is on the increase. There are Melbourne based artists who used books as their primary media, for example Nicolas Jones. In Collected Odysseys, 2018, by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas, a two metre cairn of books blackened with ink in the middle of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

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Crime and the Art Market

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Riah Pryor Crime and the Art Market (Lund Humphries, 2016)

How corrupt is the art market?

Riah Pryor is an art history graduate who worked as a researcher at New Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit. Her experience should have provided more  to the reader. Instead there is a tiny dab of narrative at the start of chapters to suggest something of the author’s experience.

It is difficult to define art crimes; Pryor mentions a Nth Ireland police report where a stolen tube of paint was classed as an art theft. Pryor’s focus is on the economic side of art crimes: stolen art, illegally exported antiquities, art forgery and art fraud rather than art vandalism, art censorship and art as criminalised protests. However, in this did introduce me to other ways that art can be used in crime; one of these is ‘elegant bribery’.

‘Elegant bribery’ where an official is given a fake of little value, the official then puts the fake up for auction, where it is sold at a high price that a genuine work would attract to another member of syndicate acting as if he mistook the fake as a genuine. In this way all the transactions appear legitimate. I can only assume that elegant bribery was detected only through data matching because Pryor doesn’t give many details about this or other the crimes.

No particular crimes are looked at in any depth in the book. The lack of detail might be deliberate in order not to assist in crimes, as attested in an anecdote from an art authentication lab expert but the lack of details makes the book read like a colourless report about art crime from the perspective of law enforcement. It is as dry as a policy paper and her conclusions, although reasonable, are not particularly useful nor informative.

“There is no ‘correct’ reason to care about art crime, or at least no reason which all will agree on. However, determining why someone does or does not care is probably the most effective way to go about working with them to agree on future ways of tackling it.” (p.88)

Dividing the book into “Villains” and “Heroes” is a simplistic strategy and shows Pryor’s police mind set from time her New Scotland Yard. It also fails to work with Pryor’s own solution to get all sectors of the arts industry involved with stopping art crime for their own benefit. 

Art crime is a hot topic, at least for publishers, art historians and the general public, although not for the police who seem to prefer their criminals violent, stupid and intoxicated. Only if you are obsessed with the subject should you read Pryor’s Crime and the Art Market as it is simply the most boring book on the subject. If this has whet your appetite for more about art and crime then please read some of my other posts on the subject.

The theft of La belle Hollandaise

Forgery Trial Book

The Forgery Trial

The Case of Art Forgeries

True Crime and Art

Whaley’s Stolen Paintings


No Turning Back: Artworks from The Torch 2018

No Turning Back is a group exhibition Art by Indigenous prisoners and former prisoners at Deakin Downtown Gallery, the one room gallery Deakin University’s elegant space at Collins Square in the Docklands.

Big Kev, Ceremony, 2017

Big Kev, Ceremony, 2017

Most of the paintings are about the artist’s country. The fire paintings about burning as land management by Pitjantjatjara artist, Veronica Mungaloon Hudson. Jeffrey Jackson’s paintings that represent Mutti Mutti country around Lake Mungo. Robby Wirramanda painting and ceramics inspired by the Lake Tyrrell salt flats with his hopeful dragonflies trailing after images of dots across the surface of the paintings. Ray Traplin’s large dot painting of a giant snake creating rivers in Kuku Yalanji country.

There are paintings about ceremony. Ceremony by Big Kev, a Ngiyampaa man has so much detail and about his culture. The clarity of information about an exchange ceremony held between Wiradjuri, Barkindji and Wailwan in this one painting is impressive. And Bora Rings (Ceremonial Grounds) by Bradley, a Dja Dja Wurrung/Yorta Yorta man is restrained in its ochre hues but has the intensity and concentration of design that is typical of much prison art where the painting is evidence of time well spent.

Not that Gary Scott’s painting looks out of place for not being about country or ceremony. New Beginnings is about changes in his own life and from all accounts Scott is making a career as an artist in the highly competitive Indigenous arts sector, even selling a couple of paintings to the Victoria Police Academy.

On Thursday morning Kent Morris, The Torch’s CEO and a Barkindji man gave a talk at the exhibition. Weaving his own personal story of finding his identity into the way that The Torch’s program works in helping Indigenous inmates find their identity, reconnect to their culture and earn some money through art. Morris talked about the many challenges for The Torch from getting the law changed so that Indigenous prisoners can sell their art, to giving art criticism to prisoners. If you think that some artist are sensitive (and believe me they can be) then consider the delicate art or giving prisoners art criticism. Having the resilience to work through criticism and failure is necessary for artistic development but it is a very tough thing for someone in prison when the rest of their life isn’t going well.

See my earlier posts for more on The Torch: Confined 9, Confined 8, Yannae Wirrate Weelam and prison art.


The ghosts of galleries past

Walking around Fitzroy in middle of winter and feeling haunted by the ghosts of so many past art galleries, exhibitions and ARIs. I was looking for Fort Delta’s new location since it moved out of its basement space in the city late last year.

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

On my way along Brunswick Street I passed the street where Roar studios used to be. Roar was Melbourne’s first artist run initiative. Perhaps it was this that got me thinking about all the past white walled art galleries or maybe it was the cold shiver that ran down my spine on the coldest day of the year. I meandered my passed the location of Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery. It started in 1992, when it was called The Fitzroy Gallery, but has been closed for almost a decade now.

On Gertrude Street there are many more ghosts of galleries and studios (although this digression make the geography of this story is inaccurate). Seventh Gallery, so named because it was the seventh gallery in Gertrude Street, closed in March this year. Now there is a clothing boutique in the space that hasn’t even changed the name on the window. For a moment I had my doubts; was my favourite artist run space closed? Or was it an installation that looked like a shop? (I don’t know and their webpage hasn’t been updated.)

In the early 1980s there was Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA) a pioneer commercial art gallery on Gertrude Street. MCA started out above a Turkish takeaway on the corner of George Street before moving in 1990 to a two-storey Victorian building at 163 Gertrude Street. I remember going to an exhibition opening upstairs at MCA in the late 1980s; it was a typical gallery space with white walls and bare floorboards exhibiting mid-career Australian artists.

I can’t remember the names of all the galleries that were once on Gertrude Street. There was 200 Gertrude or, when it later changed it name, Gertrude Contemporary. Art galleries’s names have gone the way of bands, so now instead of names designed with the bland clarity of an institution it is a random combination of words.

I found Fort Delta’s new location. The entrance is in a graffiti covered laneway off Hanover Street. The gallery is a couple of rooms with white walls and white painted floor boards at the back of the buildings on Brunswick Street. I was slightly confused by the change of name to Hunger Rozario but this was clarified when I checked my emails (the name change just occurred on the 27th).

At Hunger Rozario there was an exhibition of paintings by David Palliser called “Deep Sneeze”. Palliser’s paintings looked like a sneeze; intense, violent, frenetic, messy things that blew away my ghosts of galleries past.


La Trobe Uni Sculpture Park

I studied at La Trobe University in the 1980s; recently I went back to its Bundoora campus to see some of its sculpture collection. The university describes itself as a “sculpture park” and features sculptures from every decade from the 1960s, when it was established, to the present. I am not going to look at all of the sculptures but have chosen to look at four.

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Charles Robb’s Landmark, 2004 was the main reason for my visit. In front of the West Lecture Theatres, Landmark is a traditional memorial statue of La Trobe that has been turned on its head with the plinth looming above the upside down figure. Made of fibreglass, polyester resin, steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, sand, automotive lacquers and acrylic paint to look like bronze and stone.

Robb’s anti-monumental sculpture was donated to the University through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Artist 2006. Landmark was originally installed as temporary sculpture in the City of Melbourne in 2005 when it was award a judge’s commendation the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

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Outside of the LIMS building (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2012. The work was commissioned by La Trobe Uni in 2012. Rennie is an interdisciplinary artist who mixes his Kamilaroi heritage with graffiti style. The four aluminium pillars are a mix of contemporary art and traditional Murri designs. Each pole represents one of the five platonic solids – icosahedron, octahedron, star tetrahedron, hexahedron and dodecahedron on to which Murri designs have been painted.

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Bart Sanciolo’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1980-1983, is near the Thomas Cherry Building. You can’t miss it. This ten metre tall pointy pyramid of bronze was presented to the university in 1987 as a 150th Gift of the Italian Community to the People of Australia. This was the one sculpture that I remember from my years at La Trobe; I remember it because didn’t like it then and I still don’t.

Sanciolo was born in Messina, Sicily in 1955 and arrived in Australia in 1968. I also disliked his sculpture groups that were in the western and eastern internal moats of 101 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. They looked an ugly pile of figures and have fortunately been removed by the owner. Sanciolo’s sculptures are big but I don’t know if that is a good quality.

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The bronze figure of a woman on the Peribolos Lawn is Herman Hohaus’s Sofia, 1970. Although Sofia is the goddess of wisdom, this Sofia seems more concerned with her hair. The sculpture was purchased with funds donated by Dr Roy Simpson through Friends of La Trobe University 1986 but it seems more suited to a private garden than a university. Herman Hohaus was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia 1954 where he lived until his death in 1990. The NGV has one of Hohaus’s sculpture in its collection (but not on display) another crouching female form in bronze.

There are sculptures on the campus by Inge King, Jock Clutterbuck, Robert Kipple and other notable sculptors; more on La Trobe University as sculpture park.


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


Buff After Reading – the art of buffing

To ‘buff’ is to paint a wall to remove the graffiti or to prepare it for another piece of graffiti. But sometimes the results of buffing can be strange.

Buffing comes in several styles: colour field, hard edge abstract and more abstract expressionist. Colour fields require the complete buffing of a wall to a single colour. Hard edge abstract art is created by the repeated buffing of parts of a wall in different shades paint. The more abstract expressionist style follows the graffiti covering but not eliminating the form.

Buffing is not the natural enemy of graffiti and is often an ally of street art. People will buff around the stencils and paste-ups to preserve them in Melbourne. People like Baby Gorilla or Be Free enough to avoid destroying them. Then there was the Christian buffing around a crucifix in Coburg. I love it when an artist alters buffing to make something of it.

Altered buffing

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

There were a couple of strange buffing incidents in 2016. Australian artist Scott Marsh was paid to paint over his six-metre-tall mural of Kanye West kissing Kanye West. Reportedly it was Kanye’s management that paid Marsh $100,000 to buff it. Also in 2016, but kind-of the opposite to Marsh’s pay to buff,  when Bologna street artist, Blu buffed everything he ever did to prevent the mayor of Bologna from exploiting it.

Meanwhile, an a fence in Coburg someone fights back against graffiti with paint. As effective a strategy as any but this has now been overgrown with vegetation; if you really want to prevent graffiti vegetation and not buffing is the solution.

bad green buffing


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