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Morton’s Monument Park

One of the best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen is Callum Morton Monument Park, 2015, on New Quay in the Docklands. It ticks so many of my boxes for public sculpture. You can sit on it, climb on it, walk through it, it is site specific seamlessly integrated into the paving. At one point it is just ordinary paving and then the paving becomes draped material covering monuments. The draped monuments form a square, a hub, for people to gather. Architecture or sculpture it is hard to see where one starts and the other ends at Monument Park.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

What are these covered monuments before their unveiling? It is not clear, unlike Callum Morton’s earlier exhibition, ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ at Anna Schwartz Gallery (my review of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’), there are no plinths to provide clues. Monument Park has developed from the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ series of wrapped versions of local public sculptures.

Given the recent violence over monuments to Confederate heroes in the USA perhaps it is better if these monuments were kept covered. As the First Dog in the Moon points out, Australia has yet to deal with its problematic monuments. I think that some of these monuments should be put in prison where they will no longer be looked up to. Morton manages a light reference to this discourse in cutting away at the interiors of his covered monuments. The bright colours of the exposed, geometric interior of the sculptures introduces splashes of bright colour to the area.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Wrapped sculptures have their own history in modern art in the work of Christo and, still earlier, Man Ray. These art history references adds to the quality of Monument Park without alienating the little children climbing on it. The mix of post-modern references and humour is typical of Callum Morton who originally trained as an architect before swapping to sculpture. His Hotel is a familiar sight to commuters on the Eastlink Freeway a public sculpture and is based on his early artworks influenced by architectural model making.

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (1 EastLink)

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (photo courtesy of EastLink)

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My next book

When I was busy finishing my last book Sculptures of Melbourne my wife asked me what my next book would be. It was not the question that I wanted to hear then but she did help me work through a few ideas. It was worth asking the question because it was the same question that my publisher asked me just after my book launch. Fortunately by then my wife had helped me find an answer and my publisher liked the idea.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme au mouchoir, 1938

My next book will be A Brush With the Law, stories of true art crimes in Melbourne, or some title like that; I don’t have a deep commitment to titles because my titles have  often been changed. It will be published, whatever the title is, by Melbourne Books in early 2018. To keep to that schedule means finishing writing the book in the next couple of weeks. Then will come meetings with the editor, the copy editor, the book layout designer and eventually the person doing the publicity. For more clues about the content of the book see my blog post from last year.

I have no ideas for another book after this one. I don’t even have ideas to reject and I don’t want to think about that now. Perhaps I will find it writing more blog posts, exploring the city or taking with someone. It is not going to be about taking a walk there are too many people writing books about walking. The best of these books is Frédéric Gros A Philosophy of Walking (translated by John Howe, Verso, London, 2014); this is not ‘philosophy’ as in ‘new age nice thoughts’ but the rigorous hard thinking of Kant, Nietzsche and the ancient Cynics in relationship to ambulation. Not that Gros has written a dense academic examination, it is an entertaining read, but chapters about Ghandi, Rousseau or Rimbaud walking is about as light as he gets.

I haven’t been posting on this blog as often as I usually do because I am working on my book. However after all these years of writing this blog I don’t want to give it up because this is where I get many of my ideas.


Fast Fashion @ RMIT Gallery

Relevant, insightful, frightening – are not words commonly associated with fashion exhibitions but “Fast Fashion: The dark side of fashion” at RMIT Gallery is an exception. It an exhibition that anyone who has ever bought clothes, worn a t-shirt or other cotton garment should see. It the exhibition that critically addresses the question: what’s the true cost of that cheap bargain hanging in your wardrobe?

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Tim Mitchell, Mutilated hosiery sorted by colour, photograph 2005

The global environmental, social and political impact of mass produced novelty t-shirts and other fashion items is enormous. You will be horrified and distressed at the effects of sandblasting to make those distressed jeans. We are talking rivers running blue or pink or whatever this year’s fashionable colour is. Below-subsistence-level wages destroying workers and societies for garments that are only worn a couple of times. It is apocalyptic. I will never look at my wardrobe in the same way again.

The design of the exhibition is magnificent; even if there is a lot of information to take in. Videos, photographs and even a couple of mannequins help ease the information overload. There are soft seats made of bundled used clothes to both demonstrate the excess and give your feet a rest. With all the horror of fast fashion it is comforting that the exhibition also offers a slow fashion solution. Slow fashion can involve recycling and upcycling but it is also about how to be a responsible consumer of clothing. It is not difficult, no more expensive and it starts with not buying that: “I’m with stupid” t-shirt.

Fast Fashion is curated by Dr Claudia Banz at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. For those who are very interested in this topic there is an extensive public program of free talks to accompany the exhibition.


Melbourne Street Art Guide

Melbourne Street Art Guide, ed. Din Heagney, Allison Fogarty and Ewan McEoin, (Thames and Hudson, 2016) Instead of writing a review of yet another unremarkable publication about Melbourne street art here are six artists who absent from the guide: Calm, DrewFunk, Ero, Ghostpatrol, Happy and Phoenix. I considered if I should ask them same set of questions that Melbourne Street Art Guide asked all the artists but really, the same set of questions?!

Calm mostly does paste-ups but does work in other media. He was included in the Hosier Lane part of Melbourne Now in 2013 so there is community recognition of his quality. See my blog post about his work.

Drew Funk was painting every legal wall that he could with landscapes and dragons, mixing the oriental, cartoons and aerosol art. He was ahead of the current mural scene by almost a decade.

DSC02068Ero is a scruffy New Zealand street artist working in the tradition of Keith Haring, painting simple images in blocky colours. He uses ordinary house paint and brushes rather than aerosol paint. He does piss in his paint cans to relieve himself and water down the paint.

Happy was active a few years ago but hasn’t done anything for many years. This is another problem of Melbourne Street Art Guide, it is more of a fashion snapshot than knowledgable critical guide. This is more or less the reason for not including Ghostpatrol even though he done more recent work than Happy. Happy mostly worked with paste-ups that made ironic comments about the street art scene but some of his sidewalk tags in line marking painting can still be seen.

Phoenix has more of a beatnik jazz style than a skater dad look than most street artists affect. A master of the photocopier Phoenix is serious community orientated man; he is one of the fellows who will stand up to be counted. The kind of man who with loan his ladder to a fellow artist before putting up his own piece. See my blog post about his recent solo exhibition.


The Story So Far…

Twenty works by Indigenous and Torees Strait Islander artists from the Moreland Art Collection curated by Kate Ten Buuren at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. This exhibition demonstrates not only the long commitment of Moreland City Council in collecting art Indigenous and Torees Strait Islander art since the early 1980s but also the diversity of that art.

It was good to see two colourful prints, Magpie and Echidnas 2011, by the late Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown who died in January 2017. Turbo was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. The exhibition is particularly strong in printing with screen-prints by Lin Onus and Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown, etching by Regina Karadada, Judy Watson and Janic Murray, and Brian Robinson’s magnificent linocuts. Although Indigenous Australian art is better known for its dot paintings printmaking is an important media for many Indigenous artists. The first was the artist and playwright Kevin Gilbert who started making lino-prints made from old lino floor tiles in Long Bay prison in the 1960s.

Lin Onus shows great technique in screen-printing with the transparent layer of the water in his Gumbirri Garginingi (Five Tortoises) 1996. The rarrk crosshatching work on the shells of the tortoises is not traditional for Koori artists but Onus had been taught and given permission to use the rarrk work by Maningrida artists.

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On a plinth is a fantastic tiny paper sculpture only 55 x 35 x 20 mm by Archie Moore. On a Mission From God (Goulburn Island) uses a little Bible to make a big point about the Mission Days destroying Aboriginal spirituality. Best use that I’ve seen made of a Bible for a long time.

What will the Moreland City Council’s collection look like in another forty years? The story continues.


The Smallest Pieces

“All the pieces matter” Lester Freamon The Wire

This is just a small post with a small collection of photos about the smallest works of street art. The antidote to the inflated egos and dubious aesthetics of murals are the smallest of graffiti pieces. To find them just look in the opposite direction to the murals, look down the wall below eye level. There are miniature street art sculptures, tiny drawings, small stickers; overlooked and often entirely unseen. At that scale they become a treasure hunt, rewards for being aware and looking around in the city. They are so small that often there is no room for a tag or signature but I think I know some of the artists, please comment to correct or add to this information.


Imperfection @ Trocadero

“A small show of imperfect paintings” at Trocadero Art Space is a unique and must see exhibition.

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Juan Ford, Untitled, 2007, oil and acrylic on linen

Twenty-one failed paintings is not a great advertisement for an exhibition but twenty-one failures by notable Melbourne artists is worth seeing. Curator Chris Bond has done what must have first appeared both impossible and crazy. The fantastic negotiation and diplomatic skill involved in asking artists, including perfectionists like Juan Ford or Sam Leach for failures. There is dust breeding on the glossy resin varnish of Sam Leach’s painting as it waits “under the bed to wait for the next consignment of work to the skip.”

Twenty-one rare examples of failures, and a variety of failures from abandoned efforts and bad ideas to technical failures. Good artists try not to exhibit bad art so failures rarely survive, they are either destroyed or repainting; so these are twenty-one rare paintings.

For once the artist’s statements accompanying the exhibition contained no art speak, only honest confessions about why their paintings failed and survived. There are tragic abandoned efforts, I know that Yvette Coppersmith can paint much better than that. And the even more tragic completed effort of Michael Brennan accurately reproducing two pages of text in his painting, Entry Form and CV for the 2005 Metro 5 Art Prize, for which he list 5 failures. There are technical failures: Louise Blyton managed to cut through the middle of her canvas and Lynette Smith’s badly cracked first attempt at egg tempera. And failures of composition, like Darren Wardle’s Swampland.

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Darren Wardle, Swampland, 2017, oil and acrylic on linen

“The composition is too rigid and corresponds to the limits of the stretcher so there are no dynamics in play. The work seems flat in a boring way, which isn’t helped by the background paint application having no depth. I tried to rectify this by inserting a stick, or crutch, with a shadow in the left foreground to provide a sense of dimensionality but it looks clumsy and obvious.” Wardle explains in his statement.

Every artist, art critic and art teacher in Melbourne should go to see this exhibition because it is a learning experience. The paintings demonstrate a benchmark of quality only they all fall on the wrong side of it, sometimes just shy of it. It is rare to see examples of failure exhibited yet failure is so common in painting that it is inevitable so this exhibition serves to correct that bias.

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Michael Brennan, Entry Form and CV, 2005, oil on canvas


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