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Monthly Archives: June 2008

Anthology

“Anthology” at Gallery 101 is a group exhibition of “artist books, journals, objects and two-dimensional work on paper and canvas” according to the entry in Art Almanac. But it is a lot more than that. There is so much to see in this exhibition and this short entry will mention only a small fraction of it.

I frequently complain about empty vacuous exhibitions lacking in content. This is not the case with Anthology. An exhibition with the theme of books has a lot of content. Even the list of works runs to 5 double-sided A4 pages. There is so much to look at in each of the nine artist’s installation. Each artist displays art and “resource materials’; the resource materials are often as aesthetically appealing as the art.

There has long been an interest in artist’s books, there is was even a trend two years ago of using old books as material for art, but this exhibition has more. Painter and mathematician, Peter James Smith’s paintings combine the beauty of nature with the chalkboard scientific diagrams. In adding antique objects – the ship’s brass compass, “the metal box containing 12 historical, scientific and literary texts” – the circle of aesthetics is completed.

Other artists also showed their inspiration in books and notebooks. Judy Holding shows the process from the reference material through to the completed work Diver Duck, a wall installation. Jan Learmonth eight travel journals are the book part of the exhibition along with her sculpture inspired by boat and river forms. (For a review of a previous exhibition by Learmonth at Gallery 101 see my entry The Trouble With Girls.)

For many of the artists (Angela Cavalieri, Mary Newsome, Carmel Wallace and Kate Derum) it was their artist’s books that were the focus of the exhibition, even if their display of resource material vied for attention. Printmaker Heather Shimmen’s display of resource material was so delicate with glass dome, coral, teapots with threads running between all of them.

The use of recycled material in the work some of the artists is a response to the plethorea of artifacts in the contemporary world. Carmel Wallace’s art practice has contemporary environmental sympathies. Her impressive net of “beach-found plastic objects and cable ties” – Red Sea 10: An Octopus’s Garden.  Kate Derum boxed tablaux, “The Gift Horse,” is a 3-dimensional collage of found material.

Pink dominates sculptor Stanley Farley’s part of the exhibition except for the large blue ‘Poetbureau’. The ‘Poetbureau’ is a large blue wooden cabinet in the shape of a Grecian urn with labelled draws in which to keep the work of poets.

I particularly enjoyed Mary Newsome in a “Box of Fragile Words” cutting up packing tape with the word Fragile printed on it to form other words: Rig, Rifle, Ear etc.

The exhibition looks like contemporary museum exhibitions rather than sparse art gallery installation. The art is not left in isolation on a white wall, the displays resource material completing the story. The curator, Dianna Gold, and installation team, along with the artists, should be congratulated for this approach.

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Spin, Persephone, Homepage & Emu Feathers

David Wadelton’s paintings of contemporary pop idols are stunning. Pop art is not a movement that is confined to the history books as demonstrated by David Wadelton’s exhibition Spin at Tolarno Galleries. Pop art is about a love of popular art techniques (mass production, Ben Day dots) and the love of popular art (pop stars, movie stars and superheroes). Wadelton’s large canvases are an expression of love and adulation for these pop stars.

The eight large oil paintings in the exhibition depict the faces of pop stars have titles that refer to lyrics by the pop star. The faces look like they have all been shrink-wrapt (a filter on Photoshop) the highlights are so shiny. Packaged pop icons. The larger-than-life faces have been beautifully painted with lurid colours and photorealist styling. The backgrounds are carefully painted faux giant expressionist brushstrokes in different combinations of colours. In combining the pop and the expressionist elements in the paintings Wadelton is recreating the conflict at the genesis of pop art.

 

At Mailbox 141 is “Your Homepage” by Nada Poljski, a fine little exhibition. Poliski’s small delicate cut paper prints combine text and images. Each work folds into a little book cover. It is a series about meeting people online: the pokes, the fantasy, the reality and the homepage. It is odd to combine the virtual world with paper prints. The exhibition is perfect content to fill each of the glass-fronted mailboxes (that sounds like a metaphor for email). Poljski has an additional vitrine of slightly larger work above the mailboxes to add a bit more space to this very small artist-run exhibition space.

 

At Arc there is an exhibition by Maria Frenanda Cardoso, Cardoso’s arrangement of a standard material, in this case emu feathers, into poles and “flags” is formalist. There is no other content. The various arrangements of emu feathers is programmatic almost an index of variations. I find it interesting that the term ‘formalism’ is considered acceptable in mathematics and contemporary art but in ethics and aesthetics it denotes an invalid position. If you enjoy emu feather arrangement this exhibition is a must-see.

 

“Palimpsest: Persephone and the Underworld” by Robbie Harmsworth at 45 Downstairs explores an ancient Greek mythic theme. In a beautiful series of large prints with hand colouring and marbling Harmsworth tells part of the story of Hades and Persephone. It is only part of the story because the archaic story is incomplete; there is the palimpsest, the part erased by Zeus and the part erased by Hecate. For neither Zeus nor Hecate told Ceres, the mother Persephone that she was in the underworld.

The design of the prints successfully unites several styles from ancient to contemporary and clearly tells the mythic story. The bare trees in Ceres searching for her daughter are particularly evocative and effective.

Along with the prints Harmsworth is exhibiting oil paintings and other objects. His paintings with their outlines of details, rough backgrounds and the great mythic theme reminded me of the half finished paintings in the Paris studio, now a museum, of Gustave Moreau.

Not all of the work in Harmsworth’s exhibition is successful; the hanging figures of blackware ceramics and the samples of dried jacaranda flowers on muslin in vitrines appear like empty after thoughts. The pomegranate that Persephone ate is considered to symbolic of eternal life because they do not decay. Remarkably Harmsworth has managed to get a bowl of pomegranates at the exhibition to rot. 


ARI Who?

What is the difference between Melbourne’s artist-run-initiatives (ARI)? Some of them, like Mailbox 141, a bank of glass-fronted mailboxes in the art deco foyer of 141 Flinders Lane, are obviously different kinds of exhibition spaces to the standard gallery. Some are obviously in different geographical but many are in the same basic location; Seventh and 69 Smith St. are only one tram stop apart.

So what is the difference between TCB Art Inc, Bus, Kings, Blindside, Utopian Slumps, 69 Smith St., Conical, Ocular Lab etc.? To the casual visitor – absolutely nothing. Regular visitors may notice trends in some of the ARI exhibitions. Only the insiders would know the different clichés that run the galleries. There is no overt ideological or stylistic differences, no overt competition and very little co-operation aside from Via-N via-n.org a hub website. The only real exception is The Narrows in Flinders Lane; this is one ARI that has clearly defined itself between art and design.

And what is the difference between an ARI and a rental space gallery, like Brunswick Street Gallery or Hogan? To the casual visitor – again nothing. Regular visitors may not even know or care. Only the artists renting the space and the committee running them know about the differences.

Many people involved in ARIs are enthusiastic about how an ARI mollifies the economics of art for the artist, as if money is a major aesthetic feature. Supporters of ARI argue that ARIs assist artists in their careers, as a step to commercial galleries. And for this reason many of Melbourne’s ARI’s attempt to look the same as a commercial gallery.

Although many of the ARIs pay lip service to a fading idea of the avant-garde of gallery art. The exhibition spaces provided are conservative, replicating the standard white cube gallery space. Most of ARIs do not want to visually distinguish themselves from any other gallery; there is no sign above the door saying “Artist Run Initiative” (Kings Artist Run, is an exception). Consequently there is nothing substantially different about the art that you might see in an ARI gallery and any other contemporary art gallery. They are nothing like the chaotic, dynamic mix of studios and exhibition space in the art squats of Paris and Berlin.

Maybe ARIs were important or, at least, relevant, when they emerged in the early 1980s but decades have past and it would be wrong to believe that this was still the case. Apart from providing exhibition space is anything happening at Melbourne’s ARI? Is providing still more exhibition space in Melbourne’s over crowded gallery scene of any great importance? Still more ARIs have opened this year. 


First Site & Platform

I haven’t been doing my regular day of visiting galleries in the past three weeks. I have been busy with home renovations and the Taoist Jihad exhibition at Brunswick Arts. Catherine has been writing a blog about our home renovations – Under Construction (emulating the diary of Samuel Peeps, in a small way but with more digital photos). I have been meaning to write something for that too.

Finally today I did get some time to go to the city. At First Site at RMIT I saw Kate Hansen exhibition “(re) surfacing”. Hansen’s paintings are beautiful surface textures inspired by the urban environment but that is all they are – surface.

Also at First Site Andrea Kaliviotis is exhibiting “Beyond the wall”. It is a boring example of what you can do with a piece of string; the most minimal exhibition that I have seen in a long time.

At Platform Bernadette Trench-Theideman “Eat The City”, is an exhibition of photographs and live plants growing in architectural models of the city blocks. The didactic panels are very didactic, educating the viewer with bits of information. The photographs are large format and look like staged propaganda. The message was clear; growing your own vegetables in the urban environment makes good sense. However, this was not supported by the choice of inedible plants in the exhibition – it is amazing that plants would grow under the fluorescent lights of the subway. Various northern suburbs organizations, Ceres and the ILma Lever Garden, were involved with the exhibition, along with Whitemoss, the florists. And even as I prepare lettuce from my garden for dinner I don’t think that it is art.

At Vitrine (part of Platform) artist and designer Paul Spence is showing great retro-futuristic night-lights. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Vagyro; a night-light was a combined technology and eroticism. The exhibition space and the bed in the installation detracted somewhat from the elegance and quality of the night-lights.

In Sample (also part of Platform) Jody Cleaver ‘Flowered’ something to do with Pope Benedict XVI and, according to Cleaver “how faith and systematic beliefs relate to nature and sexuality in Australia.” The installation looked good with a DVD animation in a floral frame but ultimately had a confused or confusing message. Why a sculpture puppet of a pope on wheels?


Lex Injusta II

“The premise that “illegal graffiti is a serious problem” is used to justify the reversal of the onus of proof, with the example of the offense of “going equipped for stealing etc”. This raises the question does the Minister consider that illegal graffiti is as serious a problem as burglary? How does this compare to the serious problem of politicians who vote twice in elections? Here also there has been problems in “demonstrating the requisite intent” resulting no convictions ever being recorded for the offense.”

I sent this email to Victorian Department of Justice following up their reply to my entry “Lex Injusta”.  And I have received a reply citing an estimated cost of graffiti of $300 million a year (Graffiti and Disorder Conference, 2003). This is a weak argument as graffiti policy, unlike many other crimes, determines the cost of graffiti removal. Further in comparison, burglary costs an estimated $2,430 million a year (Australian Institute of Criminology).

The identification of graffiti as ‘a problem’ by 26% of households in an ABS 2005 survey on crime was also cited by the Victorian Department of Justice in their reply. However, according to the same ABS 2005 survey “the most common household crime in all survey years was house break-in.” And the percentage of people who believed that house break-in was a problem was 33%. And 30% of respondents believed that there was “no problems in their neighbourhood.” We can go on all day about statistics, remembering Mark Twain’s remark that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Statistics and public opinion can be manipulated to show support (or not) for the recent draconian anti-graffiti ‘laws’. Although Victoria has something called human rights legislation it is not worth the paper that it is printed on as it can be overturned with a few words from the right person. The main effect of the human rights legislation appears to be getting people, like the Minister, to write excuses as to why they are violating human rights. It would be better if Victorian politicians set a good example to the next generations by respecting human rights and principles of justice rather than finding excuses to ignore them.


Too Many Galleries

The lights are on in the gallery but nobody is there.

There are too many art spaces in Melbourne. I have raised this issue before (Rental Space Debate) and discussed how the quality of exhibitions suffers because exhibition spaces, especially the rental spaces, will accept any submission. I did not consider how many people visit galleries compared to the exhibition spaces.

When I go around looking at galleries I am often the only person in the gallery, apart from the person sitting the gallery. For anyone gallery sitting at an artist run initiative or rental gallery space it is apparent that there are not a lot of people visiting galleries – there were days when nobody visited 69 Smith St. or Brunswick Arts. Sure there are often hundreds of people at the opening but they are only there for event and the wine, some don’t even look at the art.

And there are still more galleries opening in Melbourne, about nine this year. This is not good for the artist or Melbourne’s arts as it reduces the number of visitors to the exhibition and dilutes the impact of any good exhibition. If only there was a similar growth in the total visitors, in art magazines or critical reviews of exhibitions then the situation might not be so unbalanced.

I started this blog because too few exhibitions in Melbourne are reviewed. There are so many galleries that I haven’t been able to visit all of them in two years. I can’t hope to review all of them – I can’t even hope to have seen the same exhibitions as anyone else. I am pleased to note that there is another blogger, Ace Wagstaff writing reviews of Melbourne’s art run initiatives (ARI) and other art exhibitions: Dead Hare.  So far Wagstaff and I have both written entries about the censorship of Trevor Finn and Cecilia Fogelberg’s exhibition at Platform. I hope that we write more entries on the same exhibitions, so that there is more than just one view to consider.

Lack of visitor numbers, sales or critical reviews do not matter to rental space galleries, including many of the ARI, as their only concern is bookings. These galleries are dishonest in not disclosing to artists booking the space the average number of visitor for a normal week.


Sustainable Art

The Counihan Gallery is showing Embodied Energy curated by Penny Algar and Edwina Bartlem. Embodied Energy exhibits the work of 13 contemporary Australian artists addressing sustainable contemporary art practice. The curators have also addressed questions of sustainable gallery practice: the foam core has gone replaced by paper didactic panels and the food at the opening was local including some great green olives. It is a timely exhibition opening on world environment day.

Not all of the art in the exhibitions makes you think about sustainable contemporary art practice. Some of the art in the exhibition merely expresses an awareness of the environment like Ros Bandt’s audio work and Robyn Cerretti’s video installation. The use of recycled or found natural materials, in most of the art in the exhibition, is such an established tradition in both modern and contemporary art that its inclusion is somewhat redundant. And there are contemporary Melbourne artists with more environmental concerns in their art practice, like Ash Keating, than the artists selected for the exhibition.

Much of the art was ephemeral installations, like Chaco Kato’s large wall work made of pins and dried grass: “A Weed-Scape, A Weeds Project.” In Hannah Bertram’s, “I found you in the garden. Some one had left you there”; the accumulated grime on old panes of glass had carefully been removed in rococo patterns. It reminded me of Duchamp’s Large Glass and Picabia’s photo of the layer of dust on it.

Green recycling into art is the theme of the installation and process artwork of Tony Adam. Adam’s plays with ‘green’ in the installation, both the color and praxis.  His installation is a process, an assembly line, from recycled material to art, made of recycled materials, in a vitrine. There is a wonderful attention to detail in Adam’s installation: the idea of ‘green’ appears on so many levels from the recycling to the green pencil case with green pens.  Moving through the installation tells the story. Adam’s is part of the installation, his activity and interaction with the viewers is part of the work (he will be working there Friday to Sunday). After talking with Tony Adams at the exhibition he gave me a badge made of an old bottle-top part of the final product from the vitrine (thanks Tony).

 

Artists, along with the rest of the population of this planet, are becoming more environmentally aware. An argument could be made that artists, from the Romantics onwards, have been the avant-garde of the environmental movement; indeed, the idea of “green politics” is a creation of German artist, Joseph Beuys. Consequently there is interest in the arts community for environmentally sustainable or friendly products, as well as, environmental issues.

Some art materials, especially oil-based printmakers inks, can be dangerous to the health of the artist; others are harmless natural products. The Museu d’Art Contemporary Barcelona warns visitors not to touch the art because of “unstable and toxic” materials; the best ‘do not touch’ notice that I’ve ever seen. And if the materials used are dangerous to the health of the artist, then their manufacture is dangerous to the environment.

Some art materials produced are produced in quantities that its manufacture has environmental impact. The impact of paper pulp mills on the environment is well known. Marble and stone quarries require backfilling and re-vegetation and.

Most art is intended to be durable and as a durable good it is intended to last forever, at least centuries, and the durability and longevity of art reduces the overall environmental impact.

But the ecological footprint of art is larger than just manufacturing, there is transportation especially the transportation of the heavy materials for some sculpture, studio lighting, gallery lighting and climate control are amongst the other issues to consider.

One way to be environmentally friendly in art is to use recycled materials, saving money and reusing waste. Artists have been featuring the use of recycled material in their art from early in the 20th Century. Artists like Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch were early masters of collage and sculpture from junk. I haven’t been to the Sustainable Art and Design Centre in Newton, part of the Reverse Garbage initiative; it is a pity that the Reverse Garbage initiative in Melbourne closed many years ago, as it was an excellent resource.

I have noticed more Melbourne artists, including John Bodin, Emma de Clario, and Alison Hanly, are using Tony Knoll’s invention, the Panelpop supports for their art. These “minimal carbon” panels are made of recycled materials and they are very durable. The surface is very smooth and matt like plaster and digital photographs can be printed directly on the surface. Panelpop do not require glass over the photographs or drawings further reducing their environmental impact.


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