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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Phillips & Palonen @ Counihan Gallery

There is a double bill exhibition on in the Counihan’s flexible space: Kristen Phillips “Whatnotes, Haves and Havenots” and Valentina Palonen “Shape Shifter”.

Kristen Phillips’ “Whatnotes, Haves and Havenots” is an exhibition of small bronze sculptures. The exhibition has a 19th Century feel: the black bronze looks jewellery carved from jet or coal and the 5 red tall plant stands that act as plinths have a 19th Century form. The miniature landscapes formed from the detritus of excess, the costume jewellery, loose screws and the cheap babbles that build up in the bottom of a dresser draw. What constitutes cheap sentimental objects depends on your economic status, hence the “have and havenots” part of the exhibition title. These small detailed sculptures are meditations on the excesses of materialism. The titles reflect this excess: “Full to overflowing”, “close but no cigar”, “A few too many”. The sculptures freeze and solidify the ephemeral sentimental attachments to objects that make the bottle caps appear memorable until the morning after.

Valentina Palonen creates spectacularly ugly sculpture. Ugly is a powerful aesthetic because it can move people as much as beauty. There is neo-baroque rocco excess in Palonen’s sculpture; they verge on the obscene because of the biological fecundity or excreta implied by the shapes. When I saw her sculpture for the first time last year in an exhibition, “New Releases” at Pigment Gallery I described her art as “so funky ugly, kitsch ugly that I never felt comfortable looking at it.” Palonen has progressed in the last year, her work is still ugly, still full of expanded foam but it is more coherent, better defined, she has found new uses for expanded foam. There are attempts to make the work beautiful, the artificial flowers or the velvet ribbon but these only accentuate the ugly parts. The ideas are better articulated in this exhibition as Palonen explores the meaning of the ugly. Palonen uses the superstitious ugliness of the mandrake root, depicted with casts of mutant carrots and parsnips hung on velvet ribbons.

Valentina Palonen, parsnip effigy, 2010

Both of exhibitions were hung in a contemporary optimistic style (it is half full).

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Sculptures @ Queen Victoria Gardens

Queen Victoria Gardens are a very Edwardian garden that has been preserved in Melbourne out of indifference. The 3 palm trees in the middle of the park lawn are an indication, for the British minded population that Melbourne is in, what they would consider, the tropics. The sculptures and drinking fountain in the park were installed to serve a greater purpose that has since been forgotten in the collective consciousness. It might have meant something if I lived in Melbourne in 1901 but nobody does these days. This is what I mean by being forgotten in the collective consciousness.

Apollo Belvedere, artist unknown

Two classical busts stand on either side of the main entrance. In worse repair is the Apollo Belvedere that now has a badly repaired and elongated neck. The marble on both of these statues is very worn after long exposure to Melbourne’s weather. The sculptors are unknown but the donor is known, politician and newspaper proprietor, Theodore Fink who acquired the sculpture on a trip to Rome. Unveiled in 1928 these are the last two classical sculptures installed in Melbourne’s public gardens.

John Robinson, “The Pathfinder”, bronze, 1974

Without the excuse of being a classical sculpture, “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974, stands as a testament to conservative Melbourne. Robinson would have probably considered Rodin a bit avant-garde even though he was working a hundred years later. Robinson’s sculpture of the hammer thrower is so old fashioned to be ridiculous in that it imagines a future where such art would still be seen as important. The stolen hammer has not been replaced and the sculpture needs to be cleaned of graffiti.

Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner, “The Phoenix”, bronze, c.1973

On a plinth in a pond stands “The Phoenix” by Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner. Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner is a German sculptor and painter, her sculptures are scattered around the world from Salzburg, to Goa, to Melbourne. Yrsa Von Leistner’s sculptures are influenced by Rodin’s modernism; the simplified form, the rough and materiality of her figures all indicate his influence. The sculpture is a gift from the 40th International Eucharistic Congress Melbourne February 1973. Feathers, or flames, that were once attached at several points over the body of the sculpture have broken off and only fragments of two remain.

Earlier image showing the intact sculpture.

In another part of the pond there a statue of a nude woman, which you might assume from its style is from the late 19th century, it is “The Water Nymph” by Paul Montford, 1925.

Paul Montford, “The Water Nymph”, bronze, 1925

Up on the hill white marble and granite memorial to Queen Victoria by James White, 1907. More than 7,000 pounds was raised by public subscription for the construction of the memorial; it would impossible to think of contemporary Melbourne doing the same for the current Queen.

Tom Bass, “The Genie”, bronze, 1973

The only sculpture in the garden that still resonates and remains current is “The Genie, a fantasy play sculpture for children” by Tom Bass in 1973. The bronze sculpture of a winged sphinx is still enjoyed by children because they can play on it. A class of schoolgirls were playing and posing for photographs on the sculpture when I visited the park.

The Ottoman revival style drinking fountain c.1936 no longer has water running. The sculptures are worn.  In another city with less space such a garden would have been redesigned but with all the available space even in the centre of the city it has just been left. The people of Melbourne still enjoy the lawns but the park has become a historical relic.

I would prefer not to live in a state with a name that, in the possessive, also refers to a historical period – Victorian. Of course, using English royalty to refer to historical periods is passé in this post-colonial world. But a change of name would be nice just to avoid confusion.

Golden lawns, village green

Victoria was my queen

Victoria Victoria Victoria Victoria

(The Kinks)


Messages of Love

There was a time, before all this street art, when a significant amount of graffiti was private messages of love. Was carving a heart and initials on a tree tradition and did farmers complain about kids tagging their trees. Or was this only in the cartoons? (I don’t know as I’ve only once carved my name into a tree – in 1975 on a baobab tree that was covered in names by the highway in Mozambique.)

Now the personal messages of love are kind of rare although you can still see them around. It is not that there isn’t as much love around but the expression of it has changed.

In Europe the padlock is another kind of personal symbol of love that I have seen on the street. A padlock is attached to public railing and the padlock becomes a metaphor for the strength of the relationship.

I missed St. Valentine’s Day for this entry because I was thinking about my darling Catherine.


A February Afternoon of Exhibitions

The Hare Krishnas were parading along Flinders St. this afternoon with drums, finger cymbals and chanting mixing with the peels of bells from St. Paul’s Cathedral further down the street. I haven’t seen Hare Krishnas on the street since the early 1980s.

I was in the city to look at galleries. Platform was the first, as I exited Flinders St. Station. The Sample cabinet with Rebecca Agnew’s stop motion animation and dead roses is well worth sampling. Carrie McGrath’s “Hitting the Jars” in Vitrine and People Collective in the main Platform cabinets are both a bit average.

I went to look at the NGV Studio, a glass fronted space in front of the NGV in right down the far end of Fed Square. Previously the space has been used for a design gallery and a children’s gallery but it has never really worked because of its location. This year the NGV Studio has been featuring a lot of work from Melbourne street artists. Behind the glass is a long partition wall painted with cut away letters spelling out “graffiti always wins”.

Shida painting

Across the road in Hosier Lane, Shida was up a ladder painting the wall at the entrance to Until Never. Upstairs in the gallery Shida’s exhibition “Crystals of the Colossus” is spectacular. Savage subjects and terrible beauty; Shida’s figures are all sharp teeth and claws. However, the fantastic subject matter is absorbed by Shida’s drawing technique. I was particularly enchanted by the mixed media paintings with the resin coating that looked like stain glass. Some of the works reminded me of Matisse or Wifredo Lam with the long arcing lines; Shida is definitely influenced by cubism. And unlike old-school street artists Shida has a light touch. Shida was still painting when I came downstairs, this time with a brush and very diluted acrylic paint, his sweeping curved lines repeating on the large wall. Street art, in entering the gallery, has become very mannerist. It is all about the artist’s particular style, their hand and their signature manner of creating images.

Shida painting

Detail of earlier Shida piece in Hosier Lane

Almost beyond the hand and the gestural is the abstract modern art of Dale Frank. Paint is what Frank’s paintings are all about; the waves of paint mix and interact for puddles of colours, flow down the canvas and drip across it. Dale Frank currently exhibiting at Anna Schwartz Gallery. The gallery has been specially decorated for the exhibition; the catalogue even mentioned the “oak-leaf green” gallery walls. It makes the gallery a calm dark space with the pale canvases lit like jewels.

Then at City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall was “From Public Figures to Public Sculpture”. It is a great little exhibition; well worth a look if you are interested in public sculptures in Melbourne. All the maquette (models) of familiar Melbourne sculptures are there: “The Public Purse”, “The Echo”, “The Monument to Burke and Wills” and many others. Seeing the models made of plaster, balsa wood or other materials always makes sculpture appear less daunting than the large finished work made of bronze or stone.


Snotrag @ Brunswick Bound

Tea and cakes with Snotrag makes for a pleasant afternoon.

The small gallery upstairs at Brunswick Bound bookshop is crowded on Saturday afternoon for the opening of Snotrag’s exhibition “Ear”.  Amongst the crowd are the artists HaHa, Junky Projects, Arlene TextaQueen and Pierre Lloga. DJ Tuffy mixing tracks with some radical but relaxed sounds including a Phillip Glass track.

Snotrag is a punk street artist based in Melbourne making art for the street and gallery. She is not only active in decorating the streets of Melbourne and Jogjakarta but organizing and networking (hence the turn out for her exhibition opening). She is involved in the Inter-Location Project building a DIY arts bridge between Melbourne and Jogjakarta.

At the exhibition a large wall painting fills the front wall of the gallery, decorative elements in a frieze runs across the top with two figures in Snotrag’s distinctive style below. There is a wall of black bandanas and t-shirts with images of faces and birds. Her images of birds in drawings and t-shirts would be ordinary were it not for her totemic decorative details. These decorative details that were developed through doodling and looking at architectural details, remind me of elements of calligraphic ornamental borders.

On the other wall are framed mixed media drawings, most impressively her Skull and Dust series. I wish that there were more narrative elements or cheeky intelligence in her drawings, as in her crossed hammer and vibrator drawing – DIY. It is Snotrag’s 2nd exhibition and it looks like she is still developing/expanding her style. The works are all reasonably priced and work was selling quickly at the opening. There is even a painting free for the best cop story and a box to post the stories in.

Talk at the opening was punctuated by “Yeah yeah” from all New Zealand artists; it is like listening to the antipodeans equivalent of Dada (“yeah yeah” in Romanian).

It looks like her work on the street

Snotrag piece in Brunswick


Rock Chicks @ The Arts Centre

Not a performance but an exhibition that spans a century of Australian female music performers. Although it spans a century, the first fifty years are over in an introduction and the story really starts in the 1960s with rock’n’roll.

The exhibition can be read as a history of Australian popular music with a focus on female performers. It is an exhibition of ephemeral fashion captured in countless band photographs and album sleaves; the length of hair or dresses along with the music style. There are mannequins displaying rock chic fashion; from the crocheted red dress that screams 1971 of Margaret RoadKnight to the Gallery Serpentine designed red tartan bodice and black tutu worn by Nitrocris’s Moragana Ancone.

It could also be read as documentation of sexual politics in Australian popular music. There is the politics of band structures from chanteuse, to girl bands, to rock chicks playing in mixed gender bands. What were the acceptable instruments for a woman to play – from Judith Durham’s tambourine to the grungy guitars of contemporary rock chicks? There is the representation of sexual politics in popular music and the politics of the gender image for a woman/girl performer. It is an exhibition that exposes the complexities of these gender issues rather than simplifying them. Chrissy Amphlett’s schoolgirl tunic and stockings are confusing enough without the promotional panties from Rebecca’s Empire.

I found myself interested in the fertility of rock’n’roll as a platform that allows the performers to contribute creatively to more than just the music and lyrics, for example the collaborative collages that Beaches make preparing for album covers. And that rock allows some performers to spring board into other creative work, e.g. Sara Graye from Nitocris now has a fashion label, 50ft Queenie. Obviously amateur creative work is also displayed like, Girl Monster’s decorated make up case and painted bass drum face. Or, Deborah Conway’s needlework which is good enough to make a stage costume; up close it looks a bit lumpy.

Some of the Rock Chicks posters

There is a lot to see in this exhibition however you want to read it. It is so packed with rock chick memorabilia that it continues with an exhibition of rock posters around the side of the Arts Centre.

There were just guys in the bands that I was in but my friend, Jamie Saxe, formerly of the Ergot Derivative, says that women make better drummers than men. So lets hear it for the rock chicks.


Sculpture @ Melbourne City Square

Historically no city in Victoria was designed with a square because the then Governor Gipps didn’t like them because they encourage democracy. Melbourne City Square was only built in 1980 (when democracy was no longer a threat) and marks the start of the architectural rejuvenation of Melbourne’s CBD. There are currently several statues: Loretta Quinn’s “Beyond the Ocean of Existence”, Charles Summers’ Burke and Wills Memorial, Pamela Irving’s “Larry LaTrobe” and a wooden wombat without the usual City of Melbourne brass plaque to identify the sculpture or artist along with the Mockridge Fountain in the square.

The missing statue from the city square has to be noted – “Vault” by Ron Roberson-Swann was only in the city square for less than a year but it left a permanent psychic mark on Melbourne. Melbourne City Council had to change the direction of their public sculpture in response to the controversy over “Vault” and so the quirky and the historic have replaced the formal modernist. Whimsy and idiosyncrasy are not part of the collective consciousness; they are about a personal mix of elements. They are the opposite of any kind of political statement.

Keeping with the quirky mood of sculpture in the City Square are the two animal sculptures: Pamela Irving’s “Larry LaTrobe” 1992 and the wooden wombat, “Warin” 2002, by Des McKenna.

Des McKenna, "Warin" 2002

On the Flinders Lane corner there is Loretta Quinn “Beyond the Ocean of Existence”, 1993, a bronze sculpture. This generative sculpture stands on the opposite corner to the 19th memorial sculpture to Burke and Wills, standing on the corner of Burke and Swanston Street. Created by English born and trained sculptor, Charles Summers in Melbourne in 1865; Summers had previously created the Fitzroy Gardens, River God Fountain in 1862. The sculpture of Burke and Wills has been relocated many times as the city has changed and the corner is its 5th location.

Loretta Quinn "Beyond the Ocean of Existence" 1993

Loretta Quinn, "Beyond the Ocean of Existence", 1993

“Beyond the Ocean of Existence” follows the traditional sculptural form of a god or hero on top of a column. But the tradition has been twisted, a large bulbous form and tendrils support an angelic version of her little girl figure with her hair swept back. The figure of the little child is central to Quinn’s sculpture. The figure minus the wings is repeated in “Within Three Worlds” (see my entry on Loretta Quinn’s sculpture “Within Three Worlds” at Princess Park). Other works by Loretta Quinn include the Artist’s Seat at Linden House, St. Kilda and “The Crossing of the First Threshold” in Southgate Melbourne Victoria.

When “Beyond the Ocean of Existence” was installed it did not have a café behind it and the area of the city square had more trees. Near the statue there is a painted pole by indigenous artists, Maree Clarke and Sonja Hodge. The poles have been there a long time even though the city of Melbourne does not consider it permanent.

“The Mockridge Fountain” by Ron Jones, Simon Perry (who also crested the Public Purse in the Burke St. Mall) and Darryl Cowie  c.2000 is a concrete fountain that makes a little bit of water go a long way. However even its water conservation features did not prevent it from being turned off during the drought between 2007 and 2010.

Leaves placed on the Mockridge Fountain


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