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Smith and Gertrude Street Galleries

On Thursday I was walking around the galleries around Smith and Gertrude Streets when I saw lots of men in suits out the front of the artist-run-gallery, 69 Smith Street. They were real estate agents packing up from the auction, the old building and small block of land had just sold for $2 million. The gallery was still open with their second last exhibitions; still life paintings by Martin Tighe and a exhibition of graduating regional artists from GOTAFE.

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As an artist-run-gallery 69 Smith Street survived for many years offering some of the cheapest exhibition space in Fitzroy and Collingwood. Consequently there were many exhibitions by students, amateur artists and a few others. Its final years as an organisation was notable only by an ugly year long dispute about who ran the gallery.

Sometimes I wonder what is the value of my practice of going around as many galleries as I can in a day. Sometimes I do this in different locations (Chelsea Gallery Crawl) but most often it the same familiar galleries. What am I doing exploring often the same territory? Why am I bothering with going to some rental space or small ARI?

I am observing the opening and closing of art galleries, the changes in the street, the graffiti and street art? I observe that a few galleries have closed in the area in the last couple of years. Finally I spotted a piece by Utah and Ether, graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde, that will help with the book I’m writing about art crime.

In the past I used to write regular reports of these walks, I still do them but now I use the exercise to find a particular art work or artist that I am will write about or just for the exercise of the walk.

I have a late lunch at the Beach Burrito Company on Gertrude Street. It is the only Mexican restaurant I’ve seen with an empty in-ground swimming pool, presumably for skateboards. As I eat my tacos I look at my notes:

Backwoods had its end of year stockroom show featuring art by the usual street art suspects including Deams, Shida, Roa, Reka, Twoone, and Lush.

Collingwood Gallery, “Nepo Rab” new paintings by Eric Henshall, a whole series of acrylic paintings on canvas depicting colourful scenes in American bars. Why American bars in Collingwood?

Gertrude Contemporary, there was too much to read at the “Gertrude Studios 2016” exhibitions. Pages and pages of notes for a single art work, more pages for another one, along with a room sheet in 10pt font. What ever it is, contemporary art appears to be a form of literature.

This Is No Fantasy, Neil Haddon, “New Works” are lush paintings that fracturing, in several ways, including between sort of landscapes and silly portraits with two round eyes.

Seventh Gallery, several strong contemporary art exhibitions at this ARI, including an upstairs space (shows how long it has been since I was last at Seventh) where Elizabeth Presa “In Playland” depicts the frozen memory of playtime in plaster. Downstairs in the front gallery Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux” is an impressive, expanding weaving of donated clothing, fabric and yarn that grew during the exhibition.

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Elizabeth Presa, In Playland

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Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux”

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

11 responses to “Smith and Gertrude Street Galleries

  • Eugene

    Yes, shame about how 69 Smith wrapped up its final few years, very ugly business. But I am thankful that I had the opportunity to exhibit there as a student. Not many places left where student artists can exhibit and have that kind of public exposure (without paying somebodies rent).

  • Darron

    69 Smith St has had a long tradition of supporting artists and many artists have exhibited there who could not exhibit elsewhere – the gallery has been very inclusive – and the gallery has launched many careers including Finalists in awards such as the National Portrait Prize, The Glover Prize, The Blake Prize and The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, to name just a few. Furthermore, the landlords always were very gracious in supporting the gallery with a very reasonable rent. Not to mention hundreds of exhibitions over 17 years fostered by amazing volunteers. Quite an astonishing story for an ARI. As far as “ugly final years” – a large group of gallery members rose up, with each others support, and high ethics, to defend the gallery from a Chairman who had not declared his Insolvency/Undischarged bankruptcy status – hundreds of thousands owed to individuals and organizations – found to be on the public record AFSA/ASIC – and clearly deemed unfit by members. A great and far from ugly story of artists defending their hard worked position!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Darron (aka “inclued”) I implied but didn’t mention when I said “cheapest” that the there was no standard to the exhibitions at 69 Smith St. but as you want to heap so much praise on the gallery I have to note that it had some of the ugliest and stupidest exhibitions that I have seen in the last decade and to claim that it launched anyone’s career is a stretch as exhibiting once or twice at a gallery is not a launch. And the endless stream of petty bitterness from members reminds me of how ugly their bitching was at the time. I have no wish to hear any more about it and neither does anyone other than a small echo chamber of minds.

  • inclued

    Thanks, Mark. To see artists have the opportunity to exhibit and have praise, opportunity and a sense of community was always great. This always had untold impact regardless of whether the artist went far. My first exhibition was at 69 Smith St and I fondly remember the support of people such as the late Merle Parker. Since then I have had many exhibitions plus three times Finalist in Blake Prize – including work in Blake Touring exhibition currently in Wangaratta and soon Melbourne and Sydney. Plus really proud to have Marcus Bunyan say that one of my exhibitions was one of the nine best of the year in 2013. Plus well reviewed in The Age. Petty bitterness? I have no idea what you are talking about there? Yet am proud that artists stood up so well against a person as mentioned in the last post. I find interesting that you claim to speak on behalf of others – “neither does anyone other”. Lots of great friendships have come out of the gallery – we all network – and I am sure many of us will exhibit with each other in group and shared shows elsewhere. ( But I have a sneaking suspicion you might delete this post?)

  • inclued

    All the best, nevertheless, with your criticism and art journeys. Great to see that you are out there and commenting. I come into Melbourne usually once a month and do a gallery run – always inspiring regardless of whether the works are to my taste or not. Some times I learn something simply about framing. In recent weeks I have really enjoyed the exhibition at Craft Victoria. Sometimes the galleries one suspects the least are the most surprising.

  • inclued

    Cheers. I think upon reflection that the place will be well remembered in art circles – and may well may continue in another form. I have also heard, from whispers, that there has been interest in writers exploring the unique and positive model of it – and its impact as an ARI – in Masters Theses.

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