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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Wilson Must Go

It is called the National Gallery of Victoria for obscure historical reasons but it is the nation of Australian and Australian nationalists that are at the core of the problem. The protest at the NGV over Wilson Security demonstrates a deep divide in Australia. I believe that Wilson Security along with all members of the Labor, Liberal and The Nationals parties of Australia should be standing trial for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in the Hague where an appropriate and independent court of law can determine their guilt or innocence after hearing all the evidence. Others believe that Wilson Security is a legal and legitimate security contractor and that there is nothing inappropriate to their legal employment anywhere.

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It is clear that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery when they have committed crimes against humanity. They become a massive additional problem for security at the gallery. Protesters have already proved that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery by colouring the NGV’s water-wall and moat blood red and veiling Picasso’s Weeping Woman. The Weeping Woman is an excellent focus for the protest because the painting is riffing on the image of woman crying in the window in Picasso’s Guernica; a painting is a protest against fascist aerial bombing of civilians on 26 April 1937 during the Spanish civil war but it could be in Yemen this year.

I am sympathetic to all the mothers and their children at the NGV Triennial. To have something adult, intelligent and free that a young child will also enjoy is a rare combination that many a parent has wished for. The Triennial has been designed with both in mind. There is even parking for strollers outside the some of the spaces and many of the exhibits are very child friendly. It is the presence of so many children which makes the presence of Wilson Security even more offensive as the company has treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner. I don’t how many parents with children enjoying the Triennial would have seen the horrible irony that a company that treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner was providing security for the gallery. Some of them would believe in three word political slogans and send their own children to schools run by organisations with a history sexual abuse.

Three artists in the Triennial; Rafael Lorano-Hemmer, Richard Mosse and Candice Breitz have signed a letter of protest. Breitz and Lorano-Hemmer renamed their works in the Triennial to Wilson Must Go and Mosse found another way to incorporate his protest into his video work. I cannot accept that a company that has committed crimes against humanity in running the concentration camps on Naru and Manus Island for the Australian government should be employed by an art gallery and would join with Lorano-Hemmer to encourage others to consider making a donation to: http://riserefugee.org/ and https://www.asrc.org.au/.

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Is that a Gleeson?

A large number of paintings were being loaded into a rented truck on Easey Street in Collingwood. I saw what appeared to be a late James Gleeson painting being carried out.

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I write, ‘appeared’ because although I am familiar with Gleeson’s paintings, I am not an expert, I only saw the painting from across the road and did not examine it. These caveats are necessary because, although the owner of Victorian Art Conservation, Aman Siddique was found not guilty of art forgery on appeal earlier this year, his lawyers claimed that copies, as distinct from forgeries, were being painted at Victorian Art Conservation. (For more read my post Forgery Trial Book.)

The real estate agent’s sign on the red brick building on Easey Street in Collingwood read: “For Lease: Industrial-Style: high ceilings, concrete floor, good natural light, rear laneway access, zoning: commercial 2, area: 570 square metres.”

The good natural light would have been important for Victorian Art Conservation but now the building where it was located is up for lease. The sign confirmed what I had heard in court had been told that the business was closed.

I happened upon the scene as I was passing by after visiting street artist Shida’s exhibition at Beeser Space, around the block on Keele Street, on my way to see an exhibition of rock photography by James Adams and Sam Brumby at Backwoods Gallery on Easey Street. They were the only two galleries in Collingwood with original exhibitions. Most of the galleries in Collingwood had stockroom exhibitions, even the shopfront Collingwood Gallery. (It has a stockroom?!?)

Shida’s paints beautiful and sexy figures that would have been avant-garde modernism if they were painted a century ago. I know that the paintings were genuine Shida paintings, although I am no more an expert on them than Gleeson paintings, because Shida was sitting the exhibition. No-one has ever bought a forgery when they acquired the art directly from the artist.

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Shida, installation and paintings


Asiru Olatunde (1918 – 1993)

Asiru Olatunde (1918 – 1993) was one of a small group of artists in the 1960s who were part of a creative community known as the Oshogbo School. The Oshogbo School is important because it was at the start of modern art in Nigeria and it helped preserve a place that is now a recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is characterised by stylised figures and unusual and diverse media.

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Asiru Olatunde, Dance scene, c.1969

The Oshogbo School or movement developed in the town of Oshogbo in the 1960s. At the time Oshogobo was a market town on the cross roads of road, river, rail connections and a population of about 120,000 people. The town had a tradition of music, wood and stone carving, brass and iron work, and two storey houses with elaborate balustrades.

The Oshogobo movement started when a group of people began to repair local shrines. Encouraged by the German artist Susanne Wenger and her husband the linguist, Ulli Beier who emigrated to Nigeria in 1950s. It was a response to the desecration of the Osun-Osogbo Grove in the 1950s. The Yoruba river and love goddess Osun is the patron of the town. Her festival his held in the last two weeks in August each year. In 2005 the Osun-Osogbo Grove was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Asiru Olatunde, photo from Tyler Collection, University of Tasmania 

Asiru Olatunde was from a family of blacksmiths. He had learnt ceremonial drumming as a boy, but was forced to give it up by his Muslim father. Later he took it up again; playing the talking drum every four days at the shrine of Obatala in Osogbo. Considering the recent conflict between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria Olatunde’s life and art are worth considering as a more sophisticated and creative response to cultural tensions. He was a Muslim who supported local Yoruba festivals and did commissions for Churches.

Olatunde had a ‘heart disease’ (another source claims it was tuberculosis). The illness prevented him from working as a blacksmith but allowed him to be an artist. It was an ‘illness’ as a transformation is a shamanic aspects to the identity of the artist. Please forgive this digression into a structuralist analysis and not discounting the facts of Olatunde actual medical condition. Was this structurally, not pathologically, the same kind of illness that struck down Paul Cézanne and prevented him from following his father into banking. Or the many others who became artists after illness? This point has to be made as there are several illnesses and transformative cures in this story. For Susanne Wenger Iwin Funmike Adunni contracted tuberculosis in Nigeria and she turned to the Yoruba religion and became an Osun priestess. A protege of Ajagemo a priest, she promised him to build dwellings for each of the Yoruba pantheon, a task she completed. She lived for 94 years.

At first Olatunde made jewellery, before hammers his art onto copper panels and then aluminium panels. A nail punch produced a circle for the background. Another larger one struck circles that would become eyes. Straight lines were scratched into the panel before being followed and then decorated with a straight edged tool. It is not repoussé, reverse hammered panels as some commentators have written. The design was roughly scratched onto the front and then hammered from the front. The dented background was beaten back making the foreground stand out.

Hammering and drumming to a rhythm, Olatunde beat the metal to create lively scenes. Dance scenes, scenes of hunting, Biblical scenes, as in Adam and Eve, or Yoruba stories, as in Animal Tree or Tree of Life. These scenes are surrounded by a border that fills in gaps in the design with decorative triangles and hemispheres.

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Asiru Olatunde, Fishing scene, c.1969

I have been looking at two aluminium panels by Olatunde that were purchased at an exhibition of Oshogobo Art held at the British Council Centre in Ibadan June 23 – 28, 1969. Also exhibiting were Jimoh Buraimoh, Muraina Oyelami, Rufus Ogundele, Twins Seven Seven, Asiru Olatunde, Jacob Afolabi, Buraimoh Gbadamosi, Jinadu Oladepo, Adebisi Fabunmi, and Samuel Ojo. In the catalogue there was a short biographies of the artists; Olatunde is incorrectly identified as born in 1932. Part of his biography reads: “… was prevented by ill-health from taking up the profession of his forefathers. He became a drummer, but could not cut himself off entirely from Ogun, the God of Iron and began supplementing his income by making panels from beaten copper and aluminium.” It also claims that Susanne Wenger discovered his work rather than, as is more commonly reported, Ulli Beier.

Are these panels made of recycled materials? Did Beier encourage him to recycle scrap metal? Did Beier help fund materials? Stories of apprentices filling in areas or doing the ‘heavy work’ suggest that either Olatunde was working as a blacksmith with apprentices or that he was taking on apprentice artists. There is so much that remains unknown and uncertain about this artist.

During his lifetime Olatunde had many exhibitions. In 1965 he had a solo exhibition Viruly Gallery Amsterdam. He was also exhibiting at the IMF headquarters in Washington, in Prague, and in 1967 group show Contemporary Art from Africa – Institute of Contemporary Art in London. He has work in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute, Museum of African Art and DePaul Art Museum Chicago, the University of Bristol and the University of Tasmania. For more read Molara Wood blog on the exhibition at John Martin Gallery in 2005.


Models of Milk Bars, Shops and Galleries

A few thoughts about the history and aesthetics of artists making model buildings, shops, art galleries and other architecture in response to Callum Preston’s Milk Bar 2017.

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Callum Preston behind the counter of his Milk Bar (photo thanks to Callum Preston)

In tracing the art history genealogy of similar installations we could look back to the pop artist Claus Oldenburg’s 1961 Store. Store was a pop-up gallery in a lower east side Manhattan shop front where he sold roughly painted and moulded plaster versions of products from undergarments to cakes and pastries. Or more recently to Barry McGee (aka Twist), Todd James (aka REAS) and Stephen Powers (aka ESPO)  bodega-inspired installation, Street Market 2000 that was exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale.

Looking at local examples a different aesthetic and intentions are apparent. In Ivan Durrant’s Butcher Shop (1977-1978) a butcher shop window display of dead animals that was on permanent exhibition next to the entrance to the NGV’s restaurant. Although the square, tiled front of the shop with a window and door wasn’t precisely detailed the window display was uncannily accurate and gross.

Callum Morton Reception 2016

Callum Morton Reception 2016

Callum Morton’s work Reception 2016, is a one to one replica of the reception foyer of Anna Schwartz Gallery on Flinders Lane was complete with an animatronic model of gallery director, Anna Schwartz. Entering the gallery and moving through the real foyer to the replica in the gallery was uncanny. It is similar in aesthetic and subject to Dan Moynihan’s Lost in Space 2013. Moynihan’s two-third scale replica of the outside and interior of Neon Parc gallery on Bourke Street built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary created a similar mood. Two-third scale is uncanny because although you can fit inside you know that you are too large to be comfortable. Like Morton, Moynihan’s work is about architecture and the uncanny feeling. There was no art in either model of the art galleries.

What Preston’s Milk Bar offers is comfortable nostalgia. It is not uncanny, the wooden versions of the familiar products are hand-painted and flat. Perhaps I should be considering it in relation to David Wadelton’s series of black and white photographs, Milk Bars of Melbourne 2010-2013 that documents the terminal decline of these shops.

All my examples are the work of male artists, this trend is even more obvious if you consider the male street artists, Goonhugs for example, making smaller models of shops and other buildings. I haven’t included the Hotham Street Ladies icing sugar models because their work was about interior decoration rather than architectural space or shops. At least the men are making models rather than groping models.


What big eyes you have…

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed is the summer show at the Ian Potter Museum of Art’s 2017. Curator Samantha Comte has filled all three floors with works by notable local and international contemporary artists on the subject of fairy tales in an exhibition suitable for adults and children.

We all know what fairy tales are but like so many things that we all know they are hard to define. How do fairy tales differ from folktales? Are they the last remnants of ancient cultures thousands of years old? Including Patricia Piccinini’s sci-fi inspired creatures is probably pushing the definition a bit far although Piccinini, like many of the other artists in this exhibition, does employ pathos in her art.

There is the pathos of the lost child in Polixeni Papapetrou photographs from her Fairy Tale and Haunted Country series. Diana Goldstein’s Fallen Princess series takes a different approach with iconoclastic photographs of Cinders drinking in a bar, Snow White with toddlers in suburbia and Princess Pea on her stack of old mattresses in a rubbish dump. Although there is work in a wide variety of media in this exhibition from painting and ceramics through to a computer game, The Path (2009) by Tale of Tales. It is the photographs, or work based on photographs like Tracey Moffat’s photo-silkscreen Invocation series, that gave this exhibition the bulk of its substance and depth.

The contemporary art work is given a context with a selection historical fairy tale books from the rare books collection of Baillieu Library including some with illustrations by Gustave Dore and Arthur Rakham. Along with five silhouette animation films of fairy tales by Lotte Reiniger from the 1950s.

Silhouettes are used by many artists starting with Rakham and Reiniger and on to the contemporary art of Kara Walker and Kylie Stillman. Fairy tales stand out in two dimensions, shadows of in our collective imagination from an ancient world of magic thinking.

There is an over representation of work based on Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel is something that not even the books of Japanese Fairy Tales or the contemporary fairy tale by Tobsha Learner, and illustrated by Peter Ellis, can offset. The brothers Grimm’s tales still dominate our idea of fairy tales.


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