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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Gorilla carrying off a woman

I thought that I should look closely at something that I hate; Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887, a bronze sculpture. It won a medal in the Paris Salon of that year. Most people in Melbourne, or Montreal or various other cities would be familiar with Frémiet’s Jeanne D’Arc. In Melbourne it stands, in a strange pairing, with Boehm’s St. George outside the State Library.

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Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887

Frémiet was a nineteenth century French sculptor who specialised in animal sculptures. I find some nineteenth century sculpture ridiculous; man’s battle with monster from his unconscious that is, in retrospect, in the post-Freudian world, so obvious. But Frémiet’s sculpture is far worse than any sexual fantasy because this isn’t simply a prototype King Kong. The ape is carrying a stone hand axe. The ape as primitive tool maker means that this sculpture is perpetrating the ugliest of racist stereotypes. Along with the idea of women as property that foreigners want to steal.

The primeval scene is not referencing classical or biblical mythology but a fantasy of pre-history. It is the kind of thing that you might expect on the cover of one of an old Tarzan books from the 1960s. It is not the kind of image that art galleries collect today. If you tried to sell that kind of shit today there would be a campaign to put a stop to your business because it is both racist and sexist.

There is a snake disappearing under the rock. The obsessive details and the quality of the modelling are enough to save the work but not enough to keep it out of storage at the NGV where I hope it spends most of its time.

Fantasy art and visionary art are now considered as a separate category to serious art but Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is a reminder that this was not always the case. Fantasy art uses broad metaphors, if they are metaphors, and not symbols or icons. It makes me wonder if the change of art styles in modernism was about a change in meaning expressed than in an outward appearance. The rejection of works like Frémiet and what they meant and resulted in art searching for a different meaning and look. Modernism was about looking for a new subject and not a new way of depicting an old subject.

If I were to write such a grand history of art I would write about the crisis of meaning that lead to modern art. ‘Meaning’ is a word that could encompass all those fuzzy words like ‘spirituality,’ ‘truth’ and ‘beauty.’ For there was a crisis of meaning in European art due to increasing reports and evidence of death of the one, true God; the same God that was meant to be the foundation of European culture. Meaning in art and the meaning of art started to crumble and the obvious racist fantasy presented in Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is now best seen as evidence of this disintegration. The patriarchy and its ugly irrational racism in bronze.

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Street Art notes January 2018

I had low expectations of the city’s first official street art precinct and they were met. The ‘official precinct’ was launched in December 2017. It is just a couple of murals by Adnate, Dvate, Fintan Magee, Rone and Sofles on walls in Lt. Bourke Street before it ends at Spencer Street. Several big heads and a big orange belly parrot.

Adnate

Adnate

 

Most murals in Melbourne serve the interests of property developers or local city councils; similar interests anyway. The realistic images are sentimental, superficial and a distraction from what is happening around the large wall. Murals are anti-graffiti, anti-street art management strategy… but enough about murals (or if you want to read more).

I am look for something else on the streets, something smaller. (The smallest piece perhaps…)

I find a stencil; perhaps, given the geometric lines in the body of scorpion, it is by Sunfigo. A cartoon face by Twobe and one by the internationally renown artist Lister, who blurs the rough line between contemporary art and street art.

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Lov3

An excellent piece and installation by Lov3 in Collingwood. Up-cycling three discarded mattress and using the quilting pattern as snake scales.

Silk Roy

Silk Roy

In Flinders Court I saw a recent piece by local Melbourne artist, Silk Roy. Silk Roy loves painting. Sure many artists love to paint, often painting the same thing over and over again, in that they enjoy that experience. However, Silk Roy’s art shows more than just enjoyment like the conservative mural painters but artistic risk taking, changing and developing. This is graffiti aware of contemporary painting. (Read an interview with Silk Roy on Invurt.) Silk Roy does paint big walls but I doubt that he will be painting a multi-story mural any time soon and that, for me, is a relief.


The Smart Way to Buy Art

The first question to ask is why are you buying art? Enjoyment? Investment? Or, a bit of both, basically meaning the enjoyment of speculating on a potential investment like buying lottery tickets or bitcoins? Dream on because it most likely won’t happen. If it is purely a matter of investment then there are professional art investment advisors who can help you but you will have to pay for that.

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If you want enjoyment you will want to train your eye by looking at a lot of art books and magazines. Speaking of magazines, next, buy a copy of Art Almanac for a few months and go to galleries. The cost of a single issue it will be a lot cheaper than the ticket price to one of these mega-exhibitions like Supergraph or The Other Art Fair.

You can see several galleries in Melbourne by just by walking along Gertrude St. in Fitzroy or Flinders Lane in the CBD. Visiting galleries can becomes a game of urban orienteering in finding some of the smaller galleries. So meet up with friends and have a cup of coffee in a café near the galleries. Go to art opening, art auction previews and art fairs. Like all shopping buying art is a matter of finding the right store (gallery) that has items/labels (artists) that you like in your price range.

You may not have bought any art yet but you are having a good time, learning and training your eyes. Keep doing this for at least six months before you buy anything. Talk to the gallery staff about the art, they are happy to talk and are the best source of information. In the smaller galleries it is frequently one of the exhibiting artists gallery sitting.

Art openings are when the best works in the exhibition sells. When buying art is concerned is a matter of first come first served. You can also look at the huge list of openings in Melbourne Gallery Openings on Facebook or Somepainter lists the openings for that night (there will be similar one in your area). Then you can drink wine and talk with the artist at the opening.

Think about where you would put the art in your home, where you are going to put it, how will it look when you see it everyday. When you are confident in your taste and have seen art that you really like buy it.

If you want to buy very affordable art look for fine art students final year or graduation shows at the end of the academic year. Here you can buy art at very affordable prices. Buy unframed works on paper and get them framed at any good framing shop will save you money and you can have all your art in matching frames to suit your décor.

Remember art galleries are basically shops and you can arrange all kinds of purchase plans with the gallery. All you need is a deposit to secure your purchase, there are even interest free loans available to help you buy art from Art Money.

Finally when you have bought the art have a party to celebrate your new art hanging in your home. Show it off. Invite your friends and the artist around to look at your new art and enjoy some more wine and nibbles. And then you can enjoy it for the rest of your life. Have fun.


Movement of Sunflowers

Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.

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It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider  how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)

Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.

Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.

Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.

Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.

P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.


Intermission @ Collingwood Technical College

Intermission at the old Collingwood Technical College is three floors of an unoccupied school turned into a space for over thirty street artists to paint and install art in. Curated by Goodie the exhibition is a curious mix between contemporary art and the aesthetics of an abandoned building with the tags.

Sofles

It is a huge space and many of Melbourne’s notable street artists had pieces or often whole rooms to work with. It was good to see Astral Nadir working on a large scale. To see LucyLucy again on a large scale without the rest of the AWOL crew. And old faces like those of Mic Porter who was active a decade ago is back.

It had been raining for most Saturday afternoon but that didn’t put the public off. As only 200 people were allowed on the upper floors at a time and the public was queueing up out the building only an hour after it opened. After all this was great free entertainment: on the ground floor there were bands, DJs, VR movies and cans of Young Henry’s beer and cider being handed out. Fortunately it is not a one day only event and Intermission runs until 21 January.

In some ways it was a bit like Melbourne Open House for the old building. The art deco building has been left abandoned for 12 years – what a waste of space! The two bedroom caretaker’s flat on the top floor was a revelation. The event is an intermission as the Collingwood Technical College is about to be turned into the Collingwood Arts Precinct; Circus Oz and the Melba Spiegeltent are already out the back.

The exhibition was better than a whole stack of pieces painted on the walls inside a building as there were artists who had site specific work. Site specific is more than just placing their work in relation to the architecture but creating work that directly referred to the space. Heesco captured the feel of street artists painting in an abandoned building in his combination of installation and wall painting. 23rd Key referred to the location in a mural that mixed the face of Keith Haring with the Apollo Belevadere in tribute to Haring’s surviving and restored mural on outside wall of the Collingwood Technical College.

The inside and outside of a building might raise ontological issues between the words ‘street art’ and ‘urban contemporary art’ but I’m going to call it all street art rather than creating a useless lexicon and pretending that art and artists are always classified in a logical and accurate manner. After all abandoned building are a traditional site for graff and street artists to paint. As street art it was impressive and fun but it was weak as contemporary art. Sometimes it felt like a funky installation at an art squat in Paris or Berlin while at other times just another great Melbourne wall.

 


Art or arts?

‘Art’, as in ‘contemporary art’ or ‘modern art’, is different from ‘the visual arts.’ This subtle distinction confuses many people including some professional artists and has been the cause of many and repeated disputes. If it weren’t for this confusion and disputes arising from it the distinction would hardly worth mentioning.

‘Art’ is a singular noun that describes a collective idea. What exactly art is never become specific, it is an opened set, like games. It does not have the definite article ‘the’ nor the indefinite article ‘an’ because ‘the arts’ and ‘an art’ are entirely different to ‘art’. ‘The arts’ is the vaguest of the variants as it can mean everything from the humanities, logic, rhetoric to juggling and dance. ‘An art’ is at least referring to some specific skill. Whereas ‘the visual arts’ or ‘the fine arts’ are plural nouns with a definite article that means architecture, painting, drawing and sculpture.

The differences between the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Musée du Louvre explains distinction between the fine arts and art. Both are the result of a royal collection, in the case of Dulwich the King of Poland-Lithuania, a country that ceased to be before the collection of fine arts could be delivered to its king. Opened to the public in 1817, it was opened to students of the Royal Academy two years earlier. Dulwich collection contained works of fine arts for students to study whereas the Louvre contained works of art.

The Louvre had opened twenty years earlier, in 1793, but had already made a revolutionary decision that would make a major difference The revolutionary difference is that the Louvre, along with a royal collection, included confiscated church property as a way of conserving them. The church altarpieces in the Louvre, decontextualised with their religious function removed, became art when displayed to be looked at as if they were paintings or sculptures.

‘Art’ emerged from the discourse about looking at things, like altarpieces in the Louvre, as if they were something like a painting or sculpture. To look at something as if it were a work visual art is the metaphoric relationship that the philosopher, Arthur Danto argues for in his institutional theory of art. It is this idea of art rather than a conspiratorial or consensus driven act of an actual institution that determines what art is.

For about a century the distinction between ‘the visual arts’ and ‘art’ was invisible, an imperceptible semantic distinction. The trajectory that started with confiscated church property continued with the items from other cultures similarly removed from their context. This was quickly followed with products of new technology, like photography and readymade found objects. It was Marcel Duchamp’s readymades that defined and illustrated the already widening schism between art and the visual arts.

Art may involve shopping, confiscating and appropriating images whereas the visual arts don’t highlight these activities. An artist may be making art or painting, sculpting and drawing or doing both.


Footbridge of Masks

In Brunswick there is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses over CityLink Tullamarine Freeway between Peacock Street and McColl Court. The bridge is adorned with 24 cast concrete faces. In 2017 a couple of newspapers reported on it under the headlines: “Brunswick’s creepy bridge – 25 concrete faces, not one nose and no one knows why” and “Creepy concrete faces appear on Brunswick bridge”.

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When I saw it on the news the artist who made the masks was a mystery to me (and I am trying to be an expert in the limited field of Melbourne’s street art sculpture) but one that I didn’t have time until now to investigate. Now that I have it is the paranoid reaction and the lack of any memory in suburbia that are the most disturbing elements.

What caused this paranoid reaction? Was this reaction just because a local graff writer, the prolific tagger Felon had decorated one of the faces, death metal style or was it because of the absence of a plaque to identify the art? I’m not surprised that the noses are all gone, it is the first thing to be damaged on a sculpture and it gives the masks an antique feel.

The propensity for paranoia in suburbia is no reason for alarm. A mystery has to have an element of danger and intrigue or it wouldn’t be mysterious. However, once the facts are revealed it generally turns out to be not that interesting, perhaps even mundane, like a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.

The following day The Age reported that it was the work of Melbourne artist Mary Rogers who “sculpted the 25 life-size faces in her home studio in the mid-1990s as part of the Freeway Bridge Project.”

The work combines architectural decoration on brutalist concrete and was intended to help humanise the freeway overpass. The masks were cast from local residents but, after twenty years, this has not given the bridge any local context or memory. The lack of any urban memory of the bridge speaks of the transitory nature of the urban life.

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