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Monthly Archives: June 2018

The ghosts of galleries past

Walking around Fitzroy in middle of winter and feeling haunted by the ghosts of so many past art galleries, exhibitions and ARIs. I was looking for Fort Delta’s new location since it moved out of its basement space in the city late last year.

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

On my way along Brunswick Street I passed the street where Roar studios used to be. Roar was Melbourne’s first artist run initiative. Perhaps it was this that got me thinking about all the past white walled art galleries or maybe it was the cold shiver that ran down my spine on the coldest day of the year. I meandered my passed the location of Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery. It started in 1992, when it was called The Fitzroy Gallery, but has been closed for almost a decade now.

On Gertrude Street there are many more ghosts of galleries and studios (although this digression make the geography of this story is inaccurate). Seventh Gallery, so named because it was the seventh gallery in Gertrude Street, closed in March this year. Now there is a clothing boutique in the space that hasn’t even changed the name on the window. For a moment I had my doubts; was my favourite artist run space closed? Or was it an installation that looked like a shop? (I don’t know and their webpage hasn’t been updated.)

In the early 1980s there was Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA) a pioneer commercial art gallery on Gertrude Street. MCA started out above a Turkish takeaway on the corner of George Street before moving in 1990 to a two-storey Victorian building at 163 Gertrude Street. I remember going to an exhibition opening upstairs at MCA in the late 1980s; it was a typical gallery space with white walls and bare floorboards exhibiting mid-career Australian artists.

I can’t remember the names of all the galleries that were once on Gertrude Street. There was 200 Gertrude or, when it later changed it name, Gertrude Contemporary. Art galleries’s names have gone the way of bands, so now instead of names designed with the bland clarity of an institution it is a random combination of words.

I found Fort Delta’s new location. The entrance is in a graffiti covered laneway off Hanover Street. The gallery is a couple of rooms with white walls and white painted floor boards at the back of the buildings on Brunswick Street. I was slightly confused by the change of name to Hunger Rozario but this was clarified when I checked my emails (the name change just occurred on the 27th).

At Hunger Rozario there was an exhibition of paintings by David Palliser called “Deep Sneeze”. Palliser’s paintings looked like a sneeze; intense, violent, frenetic, messy things that blew away my ghosts of galleries past.

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La Trobe Uni Sculpture Park

I studied at La Trobe University in the 1980s; recently I went back to its Bundoora campus to see some of its sculpture collection. The university describes itself as a “sculpture park” and features sculptures from every decade from the 1960s, when it was established, to the present. I am not going to look at all of the sculptures but have chosen to look at four.

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Charles Robb’s Landmark, 2004 was the main reason for my visit. In front of the West Lecture Theatres, Landmark is a traditional memorial statue of La Trobe that has been turned on its head with the plinth looming above the upside down figure. Made of fibreglass, polyester resin, steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, sand, automotive lacquers and acrylic paint to look like bronze and stone.

Robb’s anti-monumental sculpture was donated to the University through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Artist 2006. Landmark was originally installed as temporary sculpture in the City of Melbourne in 2005 when it was award a judge’s commendation the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

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Outside of the LIMS building (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2012. The work was commissioned by La Trobe Uni in 2012. Rennie is an interdisciplinary artist who mixes his Kamilaroi heritage with graffiti style. The four aluminium pillars are a mix of contemporary art and traditional Murri designs. Each pole represents one of the five platonic solids – icosahedron, octahedron, star tetrahedron, hexahedron and dodecahedron on to which Murri designs have been painted.

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Bart Sanciolo’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1980-1983, is near the Thomas Cherry Building. You can’t miss it. This ten metre tall pointy pyramid of bronze was presented to the university in 1987 as a 150th Gift of the Italian Community to the People of Australia. This was the one sculpture that I remember from my years at La Trobe; I remember it because didn’t like it then and I still don’t.

Sanciolo was born in Messina, Sicily in 1955 and arrived in Australia in 1968. I also disliked his sculpture groups that were in the western and eastern internal moats of 101 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. They looked an ugly pile of figures and have fortunately been removed by the owner. Sanciolo’s sculptures are big but I don’t know if that is a good quality.

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The bronze figure of a woman on the Peribolos Lawn is Herman Hohaus’s Sofia, 1970. Although Sofia is the goddess of wisdom, this Sofia seems more concerned with her hair. The sculpture was purchased with funds donated by Dr Roy Simpson through Friends of La Trobe University 1986 but it seems more suited to a private garden than a university. Herman Hohaus was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia 1954 where he lived until his death in 1990. The NGV has one of Hohaus’s sculpture in its collection (but not on display) another crouching female form in bronze.

There are sculptures on the campus by Inge King, Jock Clutterbuck, Robert Kipple and other notable sculptors; more on La Trobe University as sculpture park.


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


Buff After Reading – the art of buffing

To ‘buff’ is to paint a wall to remove the graffiti or to prepare it for another piece of graffiti. But sometimes the results of buffing can be strange.

Buffing comes in several styles: colour field, hard edge abstract and more abstract expressionist. Colour fields require the complete buffing of a wall to a single colour. Hard edge abstract art is created by the repeated buffing of parts of a wall in different shades paint. The more abstract expressionist style follows the graffiti covering but not eliminating the form.

Buffing is not the natural enemy of graffiti and is often an ally of street art. People will buff around the stencils and paste-ups to preserve them in Melbourne. People like Baby Gorilla or Be Free enough to avoid destroying them. Then there was the Christian buffing around a crucifix in Coburg. I love it when an artist alters buffing to make something of it.

Altered buffing

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

There were a couple of strange buffing incidents in 2016. Australian artist Scott Marsh was paid to paint over his six-metre-tall mural of Kanye West kissing Kanye West. Reportedly it was Kanye’s management that paid Marsh $100,000 to buff it. Also in 2016, but kind-of the opposite to Marsh’s pay to buff,  when Bologna street artist, Blu buffed everything he ever did to prevent the mayor of Bologna from exploiting it.

Meanwhile, an a fence in Coburg someone fights back against graffiti with paint. As effective a strategy as any but this has now been overgrown with vegetation; if you really want to prevent graffiti vegetation and not buffing is the solution.

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The theft of La belle Hollandaise

Bizarrely, Picasso’s Weeping Woman was not the first of his paintings to have been stolen from an Australian state art gallery to make a point. In 1967 Picasso’s La belle Hollandaise (The beautiful Dutch woman) was stolen from the Queensland Art Gallery. At the time the painting was valued at $200,000 (the equivalent of $2,367,132 today).

Picasso had painted it in 1905 on cardboard mounted on wood, 77.1 × 65.8 centimetres, in gouache, a water-based poster-paint. La belle Hollandaise depicts a young woman wearing nothing but a traditional Dutch lacy-cloth cap. It was painted when Picasso was between his early ‘Blue period’, when he painted sad, downbeat subjects, and his ‘Rose period,’ when he focused on pleasant scenes in a primarily pinky hue.

The eccentric multi-millionaire grazier Major Harold De Vahl Rubin had purchased La belle Hollandaise for £6,000 in 1940 (about $477,882 today). In 1959 he wanted to know its current value, so he put it up for auction and bought it again, setting a record for the highest price paid for a living artist. Satisfied that he knew its value, he then donated his entire collection of modern European art to the Queensland Art Gallery: a Degas, a Renoir, a Toulouse-Lautrec, a Vlaminck, and three works by Picasso, including La belle Hollandaise.

In the middle of the night, on Monday 5 June, Robert Ferguson climbed up some scaffolding on the outside of the gothic brick building on Gregory Terrace in Bowen Hills, Brisbane. The building is now known as the Old Museum Building, but back in 1967 it was the Queensland Art Gallery. Ferguson forced open a top floor window with a screwdriver and entered the Gallery. Fortunately for Ferguson, there was no burglar alarm in that part of the Gallery. Little is known about the 22-year-old New Zealander who had been working as a labourer, but his father confirmed to reporters that his son did have a passion for art and was a frequent visitor to art galleries. Ferguson later claimed to have been motivated by a strange idealism. He was aware that the Gallery was considering the sale of La belle Hollandaise to raise money for a new building to be built on the southern bank of the Brisbane River. So he decided to steal the painting, later telling the police, “I was satisfied the public did not appreciate the painting, so I decided to steal it.”

Once he had stolen the painting, Ferguson’s main problem was where to keep it. He claims that for five days he hid it wrapped in blankets in the bush on the slopes of Mt Coot-tha. How the painting survived two rainy days and nights in such conditions is one of the many mysteries surrounding this theft.

Ferguson then decided to return the painting to Mrs Julie Rubin, the widow of the original Australian owner, Major Harold Rubin. Mrs Rubin was frightened by the sudden appearance of this strange young man at her mansion, ‘Toorak House’, in the inner-northern suburb of Hamilton, Brisbane on Sunday 11 June. However, as he was carrying a familiar Picasso, she let him in. Ferguson wanted her to reconsider her late husband’s gift and begged her to keep the painting for a month before reporting it to the police. Mrs Rubin agreed to this and the young man left.

The very next day the police arrived with a search warrant and found La belle Hollandaise in a spare bedroom. It was very embarrassing for Mrs Rubins, who then refused to give the police any information about the young man, except to say that she didn’t know him. This is odd because, who other than Mrs Rubin and Ferguson could have informed the police about the location of the painting?

Ferguson was not arrested until Saturday 24 June. Somehow the police were able to track him down. When they did they found a loaded pistol in his possession. He confessed to the theft, pleaded guilty to the firearms charges and was jailed for a month for possession of the loaded pistol.

La belle Hollandaise still hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery.


The Intervention 10 Years On

“A Widening Gap: The Intervention 10 Years On” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is an exhibition marking the tenth anniversary of “the Intervention”.

Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie, Open Cut, 2017

Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie, Open Cut, 2017

“The Intervention.” it sounds like something that might be staged for an alcoholic friend. The Norther Territory National Emergency Response, as it is officially called, sounds like it might be doing something urgent however when it only implementing two of the ninety-seven recommendations in the NT Government’s Little Children are Sacred Report (2007) in a decade, you know that it is bullshit. So let’s call it for what it is a racist abuse of human rights and a land grab for miners that both the ALP and LNP support.

Curated by Jo Holder and Djon Mundine, from Cross Art Projects in Sydney, the exhibition is a wide examination of the issues imposed on the Aboriginal people in the NT from inadequate housing to inadequate justice; including artwork by an anonymous young artist from the infamous Don Dale Detention Centre.

Holder and Mundine have balanced the large polemic pieces with smaller works, such as the lively paintings and screenprints by Margaret Nampitjinpa Boko and Sally M. Mulda Nagala, that depict NT life with humour and passion, or the engaging series by artists in from Ntaria/Hermansburg, working in the watercolour tradition of Albert Namatjira, of mining operations dominating the landscape. Painting some of the landscapes that Namatjira painted with the addition of big yellow mining trucks in the foreground and, in one painting, a crashed UFO.

Benita Clements, Tjuritja (#396-16), 2016

Benita Clements, Tjuritja (#396-16), 2016

The mining trucks, and the UFO, are symbols of the alien invasion, a lack of consultation, the control of land, along with the environmental damage caused by mining. There are a number of works by Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie about the environmental impact of the McArthur River Mine where thousands of tons of waste released dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide.

This is not the first exhibition that the Counihan Gallery has held about this subject; in 2013 there was “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” curated by Holder and Mundine and featuring some of the same artists. Although it is a timely exhibition, considering that Victoria and NT have just announced that they would started treaty negotiations with the Aboriginal people, I have no confidence that, in 2023, there will not be yet another exhibition about the continuing “Intervention”.

Chips Mackinolty, "and there'll be no more dancing", 2007

Chips Mackinolty, “and there’ll be no more dancing”, 2007


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