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Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Perth’s Fake Pollock Exhibition

Considering that there was an entire fake Kusama and Murakami exhibitions in China earlier this year; remember there was a fake Jackson Pollock exhibition that toured Australian in 1978. 

Bohdan Ledwij from Alfred Cove in Perth claimed to be an entrepreneur and art dealer who had amassed a collection of Pollock paintings alleged insured for $4.1 million.  Lewdij presented an exhibition called Paintings by Jackson Pollock in Perth. The exhibition was opened by Elwyn Lynn, the then Curator of the Power Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sydney University. Many other people were taken in by the exhibition including Andrew Saw, The Australian art critic in Perth, who reviewed it for the paper.

It is hard to comprehend that people were taken in by the exhibition, but remember, the people of Perth were amongst the last Europeans to encounter modern art and that the first exhibition of actual modern art in Perth had only been a few years earlier. The name of the American painting Jackson Pollock, if not his paintings, were familiar because of the massive publicity in 1973 when the Australian National Gallery purchase of Blue Poles (Jackson Pollock’s Number 11, 1952).

However, the exhibition didn’t just fool the hicks of Western Australia.  Lewdij then offered Ken Reinhard, principal of Alexander Mackie College of Arts, a teacher training college in Sydney to transport the exhibition to Sydney. Ken Reinhard later told reporters: “I have to admit I wouldn’t have known an original Pollock from a bull’s foot in 1978 but to get a chance to put on a free exhibition of Pollocks seemed too good to pass up.” 

It was only when the Sydney exhibition about to open that Sydney critics express doubts about the authenticity of the decoratively paint dripped canvases. Terry Ingram the arts correspondent for The Australian Financial Review was one who doubted “surely are not those of the great Jackson Pollock, we have come to know, the untidy, neurotic genius who lived in a pigsty and painted Blue Poles.” 

New York Experts were contacted; an incredulous Clement Greenberg and Lee Krasner were shown photographs of the fake Pollocks. The Sydney exhibition cancelled and Bohdan Ledwij claiming that they were going to the US for authentication. It is hard to know what was going on, was it a practical joke or a scam. Unlike the fake exhibitions in China there was no attempt to scam the public or venues and the exhibition appears but it would have been an expensive joke considering the transport, venues and materials.

P.S. The following year, on Wednesday 3 May, 1979 Bohdan Ledwij was sentenced to six years jail, with a minimum of fours years before parole. He had been found guilty of seven charges of stealing $436,156 from Bunbury radiologist Dr. Peter Frederick Pratten. Ledwij was pretending to be buying paintings for Dr Pratten  instead Ledwij was using the money himself. 

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Wegman’s dogs

“Sit! Stay! Stay Man Ray!” (Not Man Ray, the artist, but Man Ray, William Wegman’s first Weimaraner dog.) “William Wegman: Being Human” is a survey exhibition of thirty years of photographic work at the NGV International. Wegman’s photographs combine two things that he enjoys: art history and Weimaraner dogs. Wegman’s Weimaraner dogs are his willing, loyal and obedient muse.

William Wegman, On base, 2007

Does the dog’s expression change when it is wearing a wig or standing on a box? Or, am I just projecting my perception of emotions onto the dog? What are his dogs thinking when he photographs them? As Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Meaning that the life of another animal is structured so differently to our own that even a shared language would not be common ground for communication. Wegman believes that his second dog Fay Ray had pride in her work, her balance and poise; maybe she did, maybe she just want to please him. One thing that I am sure about that they are not thinking about is art history or how it can be funny. And Wegman’s photographs are funny and his dogs are the ultimate deadpan-looking ‘straight man’ in this routine.

If we have learnt anything from the social media it is that pet photographs dominate, so it is not surprising that Wegman’s photographs are popular. Wegman has been photographing his dog since 1970, long before social media. Large format Polaroids create a unique photographic print, the complete opposite of digital photography.

I’m not into dogs, I am more of a cat guy and I not into putting clothes on animals. I’m not sure if this simply an aesthetic choice, or a matter of taste, but that it might reflect deeper ethical and existential considerations. So there is too much Cindy Sherman and not enough Sol LeWitt in this exhibition for my taste, however, I still enjoyed looking at Wegman’s light-hearted take on art history and his dogs.


Clement Meadmore, a mid-century modern hipster

With his well-groomed full beard and neatly barbered hair Clement Meadmore looked like a hipster. Except this was in 1950s Melbourne. In the photograph he is sitting on a mid-century modernist chair, one of his earliest designs, the steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951.

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“Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design” at the Potter Museum of Art is a survey exhibition about Meadmore as a designer rather than a sculptor for which he is better known. Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver’s exhibition starts with Meadmore entering Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) and ends in 1963 with the last chair he designed, his leather Sling Chair, and his moving to NYC to do abstract sculpture. It focuses on Meadmore’s furniture design along with his interest in jazz and his early sculpture development.

It is also a look at how modern Melbourne was created. Meadmore’s design of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar at 239 Burke Street, chairs, lamps and decor. Including seven large abstract paintings by Leonard French that glow with radiant colours. French also designed the matchbooks, menus and cups for the Legend. This exhibition is a must-see for anyone enthusiastic about the early Australian jazz scene. Meadmore had more than just a passing interest in jazz, a photo of him playing the washboard in 1952 with thimbles on his fingers. A wall of record covers that he designed for Swaggie Records.

Meadmore’s designs were practical and pragmatic both for the designer, manufacturer and the consumer. It was important for the designs to be practical for the manufacturer because often he and his wife were making the machine-made modern aesthetic by hand out the back of their shop. It was an efficiency and pragmatism that he continued with his sculptures that could be transported in shipping containers.

Clement Meadmore, Devish

Clement Meadmore, Devish

NYC was the right place for Meadmore to go as it had jazz and abstract art whereas both were still derided in Melbourne. It was the attitude of conservative figurative artists, including Blackman, Boyd, Brack, Dickinson, Perceval and Pugh who provided additional incentive to leave. If Meadmore was living in Melbourne today I’m sure that he would not have left as he would be able to have an international career as an abstract sculptor and be enjoying the jazz scene. 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design


Moreland Summer Show 2018

I feel obliged to take a look at Moreland Summer Show 2018 at the Counihan Gallery because I live in the area, to keep up with what the local artists are doing. However, instead of trying to write about the whole exhibition I will be looking at three of the exhibitors: Wendy Black, Benjamin Sheppard and Yoshi Machida.

Wendy Black Sea Eagle over Tamar

Wendy Black Sea Eagle over Tamar 2017-18

Wendy Black’s Sea Eagle over Tamar is painted with spray paint enamel on board, what would be called a stencil piece on the street. But it is not on the street and Black is not a street artist and it is worth point out the elements that would be unusual on the street to contrast the differing aesthetics. Firstly, it is a landscape a genre rarely used on the street, secondly there are many rough elements, blistered or bubbling paint, evidence of masking tape that would be avoided on the street but give Black’s painting warmth. For more on Wendy Black see my blog post about Courtroom Artists.

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Benjamin Sheppard Sugary Teeth 2018

In Benjamin Sheppard’s Sugary Teeth the missing Steyr AUG, the infantry rifle of the ADF, leaves a blank space amidst the profuse ballpoint pen marks. This blank space illustrates the negative concept of peace, as in the absence of war and conflict. Intense biro work is typical of Sheppard’s work: I’ve been intending to write something about his art ever since his exhibition Le Coq at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick in 2012. Along with fantastically detailed illustration of cockerels in biro there were abstract passages of intense random lines in his drawings; the division between the abstract art and the illustration has simply ceased to exist in the minds of artist. In MoreArts 2014 he had an installation at Jewell Station involving both newspaper headline displays and a full billboard. For more on Benjamin Sheppard read an interview with him on The Art and The Curious.

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Yoshi Machida Dialogue (First Step for Peace) 2018

The Moreland Summer Show has the usual motherhood statement theme, this year it is “Peace and the Pursuit of Happiness” and Yoshi Machida’s Dialogue (First Step for Peace) presents a kind of buddhist kōan on the theme. Notice that neither the frogs, the cat nor the monk has said anything. I assume that the  monk and the cat aren’t even registered on the frog’s consciousness because they aren’t moving, that the cat wants to kill the frogs and that the monk is considering how to start a dialogue.


Opie @ NGV

Julian Opie’s art is cool. It seems essential to his aesthetic. Feeding back from his cool is Opie’s association with pop music. He did the cover the of Blur: the best of (2000) and LED images for U2’s Vertigo world tour (2006).

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

There isn’t much to his images. Each has been reduced to the essential lines and shapes. The images are refined to minimise details. They are refined again in their manufacturing. Vinyl on wooden stretcher or laser cut anodised aluminium; processes that doesn’t leave a trace of the human hand.

From the LED displays of people walking in the forecourt to the fish swim across the NGV’s water wall entrance; the self-titled Opie exhibition leads the visitor into the two galleries of his work and onto the NGV Kids part. The NGV Kids interactive part was designed in collaboration with Opie; do your own portrait in the style of…

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

In the exhibition there is a respectful bow to Japanese art in his View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007. Two LCD screens replace the traditional byōbu folding screens of rice paper but the format of the composition is the same. The lights reflected on the rippling water, the flashing lights of a plane flying in the star light sky, the moon still in the sky. There is something cool about refining kitsch lighting-feature landscapes; falling just short of being vacuous, insipid and vapid is cool.

Who are these people walking, running, jogging, dancing in Opie’s art? Faime, Marrie Teresa, Bruce and Sara? …Oh, and there is Julian in a t-shirt. There are two works titled: Walking in Melbourne 2018. I do a lot of walking in Melbourne; maybe I could be one of the people in the picture, maybe not.

The people are the same as Opie’s sheep or minnows. His landscapes, even when of a specific location, are generic enough to be anywhere. It is not great art but they are cool.


Civil @ Tinning Street

In “Tangled Love” Civil’s stick figure folk, a mix between Keith Haring and Matisse, form a gentle community as they sit, walk, dance and ride bicycles. They occupy a large wall in the laneway outside the gallery, Tinning Street presents but sit comfortably on the smaller supports within.

Tom Civil, Wavering Spirit (Tinning Street)

A decade ago I was interested in how street art and graffiti would be exhibited in art galleries. Moving from the street into the gallery is a matter of economics, conservation and, given the structure of the art world, inevitability. At the time stencil art dominated Melbourne’s street art scene so that meant that, aside from the gallery location, the other difference was support, outside walls or other materials.

However, sometimes that location on the street was very important to the art. I have seen many artists work fail to work in the gallery. The worst that I can remember was Urban Cake Lady’s exhibition at Rist; her art which looked enchanting on the street lost its magic inside the gallery.

Often this was because isolated in the gallery is different from being collaged onto the actual streetscape. Maybe they are missing the unexpected moment of discovery on the street, that Prof. Alison Young argues is the core of the street art experience, replaced with the totally expected experience of the exhibition. Sometimes the repetition of the artist’s single iconic image looks repetitious and boring in a gallery. Sometimes it is simply due to issues of scale. Certainly the white, anaesthetic room rarely helps the art look its best.

None of these appeared to be a problem in Tom Civil’s exhibition at Tinning Street presents. Dried botanical arrangements in old milk vats engraved by Civil decorate the gallery. His stick figures appear on a variety of supports: timbre lattice, ply, green corflute (corrugated plastic), doormats, wood and clear corrugated plastic which reminds the viewer of the variety of surfaces in the city. Aside from Civil’s familiar stick figures there are images created specifically for gallery exhibitions of animals from centipedes to chooks. Print making techniques extending from his early stencils on the street to linocut, drypoint etching, screen-prints and woodcuts. These printing techniques offer new material for the exhibition. Inside or outside of the gallery Civil’s images work.


The Australian amorality

In Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) one of Byrne’s repurposed porcelain figure the wistful girl seated on a rock has sewn her lips together and has slashed her legs and arms, self-harming in despair. Byrne is also a ceramics conservator and uses the same conservation techniques to alter mass produced kitsch ceramics. She gives them a new political meaning with the judicious application of enamel paint.

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

I feel that I have failed as a critic this year because I did not write about “All we can’t see – Illustrating the Nauru Files” at Forty-Five Downstairs in August. Byrne’s figure was just one of the exhibiting artists in that exhibition. I wanted to address the deep systemic problems in Australia that have lead to this, however at the time I felt the pain depicted in the art too much and lacked the energy to write.

The Australian concentration camps are not the responsibility of one political party but are symptomatic of a deep lack of morality. There are so many examples of institutional child abuse, war crimes, genocidal activity in Australia’s recent history that all the apologies in the world cannot disguise the fact the country is amoral.

The cause of this Australian amorality is that either the majority of Australians or basic the structure of Australian politics is or both. At the foundation of this structure is the Australian constitution; a document without any protection of civil or human rights, a document that permits voting laws to be made on the basis of race. However the Australian constitution cannot be entirely to blame, it is merely facilitates a system without a conscience.

Nationalists consider that it a good thing for the subject of Australia’s criminality never to be raised. Denial, distraction and ‘no comment’ are the national character of a criminal state. You cannot have a civil debate when one side does not want to have one. Criminals charges must be brought against all those who participated in these crimes; only following orders, only doing your job, even only obeying the law are not excuses for crimes against humanity. And the Australian constitution completely rewritten so that these crimes can never happen again.


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