Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Cowen Gallery @ State Library

Trying to imagine what the National Gallery would have looked like when it was in the State Library. At the same time as looking in the future at what Patricia Picininni images the evolution, or the genetic alteration of car drivers.

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Patricia Piccinini, Graham, 2016

Prior to the construction of the National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road in 1968 the National Gallery of Victoria was located in the State Library. It consisted of the Swinburne Hall, the painting school studios and three galleries. What were the McArthur and La Trobe galleries are no longer open to the public, but the Cowen Gallery and the two linking rooms, are still used for exhibiting art at the State Library.

A century ago it would have looked rather different, the now redundant skylights would have allowed diffused natural light into the galleries. The paintings and prints would have been hung Salon style, hanging multiple works right up to the ceiling to fill the wall. Rather than the way it is hung now with a single row of works at eye level along the wall. On the walls would have been Alma Tadema’s The Vintage Festival in Ancient Rome, Watt’s portrait of Tennyson, and John Longstaff’s Breaking the News. In the middle of the room there were marble statues of the royal family by Charles Summers.

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Charles Summers, bust of the actor Gustavus Brooke, 1868

The numerous marble busts by Charles Summers still on exhibition reminds me that he was allowed to arrange the sculptures in the gallery. Summers placed plaster casts of Michelangelo next to a plaster cast of his Burke and Wills Monument to demonstrate his references. Summers’s ego exhibited in this arrangement amused some English visitors but for nineteenth century Melbourne he was their Michelangelo.

The plaster casts and etching of works by other artists hanging in the gallery indicate that issues of originality and even the function of the art gallery was very different.

In the present the art gallery at the State Library is an odd mix of art from Melbourne’s past, with a particular focus on landscapes of Melbourne and portraits of Melbourne identities, along with some contemporary art. Above the stairs hangs a tapestry by the Australian Tapestry Workshop based on a painting by Juan Davila.

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Juan Davila and Australian Tapestry Workshop, Sorry, 2013

Graham was just sitting there in his shorts going viral as people crowded around taking photos of him. After a selfie with Graham in the background the visitor might spend awhile with the headphones and iPads finding out why Graham looks that way and how the collaborated between the TAC, Patricia Piccinini, a leading trauma surgeon and a crash investigation expert produced him. Piccinini’s art makes an impact both in the gallery and online and that makes her work perfect for a road safety awareness campaign.

I wonder how Graham would have been greeted, if he had been created a century ago, and where would he have been displayed in Melbourne. Undoubtedly he still would have received a lot of media attention.


Three Exhibitions in Brunswick

“Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it.” (Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead)

There are currently two dark exhibitions on at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick: “Exhume” by Clare Humphries and “An Apprehension of Mortality” by Bruce Dickson. ‘Dark’ in both their colours and in the theme of mortality.

There is often an element of memento mori in the genre of still life but Humphries emphasises it by using personal objects of her deceased family members. The hand-burnishing of the linocuts softens the usual hard edges of the print allowing for subtle gradation of light to dark. The objects that Humphries depicts glow against the blackness of the paper.

Anyone complaining that art students don’t know how to draw doesn’t know that there are lecturers like Humphries. Clare Humphries lectures in Drawing and Printmedia at the VCA and the technical skill in these prints is amazing.

Of course, anyone complaining about today’s art students would point at Bruce Dickson’s exhibition at the Counihan. Dickson has more light than dark but it is a slack light, vaguely suggesting something. There are only three works in the exhibition, an “installation/sculpture” called “threshold”, where some paper that had been dipped in pigment hangs in sculptural manner, and two loops of video of some gauze-like material blowing around. Even when I appreciated the existential vibrations, in Dickson’s video loop “towards stillness,” I found the actual video annoying because of the inelegant arrangement of the three pieces of cloth kept distracting me.

Further along Sydney Road at Soma Gallery, a shopfront gallery is “Bush Nighmarez” by Lou Herrod. Demons with gum leaf horns and a “Bogan Dream Cather” hung with VB can and shotgun cartridges. In her bold and brutal paintings the iconic Australian gum leaf bush becomes a place of horror for Herrod. I haven’t seen art that so excoriates the thin skin of the Australian bush dream since an early Paul Yore exhibition, “Monument to the Republic” at Gertrude Contemporary.


Gallery Crawl July

I knew that I would see some art galleries and street art when I went for a walk around Fitzroy and Collingwood. I didn’t have a specific agenda or plan for my walk, there is always something new to see in the area and not just in the galleries.

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Yusk Imai, The Mortal Drama, pearlescent acrylic and marker on canvas

When I started blogging I had a real sense of exploration, I would go looking for new galleries. I yearn for that sense of exploration now but sometimes it feels easier just have to keep doing the rounds of certain galleries and familiar street art locations. Now walking down Flinders Lane or along Gertrude Street seems to be the most efficient way to find an exhibition to review in a blog post.

I was looking for Bside Gallery because I had heard of it so I don’t know how I missed seeing it; I must have been momentarily distracted as I pasted by the shopfront on Brunswick Street. I did end up seeing a gallery that I haven’t visited before, Besser Space.

At Besser Space was “Eve, a photographic exhibition” by Zo Damage of women in rock. Zo Damage claims to be “Melbourne’s busiest music photographer” and she might be; she is half way through her 365 Day Live Music project to photograph a live band a day for an entire year. Not including the hundreds of photos in her 365 Day project there are a lot of black and white photographs in this exhibition, fortunately Besser Space is a large rough warehouse space, perfect for an exhibition of rock photographs.

A dozen surreal paintings by the São Paulo based artist, Yusk Imai hang in his exhibition “The Moratal Drama” at Backwoods Gallery. Imai’s paintings combine painting and drawing with marker pen on canvas. They are a mix of patterns, arty splatters and delicately drafted figures. His surreal forms stand, often on plinths, in the surreal locations of the forest or the empty desert in the rain shadow of the mountains on the horizon, stuck contemplating their absurd but beautiful existence.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition of its usual contemporary art. I was unlucky with the galleries as many installing new exhibitions, like the CCP and Collingwood, or undergoing major renovations, like Hogan and Kick. Not one of my more successful gallery crawls. On the other hand I did see some interesting things on the street, had a walk in the sunshine and a delicious lunch.


A couple of exhibitions in Brunswick

In Sparta Place there is a new gallery, Beinart Gallery offering “fine art” and “curiosities”. Gallery director, Jon Beinart has been involved with pop surrealism for over a decade, publishing books for several years and collecting a coterie of artists. Beinart says that all the gallery now has a physical presence most of his business is online sales.

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Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood Blvd hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlour reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlour reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

One side of the shopfront gallery is used for temporary exhibitions, the other side has a selection of diverse works from the stockroom.

The current temporary exhibition is “Transmogrify” a three person exhibition by Ben Howe, Tim Molloy and Jake Hempson.

Howe’s paintings depict the point of disintegration of the head, fracturing or metamorphosing into a tangle of ribbons. I first saw Ben Howe’s work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 but this is first time that I’ve seen a series of his paintings. His current work aren’t stencil works but oil paintings; Howe completed a Masters of Fine Art at RMIT in 2011.

Illustrator and comic artist, Tim Molloy has a series of watercolour paintings of strange characters based on his work for his graphic novel, Mr Unpronounceable and the Infinity of Nightmares.

Digital animator Jake Hempson also makes actual sculptures. In a series of busts that explore alternate anatomy of human heads with a particular focus on the interior surface of the maxilla, the upper jawbone, or replacing the head with an animal skull.

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At Tinning Street presents there is a tour de’force of paper cutting by Japanese artist, Akiko Nagino. Nagino explained that has only been in Melbourne for a few years and was amazed at how many people have come to see her “Cutting Nature” exhibition. It is obvious. It was also obvious when she was a finalist in the Victorian Craft Awards in 2015

Her designs are of butterflies, patterns and decay. There are lower edges that are dripping, distorted or melting, there are broken chains, all perfectly cut out of paper.

The cut paper is a substitute for clothes or jewellery; there are two butterfly patterned kimonos, a giant necklace, a handkerchief and several shawls. In some of the works the paper has been treated and coloured with iron and copper finishes.

Large scale hand cut paper pieces are complimented with dry embossed prints of the cut paper pieces. The subtle white on white of embossed paper balancing the high contrast of the cut paper piece.

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Paul Yore artist talk

“What was the most unexpected reaction to your work?” A person asked artist, Paul Yore at an end of exhibition talk at Neon Parc on Saturday 18 June.

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Paul Yore (left) and Geoff Newton in conversation at Neon Parc

Obviously the most unexpected reaction was when the police raiding his exhibition at Linden Gallery was unexpected. Yore never expected or intended that and it remains a misunderstood event. Yore found himself caught up in an on going local political issue about funding of Linden Gallery that had been going on for years.

It was unexpected and unintended. “Nobody wants their name to be linked to child abuse forever on the internet,” Yore explained. Yore is not a shock artist; his art is too chaotic and unstable. Shock artists, like Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi, are more precise in their intent to shock and more focused on their objective than Yore’s chaotic art. Yore doesn’t have a political objective to his art and is cynical about the individual effect of activist artists.

There was the inevitable question from the audience about self-censorship but what can you honestly say about the chill effect. What the court case did do was cause Yore to think about photography’s claim to truth and collage as an issue about truth.

After the court case in 2014 Yore went travelling across Europe looking at a lot of folk art, outsider art and junk yard art. On his return to Melbourne he started to condensed this research into an exhibition at Neon Parc. Yore told the audience that did as much as he could in the time. Time is an important feature of Yore’s work, the handmade reminds you of time, every stitch is a moment in time.

Finally two pieces of advice.

Domestic advice: to prevent your dress riding up on your tights wash with fabric softner.

Advice to artists: do not let your mother attend your artist talk unless you want the audience to hear stories from your childhood. At the end of the talk Yore’s mother tells the audience that Paul has been collecting things since he could walk.


Miniature Worlds: Stone and Goonhugs

Occasionally going to multiple galleries in an afternoon can reveal an interesting comparison, even if it does mean suffering Melbourne’s light rain and the cold wind. For example, Adam Stone’s Trust Me, 2016 is a 3D printed miniature plastic model of a roller door covered in graffiti crushing a watermelon. It is an oddity amongst his other works at Fort Delta. It is also odd because coincidentally there is another exhibition of miniature models on a similar scale in Goonhugs’s exhibition, “Tiny Writers” at Dark Horse Experiment.

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Goonhugs, Tiny Writers (photo by Yvette Crozier)

At Fort Delta there are two exhibitions. Spencer Lai’s “Beat Peace, lovely, lovely”, a funky minimalist contemporary sculpture exhibition, and Adam Stone’s “Cane Toad” exhibition.

“Cane Toad” opens with two glass doors with the image of Lance Armstrong on them and then a lot of bronze painted bananas with faces. Cast bronze jokes are a bit heavy handed, playing on an antique art world joke that goes back to Warhol, and jokes about topical figures, Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, and Tiger Woods don’t last long; I couldn’t recognise the faces.

So, back to the miniature model buildings. Both Stone and Goonhug’s models are excellent, sensational as miniatures, and both refer to graffiti culture.

Goonhug’s miniatures at Dark Horse Experiment are complete with every tag, every poster, and sticker. They loving recreation of specific locations, empty shops, ‘abandos’ (abandoned buildings) in Melbourne and Toyko, except that all the grime and weeds appear slightly larger. There is the indulgence is in details, in creating miniature rubbish bags,  miniature dumpsters and miniature rubbish. They celebrate the aura that taggers and sticker slappers, like Goonhugs, have given them. It is the current version of a boys own dream: making models and doing tags.

The room at Dark Horse Experiment of sticker tags, 3000 GOONHUGS, is a better representation of Goonhugs work. In the middle of the room sit couple of casks, the ‘flagons’ that add the ‘goon’ to his name. Repetition turns the tags into a pattern like wallpaper, following from Warhol and Ai Weiwei.


State of the Nation @ Counihan

State of the Nation, curated by Kimberley Moulton, at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is a group exhibition of six indigenous artists who live on Kulin and Eora countries. Amongst them the work of Jason Wing, seven years ago I reviewed one of his exhibitions and his work is completely different now,  going from street to contemporary and conceptual.

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Video still from Megan Cope, Blaktism, 2014

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island in S.E. Queensland. Her impressive video, The Blaktism (2014), takes an absurd look at establishing her aboriginal identity at the same time questioning what Australian identity means. It was inspired by her experience in obtaining her ‘Certificate of Aboriginality’.

The video shows a theatrical ceremony where she moves from under the Union Jack to wearing the Australian flag. During the ceremony her pale skin is painted brown and dark contact lens inserted. In the end, after the fluoro dance party celebration, she removes the Australian flag, the contact lens and make-up choosing to return to her original appearance.

Paola Balla’s Unsettling Or The True Story of When Mok Mok Came to the Big Smoke (2016) is a photographic series with text. The title of the work is apt as ‘unsettling’ is disturbing, it is literally the opposite of what the colonial settlers did. To unsettle is to remove that feeling of ownership and familiarity. Balla takes on the spirit of Mok Mok, a female entity from Wemba Wemba Country that steals kids and chops up men. Here she is cooking and washing clothes in an urban domestic setting and composing a massive rant about all the injustices the indigenous women and children suffer.

Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of Calabrese and Chinese heritage; with this background it is not surprising that Melbourne’s Il Globo has a biographic article about her that emphasises her Calabrese heritage.

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Paola Balla, Untitled and Uncared For (a)

Balla also had a couple of installations in the exhibition, assemblages of objects are hairy and disturbing. Untitled and Uncared For (a) consisted of three objects. A tin cup with a colourful image of “Outback Australia” printed on it, revealing its tourism origins. A kangaroo skin bag that appeared to contain a head and a vintage hand-coloured photograph defaced with fur. In this work identity is removed, to be replaced with a cheap souvenir that is itself uncared for. I wasn’t so impressed with Balla’s Untitled and Uncared For (b), even though I could see the point of the dead native flowers and introduced weeds and the feral fox fur, as it is just a flower arrangement.


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