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Category Archives: Travel

Graffiti Alley in Toronto, Canada

Graffiti Alley in Toronto is also known as Rush Lane or Rick Mercer’s Alley. It runs between Queen and Richmond streets and west from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street. It is an alley in every sense of the word, a single one lane access for services, parking and deliveries. There might be fashion shoots in Graffiti Alley but it still is full of rubbish and delivery vans. It is mostly low, one story with the occasional multi story building, a couple of full building commissions but mostly just piece after piece, on back wall after back fence. There are so many pieces that it goes for almost a kilometre.

I know nothing about Toronto’s graffiti and street art. I’m from Melbourne, as the subtitle of this blog indicates and I want to see something like Hosier Lane. One distinct difference is the community garden off Graffiti Alley.

It is the first place that I go in the city, it says something about me but also the attraction of graffiti for a jet lagged international traveller as it is there when you are, a twenty-four hour seven days a week spectacle. I walk to Graffiti Alley from my central hotel (my wife is attending a conference in the city). There aren’t any other tourists in the lane but I believe that there are graffiti tours of the area (I was just on the wrong day).

There were several pieces are commenting on former Toronto Mayor, occasional substance abuser, and currently deceased, Rob Ford. Ford is targeted because he promised to stamp out graffiti. Graffiti culture is frequently a reaction to its most prominent opponents.

Graffiti Alley is in a cool neighbourhood of Toronto with interesting shops, places to eat and band venues. There is the “hug me” tree on Queen Street. There are a full more murals on carpark walls around the area and a few other small concentrations of graffiti.

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Graffiti Alley is not the only place to see graffiti and street art in Toronto I saw more murals in the Kensington Market area. Lots of cool things in the Kensington Market, marijuana dispensaries and Sth American food. This is Canada in the twenty-first century and not Australia stuck in the past and aspiring to be another Singapore. Maybe I should just live in Toronto, after all I am a Canadian.

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Chelsea Gallery Crawl

Chelsea is a neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan Island that is currently the main gallery district in NYC. It has been three years since I did a gallery crawl through Chelsea.

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Walking back and forth between 10th and 11th Avenues, up and down the streets: West 25th, 24th, 23rd. It is so easy to find a gallery on these blocks, just go to the next door, the next room on the floor of a warehouse, they are in almost every space.

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In Chelsea you have to put up a sign to say that it is not a gallery.

Often my gallery crawls are endurance walks, hours of the touring around galleries, climbing up stairs in old warehouses and in newly furbished gallery spaces. Often I was looking at third rate commercial art, or second rate work by established artists. At times I wonder why am even here looking at pointless commercial art suitable only for the lobby of a three star hotel. I’ve never heard of any of the artists exhibiting at the Agora Gallery’s “Out from Down Under & Beyond – Fine Art from Australia and New Zealand.” My guess is that Agora is renting the wall space by the metre.

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James Turrell installation at Pace

Wondering is Cindy Sherman too old to play dress-ups and what will happen if she lives into her 90s? There are other veteran established artists continuing to blandly do their trademark thing; David Hockney is drawing Yosemite National Park on his iPad, Richard Serra has large pieces of steel, and James Turrell working with space and light. Then I see art that really works and I know why I am on this gallery crawl.

The highlight of visiting all of these galleries had to be an installation by a duo of Canadian artists, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, “The Marionette Maker” (2014). The installation, at Luhring Augustine, included a caravan with robotic marionettes, audio, and lighting. It was such stuff as dreams are made of; amongst the miniature scenes in the caravan was a tiny scene of the caravan in a field by a lake. (For more see Hyperallergic’s review.)

Another exhibitions that caught my attention was Anthony Adcock, “Marks of the Trade” at Lyons Wier Gallery, has painted aluminium to look like sheets of plywood and carved wood that looks like steel, it is very impressive while remaining almost too subtle.

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Aiko at HG Contemporary

And at HG Contemporary a group show of street artists from around the world; Retna, Swoon, Olek, Aiko, Pixelpancho and Jay West. There is so much variety in styles, and techniques from Aiko’s stencils to Olek’s crochet world.

There is some good street art on the streets; street artists like to put up work near art galleries, perhaps because there they find an appreciative audience. I see a couple of low relief panels by Kai (tying in with my special interest in street art sculptures).

I pause briefly for lunch but then I keep going until 5pm as I don’t know when I’ll be going around the Chelsea galleries again.


Street Art Sculptures in the Whitechapel Area

I went on a pay what you feel like walking tour of graffiti and street in the Whitechapel area of London. (Cheers Raw.) Forgive me for indulging in my special interest area of street art sculptures and guerrilla installations rather than giving a general report on the walking tour.

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

It was good to see other street art sculptures outside of Melbourne, not to make a comparison as I couldn’t do that in a few hours in one part of London, but to see what other artists are doing. Although, it was not all unfamiliar there were, of course, Invader’s ubiquitous mosaics (and a I spotted a few pieces, tags, paste-ups, stickers and even a whole building by some familiar Melbourne artists but that’s another story).

Jonesy

Jonesy

It was my wife that first spotted a small Jonesy, a whimsical bronze sculpture on top of a pole. Inspiring City has two articles about Jonesy. “Jonesy street art in London, the artist who is our little secret” and “Studio interview with Jonesy, the environmental artist who places bronze sculptures around the city.” Bronze sculptures can be made in multiples, but it is hard to see how an artist working in bronze can be called an environmentalist.

Dr Cream

Dr Cream

I saw lots of Dr Cream’s rolling fool on the walls. A cast plastic animated series of a jester rolling in a snail shell, not a surprising piece from someone, like Dr Cream who has worked for most of his life in animation. Read a long interview with Dr Cream by Dutch Girl in London.

Gregos

Gregos

Amongst the mosaics, masks and heads on the walls of Brick Lane there are the painted faces of Gregos, a French artist who casts his own face.

Community Garden Sculpture

Our tour guide took us to a community garden that included some large garden sculptures made of recycled materials. It is difficult for a sculptor to work on a large scale and these community gardens provide this opportunity.

D*face and Banksy were also working on the large scale with these two pieces using cars. The Banksy is the old pink car that is now under plexiglass; I was told that once contained a stencil skeleton in the driver’s window. Banksy could be seen as a street installation artist, especially after his work in NYC and Dismaland. Banksy pieces often uses the found location for most of physical part of his installation, rectifying the readymade location (alá Duchamp) with a stencil. Good placement of a stencil makes all the difference.

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Comparing Modern Art Oxford

On a recent visit to Oxford I went to the city’s contemporary art gallery Modern Art Oxford (MAO). MAO and my local gallery, the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick are similar kinds of art galleries and yet very different and differences shows the impact of both local and national arts funding priorities on a small contemporary art gallery. Prior to my visit to Oxford I had seen a DVD from my local library about MAO.

Both of galleries are on property owned by the local city councils and city councils have roughly the same population; the population of the city and non-metropolitan district of Oxford is 157,997 (2014) and the City of Moreland has a population of 147,241 (2011). MAO was established decades earlier in 1966, has a larger staff and is much better funded Arts Council England. It does not benefit from the international tourism in Oxford; the tourists are there to see old Oxford and not contemporary art.

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

A major difference why MAO is far better gallery is that it is bigger. It has almost twice the size of galleries as the Counihan, plus other spaces over three floors. There is a bookshop, a basement performance space, a cafe (with kitchen) and a community access space for other exhibitions and events. It is in an old repurposed building that has been refitted for purpose.

The new entrance way to MAO makes a clear statement about its existence and purpose, unlike the entrance to the Counihan which is inside the foyer of the Brunswick Town Hall, past the stairs and beside the window where you pay licenses and fines. This is typical of Moreland City Council and following long established practice of using some other building (‘temporarily’ for decades) as a gallery or a library.

Both MAO and the Counihan show a program of free exhibitions. Due to its larger space Modern Art Oxford presents unique exhibitions from international contemporary artists, whereas the Counihan is more limited in its choice of artists. When I visited MAO there were two exhibitions on: Josh Kline Freedom and Kiki Kogelnik Fly Me To the Moon.

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline’s Freedom was enjoyable on many levels. Healing post-9/11 America will require the fantastic vision of telly tubbies in full riot gear. It will require cops to unhand-cuff  themselves from their obscene donuts of stereotypes. I really felt deeply satisfied at seeing digitally altered George Bush and his co-conspirators saying sorry for all that they had done. (If John Howard had been amongst the digitally altered figures it would have been very difficult to believe him saying sorry for anything).

Kiki Kogelnik’s art felt very dated especially in comparison to Kline’s exhibition. Kogelnik’s bright vinyl human figures  hang limply on clothes racks. Kogelnik who was part of an early and desperate revival of figuration died in 1997; we no longer go to the moon.


Urban Murals & Brussels

Often public murals can look naff, too politically correct or otherwise too preaching they look like a school guidance councillor has designed them. Part of the grand socialist tradition of public murals promoted by the Mexican mural painters. Or simply decorative. But the comic book murals in Brussels escape these hazards because they are not propaganda for products nor ideas; they are just having fun with established comic book images. So the impact of these comic book murals is different from other public murals; there is no didactic function to them, they are simply fun.

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Belgium invented the comic book, along with French fries, shopping malls, art nouveau and a lot of other things that have made the modern world. Belgians are particularly proud of their comic books as demonstrated by the city’s many comic book shops, it’s statues of comic book characters and public murals of enlarge comic book panels around Brussels inner city.

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The justification for these murals on the basis of Belgium nationalism is thin; the population and visitors to Brussels enjoy the comic books. The Brussels Comic Strip Route was created by the comic strip museum by Michel Van Roye, Brussels Councillor for Urban Development and the Environment, in 1991.  It is an on going project and new murals are being added, form posts on a “comic strip route” around Brussels.

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The murals are encountered as surprising, engaging and entertaining aspects of Brussels. One reason for the success of the murals is that the murals are not placed on urban eye-soars in an attempt to ameliorate their ugliness; rather they are placed on suitable walls around the city where they compliment the urban scene. Comic book images frequently depict the urban environment and comic book design works with the architecture of the city. Frequently the murals employ tromp l’oeil elements integrates the image with the building.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Public art tributes to Belgium comic books do not stop at these murals; there is a comic book museum, the Belgium Comic Strip Centre, in a fantastic art nouveau building designed by grand master of Art Nouveau, Victor Horta in 1906. There is also a very large sculpture of a duo of comic book characters making a colourful and light-hearted splash in the business district of Brussels.

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2013 – my year in review

I did a lot of travelling this year in Nth America and Korea this year. All this travelling meant that I now have a category for my posts about travel, mostly visiting art galleries and looking at street art in various cities around the world. Seeing New York was the personal highlight of the year. I needed to see to fill a gap in my in my knowledge of the art world with a few days worth of New York galleries that. I’m still processing all that information. One of the highlights of my trip was seeing the Barry McGee exhibition in Boston. Visiting galleries in Seoul filled in gaps in my understanding of art that I didn’t even know were missing. The rise of Korea in international art is impressive given that a century ago it was an antiquated colonised backwater. Seeing Korean contemporary art has changed my thinking in so many ways.

Barry McGee

Barry McGee

Meanwhile I was trying to keep my reviews of exhibitions very local this year for various reasons (cycling, ease, tired of public transport and keep mixing it up) while still trying to keep up with Melbourne’s street art and get a publishing deal for my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture.

HaHa robot in Coburg

HaHa robot in Coburg

Normally when I check the messages from the Black Mark Facebook page or my gmail there is another invite to an exhibition on the other side of the city, or some artist wanting attention. Rarely there someone is giving you a blog post or a story on a platter. This year, for sending me two stories, I’d like to thank Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site see my post “Melbourne Street Art Blogs” and also sent me the photos that made up the my post “Sexy Girls Girls Girls”.

I’d also like to thank all the guest bloggers who wrote posts this year: CDH (“Street art Salvage”, February), Pauline (“White Night with kids”, March), Jess Knight (“Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey”) and Vetti (“Peter Fraser’s Lizard: A Box of Gaps”). I thought that I’d try having some guest posts – again to mix things up a bit.

I thought that I’d like to try having a monthly series of articles; I tried with my Persons of Interest. The Persons of Interest were people that had influenced my thinking about art so it was, in a way, autobiographical. I’m not sure how well that went as a series but it was interesting writing them.

Paul Yore, "Fountain of Knowledge", 2013

Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013

Meanwhile Australia’s own culture was going through a low point. On Saturday 1st of June in Melbourne Australia police raided the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed 7 collage works by artist, Paul Yore alleging that the art was child pornography. Then in September Bill Henson withdrew from the 2014 Adelaide Biennial after a campaign by an Adelaide police officer, Brevet-Sergeant Michael Newbury against art that he had not seen. With the police in Australia becoming the unofficial art censorship board any hope that Australia might become a liberal society capable of intelligent and informed debate has been dashed.

Enjoy the end of year festivities, knowing that I will be hard a work on my sculpture book during that time, and good luck for 2014 – I think we’re going to need it.

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station


Wandering Seoul’s II

After being thrown in at the deep end of Korean Art on my visit to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (see my post). I’m trying to learn more by reading Youngna Kim’s Modern And Contemporary Art in Korea (Hollym, 2005, New Jersey). The first thing about Korean modern art is that it is only a century old and most of it happened after 1953 when the Korean War ended in the present stalemate. In South Korea artists through themselves into the deep end of modern art and before they had finished with working through modern art post-modern art appeared.

Kwan Yuk exhibition at Gallery 500, Seoul

Kwan Yuk exhibition at Gallery 500, Seoul

I am considering Kim’s book in relation to the life of Kwan Yuk, an artist that I met on my wandering around Seoul. I saw a couple small galleries in the streets in the Insa-Dong district of Seoul amongst the antique dealers, the artist supply shops and second hand bookstores. In one of these modern commercial galleries, Gallery 500, I saw a solo exhibition by Kwan Yuk, it was a mini retrospective of his work. Kwan Yuk is an old artist with a young mind. I want to look at his art and life as a random sample of a post-war Korean artist, to test the accuracy of the Youngna Kim’s history against the life of this artist.

I like an artist who continues to change throughout his life and in the exhibition I could see that Kwan Yuk has roamed from Chagal like expressionist paintings to collage with spray paint.  Kwan Yuk and I could only communicate with gestures but when your subject is the art in front of you this rudimentary sign language comes alive. And he generously gave me both the two-volume book of his work.

I have put together a short history from Youngna Kim’s history and Kwan Yuk’s short year-by-year resume in his book.

Like many Korean artists Kwan Yuk studied in Japanese art schools. This was in part the legacy of Japanese colonial occupation of Korea and that Japan had the most progressive modern art education in the region. Kwan Yuk exhibited in Japanese University alumni association between 1952-57.

In 1961-64 Kwan Yuk then exhibited in the National Exhibition. The National Exhibition was another legacy of Japanese occupation. It continued under the post-war government until 1981 when the national exhibition was privatised. There were breakaway exhibitions from artists of the Art Informel movement in the 1950s when they were included in the National Exhibition in 1961. It doesn’t look like Kwan Yuk was one the hard core of Art Informel abstract artists and not because he was frightened to attempt it.

Kwan Yuk had his first of many solo exhibitions in 1963. He worked as an art teacher and exhibited in the Seoul Teacher’s Art Exhibition between 1974-82. He has won awards and participated in various invitational exhibitions. It looks like Kwan Yuk has worked his way through European modernism in his own way. And ending up with his most recent works are collages that use candy-wrappers and nude photographs with a light bondage theme. Are these elements the Minjin influence on Korean art or sexy interpretation of Matisee’s collage?

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I refer back to Youngna Kim’s book again to consider the Minjin, folk art movement. In describing Korea’s introduction to modernism Youngna Kim discusses the introduction of the idea of an artist, the continuity of tradition in modernism and the change of the role of Korean woman. And briefly looks at the Soviet-realist direction that modernism took in North Korea. This different history of modern and contemporary art full of references to tradition while seriously engaging with the modern, both international and local in focus and all happing very quickly.

Kwan Yuk, my random artist must have seen much of this history in his life and had an influence on a younger generation of Korean artists. And his art continues to develop becoming more colourful, playful and sexy.


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