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Category Archives: Travel

Hosier Lane 2018

Hosier Lane has changed and will continue to change, it has also stayed the same. The homeless are still in Hosier Lane, seeking shelter around the corner in Rutledge Lane. There are still people doing graffiti in the lane, residents who live in buildings and the workers in the businesses but mostly there are the tourists, local, interstate and international tourists. Hosier Lane is an established part of the Melbourne tourist experience.

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From the instigator, Andy Mac moving out of his laneway apartment to draconian anti-graffiti legislation and the threat of installation of CCTV there have been many predictions that the lane would cease to be a successful street art zone. However no-one predicted that the lane would be killed by its own success. What did you expect from street art and graffiti’s aim for mass appeal?

Now many street artists and graffiti writers are complaining that the lane is being destroyed by tourists. There were always tourists who visited the lane but now there are more tour groups and individual tourists than ever before. Tourist attraction are the Kali Yuga, the fourth stage of the world.

There always was developments and building in the lane but now the Culture Kings shop is ripping a hole in the middle. At least we spared it overshadowed by a massive tower, yet another of its predicted demises; Keep Hosier Real.

It has long been an established photo location for bridal, fashion, advertising and selfies but now it is difficult to even walk up it because of the number of cameras pointed across the narrow lane. Every metre there is someone posing for a selfie next to its walls thick with aerosol paint.

Melbourne’s great graffiti location has become crowded with tourists, tour groups all day, every day. There always were tourist in Hosier Lane, often they were on ‘spraycations’, visiting graffiti writers and street artists from around the world had long contributed some of the graffiti in the lane. However, now there is tagging on pieces by people whose handwriting demonstrates that they have no idea of graffiti or its etiquette (do not tag on a piece).

It long ago ceased to be the best place in the city to see street art and graffiti but the tourists don’t care. They are too busy taking photographs of each other in front of its walls. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the painted walls because the focus of their cameras is on the tourist and not the walls. Although it once was sufficient to see Hosier Lane to understand the vibrant scene; seeing or painting in Hosier is no longer necessary for the survival Melbourne’s street art and graffiti.

One obvious benefit that Hosier Lane still provides is that it is an example to every local council and business as to what a success that a graffiti and street art zone can have in the centre of the city. One of the more surprising recent changes is that along with the tourists there is more protest art in the lane, for more on that see my Political Graffiti in 2018. I have been watching and reporting on the development of Hosier Lane for over a decade and I intend to keep on.

protest art in Hosier Lane 2018

Protest art in Hosier Lane 2018

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You are here, wish you were there

I didn’t expect to see Godzilla in Tokyo. On my recent trip to Japan; I encountered Godzilla, a bit of graffiti and a few art galleries.

The statue is based on the film “Shin Godzilla” released in 2016 and had just been installed when I first saw it in March. It is the second Godzilla sculptures in the square; the previous statue, from 1995, was modelled after the original 1954 Godzilla. It is not monstrous, the statue measures about 3 meters in height, which seems small for Godzilla. It is located in Hibiya Godzilla Square where Toho Studios, who made the Godzilla movie, was founded. And it, stands next to a booth for buying cinema tickets.

“This statue contains the surviving final version of the shooting script and storyboard from Godzilla (1954). Here resides the soul of Godzilla.” The statue’s plaque states along with: “Man must live with Godzilla – Rando Yaguchi Unidentified Creature Response Special Task Force Headquarters” It is the first sculpture based on a movie that I have seen but as the quote from the movie script argues we have to learn to live with monsters. (“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146)

I almost always write a post about what street art I saw on my holiday (see my posts on Athens, Dublin and Korea) only I didn’t see much Japanese street art or graffiti. I was expecting to encounter some along the streets or lanes or along the rail corridors but I didn’t see enough to write a blog post about. Nothing that was even worth a photo: a bit of tagging, a paste-up and even a small piece of yarn bombing.

I did see several art galleries in Japan from the elegant contemporary, Museum of 21st Century Art in Kanazawa to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, the most unergonomic museum that I’ve ever visited (both C and I came out with aching backs from leaning in to see the prints). I have already written about some of the exhibitions that I saw in one post about sakura influenced art in Japan. I don’t think that I will be writing anymore as writing blog posts was way down on my list of priorities in my travelling to Japan.

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Sakura influenced art in Japan

The influence of cherry blossom time on the art of Japan. The masses of pale pink petals exploding across the bare trees before any green leaves appear have been a feature of Japan art for centuries. On a recent trip to Japan I did flower viewing hanami) of the cherry blossoms (sakura) in Ueno Park, Nara, Kyoto and in the mountains around Kobe. I also saw a couple of exhibitions and many beautiful works of art influenced by sakura time.

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915 (photo Yamatane Museum of Art)

The Yamatane Museum of Art was showing a thematic exhibition: “Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2018 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!” (Exclamation marks are common in Japanese translated into English.) It was an exhibition of traditional Japanese art, separated from the influence of contemporary international art; paintings in ink or the thick opaque mineral based Japanese pigments. Even though most of the paintings were recent, their techniques and style are traditional. However, tradition does change and in Tsuchida Bakusen’s Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915, there is an awareness of French modern art in the way the women’s foot was loosely drawn.

There were other exhibitions influenced by cherry blossom time, paintings beautiful women (bijinga). I didn’t see the exhibition at the Tokyo University of the Arts, “Masterpieces of Beautiful Women Paintings”, but I did see the Sumida Hokusai Museum’s exhibition “ Hokusai Beauty – the brilliant women of Edo”. The roots of bijinga are in genre paintings and ukiyo-e in the Edo period and although Hokusai is noted for his landscapes he did many bijinga during his long career. Paintings of beautiful women are genre in European art too but in Japan the focus in more on the fashion rather than the flesh.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum is a shiny new building built near the artist’s birthplace. It does not a large permanent exhibition but without the temporary exhibition it would have been a disappointingly small experience. The design of the building has a real triple bottom line by enhancing the local community with a local park and a children’s playground on the museum’s plaza. 

For more on sakura art read the Library of Congress notes on another exhibition.

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(photo thanks to Catherine Voutier)


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.


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.


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