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Spring 1883

The Hotel Windsor opened in 1883 on Spring Street; a grand nineteenth century hotel that has survived into the twenty-first century. For four days at the start of August it was used as the venue for an alternative art fair. A hotel as setting for an art fair is not an original idea; it started with the Gramercy International Art Fair at Gramercy Hotel in New York in 1994 and has been replicated in several other cities.

Patricia Piccinini, Bear Couple

Patricia Piccinini, bed installation at Spring 1883

The Melbourne Art Fair has returned after a four year absence but I didn’t have the time or energy to spend a whole day looking at forty galleries stands. Nor did I want to go to The Other Art Fair in Kensington because I had been to it last year. Surveying twenty-four galleries in the attractive and comfortable surrounds of the Windsor suited me better.

There were major commercial galleries from Melbourne, NSW, SA and NZ on all of the Windsor’s four floors displaying their art in most of larger suits of rooms along with some smaller rooms. Sharing rooms with Fort Delta was Dutton from New York.

Video art was on many of the tvs in the rooms. The setting of the hotel was more intimate and you could see what the art looked like in a furnished room rather than an unfurnished gallery. Standing in a bedroom with gallery staff encourages more conversation. Some of the smaller galleries were also using the space for both exhibition and accomodation.

The Project Room: In Bloom was curated by Madé Spencer-Castle and Jeremy Easton was the best smelling art space that I’ve ever been in thanks to the flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox.

flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox at Spring 1883

Flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox

There was an unofficial competition to have the best display on a bed or in a bathroom. My own award for best bathroom goes to Arts Project Australia which was full of ceramic snakes and sharks. My own award for best bed goes to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery with a couple of Patricia Piccinini creatures in bed and an honourable mention (if those are the right words) to Mars Gallery for an impressive Simon Pericich work with bondage themes. The tower made of bales of hay in Bowerband Ninow, a NZ gallery, was a surprise but unfortunately nothing more.

Simon Pericich installation

Simon Pericich installation in Mars Gallery’s room

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The Coburg Plan

The Coburg Plan is a paperback book of photographs, essays, stories, a poem, even some comments from Scott’s Instagram feed focused on the architecture of Coburg. Jessie Scott is described at the “principle artist” and it is an affordable, accessible kind of artist’s book.

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I have lived in this inner northern suburb for decades, I helped crowdfund the book and was at its launch on Saturday at the Post Office Hotel. At the launch there were speeches, a reading of the poem by Timmah Ball and the kind of gastropub food that the PO Hotel is now well known for. I can remember when the Post Office Hotel had a different reputation; it was further down the pecking order than the Moreland Hotel with its strippers and pokies. It was the kind of place where some guy would come around to your table asking for a cigarette. Now, it has changed.

The Coburg Plan is neither a celebration nor a condemnation of the changes; it is a neutral look at the often anaesthetic nature of suburbia. It is an elegantly designed book with type set in Brunswick Grotesque, an easy to read san-serif font and a near perfect choice of hyper-local typeface donated by its designer, Dennis Grauel.

Kyle Weise’s essay is a good introduction to Scott’s photographs. Weise examines the history of banal suburbia in architecture and in photography; from Robert Venturi Learning from Las Vegas to David Wadleton’s photographs of Melbourne’s milk bars. It is the antithesis of the modernist architectural vision that Robin Boyd writes about in his The Australian Ugliness, but it is a feature of ordinary, banal reality.

Scott records the mundane details of suburbia in her photographs. The old houses and closed corner shops, the empty lots, a ghostsign revealed during demolition, and the construction of new units. There is the street sign dealing with the fact that there are two streets in the suburb with almost the same name Hutchinson Place and Street; Australia street names makes up in repetition what they lack in originality.

It is a Coburg ‘plan’; ‘plan’, not as in an advance arrangement, but as in a representation or artist’s impression.


We Protest!

Benny Zable’s Greedozer costume, the full face gas-mask with the red radioactive sign on the end of the filter canister, was a regular feature at many demonstrations in the 1980s. He was a living sculpture with a message.

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Zable’s gas-mask along with other the ephemera of mass protest demonstrations has been curated at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall in an exhibition curated by Malcolm McKinnon. The small exhibition traces the history of protests in Melbourne from 1962 Women’s Day marches through to recent anti-fascist protests. There is a “wreck the draft poster” from the Students for a Democratic Society printed on National Service Registration forms. And an improvised cardboard sign from the taxi driver protests that block Flinders Street in 2008.

John Ellis, Challenging Captain Cook, 1976

There is no denying the cultural importance of these events and images; protests are part of the spectacle of a democratic society. A photograph of a young Aboriginal protester from the 1976 in front of the Captain Cook Cottage still resonates with the current statue wars. Along with photographs and posters, there are protest signs in the exhibition but no banners; there wasn’t enough space in the small gallery and, maybe all the good old trade union banners are at the Potter Museum of Art’s exhibition State of the Union (I don’t know I haven’t seen it yet). The photographs of banners makes me wonder if protest marches are reconfigured religious processions, mass displays of passionate faith.

The exhibition attempts to give a balance between the government/police and other views. But can there ever be a balanced when the police using batons against peaceful protestors or driving over them with a police car at the S11 protests? The pretence that there is a tolerance of protests is one of the foundations of the illusion of a liberal democracy.


Looking at the Counihan Gallery

What is it to look? To perceive clearly what is in front of you. To examine a landscape with the eye. To see the slight variations in the chaotic patterns. To notice. On average a person in an art gallery look at a work of art for only a few seconds but what if it was your job to look? In this post I will be looking at the current exhibitions the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick where there are two exhibitions about looking at landscapes.

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search and Search Party (in day-go orange) oil on canvas

Simon Grennan’s “Almost Like A Reality: The Landscape and its Subjects” refers to the history of the Australian landscape both as art subject and as a forensic site. Twenty-six oil paintings with an Australian bush landscapes with gothic element. What are the professional emergency services personnel searching for? Someone who is lost, recovering a dead body or is it a crime scene?

There are clear references in Grennan’s paintings to the Heidelberg School, particularly Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin’s 1886 plein-air painting in the bush that is now Melbourne’s suburbia: from McCubbin’s Lost, to The artists’ camp by Tom Roberts. Robert and McCubbin’s camp site was about a mile south of Box Hill railway station near Damper Creek (now Gardiners Creek).

Simon Grennan,

Simon Grennan, Scenery, Quite Nice, Quite Nice 2, oil on canvas

Kirstin Berg

Kirstin Berg, Light Years, 2018 (detail)

In her exhibition, “The Dreamers”, Kirstin Berg explores the landscape, finding bush debris, clothing, reclaimed timber and transforming them into a dreamscape. It is a landscape of extreme contrast between black and white, the shadow and the highlight. This surreal landscape is furnished; the chairs like Dali’s stilt walking elephants, a bed that is impossible to sleep on and all the solid linen soaked in plaster. For more on Kirstin Berg read an interview with her by Camilla Wagstaff in Art Collector about her 2016 exhibition at Gallery Smith.

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Ash Coates, Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness)

Outside the Counihan, part of the gallery’s annual Winter Night Screen Project, is Ash Coates’s Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness) 2017. In 2017 Time Out listed Coates piece as one of “the 9 best projections at Gertrude Street Projection Festival” although this time it is not projected onto the building. Coates’s digital animation is of a colourful alien landscape like a microscopic world of fungal life. It is visible and audible (with a soundscape by Alister Mew) from outside the gallery; waiting for the tram on a cold, wet winter’s night with one eye on the screen and one eye on Sydney Road.


Peak Books, Free Libraries and Art

We live at a time of peak stuff and consequently it is also the time of peak books. What once was rare and valued is now a glut. Collecting printed matter used to be a virtue and now it is the vice of a hoarder. Perhaps, we can only understand everything about books is when there is an excess of books.

Nicolas Jones, Holman Hunt book

My own book shelves are overflowing, packed two deep with books. More books are stacked in various strategic positions. Are they simply trophies of previous reads? How many of them will I ever read again or repeatedly consult?

Now, e-books might be an alternative to having physical books. I have read only one e-book, Medieval Graffiti, but I no longer have a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopaedia takin up space on my shelves. I no longer keep newspaper clipping or photocopy of articles as they are available online or in PDF files.

Peak books is a disturbing concept to bibliophiles and bookshop workers especially second-hand bookshops because peak books means more free libraries. I have been taking some of my excess books to the free libraries. There are free libraries at Coburg and Moreland stations, more around the streets and even one at Barkley Square shopping centre. I first noticed a free library in my neighbourhood in 2014 but the recent growth in them is a sure indicator of peak books.

Peak books means that there will be art made from the excess books, as art is made from excesses in a society. Art from books has been happening since before I started this blog and is on the increase. There are Melbourne based artists who used books as their primary media, for example Nicolas Jones. In Collected Odysseys, 2018, by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas, a two metre cairn of books blackened with ink in the middle of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.


Crime and the Art Market

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Riah Pryor Crime and the Art Market (Lund Humphries, 2016)

How corrupt is the art market?

Riah Pryor is an art history graduate who worked as a researcher at New Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit. Her experience should have provided more  to the reader. Instead there is a tiny dab of narrative at the start of chapters to suggest something of the author’s experience.

It is difficult to define art crimes; Pryor mentions a Nth Ireland police report where a stolen tube of paint was classed as an art theft. Pryor’s focus is on the economic side of art crimes: stolen art, illegally exported antiquities, art forgery and art fraud rather than art vandalism, art censorship and art as criminalised protests. However, in this did introduce me to other ways that art can be used in crime; one of these is ‘elegant bribery’.

‘Elegant bribery’ where an official is given a fake of little value, the official then puts the fake up for auction, where it is sold at a high price that a genuine work would attract to another member of syndicate acting as if he mistook the fake as a genuine. In this way all the transactions appear legitimate. I can only assume that elegant bribery was detected only through data matching because Pryor doesn’t give many details about this or other the crimes.

No particular crimes are looked at in any depth in the book. The lack of detail might be deliberate in order not to assist in crimes, as attested in an anecdote from an art authentication lab expert but the lack of details makes the book read like a colourless report about art crime from the perspective of law enforcement. It is as dry as a policy paper and her conclusions, although reasonable, are not particularly useful nor informative.

“There is no ‘correct’ reason to care about art crime, or at least no reason which all will agree on. However, determining why someone does or does not care is probably the most effective way to go about working with them to agree on future ways of tackling it.” (p.88)

Dividing the book into “Villains” and “Heroes” is a simplistic strategy and shows Pryor’s police mind set from time her New Scotland Yard. It also fails to work with Pryor’s own solution to get all sectors of the arts industry involved with stopping art crime for their own benefit. 

Art crime is a hot topic, at least for publishers, art historians and the general public, although not for the police who seem to prefer their criminals violent, stupid and intoxicated. Only if you are obsessed with the subject should you read Pryor’s Crime and the Art Market as it is simply the most boring book on the subject. If this has whet your appetite for more about art and crime then please read some of my other posts on the subject.

The theft of La belle Hollandaise

Forgery Trial Book

The Forgery Trial

The Case of Art Forgeries

True Crime and Art

Whaley’s Stolen Paintings


No Turning Back: Artworks from The Torch 2018

No Turning Back is a group exhibition Art by Indigenous prisoners and former prisoners at Deakin Downtown Gallery, the one room gallery Deakin University’s elegant space at Collins Square in the Docklands.

Big Kev, Ceremony, 2017

Big Kev, Ceremony, 2017

Most of the paintings are about the artist’s country. The fire paintings about burning as land management by Pitjantjatjara artist, Veronica Mungaloon Hudson. Jeffrey Jackson’s paintings that represent Mutti Mutti country around Lake Mungo. Robby Wirramanda painting and ceramics inspired by the Lake Tyrrell salt flats with his hopeful dragonflies trailing after images of dots across the surface of the paintings. Ray Traplin’s large dot painting of a giant snake creating rivers in Kuku Yalanji country.

There are paintings about ceremony. Ceremony by Big Kev, a Ngiyampaa man has so much detail and about his culture. The clarity of information about an exchange ceremony held between Wiradjuri, Barkindji and Wailwan in this one painting is impressive. And Bora Rings (Ceremonial Grounds) by Bradley, a Dja Dja Wurrung/Yorta Yorta man is restrained in its ochre hues but has the intensity and concentration of design that is typical of much prison art where the painting is evidence of time well spent.

Not that Gary Scott’s painting looks out of place for not being about country or ceremony. New Beginnings is about changes in his own life and from all accounts Scott is making a career as an artist in the highly competitive Indigenous arts sector, even selling a couple of paintings to the Victoria Police Academy.

On Thursday morning Kent Morris, The Torch’s CEO and a Barkindji man gave a talk at the exhibition. Weaving his own personal story of finding his identity into the way that The Torch’s program works in helping Indigenous inmates find their identity, reconnect to their culture and earn some money through art. Morris talked about the many challenges for The Torch from getting the law changed so that Indigenous prisoners can sell their art, to giving art criticism to prisoners. If you think that some artist are sensitive (and believe me they can be) then consider the delicate art or giving prisoners art criticism. Having the resilience to work through criticism and failure is necessary for artistic development but it is a very tough thing for someone in prison when the rest of their life isn’t going well.

See my earlier posts for more on The Torch: Confined 9, Confined 8, Yannae Wirrate Weelam and prison art.


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