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Tag Archives: ARI

The ghosts of galleries past

Walking around Fitzroy in middle of winter and feeling haunted by the ghosts of so many past art galleries, exhibitions and ARIs. I was looking for Fort Delta’s new location since it moved out of its basement space in the city late last year.

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

On my way along Brunswick Street I passed the street where Roar studios used to be. Roar was Melbourne’s first artist run initiative. Perhaps it was this that got me thinking about all the past white walled art galleries or maybe it was the cold shiver that ran down my spine on the coldest day of the year. I meandered my passed the location of Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery. It started in 1992, when it was called The Fitzroy Gallery, but has been closed for almost a decade now.

On Gertrude Street there are many more ghosts of galleries and studios (although this digression make the geography of this story is inaccurate). Seventh Gallery, so named because it was the seventh gallery in Gertrude Street, closed in March this year. Now there is a clothing boutique in the space that hasn’t even changed the name on the window. For a moment I had my doubts; was my favourite artist run space closed? Or was it an installation that looked like a shop? (I don’t know and their webpage hasn’t been updated.)

In the early 1980s there was Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA) a pioneer commercial art gallery on Gertrude Street. MCA started out above a Turkish takeaway on the corner of George Street before moving in 1990 to a two-storey Victorian building at 163 Gertrude Street. I remember going to an exhibition opening upstairs at MCA in the late 1980s; it was a typical gallery space with white walls and bare floorboards exhibiting mid-career Australian artists.

I can’t remember the names of all the galleries that were once on Gertrude Street. There was 200 Gertrude or, when it later changed it name, Gertrude Contemporary. Art galleries’s names have gone the way of bands, so now instead of names designed with the bland clarity of an institution it is a random combination of words.

I found Fort Delta’s new location. The entrance is in a graffiti covered laneway off Hanover Street. The gallery is a couple of rooms with white walls and white painted floor boards at the back of the buildings on Brunswick Street. I was slightly confused by the change of name to Hunger Rozario but this was clarified when I checked my emails (the name change just occurred on the 27th).

At Hunger Rozario there was an exhibition of paintings by David Palliser called “Deep Sneeze”. Palliser’s paintings looked like a sneeze; intense, violent, frenetic, messy things that blew away my ghosts of galleries past.

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Smith and Gertrude Street Galleries

On Thursday I was walking around the galleries around Smith and Gertrude Streets when I saw lots of men in suits out the front of the artist-run-gallery, 69 Smith Street. They were real estate agents packing up from the auction, the old building and small block of land had just sold for $2 million. The gallery was still open with their second last exhibitions; still life paintings by Martin Tighe and a exhibition of graduating regional artists from GOTAFE.

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As an artist-run-gallery 69 Smith Street survived for many years offering some of the cheapest exhibition space in Fitzroy and Collingwood. Consequently there were many exhibitions by students, amateur artists and a few others. Its final years as an organisation was notable only by an ugly year long dispute about who ran the gallery.

Sometimes I wonder what is the value of my practice of going around as many galleries as I can in a day. Sometimes I do this in different locations (Chelsea Gallery Crawl) but most often it the same familiar galleries. What am I doing exploring often the same territory? Why am I bothering with going to some rental space or small ARI?

I am observing the opening and closing of art galleries, the changes in the street, the graffiti and street art? I observe that a few galleries have closed in the area in the last couple of years. Finally I spotted a piece by Utah and Ether, graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde, that will help with the book I’m writing about art crime.

In the past I used to write regular reports of these walks, I still do them but now I use the exercise to find a particular art work or artist that I am will write about or just for the exercise of the walk.

I have a late lunch at the Beach Burrito Company on Gertrude Street. It is the only Mexican restaurant I’ve seen with an empty in-ground swimming pool, presumably for skateboards. As I eat my tacos I look at my notes:

Backwoods had its end of year stockroom show featuring art by the usual street art suspects including Deams, Shida, Roa, Reka, Twoone, and Lush.

Collingwood Gallery, “Nepo Rab” new paintings by Eric Henshall, a whole series of acrylic paintings on canvas depicting colourful scenes in American bars. Why American bars in Collingwood?

Gertrude Contemporary, there was too much to read at the “Gertrude Studios 2016” exhibitions. Pages and pages of notes for a single art work, more pages for another one, along with a room sheet in 10pt font. What ever it is, contemporary art appears to be a form of literature.

This Is No Fantasy, Neil Haddon, “New Works” are lush paintings that fracturing, in several ways, including between sort of landscapes and silly portraits with two round eyes.

Seventh Gallery, several strong contemporary art exhibitions at this ARI, including an upstairs space (shows how long it has been since I was last at Seventh) where Elizabeth Presa “In Playland” depicts the frozen memory of playtime in plaster. Downstairs in the front gallery Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux” is an impressive, expanding weaving of donated clothing, fabric and yarn that grew during the exhibition.

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Elizabeth Presa, In Playland

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Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux”


Warehouse vs ARI

Daniel Lynch posted on Facebook today. “If you have ever been helped out by the warehouse. If u ever crashed there while u found your way. If u ever painted the walls. If you shot a film here or even just came to party, well come hang out today. I got a garage sale all day and I will be working around the place ripping the old beast down.”

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Times Studios

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Things Studios

I was looking at Facebook as I was thinking about how to reply to an email from an artist about volunteering at 69 Smith Street. The combination started me thinking about arts warehouses vs ARI; so instead of going to hang out one last time as Daniel ripped the studio walls down I thought that I’d write a blog post. I’d been to Good Things Studio on Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick a couple of times for various reasons since Daniel established it in 2011. (In a 2012 post I call it Coco Jackson Studios I don’t know if it has changed its name or I just misnamed it with its address.)

There are some important art warehouses in Melbourne arts scene: Irene’s Community Arts Warehouse (where I first met some of the Indonesian artists involved in Taring Padi) and Blender Studios.

So how does this compare to ARI? ARI (artist run spaces) emerged in the 1980s; in 1982 Roar Studios in Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first ARI. Aiming to be bridge between the art school and major art galleries, ARI’s became part of the institution of art exhibiting. They look the same as the major galleries only the white walled spaces are smaller. But perhaps they have run their course especially as exhibiting in a gallery space is no longer essential to contemporary art and when even commercial galleries are opening what they call “project space” or dropping the word “gallery” from their name.

Warehouses combining artists studios and other events have been around since the 1990s. Warehouse parties, Warhol’s Factory and the old mystique of the artist’s studio all contribute to the warehouse vibe. The flexible warehouse space provides better matches contemporary art that might be seen on the street or a site-specific location. It allows for both artists who exhibit in galleries and those who don’t. It mixes the arts; musicians, film-makers and visual artists mixed at Good Things Studio. The community of artists working at the warehouse has a more direct influence on the work of the artist’s involved than the opportunity to exhibit.

For a young or emerging artist in Melbourne establishing an arts warehouse is more artistically significant than establishing an ARI.


Art Space Race

I keep on writing about art galleries, a room or series of rooms where art is exhibited, whatever it is called: “gallery”, “projects”, “art space”, or “artist run initiative”. I’m not sure that this has been a good idea. Few galleries state what they are above their door, ACGA members have the association logo sticker on their door, and 45 downstairs now states “a not for profit artspace” above their door. And this raises a important question: does it matter?

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“Projects” are currently in fashion in Melbourne, everyone is starting a project space from Sutton Gallery to Dianne Tanzer. “Projects” is short for “side projects”. What kinds of side projects do commercial galleries? Exhibitions in non-gallery spaces and so some galleries now have non-gallery spaces for exhibitions.

Why do structural analysis of the art world? This structural understanding of the art world has lead to a whole genre of art that refers to this structure. Questioning the institution of the art gallery may have started with Duchamp’s readymades but it became an art movement in the 1970s. Examining the institution revealed issues of power and ownership and cultural and sexual identity – some of this work has been fun but it is not what art is all about. And along with this some people have confused attacking the art gallery with analysis of its role.

Tom Wolfe’s sardonic comments on the emergence of contemporary art outside of the gallery have something of zeitgeist in them. “…the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and theorists began to hail Earth Art and the like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex’, after the ‘military industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into their biggest museums, they’ve had it.” (Tom Wolfe The Painted World, Bantam, 1976, p.102) Tom Wolfe, the artists, their dealers all knew that this would not be the end of the museum-gallery complex anymore than it would be the end of the military industrial complex but it was a story that would sell.

After all a “gallery” is just a fancy word for a room with some art in it. I don’t know about your house but mine does not look like a contemporary art gallery. The walls are the wrong colour for one thing and then there is all this stuff lying around. I do have art on my walls and a few sculptures around the place but it doesn’t look like any art gallery that I know. Even the serious art collector’s homes don’t look like art galleries.

I sometimes ask people after visiting a major art gallery about what they would most like to have in their home and remind them that it has to fit in their home. Where are you going to put it? Some work of art, like a Duchamp readymade, would mean less alienated from the gallery space. And what are you going to do with all that video art? Buy a flat screen TV and DVD player for each one, or just keep them in a draw?

This is not because I think that art should not respond to the gallery, or that galleries have made art worse but that the obsession over the space, including all my writing about galleries, has been a distraction from the main event – the art. How much does the space, what ever you want to call it, change the art?


Happy 20th Birthday Platform

In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc. 20 years on and it has become Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project in the CBD. It is open to the public every weekday and Saturday mornings all year. It is a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council.

Megan Clunes writes about the Platform’s 20 years in Broadsheet Melbourne. The photograph accompanying the article shows the original Platform in the curved underpass at the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station). The vitrines in the Spencer Street underpass were curved streamlined modern cabinets that became redundant after failing to predict the future of advertising. I remember seeing some early exhibitions in the Platform cabinets and being under-whelmed by the experience.

The cabinets at Flinders Street Station originally were known as Platform 2 and were opened 5 years after the original Spencer Street space. It was known as Platform 2 when I exhibited there in 1995 with members of Dada tribe #373.

“Celebrating 20 years of Platform” is an anniversary exhibition at Platform. There are lots of familiar names in this exhibition; not just from Platform but from the whole artists run spaces of Melbourne. (Try entering their surnames in this blog’s search box – don’t bother with their first names, it is a simple search system and will return every entry with that word.) I reviewed Brad Haylock’s neon “them/us” when it was originally exhibited at Platform; this is also a review of an exhibition by Simon Pericich, who is also in the anniversary exhibition.

This time when I looked at Platform’s cabinets I was most impressed with the Christopher Scuito’s exhibition in the “Sample” cabinet (next to the coffee shop booth and the exit to Flinders Street). “Sample” presents the work of art school students. Scuito’s has collaged beefcake cigarette lighters onto reproductions of classic sword and sorcery fantasy images emphasizing the S&M and homoerotic quality of these illustrations. Patrice Sharkey has beautifully curated Scuito’s exhibition; the details are tremendous from the black backboard supported by stacks of comic books to the whip on top of the black-framed images.

There is a publication, What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 edited by Angela Brophy. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it (I did ask at Sticky Institute but they didn’t know anything). Platform has rarely made history; its internal chronology has not been tumultuous either. In 2008 the roof of the Campbell’s Arcade collapsed when road works on Flinders Street broke through but this only damaged the shops and not the exhibition spaces. Later that year Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ was censored for nudity. But it was overshadowed, a week later, by the subsequent attack on Bill Henson.

Looking back over my blog entries I have reviewed so many of the exhibitions at Platform, not because of the quality of the exhibitions but because it is so accessible. I can easily see the exhibition a couple of times before writing about it.

Enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass each day on their way to or from Flinders Street Station. Platform’s exhibitions space presents a variety of works by mostly student and other new artists. 20 years is a remarkable achievement for any artists-run initiative, it is an institution for a whole generation of Melbourne artists. Platform will probably continue providing exhibition space to new artists until the subway is renovated which is unlikely to happen in the next 20 years.


The White Room

Every week I visit many galleries, they are all so similar, with a white walls with art hanging on the walls. The floors are bare floorboards or polished concrete – New Zealand artist and ARI godfather, Billy Apple even has opinions about what shade of grey to paint the gallery floor. People talk about the empty space: the ambience, the light, the aesthetics of the white room. There is track lighting on the ceiling. There are no chairs except for the person gallery sitting behind a desk (in the commercial galleries they are working on the computer, in the rental spaces they are reading a book or talking with a friend). The contemporary art gallery, is an austere, Spartan, minimalist place.

I have been waiting many years for the end of the antiseptic white walled art gallery for a long time. I am not the only one, Swiss curator Harold Szeemann objected to the “pristine sacristy of the white cube” in 1969. There is no reason why an art gallery has to have white walls but now they are ubiquitous. With over 200 galleries (or “projects”, “art space” or “artist run initiative”) in Melbourne you would think that there would be some variety but most look exactly the same, a former shop, factory or warehouse turned into a white walled space. Almost every gallery that I visit in Melbourne is essentially a featureless white room. The galleries are sheepishly following the same fashion, without even being aware that it is just a fashion. Remarkably there is very little creativity shown in exhibiting art.

The art gallery is an aesthetic environment but also de-functionalises the art. No one has to live with the art in the gallery; it can be shut up in an art gallery, in its own aesthetic preserve like an endangered animal. Would this strange creature, art, survive without the space? Or would it find itself an indefinable thing in W.E. Kennick’s imaginary warehouse (Mind v.67).

Historically art has rarely been displayed against a white wall; mostly art has been shown on walls of various colours. Even fauvist and cubist paintings were shown on brown sackcloth in Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s gallery; a former tailors shop, in Paris. But with the purity of high modernism came the white gallery wall and the removal of comforts.

In researching Kahnweiler’s sackcloth walls I have to note that he states: “There was nothing – no publicity campaigns, no cocktail parties, nothing at all and I will tell you something even stranger: I didn’t spend a cent on publicity before 1914, not one cent. I didn’t even put announcements in the papers; I didn’t do anything.” (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler My Galleries and Painters, Thames & Hudson, 1971)

The word “gallery”, that “art gallery” has inherited, comes from the long corridors of renaissance places. The art gallery is a bourgeois adaptation of the noble’s galleries and other rooms in their palaces. Post-revolutionary France used the art gallery/museum to transform the artistic treasures of the monarchy and church into art. Later, at the start of the 20th century, anthropological collections of ethnographic artefacts started to be displayed in art galleries. Since then, anything can be displayed an art gallery and made ‘art’ as Duchamp and many curators have proved.

I am a bit bored with the white room, with the concentration on the space rather than the art exhibited in them. If the art is any good then it doesn’t matter if it is exhibited in a laneway full of garbage bins. If you want to change the type of art exhibited in art galleries then you are going to have change the gallery, or at least the colour of its walls.

“Whiteness is filthy.” – Julian Torma (1902 -1933)


Types of Art Galleries

What is an art gallery?

Yes, it is a simple question but as there are currently about 8 or 9 different types of art galleries in Melbourne, there is no simple answer. There are also combinations of these different types, commercial galleries with cafes or rental spaces with stock rooms.

Almost all art on sale is sold on consignment with commissions between 10 – 60%; for those of you who consider this high remember that ordinary retail mark-up about 30% to the wholesale price with bookshops marking up to 50%.

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Institutions – Art galleries funded by state government, university, local councils or even privately (like Ten Cubed in Melbourne or MONA in Hobart) with permanent and/or temporary exhibitions and perhaps a permanent collection. They are called a variety of names: museums, institutions, collections or galleries. Some are very large like the National Gallery of Victoria whereas others are small like the Gallery @ City Library.  The larger ones are well staffed with professional curators and gallery attendants. As these galleries receive funding the choice of art that they exhibit is not dependent on sales. Sometimes they charge entry fee, otherwise there are nothing for sale except at the gift shop/coffee shop. (See my posts: Institutional Art Galleries in MelbourneMuseums and Collections , State Galleries & Politics, Private Collection Public Exhibition and 2Do @ Art Museum.)

Art Dealers – These galleries are selling art purchased for on selling; they may also, sell on consignment from collectors and artists. Their exhibition does not change except for sales or to rotate stock, for example Charles Nodrum Gallery or Louraine Diggins Fine Art.

Commercial Galleries – Feature a program of temporary exhibitions from artists represented by the gallery, for example, Australian Galleries or Niagara Galleries. The ACGA (Australian Commercial Galleries Association) represents many of the major commercial galleries in Melbourne. Commercial galleries will have a stock room of art on consignment directly from the artist. Most commercial galleries will have one or two staff at work. (See my post about Commercial Galleries.)

Rental Spaces – Art galleries that are rented to the artist for temporary exhibitions. The gallery does not represent the artists. Rental space galleries are the most common type of gallery in Melbourne. (See my post about Rental Spaces).

Artist Run Initiatives – (ARI for short) Galleries (or other spaces, like the advertising cabinets at Platform or the mailboxes at Mailbox 141, both are ARIs) run by artists. Some are basically same as rental spaces except run by a group of artists, for example Brunswick Arts or 69 Smith. Other ARIs have a more alternative program and aspire to be small institutions of contemporary art, like TCB, Seventh or Westspace. Some ARIs do receive a small amount of government support. (See my post about Artist Run Initiatives – ARI who?)

Both rental spaces and artist run initiatives aspire to appear the same as commercial galleries, so it is hard to tell them apart and the lines are not that clear. Some institutional and commercial galleries rent their space exhibitions.

Studio Gallery – Galleries continually exhibiting the work of a single artist with exhibition space attached to the artist’s studio, for example, Krista Stewart gallery and studio in Brunswick. Art warehouses with multiple artists studios often have open studios, exhibitions and other other events. (See my post Warehouse vs ARI)

Online Galleries – webpages with art for sale, these are not really galleries because there is no interaction, aside from sales, between the gallery and the artist or the gallery with the public. (See my post about Online Galleries.)

Art Boutiques & Craft/Gift Shops – selling t-shirts, magazines and collectables along with prints and original art by graffiti artists, illustrators and other ‘low brow’ artists. They may have a small area with temporary exhibition but otherwise it is an exhibition of stock. (See my post about Art Boutiques).

Non-Gallery Exhibition Spaces – cafes, furniture shops, private houses, vitrines in public libraries, temporary exhibition spaces, laneways have all been used for art exhibitions. (See my posts about Alternative Exhibition Spaces and Art Squats).

For some specific examples of different types of art galleries read my post about the types of art galleries in Flinders Lane.


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