A few thoughts about the history and aesthetics of artists making model buildings, shops, art galleries and other architecture in response to Callum Preston’s Milk Bar 2017.
Callum Preston behind the counter of his Milk Bar (photo thanks to Callum Preston)
In tracing the art history genealogy of similar installations we could look back to the pop artist Claus Oldenburg’s 1961 Store. Store was a pop-up gallery in a lower east side Manhattan shop front where he sold roughly painted and moulded plaster versions of products from undergarments to cakes and pastries. Or more recently to Barry McGee (aka Twist), Todd James (aka REAS) and Stephen Powers (aka ESPO) bodega-inspired installation, Street Market 2000 that was exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale.
Looking at local examples a different aesthetic and intentions are apparent. In Ivan Durrant’s Butcher Shop (1977-1978) a butcher shop window display of dead animals that was on permanent exhibition next to the entrance to the NGV’s restaurant. Although the square, tiled front of the shop with a window and door wasn’t precisely detailed the window display was uncannily accurate and gross.
Callum Morton Reception 2016
Callum Morton’s work Reception 2016, is a one to one replica of the reception foyer of Anna Schwartz Gallery on Flinders Lane was complete with an animatronic model of gallery director, Anna Schwartz. Entering the gallery and moving through the real foyer to the replica in the gallery was uncanny. It is similar in aesthetic and subject to Dan Moynihan’s Lost in Space 2013. Moynihan’s two-third scale replica of the outside and interior of Neon Parc gallery on Bourke Street built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary created a similar mood. Two-third scale is uncanny because although you can fit inside you know that you are too large to be comfortable. Like Morton, Moynihan’s work is about architecture and the uncanny feeling. There was no art in either model of the art galleries.
What Preston’s Milk Bar offers is comfortable nostalgia. It is not uncanny, the wooden versions of the familiar products are hand-painted and flat. Perhaps I should be considering it in relation to David Wadelton’s series of black and white photographs, Milk Bars of Melbourne 2010-2013 that documents the terminal decline of these shops.
All my examples are the work of male artists, this trend is even more obvious if you consider the male street artists, Goonhugs for example, making smaller models of shops and other buildings. I haven’t included the Hotham Street Ladies icing sugar models because their work was about interior decoration rather than architectural space or shops. At least the men are making models rather than groping models.
When I go looking at art galleries, I am looking for something really marvellous, simply being good and competent works of art is not enough for me. Sometimes I’m disappointed even after visiting multiple galleries. Today I was not disappointed, if Rosalind Atkins collaborating with Ex De Medici in an exhibition of prints and a large watercolour featuring gasmasks, bullets and birds at Australian Galleries wasn’t fantastic enough to make my head spin there was Neon Parc at Gertrude Contemporary.
Dan Moynihan, Lost in Space, 2013
What am I talking about? Neon Parc is a small alternative commercial gallery on Bourke Street. What is it doing in Gertrude Contemporary? It is Melbourne artist Dan Moynihan’s “Lost in Space”. It was two third scale replica of the outside and interior of the gallery built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary.
In 2011 I saw Moynihan’s installation “The Warm Memorial: The Dan Moynihan Experience”, part of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art NEW11 exhibition. If you saw the exhibition you would remember the large installation of fake palm trees and skeleton wearing a Walkman on a beach.
Moynihan creates immerse environments; you could go inside Neon Parc and feel what it was like inside. You couldn’t forget that this was in another gallery as one of the walls was the window of Gertrude Contemporary. You could look out the window on to Gertrude Street and see a different space.
The view from Gertrude Street
The building that houses the actual Neon Parc looks like a symbol of failure on so many levels, like the failed little businesses underneath with their old advertising. It is a red brick failure of a little rectangular modern building built in a failing location next to a multi-story carpark. (The possibility of failure is something that should be close to contemporary art.)
People in Melbourne’s gallery scene often talk about the aesthetics of a gallery space. Neon Parc does not have any, from the terrazzo floor to the fluoro strip lighting; it is an anaesthetic kind of space. I have climbed the stairs to Neon Parc too many times to count but I’ve never climbed them in two-thirds scale, the feeling was uncanny. There is no art in the replica gallery space but there on the wall just inside the door where Neon Parc always has the information sheet is Dan Moynihan’s panel. The detail is spooky – except the office space with its old green lino floor is empty except for the air-conditioner. I am lost in a replica of a familiar space in an Alice in Wonderland moment as the world shrank or I had grown – a marvellous experience enough to make my head spin.