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Tag Archives: Ian Potter Museum of Art

What big eyes you have…

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed is the summer show at the Ian Potter Museum of Art’s 2017. Curator Samantha Comte has filled all three floors with works by notable local and international contemporary artists on the subject of fairy tales in an exhibition suitable for adults and children.

We all know what fairy tales are but like so many things that we all know they are hard to define. How do fairy tales differ from folktales? Are they the last remnants of ancient cultures thousands of years old? Including Patricia Piccinini’s sci-fi inspired creatures is probably pushing the definition a bit far although Piccinini, like many of the other artists in this exhibition, does employ pathos in her art.

There is the pathos of the lost child in Polixeni Papapetrou photographs from her Fairy Tale and Haunted Country series. Diana Goldstein’s Fallen Princess series takes a different approach with iconoclastic photographs of Cinders drinking in a bar, Snow White with toddlers in suburbia and Princess Pea on her stack of old mattresses in a rubbish dump. Although there is work in a wide variety of media in this exhibition from painting and ceramics through to a computer game, The Path (2009) by Tale of Tales. It is the photographs, or work based on photographs like Tracey Moffat’s photo-silkscreen Invocation series, that gave this exhibition the bulk of its substance and depth.

The contemporary art work is given a context with a selection historical fairy tale books from the rare books collection of Baillieu Library including some with illustrations by Gustave Dore and Arthur Rakham. Along with five silhouette animation films of fairy tales by Lotte Reiniger from the 1950s.

Silhouettes are used by many artists starting with Rakham and Reiniger and on to the contemporary art of Kara Walker and Kylie Stillman. Fairy tales stand out in two dimensions, shadows of in our collective imagination from an ancient world of magic thinking.

There is an over representation of work based on Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel is something that not even the books of Japanese Fairy Tales or the contemporary fairy tale by Tobsha Learner, and illustrated by Peter Ellis, can offset. The brothers Grimm’s tales still dominate our idea of fairy tales.

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Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade

Turning and spinning are themes that Sean Gladwell’s art revolves around; as in his video Storm Sequence where he spins around on his skateboard. So it is not surprising that his VR art, Reversed Readymade makes heads turn.

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In fact you can turn a full 360 degrees in a VR of an actual warehouse studio while seated in an office chair. It makes you feel very much in control of the VR experience, even if you are stuck in one spot, because you can turn your back on things.

Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade is a beautiful use of VR technology with a big reference to Marcel Duchamp. This is both the most direct and complete Duchamp reference that I have ever seen (I did my Master’s thesis on Duchamp so I have seen a lot). Gladwell takes Marcel Duchamp’s first readymade, Bicycle Wheel and makes it his own.

Gladwell actually makes it his own, making his own bicycle wheel mounted on a stool and then rides it around, spinning around in a circle in the studio. The six minute VR experience depicts this along with some bicycle riding.

Marcel Duchamp had the idea of a reverse readymade. It was a reciprocal arrangement to his readymades, where an existing work of art would be used as an ordinary object. “A Rembrandt used as an ironing board” was Duchamp’s suggestion but Bicycle Wheel is more deserving. It also works better for Gladwell who has more experience with wheels than domestic appliances.

Nor should we forget Duchamp’s interest in optical and mechanical art and that the bicycle wheel was his first attempt at optical art. Duchamp made Bicycle Wheel, in part, to be able to watch the pattern of shadows from a spinning spokes for more than a few seconds.

I’d like to think that Duchamp would have been very impressed with Gladwell’s work for its visual, optical and conceptual elements; he would have also probably felt a bit dizzy from the VR experience, I was.

Sean Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade 2016 is part of the Basil Sellers Art Prize exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University.


Three Sided Football

“It appears that the first person to come up with the idea of three-sided football was Asger Jorn, who saw it as a means of conveying the notion of dialectics. We are still trying to discover if there any actual games organised by him. Before the LPA organised its first game at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School in 1993, there is little evidence of any games being played.”

“There is, of course, the rumour that Luther Blissett organised an informal league…”

“Luther Blissett Three-Sided Football League”, Stewart Home, Mind Invaders (Serpent’s Tail, 1997, London, p.56)

I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism any more than I am claiming that any of the information in the quotes is accurate. Even though Gabrielle de Vietri’s Three teams 2013 has no reference to earlier three-sided football games in her extensive artist’s statement but Neoists like Stewart Home were kicking lots of ideas around, hoping that some would catch one of them and run with it. A further complication to any accusations of plagiarism is that: “Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name.” (Home, Mind Invaders p. 44)

Gabrielle de Vietri Three teams 2013 is part of the Basil Seller Art Prize 2014 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. There are many differences in football codes, media and the expression of the idea, but both have the intent to refute the dualism of the game of football and thereby, through Neoist reasoning, refute the dualism in life.

Gabrielle de Vietri realised the idea of three sided football recording the development of the game. “The game was played on the oval of the Taylors Lake Football & Netball Club in October 2013 between the Horsham RSL Diggers, Noradjuha-Quantong and Taylors Lake teams.” Her dual-channel HD video in 16:9 ratio with sound is 30:07 minutes long. It is interesting to watch because all of the participants are enthusiastic and thinking deeply about how a game based on Australian rules football would work with three teams. If you can’t imagine footballers taking conceptual art seriously you must watch this video. It is really the integration of art and life, or at least football, which to many Australians is the equivalent.

The historicism of the what was once considered underground art means that it is time to reconsider Neoism. Neoism, the art movement to end all art movements, was just another Neo-Dada movement. The word that reverberated around the art world since it was first spoken in Zurich in 1916 is still echoing the echoes.

Was Neoism the art movement that ended all art movements? Since Neoism there really hasn’t been another art movement, just geographic clusters of artists (unless we count Stuckism as an art movement). I remember reading somewhere that Stewart Homes was criticised for taking Neoism seriously; now the whole art world (except for Stuckists) takes Dada and some of its off spring seriously.

On the subject of open identities, another open identity like Luther Blissett, Monty Cantsin has been in the news attacking a Jeff Koons exhibition with a blood X and marker pen a signature. There is something wrong attacking the authenticity of Koons when you are also attacking the authenticity of identity by adopting the open identity of Monty Cantsin. Splashing blood around just further confuses any message and, or metaphor. (Cries of: “No, I’m Monty Cantsin” continue to be heard off stage.)


Jericho to Jerusalem

There is always an exhibition of classical antiquities on the first floor of the Ian Potter Museum of Art and it forms a significant part of the museum’s character. The current exhibition, “Jericho to Jerusalem” is of Bronze and Iron Age pottery from excavations by Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978) in Jericho and Jerusalem. The artefacts are all from the Melbourne University’s Classics and Archaeology Department’s collection that is used for hands on teaching and research.

Biblical archaeology has a bad reputation connected with the religious mania of evangelical Christians and political justification of Zionism but the work of Kathleen Kenyon is not of that kind of archaeologist. Kenyon, one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th Century, is notable for refining archaeological techniques, in particular her stratigraphy of the Middle East. Her stratigraphy has subsequently been largely backed up by radiocarbon dating. You might have heard of Jericho and Jerusalem from the Bible but there are no Biblical references in this exhibition.

This is an exhibition of ordinary domestic pottery from the Bronze and Iron Age. There are no masterpieces, the antiquity of the exhibits are the main attraction. Although this is just plain pottery I was particularly taken by a small gypsum (alabaster) juglet from Bronze Age Jericho 2200-1750 BCE and three jar handles from Iron Age Jerusalem 100-586 BCE stamped with the maker’s flying eagle stamp on them. The maker’s eagle stamp is a trademark that any modern company would be proud to have as their logo.

The didactic panels accompanying the exhibits are clear, informative without being too technical or over burdening the visitor with excessive information. A reproduction of Kathleen Kenyon’s hand drawn stratigraphy from one of her Jericho trenches makes a great backdrop to one of the display cases.

The archaeological interest of the pottery is in shapes, surface treatments, attachments and evidence of use, for example the carbon burn marks on the lamps. The existence of ceramics indicates social aspects: established settlement, specialized skills and trade.

I normally don’t write about ceramics or ancient art so I was pleased that I went to the exhibition opening by my old friend and archaeologist, Geoff Irvin who gave me a great deal of background on Kenyon’s work and the archaeology of the Middle East.


Seven Exhibitions

The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride to Melbourne University today; I had various reasons to go including having another look at the sculptures on campus for a future blog post. I also saw a couple of galleries on the campus, the George Paton Gallery and Ian Potter Museum of Art and on the way back I stopped in to have a look at Brunswick Arts Space.

I thought that I might give George Paton Gallery a miss because the exhibition “Make it New” was just a student union photography competition and exhibition but as I was passing by the Melbourne Student Union building I felt that this reason was snobbish. I was glad that I saw the exhibition, the variety and quality was impressive; I had seen some of the photographs before in other exhibitions.

Ian Potter Museum had three exhibitions: Heat in the eyes, Colour Me Dead and Under the Sun.

“Heat in the eyes: new acquisitions 2010–13” has more than fifty works recently acquired through purchase and donation. This included works by some familiar names: Jenny Watson, Mike Kelly and Peter Tyndall. Trevor Nickolls’ exuberant painting “Gertrude Street, Fitzroy” is definitely worth acquiring for so many reasons.

“Under the sun” is exhibition for the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2013 is an annual award for Indigenous creative artists. The $25,000 award winner is Mabel Juli for her minimal painting “Garnkeny Ngarranggarni (Moon Dreaming)”. The artists on exhibition are Teresa Baker, Daniel Boyd, Hector Burton, Timothy Cook, Mabel Juli, Kunmarnanya Mitchell, Alick Tipoti, Garawan Wanambi and Regina Wilson. I was taking note on the fibreglass resin masks by Alick Tipoti from the Torres Strait Islands, Hector Burton’s paintings of the trees around the waterhole with their fantastic colours, and the woven patterns in Garawan Wanambi (NT) paintings when my pen ran out of ink and so did my notes at this point.

Philip Brophy’s exhibition “Colour Me Dead” is about “changing perceptions of the nude in art from Neoclassicism and Romanticism”. It sounds more like an art history thesis than an art exhibition but Brophy has created an attractive and clever multi-media exhibition from his research. There is a movie, works on paper, digital art, sounds, lights and plenty to cogitate on. And here was I with out a functioning pen.

On my ride back I looked at the graffiti covered Upfield bike track (more research for future blog posts) and I stopped at Brunswick Arts Space. Where there were three good exhibitions. “I need a life, where can I download one? A drawing investigation by Alice Alva” fills two walls with drawings of debatable quality in a Barry McGee style hanging. Jess Kelly’s “Photosynthesis” has alchemical jars and life-size paper cut-outs of the lamppost growing leaves evoking a mysterious atmosphere. And Andy Robertson’s “Works, 2012” took a wry look at the documentation of contemporary art.


Basil Sellers Art Prize 2012

Melbourne artist, Jon Campbell won the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize for his work Dream team – 22, a series of enamel paintings on board each with a footballer’s nickname: Dipper, Richo and Buddy Love. It is a footie fan’s dream team a nicknames.

Basil Sellers will be relieved not to be taking home a DVD this time for it is an acquisitive prize and the last two prizes have been won by video art.

There was a strong showing by aboriginal artists this year I especially enjoyed Richard Bell’s two paintings and Brook Andrew two works, especially his painting examining the indigenous origins of Australian Rules football.

I enjoyed seeing Simon Perry sculpture “Twickenham”. The small figures rotate as their roll along a track mounted on the gallery wall; the figures are based on Ian Bradshaw’s photo of the arrest of the first streaker.

Patrick Pound’s exhibition of found photographs of amateur sports-people, electronic game machines and souvenirs of professional sports stars that lost suggest the ordinary tragedies that are the corollary of sporting triumphs.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize has started me thinking about sport again – see my previous post about Art & Sport and the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2010.  (I don’t often think about sport; when the grand final was being played in Melbourne on Saturday I was watching “Writer’s Bench” at ACMI, thank you Sandra.)

In “Fair game: Art versus sport in ‘the lucky country’ (Art & Australia v.47 n.4) the article Christopher McAuliffe describes the oppositional positioning of art and sport noting the objections to sport from Robin Boyd (and David Williamson) and identifying the 1956 Olympics as the point where sport moved from a balanced part of Australian life to an obsession that indicative of conservatism and a reason for national pessimism. McAuliffe is optimistic that a balance can be restored but his evidence is only anecdotal.

On the other hand Barrie Houlihan (School of Social Sciences, Staffordshire University, “Sport, National Identity and Public Policy”, Nations and Nationalism v.3, Issue 1) concluded “that while sport possesses a powerful symbolism that can be exploited on occasion to great effect, the malleability of sports symbolism often undermines its capacity to exert a lasting effect on national identity.”

Art, what ever it is, is an elaborate cultural activity that exposes elements of a culture. Reflecting on art can illuminate these cultural elements, both the intentional and the unintentional. In this aspect I think that art is helpful to human happiness as it provides a time to think – as happiness requires, according to Epicurus: friends, freedom and time to think. Sport and games in general, although enjoyable but do not provide time to think, very few people reflect on their life at a football match or while playing on the X-box. This is not to argue that sport and games are not conducive to happiness, they are a great way to spend time with friends, only that sport and games alone will not provide a happy life. Sport and games are not the same as the free play that occurs in art.


The Rubble of History

“Cultural Rubble”, 1993, by Christine O’Loughlin, was re-installed on the façade of the new Ian Potter Art Gallery at Melbourne University in 1998. “Culture Rubble” is a large scale, site-specific installation of 4 panels in very high relief; statues and vases stand our almost complete above the surface. It represents the rubble of the classical world reinterpreted in the antipodes.

The idea that a site-specific installation could be re-installed on a new building is made understandable by the moving of the contents, the Ian Potter Art Gallery, from the old building to the new one. The Ian Potter Art Gallery contains a collection of classical antiquities.

“Cultural Rubble” samples past images and recombines them to create a new meaning. It was the first public sculpture that said post-modern to me (although Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon” 1989 is historically the first post-modern sculpture in Melbourne).  For me, “Cultural Rubble” was a visual proof of a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. It demonstrates a post-modern sense of history, as opposed to the modernist rejection of history. It looked back not just to the classical Greek world but also to the history of art museums such as the paster-cast gallery in the V&A Museum. “Cultural Rubble” contains, in a way, the entire sense of art history embodied by the Louvre’s collection, including the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Discus Thrower.

The rubble has been broken, a symbol of no value, and then reassembled in a different order. It is like the Japanese Buddhist monks that cut up and reassemble a patchwork of fabrics or broken ceramics. It is not an effort to restore what has been sacrificed but find new meaning and order in the sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice is the reciprocal action to terrible destruction, however the sacrifice, itself is a terrible destruction require yet another sacrifice in order to restore the balance. The Christian iconoclasts and the modernists failed to clear up all the rubble of their destruction of the classical pagan world.

The artist, Christine O’Loughlin had lived and worked in France since 1979 and cast the sculptural elements for “Cultural Rubble” at the Louvre. “Cultural Rubble” is an early anomaly in Christine O’Loughlin’s sculptural work, in that it is not representative of her other work, except in its use of the poetics of displacement. She has continued to exhibit in Europe using the environment as her main sculptural material.

Post-modernism was not the end of history rather it was a different sense of history. It was a sense of history with multiple different views. It was sense of history that was evident not just in O’Loughlin’s sculpture but also in the photography of Bill Henson and in the paintings of Gordon Bennett, Imant Tillers and Juan Davilla. However, as Melbourne moved from post-modern to contemporary art the sense of history has faded.


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