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Tag Archives: Melbourne

Models of Milk Bars, Shops and Galleries

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.

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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 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.

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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.


Forgery Trial Book

When the authenticity of two million dollars paintings sold comes into question the stage is set for a major legal battle. Were the two large paintings forgeries or were they innocent? Was it an elaborate art fraud? Or were they by the Australian superstar artist Brett Whiteley’s whose tragic death from a heroin overdose meant that he wasn’t around to dispute its authenticity.

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In her book Gabriella Coslovich takes the reader step by step through this complex case of art forgery. From the first suspicions and the police investigation, through the committal hearing in the Magistrates Court to the trial in the Supreme Court and the subsequent appeal. She interviews, or attempted to interview, everyone involved in the story from the artist’s widow Wendy Whiteley through to witnesses, millionaire victims, police and defence lawyers. Not surprisingly not everyone want to talk but surprisingly one of the defendants, Peter Gant does. Not that she was the only journalist that he talked to; Gant seemed to bask in the media attention that his trial brought.

In the book Coslovich considers the difference between the art world and the laws assessment of the authenticity of the paintings. The issue of connoisseurship, of having “a good eye” is important to the art world but provenance is also important. People repeatedly say about Gant that he had a good eye for saleable art. Was this the same as selling a fake Rolex watch? As one of the lawyers in the case posited. Or is there a difference that the law should recognise? The damage to art history is rarely considered.

By the time it got the trial in the Supreme Court Coslovich had been investigating Peter Gant’s dodgy art deals for six years, both as the arts reporter for The Age newspaper and as an independent writer. So it was not surprising that she is passionately that she wants to see a conviction. It is her depth of knowledge of the case that made her bristled with anticipation every day of the four week trial. I know because I was sitting next to her. I am referred to once in her book as “one of my fellow scribes” (p.151) discussing with her how the dock influences juries.

I think that Coslovich may have solved one piece of the puzzle with her careful analysis of the various versions of the catalogue. The difference in gallery address and the missing printer corrections are crucial details. She doesn’t make a big thing about it in the book and unfortunately her discovery comes too late.

Gabriella Coslovich Whiteley On Trial (Melbourne University Press, 2017)


Statues Wars 2017

The statue wars of 2017 sprang to prominence in the USA although the debate had been going for some time. Around the world people have been asking what to do with these monuments to evil men, from Cecil Rhodes in South Africa to General Robert E. Lee in America to John Batman in Melbourne. The debate about these statues has often been furious, ill-informed and poorly reasoned; so more of a war than a debate. However, if I have learnt one thing from it is that the greatest educative value that a statue can have is when it is being torn down.

Stanley Hammond, John  Batman Memorial, 1978 (3)

Stanley Hammond, John Batman Memorial, 1978

I doubt that statues on pedestals are the right thing to erect but then people have been making that observation for over a century. Back then the craze was for putting up these same statues and it was called ‘statuemania’ because it was obvious that the many statues being erected were insane, not just because of the quantity but given the direction of civil society, reason and art. The only purpose in putting something on a pedestal is to worship it. The great man theory of history is not taken seriously by historians any more but some conservative groups still think that a statue will do something worthwhile.

Many people in the debate were confusing, deliberately or idiotically, the monuments with the history that they were commemorating. If tearing down statues is some kind of ‘Stalinist revisionism’ (as a reason-retarded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed) attempting to rewrite history then what were the US troops doing with that statue to Saddam Hussain in Bagdad? In Melbourne this year the controversial statue of John Batman was taken down by a property developer to redevelop the site; I doubt that motives were revisionist or that the statue will ever be permanently installed anywhere.

Do the sculptors who made these care about the fate of their statues? Not beyond the final payment; if I have learnt one thing about the kind of people who make these statues is that they are professionals.

Should these statues be preserved for the sake of their artistry? Ha ha… you were making a joke?

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Moving on the next question is: what to do with these empty plinths that the statues leave behind? Consider London’s Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square or, for a local example, Plinth Projects in Edinburgh Gardens.

Outside the St Kilda Town Hall there is this ‘monument’. Just as you thought it must be meaningful with the man, the airplane and the classical temple turns into crazy snake fun. Made of cast bronze, the sculpture and its large plinth is ironic in its content, materials and form. Local artist Richard Stringer’s Monument for a public building, 1994, turn the form of the monument into self-referential postmodernism.

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building,

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building, 1994, St Kilda Town Hall


Looking for an exhibition

First Site Gallery at RMIT “I Feel Like I Know You” by Chris Bowes, not the musician but the little known Brisbane-based artist. Except I think that the image is a portrait of Chris Bowes, the heavy-metal musician. Each of the subjects of the portraits was a ‘Chris Bowes.’ Bowes has added something more to the usual mosaic of tiles creating an image as each of the tiles is the logo of a page that the subject liked on Facebook to create a portrait of them. It was a visually and intellectually pleasing exhibition.

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Another exhibitions at First Site was also looking at our digital image but unlike Bowes, Stephanie Milsom “All of It” was visually boring and focused entirely on herself. It is always more interesting to focus on other people rather than yourself.

I have a physiological reaction to bad art; it feels sickening (in the past bad poetry has caused me to actually vomit), oppressive and there is something like mental claustrophobia. Then there is the dull boredom of another average exhibition. I try to pay attention; maybe I haven’t paid enough attention, maybe the artist will improve in time, maybe it’s just my taste or even my current mood. It is always a risk, especially with the small galleries, the rental and artist run spaces.

I wanted to get back to my routine of visiting a couple of small galleries and writing a review of some or all of the exhibitions; regular readers will be aware of a gap of several months this winter without any reviews. Yesterday this became a desperate search for some art worth writing about.

Sometimes I am looking for a gallery that I haven’t visited before but recently I have been missing all of the galleries that have closed or moved to new locations. There are only two galleries left on Gertrude Street: Seventh and This Is No Fantasy. A decade ago there were seven, which is why there is Seventh Gallery.

At Seventh in Gallery Two, Joe Gentry and Jen Mathews exhibition; “skyscraper, school, shrine, slaughterhouse” looks at the power and inherent violence in architecture. It is a good idea and it can almost be seen in Jen Mathews’s substantial mixed media assemblages and Joe Gentry’s paper warehouses and houses with graffiti on their walls.


Akio Makigawa @ NGV

Akio Makigawa’s sculptures are elegant works amid the often ludic, bombastic, and inappropriate public sculptures in Australia. Now there is an exhibition of his sculpture at the NGV. The exhibition is on the foyer of each floor of the NGV Australia at Fed Square. It is part of the NGV’s series of exhibitions about sculptors that has included Inga King, Bruce Armstrong and Lenton Parr.

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Makigawa is also a break from the list of European names in the history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. Makigawa moved to Australia in 1974; the year after the White Australia policy finally ended in 1973. The sculptures on exhibition are familiar because Makigawa’s public sculptures are all around Australia. You have probably seen his sculptures as they are out the front of buildings in most capital cities and regularly appear behind parliamentarians giving press conferences in the gardens of Parliament house.

In public spaces his sculptures influence the space around them. It is a larger space than just the negative space around the sculpture; it is a space, a pause or rest, in the movement of the city. They are not obvious and neither are they rigorous theoretical abstractions. Their rigid geometry dissolving into natural forms of a leaf or flame of marble or resin.

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Seen in an exhibition, the viewer quickly becomes familiar with the similar shapes repeated in variations of material: corten steel, stainless steel, marble… Most of the work in the exhibition was very similar to his public sculpture until the third floor where there were three early works that are very different. In these early works lighter materials: papier-mâché, wood, rope, cotton… contrasting heavy materials, like stone and lead.

Also on the third floor is a collection of his maquettes, models for his sculptures. These are interesting because where other sculptors will use any convenient material, Makigawa used exactly the same materials that he used to make the final sculpture. There is a respect for the materials in his work, in the alternating, contrasting surfaces.

For more on Makigawa’s public sculptures.


Street Art Sculpture 8

Street art sculptures from the last twelve months and continuing my series of posts about street art sculptures and installations.

Street Art Sculpture 7 2016

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area

Street Art Sculpture 5 2015

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009

Former Sydney-based sculptor Will Coles is now living in England; Banksy’s home town of Bristol to be precise. In Bristol he has been taking on the topical issue of memorials to racists and slave traders.

Junky Projects also continues to put up his sculptures, along with leading street art tours, however, I want to concentrate on a some unknown and lesser known artists. It is good to see that Discarded has continued and has left this great ceramic piece in Brunswick, as well as, one the smallest pieces that I’ve ever seen.

Forget Hosier Lane, Presgrave Place is still the best place for the second year running to look for street art sculptures in Melbourne. Crisp did this high up on the main wall along with reviving stencils with Star Wars memes lower down. Adi’s attempt at creating a guerrilla gardening planter box died.

 

Gigi has been making body parts with hair that are very disturbing in her own way. And the placement of this one is fantastic. They still work when covered in spray paint.

Visiting artist Mow left a few little doors and windows, part of a trend for tiny architecture in street art where many guys have been making models. There was even a miniature abandoned house chained up in Hosier Lane for a short time.

I also enjoyed seeing the work of Kai’s cast panels in the streets of New York this year.


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