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Tag Archives: Nicholas Building

Nicholas Building Exhibitions

Three sentence reviews of four exhibitions in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building, where there is always more than you expect to find.

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In Response, Craft Cubed Festival, Cathedral Arcade

A video loop of a site-specific performance piece by two dancers, Briarna Longville and Elise Drinkwater using jewellery by jewellers Ruby Aitchison and Annie Gobel. One of the necklaces of made of metal strips is on exhibition along with the video. At times it looks like puppetry of necklaces, at times a fashion parade but the work does succeed at a hybrid event.

Alex Walker and Nick James Archer, Visible Absence, Blindside Gallery One, Level 7

The empty experience of missing the building next door which has been demolished to build the Metro tunnel. The absence is made visible by some sheets of acrylic with minimal images printed on them. Some of the sheets of obscure the window that looks out on the demotion site, one is on a trolley and another is out in the corridor.

Jeremy Bakker, Unfathoming, Blindside Gallery Two, Level 7

“Unfathoming” suggests a reduction in depth and this witty little works by a clever artist  plays on shallowness. In his Manifest density (2018) various glasses have been melted down and poured into a mould made from the negative space of the glass. I could have lived without so much text accompanying the exhibition; the work spoke to me more than the printed words.

Matlok Griffiths, Hole of Mirrors, Reading Room, Level 6

Painted bronze hanging on the wall, a high art materials meets slacker art attitude in a dull resolution. Dumb doodling with a square of wax that was then cast in bronze and then painted. The Reading Room is a beautiful gallery space occupying one corner of the sixth floor.

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The Nicholas Building Open Studios

The antique elevators have been replaced and their fabulous lift operators, Joan McQueen and Dimitri Bradas, have long gone. The letter drop system near the elevators on each floor no longer works; the system that allowed people on each floor to post letters to be collected somewhere on the ground floor or basement. The tiles are coming off the walls. Threatened with redevelopment. But the Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane continues to be a centre for art and design in the centre of the city.

DSC02265It is a very interesting building just to look at an office building from the 1920s. From the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor to the ghost signs on the old office doors. Hand painted gold lettering from another era from businesses that no longer exist: Miss V Synan, Alexander Lau Pty Ltd and others.

The Nicholas Building had an open studio evening on last Thursday 22 of June. It has one every couple of years and although I am familiar with the building, its galleries and some of the studios I had not been to one of its open studios before. There were a few performances, exhibitions and other events were happening that night in the building.

I was pleased to see the studio of book sculptor Nicholas Jones. I had seen his work for many years but it was great to put meet the person behind the work and his studio.

Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery are the long term survivors in a building that has seen many exhibition spaces. Pigment gallery was followed by Edmund Pearce Gallery a contemporary art space dedicated to photography and now Kimono House a shop selling Japanese textiles and craft occupies the same space.

Open studios are like looking inside people’s homes or at least their offices. The studios of artists, architects, cartoonist, clothes designers, cobblers, jewellers, milliner,  toy makers, writers along with the office of the Bob Brown Foundation were open to the public for the night.

There is a growing sense of history about the building. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. There is now a small engraved brass plaque on the door frame of her former studio.

I have been writing about the Nicholas Building since I started blogging. The Nicholas Building might be worth a chapter, if someone was going to write about contemporary artists studios in Melbourne as Alex Taylor has done with his book, Perils of the Studio (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007, North Melbourne).  Perils of the Studio is about artists studios in Melbourne in the 1890 and early 20th Century. It is a very interesting, well researched and perfectly illustrated book (I know from experience how difficult doing a first book as an illustrated text can be so I am even more impressed by what Taylor has done).


On the Blindside

“Happy Summer Tank” by Diego Ramirez is a great little exhibition about cosplay and issues of dressing-up in trans gender and race characters. These are a serious issues; culturally there are off-limits in dressing up as a different gender or race. It leads to another issue: are the culturally acceptable trans gender and race issues different for Australia or the USA or Japan? Does a country’s history change what is culturally acceptable? These issues could be heavy and confronting but they are not in this exhibition because the cosplay is so beautiful and fun.

The cosplay is excellent; the costumes were perfect. The cosplayers who are interviewed are shown as be intelligent, thoughtful people who take the issues seriously and who love dressing up.

Ramirez has paid attention to detail in the installation of his videos at Blindside. This is something that initially attracted me to his work when I saw his video installation Radish at Seventh Gallery in August last year. The walls at Blindside match with the backgrounds of two of the videos and there was a long table of mock ups of tangible/virtual products, reimagined with the cosplayers. I can make sense of the mixing of Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed in the games packaging on the table but what was the pile of dirt about?

The other exhibition at Blindside, “FAB(ricated) LYF” by Emma Collard, Cherie Peele and Natalie Turnbull didn’t work for me. I could see what they were trying to do mediating between art and life – maybe I was put off by their Gen-Y optimistic solutions, maybe I was the wrong gender.

It was the first time that I had used to new lift in the Nicholas Building. I miss the old lift operators and their decorated lifts but the new lift is a lot faster at reaching the seventh floor where Blindside is located. It is always enjoyable to be inside the Nicholas Building with all its faded gold rush marvellous Melbourne optimism. Outside on the back of the building the gold leaf that Bianca Faye and Tim Spicer applied in 2008 as part of the Laneways Commissions Welcome to Cocker Alley… continues to cling to the external pipes.

 


Nicholas Building – June

I hadn’t been to galleries in the Nicholas Building for sometime (I get tired of visiting the same galleries all the time). It is worth visiting the Nicholas Building if you are interested in art, fashion, literature, or just urban exploration but I’ll stick to the art galleries for this blog post.

I took the old elevator to near the top of the building for on the eighth floor is the Stephen McLaughlan that sells seriously beautiful art for the serious art collector. The current exhibitions featured beautiful lights and a video installation. The light works by Veronica Cavern Aldous are beautiful, simple and effective – I saw another work by her last year in a group show at Guildford Lane Gallery. Josephine Telfer’s installation “Billabong” is a romantic multi-layered work that combines text and two videos of the moon reflected on a billabong.

I walked down the stairs one floor to Blindside, an artist run space supported by the City of Melbourne, on the seventh floor. Blindside has two gallery spaces. In Gallery One, Elizabeth Pedler’s exhibition “Interventions in the Present Moment” features two giant teleidoscopes, a kind of kaleidoscope without coloured beads, focused on the intersection of Flinders and Swanston Street. But for much of this exhibition Pedler is pushing the mirror thing to far; every couple of years I see an exhibition with mirrors in white gallery corners.

In Blindside’s Gallery Two Canberra based artist, Steph Wilson “Ain’t Got No Business Doing Business Today”. A painting and the actual thing; every couple of years I see an exhibition that does this but Wilson has done a cool corporate-style version of this trope. It creates a strange vibe; I kept on looking at the differences between the painting and the installation of coach, table, pot plant, the black border on one wall – it is like the spot the difference puzzle drawings.

I continued walking down the stairs of the Nicholas Building, taking in the ambience of the old building to the second floor where there is the Edmund Pearce Gallery (where the Pigment Gallery used to be.) Edmund Pearce Gallery is a contemporary art space dedicated to photography with two exhibitions. There was Peter Drinkell’s “The great road climbs of the Alps and Pyreness”. It is a very topical exhibition given the current Tour de France and sponsored by a cycling clothing and accessories company. And Gary Heery’s “Undergrowth”; the deathly beauty of Heery’s photographs is spooky like a butterfly collection. The young nude women are pressed on glass, this and the frame of photographic print reminded me of Laura Palmer wrapt in plastic, or Snow White in her crystal tomb. The spiky plants and thorns contrast the soft mortal flesh of the models.

Two more floors and I’m back under the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade. It was worth visit the Nicholas Building – I must do it again soon.


Pigment Gallery – Misses and Hits

I saw the worst exhibition of year this week at Pigment Gallery: “small works”, an exhibition of affordable art. I’ve seen some disappointing exhibitions this year, I’ve seen some boring exhibitions this year but this was awful. I felt that I’d wandered into some high school exhibition. I tried to look around to see if I could spot something that was worth looking at but I couldn’t leave soon enough. I don’t want to pick on any of the obviously amateur artists in the exhibition but hung together in a gallery the weakest work dragged the rest down.

Pigment Gallery, a gallery for hire on the second floor of the Nicolas Building, a great location in the city. It has three gallery rooms, two white walled rooms and one small space with black walls, that works well for works on paper or photographs. I wasn’t surprised by the exhibition it is kind of un-curated, group exhibition something that rental space galleries do to pay their rent (see my post about Rental Spaces). And it is not as if all the exhibitions at Pigment Gallery are that awful; I have seen some decent exhibitions there. Earlier this year I saw an exhibition there but I didn’t get far in writing up my notes about the exhibition.

Earlier this year in Pigment’s Gallery 1 and the Black Gallery I saw an attractive exhibition by Tasmanian artist and RMIT Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Carol Batchelor. I preferred her small paintings in the Black Gallery to the large colour field oil paintings in Gallery 1 because of the variety of forms and the movement and interaction of the wet ink meeting a different dilution of wet ink.

At the same time in Pigment’s Gallery 2 a Monash Masters of Fine Arts graduate, Erica Tandori (aka Erica Peril) was exhibiting “Landscape and Desire”, a series of digital photographs about her Hungarian Australian background. The digital montage of images mixed Australian landscapes with Hungarian elements like Hungarian dancers or the long horn cattle. Some of images seemed a bit obvious: “Budapest exit 15544.44km” on road sign along an Australian highway, many were more obscure, like all the Hungarian grey cows. The digital montages were not slick, they were obvious on close inspection, but digital perfection wasn’t the point of the images.

 


Bored @ Blindside

On Thursday morning on the 7th floor of the Nicolas Building a small group of high school kids were waiting outside Blindside for the gallery to be opened. When the gallery attendant arrived about 10 minutes late and unlocked the door the school kids then lined up in the gallery along the path taped on the floor marked “End Zone”. They waited for the video and sound to be turned on and then took one look at Blaine Cooper’s installation “End Zone (Always do the Bad Thang)” and then left.

I was also waiting and watching the jeweler at work, a floor down across the light well at the Nicholas Building. I was hoping to the school kids would engage with the installation; jogging on the treadmill or playing the guitar as Blaine Cooper suggested in his notes on the exhibition. But the video montage of movie explosions and the rock music were not that inspiring or motivating rather they are too familiar and mundane. And neither the Marshal amp nor the treadmill had been turned on yet.

The gallery attendant told me that later that day at the exhibition opening Blaine Cooper would be running on the treadmill with guitarist, Nicholas Lam of The Vaudeville Smash, cranking up the amp.

I don’t know if I want to put that much effort into making some piece of contemporary art work and this not an isolated incident. Too much contemporary art is like a lame performance where audience participation is a demand rather than an option. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, not that the demand for participation encourages me to feel generous in my mood. Demanding that an audience participate is a sure way to annoy those who are feeling uncommitted and undecided. An audience may be willing to participate when the artist has already won the audience’s interest, sympathy, respect…

I’m bored now – I’m leaving.


Banksy in Melbourne

In 2003 when the world famous street artist, Banksy was 27 years old he visited Melbourne. In keeping with his secretive nature it was an unofficial visit and different from Keith Haring’s visit. (See my post about Keith Haring in Melbourne for more about early visiting international street artists in Melbourne.) Details of the visit are still sketchy.

Banksy came to Australia in April 2003; he had been invited to participate in the Semi-Permanent design event in Sydney. Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Dmote, Burn Crew and Perks & Mini created work at a warehouse exhibition in Alexandria, Sydney. Approximately 1,500 people attended but only Chris of Rotten Fresh has published any photos.On Banksys Forum bigwilly commented about Banksy’s attendance at Semi-Permanent (Feb 2, 2010, 11:31pm) “We flew Banksy out here for an exhibition that I ran in 2003. Rather surprisingly (even for back then) the man turned up. He then proceeded to create a massive collage piece on some panels that we had put together for the exhibition. All up it measured about 2.5m high x 9m long. Suffice it to say that this was quite possibly the biggest Banksy piece ever made (probably even bigger than the billboards he has done). The exhibition happened and was huge. We then took the panels down.”

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

Puzle of Burn Crew (a T-Shirt label) showed Banksy around Melbourne. Banksy had met Puzle and the rest of the Burn Crew at Semi-Permanent. “Puzle” now works as freelance art director and designer in Melbourne. Banksy and members of Burn Crew did a couple of missions spraying rats in various suburbs doing a couple of Little Divers, one in Brunswick and one in the CBD and lots of rats. Spraying policemen kissing in St.Kilda and various pieces around Revolver in Parhan.

A surviving now threatened Banksy rat in Fitzroy

Banksy came to Melbourne at the height of Melbourne’s own stencil street art phase but his secret visit had little impact at the time. Banksy has voiced his support for Melbourne street art; in 2006 Banksy wrote an article The Guardian (24/3/06) concerned about the buffing of Melbourne stencil graffiti for the Commonwealth Games. Banksy called Melbourne’s street art “… arguably Australia’s most significant contribution to the arts since they stole all the Aborigines’ pencils”. (See also Richard Jinman “Street art moves to a posh new hang-out” Sydney Morning Herald 9/4/07)

Melbourne local artists have defaced Banksy’s work in territorial disputes.  Sophie D. wrote a blog post about Alex defacing Banksy’s work back in May, 2009 (Alex was actually restoring a defaced Banksy, as Nerdbanite reported. Thanks CDH for pointing this out. See the Comments.) The owners of the Nicholas Building tried to protect the ‘Little Diver’ in Cocker Alley under a sheet of acrylic glass in 2007 but it was vandalized and destroyed in 2008.  In 2012 a parachuting rat in Parhran was  destroyed by plumbing. (For more on the disappearance of Banksy stencils from Melbourne’s streets see my post Another Banksy Gone.)

Banksy, Parhan  wall, 2011, pre-plumbing changes

Banksy, Parhan wall, 2011, pre-plumbing changes

The greatest impact of Banksy’s visit to Melbourne has been to expose the hypocrisy of Melbourne City Council towards street art. The City of Melbourne has used Banky’s parachuting rat (yes the one that council workers destroyed in Hosier Lane) to promote the city in their publication Hot Spots Winter 20011 (City of Melbourne, June 2011).

P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age). I’m not very interested in the continuing story of Banksy in Melbourne. His influence, if he ever had much, has run out in Melbourne. Street art was not intended to last forever and it is almost surprising how many Banksy’s have survived this long.


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