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Tag Archives: Reko Rennie

La Trobe Uni Sculpture Park

I studied at La Trobe University in the 1980s; recently I went back to its Bundoora campus to see some of its sculpture collection. The university describes itself as a “sculpture park” and features sculptures from every decade from the 1960s, when it was established, to the present. I am not going to look at all of the sculptures but have chosen to look at four.

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Charles Robb’s Landmark, 2004 was the main reason for my visit. In front of the West Lecture Theatres, Landmark is a traditional memorial statue of La Trobe that has been turned on its head with the plinth looming above the upside down figure. Made of fibreglass, polyester resin, steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, sand, automotive lacquers and acrylic paint to look like bronze and stone.

Robb’s anti-monumental sculpture was donated to the University through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Artist 2006. Landmark was originally installed as temporary sculpture in the City of Melbourne in 2005 when it was award a judge’s commendation the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

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Outside of the LIMS building (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2012. The work was commissioned by La Trobe Uni in 2012. Rennie is an interdisciplinary artist who mixes his Kamilaroi heritage with graffiti style. The four aluminium pillars are a mix of contemporary art and traditional Murri designs. Each pole represents one of the five platonic solids – icosahedron, octahedron, star tetrahedron, hexahedron and dodecahedron on to which Murri designs have been painted.

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Bart Sanciolo’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1980-1983, is near the Thomas Cherry Building. You can’t miss it. This ten metre tall pointy pyramid of bronze was presented to the university in 1987 as a 150th Gift of the Italian Community to the People of Australia. This was the one sculpture that I remember from my years at La Trobe; I remember it because didn’t like it then and I still don’t.

Sanciolo was born in Messina, Sicily in 1955 and arrived in Australia in 1968. I also disliked his sculpture groups that were in the western and eastern internal moats of 101 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. They looked an ugly pile of figures and have fortunately been removed by the owner. Sanciolo’s sculptures are big but I don’t know if that is a good quality.

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The bronze figure of a woman on the Peribolos Lawn is Herman Hohaus’s Sofia, 1970. Although Sofia is the goddess of wisdom, this Sofia seems more concerned with her hair. The sculpture was purchased with funds donated by Dr Roy Simpson through Friends of La Trobe University 1986 but it seems more suited to a private garden than a university. Herman Hohaus was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia 1954 where he lived until his death in 1990. The NGV has one of Hohaus’s sculpture in its collection (but not on display) another crouching female form in bronze.

There are sculptures on the campus by Inge King, Jock Clutterbuck, Robert Kipple and other notable sculptors; more on La Trobe University as sculpture park.

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March Exhibitions Fitzroy

On Thursday I saw a few exhibition at galleries in Fitzroy.

Sutton Gallery has a post-humous exhibition of paintings by Gordon Bennett, part of his “Home Decor (After Margaret Preston)” 2014 series. The hanging of this exhibition has three pairs of paintings, which felt both tasteful and awkward. This feeling of tasteful but awkward is at the core of Bennett’s “Home Decor” series. Like Margaret Preston’s appropriated Aboriginal shield designs of the Central Australia and Northern Queensland Indigenous communities that Bennett has re-appropriated for this series. These are some of the most appropriate works of appropriation art.

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Gordon Bennett, Home Decor

Also on exhibition at Sutton was a single large painting by Vivienne Binns, “Minding Clouds”. A large blue painting was broken up with vignette scenes, that might represent dreams or memories, painted within clouds raised from the textured surface of the painting.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer is showing series of sexy drawings by Arlene Textaqueen. Textaqueen’s technique with coloured marker pens (fibre-tips and watercolour on cotton rag) just gets better, her compositions are more dynamic and her message about gender, race and Australia is clear.

The exhibitions at Seventh Gallery didn’t grab me. Sorry, Cameron Bishop and Simon Reis, “Leisureland”, and Jenna Pippett, “Grab a Partner”, but I have seen exercise equipment and artists doing exercises in art galleries too often in recent years.

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If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary

If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary is a large exhibition about the community radio station located just around the corner. Curators Spiros Panigirakis and Helen Hughes have created an impressive and interactive display, even building the frame of a house in the main room. The exhibition  not only tells the history of the station but is a contemporary art exhibition that includes works from several notable artists including Emily Flyod and Reko Rennie.


Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


Paradigm Shift in Public Art

Walking around the city on Thursday I saw parts of the current Laneway Commission and parts of a previous Laneway Commission. And it reminded me of the words of Ruper Myer, the Chair of the National Gallery of Australia, at the opening of the “Space Invaders” exhibition art RMIT, when he said street art was creating “a paradigm shift in public art”.

Heffernan Lane with Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way”, 2001

detail of Evangelos Sakaris, “Word and Way”, 2001

The series of signs by artist-poet, Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way” is still up in Heffernan Lane from the first Laneway Commission in 2001. I’ve seen some street art blog that mistaken thought that the signs were part of a street art urban intervention, yes, it is street art but it was officially commissioned.

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” 2011

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” installation in Cocker Alley, a favourite location for Laneway Commissions. “Neon Natives” looks like advertising. The neon tubes and yellow and black zigzag background pattern are all familiar urban images. The background pattern made me want to look to see where the entrance to the multi-story carpark might be and then where all the animals might be.

public art project by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark

I also saw the Graffiti Wall, a public art project part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT. The wall is by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark – I’m not sure if it is completed or partially complete (the weather has been very wet). It is opposite RMIT Gallery, in a laneway off Little LaTrobe Street.

The Laneways Commissions in the city and the more recent MoreArts Show along the Upfield train line are evidence of the paradigm shift in public art. This paradigm shift requires a shift in understanding what is public along with what is art. Hopefully this will be an improvement on the bronze statues of historic heroes or the modernist public sculptures of big pieces of metal or stone. The new paradigm for public art may have some problems in its transient and ephemeral nature. What will the city be left with when the temporary art has faded from memories? (I’m sure that it will be well documented – unlike some sculptures and some urban interventions in the past). Permanent public art can create an identity for a location whereas temporary public art can only subvert the identity of the place, like the fake road signs of Evangelos Sakaris’s “Word and Way” – although this work has survived a decade. What do you think about this new paradigm?


Fitzroy to East Melbourne

In my wanderings around the city, searching for art galleries and street art, I walk along familiar and unfamiliar streets. I pass the mural on the wall of Whitlam Place in Fitzroy; it has been there a few years but still looks good. Of course these great public murals on so many buildings in Fitzroy would not be possible without artists working illegally along its back lanes. You cannot have one without the other. And there are so many pieces on the streets.

Anon. Fitzroy stencil

In the back lanes of Fitzroy, along with old stencils by Psalm, Dlux, HaHa, Optic and other veteran street artists, Vandal Spruce has been adding his paste-ups. Vandal Spruce is continuing to paste-up to taunt the Victorian Police with his inverted version of their badge. Vandal Spruce has been doing a great many of these paste-ups; I’ve seen them from Brunswick to Fitzroy.

Vandal Spruce, Fitzroy

Crossing Victoria Parade the municipal boundary between the City of Yarra and the City of Melbourne. Suddenly there is no more street art, legal legit pieces nor any illegal pieces. (Like I said you can’t have one without the other.) The backs of street signs were not covered in stickers, the white cream of all the buildings is fresh and clean. And the streets of East Melbourne are almost empty of people in contrast to the bustle of the streets of Fitzroy.

Tom Civil, 3CR wall, Fitzroy

It is only a couple of hundred meters south from 3CR community radio with its sidewall covered in a two story high painting by Tom Civil, Reko Rennie and others. Tom Civil’s huge section with hundred of figures walking, riding bicycles and sitting around a campfire is a great vision of the idea of community. Victoria Parade clearly demarcates the contrasting patchwork of Melbourne’s inner city and the different policies of its municipal governments. Is this what the City of Melbourne has a dedicated graffiti removal van for? To protect the areas of Melbourne occupied by the Masons, private hospitals, surgeons and the police association headquarters from the dread graffiti.


Rennie + Ryan @ Dianne Tanzer

Cold, grey and damp, the winter sky over Fitzroy was as dull as the art that I was seeing that day. Then I entered Dianne Tanzer’s gallery and saw the combined exhibition of Natalie Ryan and Reko Rennie. And it wasn’t just the bright colours of the art that raised my spirits. Natalie Ryan and Reko Rennie are both artists who have become notable this year. Reko Rennie is a Aboriginal artist with a stencil street art background; he is now presenting on the ABC’s Art Nation. And there is a video about Natalie Ryan’s work from the ABC’s Art Nation. Animals are the subject for both of these artists and this brings this exhibition together.

Natalie Ryan creates flock-covered sculptures of animals but there is more to the work than just this unique visual identity. There are art and decorative references in Ryan’s sculptures the game hunter’s trophies and the still life gaming pieces. What was once considered a noble sport has now become kitsch and disturbing. And this change of value is reversed with Ryan’s use of the kitsch flock to create high quality art. In the final space there is a covered flock form glowing with the ultraviolet intensity of Yves Klein International Blue.

I remember visiting the large taxidermy works when I was a child living in Kenya. The smell of the tanning hides is my strongest memory. Then there were all the sculpted moulded forms, for all the big game animals being prepared for museum dioramas. Taxidermy animals are not stuffed; the animal’s skin is stretched over the form, providing the muscles, soft tissues and skeletal structure except for the ears and tails. Natalie Ryan doesn’t use many real parts from the animals, sometimes teeth or horns; it is the artificial parts, the glass eyes etc. used to create these stuffed animals with the flock replaces the real animal skin.

In this exhibition Reko Rennie is taking spray paint stencil art back to its decorative and architectural origins. Stencils were commonly used to paint decorations on walls in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. The red and yellow geometric pattern painted wall by Rennie are hung with a row of Ryan’s pink flock covered animal heads. Another wall has large gum leaf and flower stencils is hung with Rennie’s aerosol stencil paintings of Australian birds.

Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects has changed; the white cube has gone, the narrow entrance gallery has gone and the space has opened up. It no longer pretending to be just an space containing art. What once was previously hidden behind walls, like the office space, has been revealed; there is a table and chairs in the front window. It looks like there is more life in the place.


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