1. CHANGES The Melbourne art scene has as usual been running
at a frenetic pace. There has been a musical chairs-like shift amongst
some of the coveted contemporary art curatoral positions at ACCA, CCP,
and Gertrude St. Other events of significance include the relocation
of Tolarno Gallery (to the city) and the temporary closure of the NGV
due to renovation. Building has begun on the Federation Square Contemporary
Art Museum and ACCA's new Wood Marsh designed site at the Malthouse,
and construction is nearly finished at the new State Museum. And of course
there's been much reflective discussion about the plethora of video and
installation work in Signs of Life, Melbourne's inaugural international
biennial, as well as the current state of our art prizes.
2. RICKY The recent interest in young artists lifted a notch or
two when Ricky Swallow (aged 24) won the $100,000 Contempora5 award
in September. Buoyed by the stiff competition he produced ambitious new
work: Peugeot Taipan: Model for a discontinued line and Model
for a sunken movement. The latter was a giant black Darth Vader head
that appeared to be sinking into the black floor of the Ian Potter Gallery.
Constructed in multiple parts, its tiered appearance was suggestive of
archeological excavations and ruined empires. When accepting his prize
Swallow generously suggested that the other four artists deserved to receive
more than just $2,000 runner-up money. Other work of interest at Contempora5 was
Mikala Dwyer's iffytown 1999. A quirky and claustrophobic mixed
media installation that operates on a vertical/ horizontal shift exploring
density and spatial disorder.
3. VIDEO Two more artists concerned with ideas of a spatial nature
are David Noonan and Simon Trevaks. Their new video collaboration 9 at
Project Space examines the aesthetics of science fiction, space exploration
and futurist idealism. Noonan's work often looks retro and frequently references
films such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001. In 9, communication and relationships
are played out against a backdrop of modernist architecture and NASA design.
Two actors play out separate scenarios of distance and disaster in outer
space, each on a different video projection positioned next to each other.
The girl is manning the control ship whilst the boy is in a shuttle rapidly
losing contact. Both verbalise concern that their communication link is
breaking up. In this layered work, troubled relationships are used as a
metaphor for impending doom as well as modernism's own inbuilt obsolescence
and eventual demise.
4. PAINTINGThe Trouble with Harry, a recent show at Project
Space also looks at modernism but from a totally different perspective.
The Trouble with Harry is about the death of painting. It takes
its named from a '50s Hitchcock film about a corpse that keeps reappearing.
Judith Duquemin, Diena Georgetti and Daniel Noonan transverse the slippery
quagmire that painting now (apparently) has become. Although I would beg
to differ slightly on the belief that painting ever really died, I think
this is a great exhibition that shows us that there's still plenty of life
left in the old dog. Daniel Noonan's Untitled 1999 uses the uncertainty
and insecurity (over currency and relevance) that seems to surround a lot
of contemporary painting and propels the medium into the position of subject
rather than vehicle. His work examines the situation of being a painter
at this particular post-historical time. He shows us that nothing about
this medium can be a 'given' anymore, and although painting doesn't have
the authority it used to have, it's definitely back.
5. COMMERCIAL SCENE At Anna Schwartz Gallery in September, Tony
Clark's exhibition revealed subtle new directions in his work. Small canvas
boards contained irregular circular and elliptical patterns in shades of
brown, orange and beige. Although visually similar to '70s textile design,
a conceptual investigation into the colour and form of 18th and 19th century
Spanish portrait painting informed the compositions.
6. ARTIST RUN SPACES Parekohai Whakamoe and Ingrid Braun's New Work
and Raafat Ishak's Gone Good Government at 1st Floor was a good
line up in what has been an ordinary year at the space. Whakamoe and Braun
both examine the notion of 'when place becomes space' but with diverse
outcomes. Braun's crisp geometric photographs strip away architecture to
reveal the structure of design whilst Whakamoe's ethereal landscape drawings
refer to the virtual world and lost places. Raafat Ishak's work is a fresh
and complicated addition to the ongoing tradition of painting about the
grid. His piece entropically depicts an abstracted template of a collapsing
building. Its chipboard surface is left uncovered in parts to compete with
the intense colour and tight depth of field, leaving an overwhelming impression
of suffocation and vertigo. Kim Donaldson's exhibition Just passing
through at Spencer St Gallery was all about process. One room displayed
a wall of incredibly detailed time-based drawings. They were produced over
a period of one month, everyday detailing an aerial view of her kitchen
and its changing contents. The other room had a group of exquisite monochrome
paintings depicting her eye-glasses resting on an unspecified surface.
The catalogue states that "All works in the show were executed without
the assistance of spectacles".
Gone Good Government
oil on chipboard, 1999
7. PERFORMANCE Damp, Melbourne's answer to art club 2000, staged
a performance at 200 Gertrude St in August called Punchline, which
was a parody on the predictable bitchiness and unfolding disaster that
group exhibitions can arouse. Its catalogue states "what if all your
private fears and doubts were confirmed by your friends and peers... everything
at your opening went awry, the catalogue was wrong, nobody could agree,
the work was trashed..." What started off as an opening to a straight
forward show of sculpture and objects disintegrated. There was a drunk
idiot, a lovers' quarrel, minor vandalism, a big fight amongst the artists,
then someone smashed part of the show. Seriously, it all took a while to
sink in that it wasn't real. It was great!
8. ARCHITECTURE AND INSTALLATION Craig Easton & Natasha Johns-Messenger's
installation Strange Place was at new space Level 11. The site is
the foyer of architecture firm Ashton Ragett McDougall and is situated
on one of the top floors of a building predominantly used for car parking.
In a 2D/3D pull, the installation uses painterly devices to intervene in
an unusual space. Relying heavily on design, the show suffered from close
proximity to ARM. Looking into the reception, one could see many other
interesting examples of this field. It's the space itself that's actually
the surprising thing here. It's wedge shaped and small, has elevators,
front doors, corridors, views into business areas and a window overlooking
the city (to compete with). And yet, despite the surrounding action, it's
a great little spot to look at art. Charles Anderson has the next show
here, so this will be a space to watch.
9. DEATH OF AN ARTIST Sadly, one of Melbourne's greatest contemporary
artists died on July 22nd. Howard Arkley, aged 48, had an accidental heroin
overdose within days of returning home from exhibiting in the Venice Biennale
and a sell-out solo show at Karen Lovegrove in Los Angeles. He was at the
peak of his career and will be fondly remembered. John Davis also passed
away on 17th October. He was mostly known for his environmental practice,
70s earthworks and stick sculptures. Albert Tucker, a seminal Melbourne
Modern Expressionist died on 23rd October leaving a canonical body of work
that depicts our city in a dark, forboding, mysterious way. And Kiwi/Australian
artist Rosalie Gascoigne died aged 82. Her enormous artistic contribution
enriched our knowledge of landscape and its layered construction, forever
informing our understanding of looking at the land.