In my recent reviews I have noted a disturbing trend among contemporary Australian artists towards becoming self-referential, self-centred, glorified interior decorators.
The new exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Arts is not just a confirmation of this trend, it is an open, proud even, celebration of it, produced in collaboration with Nexus, a leading interior design and decoration company. Knowing Juliana Engberg, one never quite knows how much of it is an expression of her personal aesthetics, and how much of it is purely tongue-in-cheek take on the various trends in contemporary art.
I guess what puzzled me most about this exhibition is the artists’ relentless pursuit to “re-invent the wheel”, to take something that exists already, whether in the mass-production or in the media, and try their hand in making it from scratch – though sadly stopping short of the genius, inventiveness, or psychological depth of Boltansky or Kabakov’s installations.
Raafat Ishak’s set of decorated cubes, situated in the middle of an empty gallery space, looks invitingly like an arrangement of seats, alarmingly reminiscent of the minimalist stools in the ACCA’s foyer. Mountford’s cubes in the adjoining space clearly ‘descend’ from Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, though the artist has decorated them with the designs, which have been borrowed from a whole gamut of contemporary and modern masters. The accompanying video shows the ACCA staff randomly interacting with boxes and other objects in Mountford’s installation in an ‘arty’ take on a generic children’s TV program. Alicia Frankovich’s Medea is a reworking of a product which is available commercially, while Fiona Connor’s recreation of the staff’s bedroom windows is rather thin ideologically and intellectually… though it does allow the visitor an intriguing insight into the ACCA’s metallic armature.
Perhaps the only two artists that stand out in this exhibition are Agatha Goethe-Snape and Susan Jacobs. The former has designed T-Shirts, embellished with slogans that are to be worn by staff and changed every day in accordance with their choice of colour or the slogan. The T-Shirts are also available to the visitors. However, this kind of public interaction / participation project, though clever as it may be, is desperately mired in the 1960s. Susan Jacobs is the only artist who eschews being an interior decorator, adapting the space around her works to her own minimalist and conceptual aesthetic, echoing the wit and brevity of Beuys.
[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]