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Melbourne Art Fair 2010 Notes

Kent Monkman - The Death of AdonisMonday, 9 August 2010

While I was at the Fair, my attention was drawn to works by Canadian artist Kent Monkman at the TrepanierBaer stand. His superbly executed paintings and drawings are neo-classical re-imaginings of encounters between American colonists and the native Indian population. Some of this artist’s works were exhibited at the recent Biennale of Sydney. They should have struck an interesting chord with the local populace. Just like Australia’s John Glover or Eugène von Guérard, who aesthetically subjugated the unique features of Australian landscape and its indigenous population to the Western-European standard of beauty, Monkman ingeniously lampoons similar trends in the paintings by their American near-contemporaries George Caitlin and Albert Bierstadt.

Kent Monkman - Death of HyacinthusIn the Treason of Images, for example, Monkman captures frustrated efforts by a white American photographer directing a Native American Indian to assume a pose of an ancient Greek Warrior. This theme continues in The Death of Hyacinths, where the artist bases the depiction of the death of an Indian warrior on Jean Broc’s neo-classical, homoerotically charged painting. Monkton’s works also draw attention to the traditional acceptance of homosexuality and transvesticism in indigenous and tribal communities. This has been commented upon in numerous anthropological studies from the first frontier encounters to the present day, captured in the recent exhibition of photographs by Bindi Cole at the Nellie Castan Gallery, and observed by anyone who had visited Throb nightclub in Darwin,… but was (and still is) frequently and conveniently overlooked by non-indigenous authorities and their law-makers.

Roberta Thornley 01Roberta Thornley 02The contemplation of these paintings has also moved me to observe the relative absence from the Art Fair’s stands of the image of the male nude. Conservative aesthetic predilections of Australian collecting confraternity are reflected in the commercial offerings of exhibiting galleries. While photographs by New-Zealander Roberta Thornley are not technically of a male nude, they are images of an eroticised male. Seen earlier in the artist’s Tomorrow exhibition at the Tim Melville Gallery in Auckland, they recall ephebe aesthetics of pre-Raphaelite and Edwardian British artists. Their gaze is turned away and internalised, making them objects of open voyeurism. These photographs are also technically superb, recalling the tradition of contemporary British and American portrait studio photography.

Sonia Payes - ICEMANSonia Payes also continued the exploration of the male nude in her recent body of work at Charles Nodrum’s stand. While her earlier series were almost proto-Mapplethorpe in their appearance, the exhibited Iceman series were more mysterious, and showed the photographer’s interest in the kinetic energy of the male body rather than the depiction of its physical appearance.

Lyrical drawings by Juan Davila at Kalli Rolfe’s stand perhaps complete this ‘catalogue’ of the male nude at the Melbourne Art Fair 2010 – although additions of works and artists I may have missed are welcome. However, to complete this quirky survey, I am tempted to say the following: if one wanted to draw a clear distinction between “the naked and the nude”, one only had to compare the images described above to frankly pornographic works by Adam Cullen at Paul Greenaway’s stand, or by Leah Emery at Bruce Heiser’s.

[©Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgement.]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

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