Posts Tagged ‘aboriginal art


National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part I)

Monday, 9 January 2012 

National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part I)

I haven’t been through the rooms of the National Gallery of Victoria’s permanent displays of Australian art for some time now, and the balmy summer afternoon seemed as good as any to spend a few hours within its air-conditioned comfort. I must confess that I had admired the National Gallery’s building in Federation Square from the moment I saw it. In my opinion, it is as much a monument to the late 20th-Century architecture as its former home, the Neo-Classical temple in Swanston Street, is to the mid-19th-Century; or Roy Grounds’ modernist bastion in St Kilda Road to the prevalent architectural style of the 1960s. However, I was always puzzled by the absence of a grand – or at the very least an easily identifiable – main entrance: one entry is tucked away at the end of the Atrium off Flinders Street; another is facing the rail yards at the dead end drive to a car park in Russell Court.

From the moment the new gallery opened its doors, I was equally befuddled by the sheer expanse of depressingly empty, grey-wash walls in the foyer and escalator areas. Some of my clients, in order to accommodate their increasingly growing art collections, are building extra walls and home extensions. Here, on the other hand, we had a brand new, purpose-designed gallery which brazenly featured that anathema to every serious art collector: feature walls!!! I cannot possibly relate my elation when I saw, upon entering the gallery today, that some of these walls have been repainted in white, and others feature signature wall paintings and light installations by Brooke Andrew. I am cautiously optimistic that this re-design heralds a gradual reversal of the erstwhile trend.

Immediately upon entering permanent Australian art rooms, I noticed two things: the sobriquet of Colonial (used to describe Australian art prior to 1901) has been dropped in favour of a more general (and politically correct) descriptor 19th Century Australian Art; and the rooms begin with a vast display of Aboriginal shields, some of which date back to the nineteenth century – a very elegant and thoughtful acknowledgement of artistic traditions that existed on this continent prior to 1788. John Glover’s monumental River Nile of 1837, depicting Aborigines, is hung adjacently to the display of shields. Its detailed execution, careful brushwork, and subtle light effects bear witness to the artist’s high standing, which he attained prior to his arrival in Australia in the British artistic circles where his landscapes were considered comparable to those of Constable.

Among the display of early Australian portraits, that of an Unknown Lady attributed to Henry Mundy of c. 1834 is as good as anything that would have been exhibited same year at the Royal Academy. Showing a clear indebtedness to the spirit of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Mundy poses the lady out of doors, on the terrace of her Italianate mansion, with an obligatory column and landscape in the background to underscore the ‘landed’ status of the sitter. The woman’s lively face is painted confidently in fresh and fleshy colours; the eyes sparkling; corners of her mouth caught in a knowing, superior aristocratic smirk. The textures of gauze head dress and flowers are expertly handled; the dark green of her shawl is echoed in the elegant parasol with a jewelled ivory handle seen in the foreground of the picture.

… to be continued… 

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


The Blake Prize 2011 – Part II

BP 2010 Mary TonkinSaturday, 23 April 2011 

The Blake Prize 2011 – Part II 

As discussed in the previous post, the inclusion of random artworks with very tenuous connections to religious subject matter devalues the nature of the Blake Prize as an award for religious art, and dilutes its message and directive.

Landscape artists are among the ‘worst’ culprits in this sense. We all have a spiritual experience when we commune with nature; but even the least artistically-aware among us know the difference between a work of art on a religious subject matter and a landscape painting. For example, I personally admire works by Mary Tonkin, but I question the validity of including her painting as a finalist in the prize, for it is no different to the works that are currently on display at the Australian Galleries. Same comment applies to the entries by Martin King; Janine Mackintosh; or Kate Briscoe.

BO 2010 Chris O'DohertyI wish to see more contemporary interpretations of the Old and New Testaments, like those in the works by Robert Dickerson and Christopher O’Doherty; more interpretations of the lives of the Saints such as those by Andrew Mezei and Peter Neilson; or such truly inspiring and meditative installations like those by Janine Whitling and Heather Elyard. As I mentioned above, it is great to see works by Indigenous artists included; but where are representations of other religions from the Middle East, Asia, andSouth-East Asia, who all have rich and diverse iconographic traditions? Last but not least, where are any depictions of Australian or international religious leaders – or does the prize specifically proscribe the inclusion of portraits of the very people who ensure the survival and perpetuation of religion and spirituality?

BP 2010 Janine Whitling

One of the biggest problems that I see with this Prize is its pointlessness. It only encourages creation of religious art (or pretending that you make some) for the sole purpose of enticing works into the competition with a promise of a cash award. There is no life for religious artworks beyond the prize, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest reasons why so many artists eschew the challenge of creating an artwork especially for the Blake.

BP 2010 Andrei MezeiWhen we consider portrait prizes, such as Archibald, Moran, or others, chances are paintings that were created especially for these exhibitions (and many are) might be acquired by national and state institutions, or by the sitters, their families and friends, or crazed and cashed-up fans. Landscape, still-life, and general art prizes have likewise a broader appeal with a likelihood of the works by winners or finalists being acquired by public and institutions, or, in the case of an acquisitive award, even by the prize-giving entity itself (i.e. Doug Moran, Arthur Guy, Savage Club, etc).

BP 2010 Cath BraidWhen it comes to religious art, we may have to think back to the nineteenth-century France, where a revival of religious art was experienced between 1830s and 1870s, precisely because the government offered a wide support for religious painting and sculpture, and spent substantial amounts of money on acquiring religious artworks either from the annual Salon or directly from artists’ studios, which were then placed with a religious institution (unless specifically acquired for a public collection).

I pray someone would prove me wrong, but there is no such program in existence inAustralia. Furthermore, religious institutions and places of worship are very unlikely to acquire anything from exhibitions like these, filled with half-hearted transmutations on the subject of religion (though they do commission ‘proper’ works on religious subject matter from artists like this year’s winner, Leonard Brown, or stained-glass artist and sculptor Janusz Kuzbicki).

BP 2010 Paul JacksonSo, once again, what is the purpose of the Blake Prize, in its current form, apart from a self-serving and self-perpetuating exercise that is not being treated seriously and with due respect by the artists who submit their works to it, or by the judges who seem to accept so blindly and indiscriminately anything that is thrown their way – as the current exhibition of the finalists shows?

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


The Blake Prize 2010 – Part I

Blake Prize 2010 Installation 2

Friday, 22 April 2011 

The Blake Prize 2010 – Part I

And now something just in time for Easter…

A dear friend of mine was closely involved with the Melbourne leg of the 2010 Blake Prize Finalists’ exhibition, which was appropriately staged at the Toorak Uniting Church, in Toorak Road, Toorak. Appropriately, because the Blake Society awards prizes for religious art, and what a better place to stage a show of its finalists than in the context of an actual place of worship.

I must confess that this was the first time that I actually saw the Blake Prize and examined in detail works of its finalists. Don’t get me wrong, I have been aware of the Prize for a very long time. It is an important event in the annals of Australian art, and over the years its prizes had been awarded to such worthy recipients as Justin O’Brien, Leonard French, Stan Rapotec, John Coburn, and numerous other luminaries of Australian art, for whom religion – or at the very least religious inspiration – was an integral part and subject matter of their oeuvre.

BP2010 Leonard BrownI privately rejoiced the fact that its 2010 winner is Leonard Brown, who is another worthy recipient. He is a lay Orthodox priest; and his professional painting practice includes icon painting, superbly executed in a traditional Russian style. However, his contemporary art practice is best described as conceptual and textural minimalism; titles of his works are invariably derived from theological texts and liturgical hymns; and once you get the brevity of his aesthetics, combined with the intense spirituality that guides his works, the world of his art reveals itself. The winning work, If you put your ear close, you’ll hear it breathing, is very much representative of his works that are usually exhibited at the Charles Nodrum Gallery here in Melbourne, or elsewhere in Australia.

I can perhaps think of only few other artists in the exhibition, who continuously explore religious subject matter in their works. This includes Heather Elyard, who decorated the walls of the Jewish Museum of Australia, and who is represented in the exhibition by an installation, Archive of Signs; the octogenarian Franz Kempf is perhaps another one. It is also interesting to observe the presence in the finalists’ exhibition of paintings by Aboriginal artists, such as Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray, Genevieve Kemarr Loy, and Cowboy Loy Pwerl, for their works are indeed a reflection and interpretation of their traditional mythological lore. The fact that the Blake Prize is becoming an all-inclusive award irrespective of religious leanings is demonstrated by the presence of works by Arabic artists, such Rolla Khadduri and Cath Braid’s My Prayer is…

BP 2010 Genevieve Loy

However, I started noticing with an increasing concern the presence in the exhibition of works by the artists who do not usually paint on religious subject matter; and who have not deviated at all from their usual style or manner of painting. They simply took any odd work from their studio, whacked a religiously-seemed subtitle onto it – and suddenly it’s a religious painting worthy of being entered into a religious art award. In my opinion, this devaluates the prize, and dilutes its message and directive.

… to be continued…

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Melbourne Art Fair 2010 [Part II]

Greenaway Stand @ Melbourne Art Fair 2010 074

Sunday, 8 August 2010

[… continues from previous entry]

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the Art Fair is the presence of international galleries. It is always interesting and refreshing to see the works of artists from other countries, as their vision and aesthetics are informed by heritage, artistic sensibilities, and political and / or religious points of view which are different from our own. While New Zealand galleries always have had a strong presence at the Fair, Australians still have to contend themselves by the crumbs of international dealerships that deign to descend upon Australian shores. Even then some of these are still owned and run by Australian expats. The directors of the Melbourne Art Fair have to work further, longer, and harder to entice the likes of Gagosian, Zwirner, or Ropac to dazzle local audiences with class acts of truly international renown.

TrépanierBaer Stand @ Melbourne Art Fair 2010 044

That having been said, Yamaki of Tokio, TrépanierBaer of Calgary, Tim Melville of Auckland, and 10 Chancery Lane of Hong Kong all presented outstanding exhibits with interesting, fresh, and original works, most of which have not been seen in Australia before.

To reiterate what I said above, the Art Fair was filled with art works by Australia’s most prominent and outstanding contemporary artists. This exhibition is no forum for new developments or dramatic departures in their career, and I still enjoyed installations by Janet Laurence at ARC, Sam Jinks’s hyper-realistic sculptures at Karen Woodbury, Daniel Crooks’s video works at Anna Schwartz, Sally Smart’s large-scale mixed media works at Greenaway, and many others as much as I did when I saw them at their respective galleries.

Marion Borgelt @ Melbourne Art Fair 2010 070Therefore, the ‘surprises’ of the exhibition have been reserved to those artists whose works I may not have seen before in Melbourne’s premier galleries. These include a superb red and black construction painting by Marion Borgelt at Turner Galleries, and amazing spherical glass and mixed media sculptures by the same artist at Dominic Mersch; mixed media sculptures by Masauki Tsubota at Yamaki; neo-classical interpretations of Indian lives by Canadian artist Kent Monkman and most incredible distorted sculpted heads by his countryman, Evan Penny, both at TrépanierBaer; carved wooden sculptures with South-East Asian influences by Simeon Nelson at Mossgreen; thick impastoed works by Craig Weddell and hyper-realistic paintings by Brett East at Gallery 9; superb etched glass vessels at Perth Galleries; new grisaille monochromatic landscapes by Tony Lloyd at Sam Hill-Smith; superb vivid-blue paintings by Danie Mellor at Michael Reid’s; a selection of works by Tony Albert in various media at Gallerysmith; Alexander Setton’s sculpture at Jan Murphy; haunting, almost pre-Raphaelite in their appearance photographs by Robert Thornley at Tim Melville; innovative landscape paintings by Peter Gardiner at Damien Minton and by Andrew Taylor and Neil Frazer at Martin Brown; icy-blue photographic works by Sonia Payes at Charles Nodrum; installation sculptures covered in white fur by Kathy Temin at Roslyn Oxley; and fine ceramic vessels by Vietnamese artist Khanh Cong Bui at 10 Chancery Lane.

Tony Lloyd @ Melbourne Art Fair 2010 053To sum it all up, the Art Fair still represented an orgiastic experience for any art lover, even despite the retinal exhaustion caused by the sheer amount of art on display and many familiar faces in the crowd. It gives a great opportunity to Melbourne and Sydney art lovers to experience works by those artists from other states that do not normally exhibit in these metropolises; to everyone else an unparalleled opportunity for a one-stop shop to view the best of Australian art under one roof; and those who are merely curious about art without actively collecting in, a biennial art fix and perhaps an enticing opportunity to acquire their first piece.

Roslyn Oxley Stand @ Melbourne Art Fair 2010 076Despite all the costs enumerated above, the Art Fair is a great opportunity for galleries to promote themselves and their artists and increase their mailing lists. True, for the costs of being at a four-day fair, an interstate gallery could hire 45 Downstairs in Melbourne or Depot Gallery in Sydney for more than a month, but they would be unlikely to receive anywhere near as much exposure as they would during these four, hectic, crowded, head-spinning days!

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


Just Drawn @ Linden, St Kilda

Opening Night - Just Drawn - Linden GalleryFriday, 6 August 2010

A new exhibition opened tonight at Linden Gallery in St Kilda. Titled Just Drawn, it features works on paper by proppaNOW collective, which comprises of high-profile, predominantly Queensland-based, Australian urban indigenous artists.

The gallery has been transformed by this impressive selection of predominantly black and white works. Vernon Ah Kee is exhibiting a suite of charcoals, Unwritten – primeval forms, haunting shadows of human visages, all executed in straight cross-hatched lines, a veritable antithesis to his better known, highly-finished, hyper-realist portrait drawings.

Gordon Hookey’s Animals, also drawn in charcoal, reveal the artist’s quick and observant eye capable of capturing the unique kinetic energy of a veritable menagerie of birds and mammals.

Vernon Ah Kee @ LindenLaurie Nielsen focused his suite of Scar drawings on fragments of barbed wire – a recurrent motif in urban indigenous art – cold and menacing when executed in black charcoal, but almost fetishist when drawn in warm glowing reds.

Tony Albert’s One by One 1-5 is a creative, thought-provoking, and moving substitute portrait of Eddie Albert (the artist’s grand-father?), a WWII veteran; while Jennifer Herd’s suite of works, On Dying, expresses grief and mourning through the schematised interpretation of traditional decorative elements and tribal designs.

Bianca Beetson @ LindenBianca Beetson @ LindenGiven my passion for portraiture, drawings by Bianca Beetson are among my favourite works in the exhibition. In it’s been a bad day – please don’t take my picture – this versatile artist innovatively utilises text to outline facial features of her (self)portraits, capturing the likeness and at the same time providing the viewer with the narrative, giving the term “a speaking likeness” an entirely new dimension.

Richard Bell Wall Mural @ LindenCollaborative Drawing Project @ Just Drawn, LindenThe entire exhibition is united and summed up by a spectacular collaborative wall drawing by Richard Bell and other artists in the exhibition, which snakes around the perimeter of one of the galleries and along the hallway’s wall, almost evoking the late Mike Brown’s Fitzroy murals, and reflecting on collaborative nature and community spirit of traditional indigenous art.

The proppaNOW collective focuses on the art of drawing, and the artists invited exhibition visitors on the opening night to engage in a collaborative drawing exercise on a large continuous sheet of paper, with the winner of the best drawing receiving a work on paper by Gordon Hookey.

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


GAYME @ the Counihan Gallery

Gary LeeThursday, 21 January 2010

Dear Diary,

I have been blown away by a Midsumma exhibition… which is a statement in itself. Gayme at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is perhaps one of the most significant curated Midsumma shows I have seen in a long time in terms of the daring, innovative curatorial content and the quality of artworks on display. The exhibition’s creators, Edwina Bartlem and Ben McKeown, assembled together an impressive display of gay indigenous artists, a feat which probably would have been unthinkable even a few years ago [if my memory serves me correctly, the Midsumma festival did a modest attempt to focus on the gay indigenous community in the early noughties]. The combination of queer aesthetics informed by indigenous / urban indigenous rhetoric imbue the works in the exhibition with the fresh, surprising, and frequently innovative and unexpected interpretation and approach.

Clinton Nain

The exhibition opens with the three large canvasses by Clinton Nain, Treaty, Right, and Wrong (all 2009), featuring the eponymous titles smeared and repeated ad infinitum in white across the dark-brown and black bitumen background. Nain continues the exploration of his aesthetic representation on the “whiting-out” of Australian indigenous culture, which began so poignantly and sometimes violently in his oeuvre of the late 1990s with his bleach-splattered denim works. The strength of the messages is self-evident. At the same time, the flowing cursive of the writing as well as the breaks in the surface tension of the pigment create an overall elegant abstracted effect, at times reminiscent of Leonard Brown’s textured paintings.

Troy-Anthony BaylisHand-knitted pink tubes, suspended from the ceiling, are the pivot of Troy-Anthony Baylis’s exhibit. After a short while the penny drops that this is a queer, gendered take on the traditional phallic ceremonial poles, which are usually carved by men, as well as a reference to woven baskets, which are usually created by indigenous craftswomen. In a suite of works titled Making Camp, rife with double entendre, Baylis’s pink poles are superimposed on colonial landscapes by H.J. Johnstone (whose works I’ve mentioned in the MPRG exhibition), Haughton Forrest, and others, who portrayed Australia as terra nullius. Baylis attempts to right their visions, which denied the existence of indigenous inhabitants in Australia (let alone the gay element of these communities), by populating their landscapes with traditional phallic (pink) poles to denote an indigenous camp site, where a ritual dance is performed by a spirit apparition in drag (the last element seemed a bit superfluous to me, as the artist has already delivered a very strong message with the semantically layered pink poles). In a twist on this theme, Baylis transfers his knitted pink tubes to Berlin’s Schlossgarten, where, in the absence of the least modicum of European culture, the artist’s aboriginal-inspired poles are the only markers of human civilisation.

Dianne JonesThe second room of the exhibition displays photographs by Dianne Jones and Gary Lee, both of whom are breaking traditional gendered stereotypes of indigenous men and women. In her near-life-size photographs, Dianne Jones seemingly effortlessly re-imagines herself as an American preacher, Elvis, Audrey, or the Fonz. She boldly explores her androgyneity to convincingly transform herself into characters of either gender without the recourse to the Sherman-style facial prosthetics. While the photographs are good quality works of art in their own right (in terms of the composition and technical attributes), this is perhaps the first time an attention has been focused on the America-centric, Hollywood influence of Anglo, Italian, and Hispanic stereotypes on the indigenous (or urban indigenous) culture. Gary Lee continues Jones’s breaking with the stereotypes in his sexualised and homo-eroticised photographs of indigenous and pan-Asian youths. If Brooke Andrew has explored in his Sexy and Dangerous series the objectification of the indigenous male within the context of anthropological photography, this is perhaps the first time that an Aboriginal male has been openly viewed as a contemporary pin-up, let alone a gay pin-up model.

r e a The last room of the exhibition is taken by the works of r e a. It consists of an HD video showing an Aboriginal woman in a heavy Victorian mourning gown, complete with a tight corset and full crinoline skirt, evoking a Victorian gothic novel. She is dashing about in a forest with charred trees, like a later-day Bertha Rochester who had escaped her captivity. Her hair is closely cropped, and at times she appears almost masculine in her looks. She is perhaps the embodiment not only of an Aboriginal woman, but of the Aboriginal race. She is not looking to escape from the forest, but stops by the charred tree trunks communing with them, mourning a universal rather than a personal loss. The looped video is only 6.5 or so minutes short. It keeps the viewer’s attention and maintains the sense of mystery. The video is accompanied by photographic stills, which are not chosen at random. Each of the nine (I think) photographs on view is aesthetically and compositionally complete. The tonal values are underpinned by the charred blacks, muted greens, and ochres. The geometry of vertical tree trunks provides a strong contrast to the sinuous silhouette of the woman’s period dress.

Ben McKeownThe exhibition’s co-curator, Ben McKeown, is represented by three works in the exhibition. They are perhaps best described as the Roar Group’s take on indigenous art, where simplified, primitivist shapes of urban structures are carried out in predominantly traditional indigenous colours. McKeown creates the visual language of an urban indigenous artist, and re-images the space, simplified objets within it, and the artist’s journey across it, not unlike an indigenous artist’s temporal conceptualisation of space and time in Dreamtime paintings. He traces the journeys across the grid of city streets, and even provides a cheeky take on Clifford Possum by re-imaging the two fallen warriors as two masturbating youths. Unfortunately, McKeown’s three paintings come from different years and represent a variety of aesthetic and semantic directions. As such, they lack the curatorial unity of other exhibits, and their meaning as a group is less sharply defined.

Exhibitions like Gayme and Finding Space are the evidence of the progress within the queer art movement, and the natural evolution of the avant-garde within its context. The works are no longer necessarily activist and / or self-referential, but respond to more universal issues of contemporary Australian and international art, including race, environment, and over-saturation of American pop culture.

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

May 2019
« Nov    


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 104 other followers