Posts Tagged ‘comtemporary photography


Day 318: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson


Day 318: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson

This is my second post on Gregory Crewdson’s photography, whose exhibition at the CCP has left such an indelible impression on me. His Beneath the Roses series has a second strain that, unlike the previous interior mise-en-scènes, concentrates on the exterior of the middle-class suburbia.

Once again we are presented with an alternate, dystopian vision. We are witnessing an aftermath of an apocalyptic nightmare that left a lot of people destitute and wandering around the deserted streets with their meagre belongings in a nonchalant, almost zombie-like state.

But not everyone seems to have been affected equally by whatever ills may have befallen the community. The same street that has houses reduced to rubble, or that are windowless, boarded up, with huge gaping gashes in the walls and roofs, at times with fiery infernos raging on the inside, has other dwellings that are perfectly preserved, with green manicured lawns and elegant flower beds.

As usual, no clues are given by Crewdson as to what may have been the cause of this catastrophe that had so selectively affected these small communities. We are left to join the dots with the power of our own imagination…

One cannot go past Crewdson’s photographs without commenting upon the sheer excellence of his management of the photographic medium. These works are of truly vast size, but despite the physical dimensions and the amount of visual information they contain, each detail appears in an incredibly sharp focus.

There is no doubt that careful choreography, lengthy stage setting processes, costly equipment, large lenses, and perhaps a certain amount of digital enhancement and manipulation would have gone into the creation of each image, but the narrative power and the psychological depth of each of the resulting works serves to justify again and again the relevance of photography as an art form, for within these images, the artist creates the proverbial “paintings with light”.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 317: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson


Day 317: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson

Untitled (2007) is among the most striking, challenging, and psychologically complex works from Crewdson’s Beneath the Roses series. At first glance, there is nothing amiss about the old man sitting in his lounge room, lit by the glare of the TV set on which his stare is transfixed. The apartment is worse for wear, but so is the old chap. The closet door opens up to reveal smart jackets and travelling suitcases suggesting that in the past he may have been a travelling businessman or a well-to-do man. But the bottles of pills and ointments on the trestle-table tell us that this is all in the past, and today he is but a sickly old man who hardly bothers putting clothes on, let along emerging from the cosy comfort of his shabby apartment.

Bright light picks out a reasonably well-appointed kitchen in the background. A simple meal of pasta and vegetables is being prepared by a lady in humble clothes and sensible flat shoes; her hair gathered in a tight bun. At first the woman appears as a ubiquitous maid, the luxury of the suburban middle-classes. But when the eye pans to the right, towards the dining table, one notices dinner setting for two. An unsettling thought occurs – as always in Crewdson’s pictures: are we indeed looking at an old man who requires constant care, but who has good heart and therefore insists that his maid dines with him. Or is there a more menacing undertone in this narrative: is this his daughter, who has become a voluntary slave to her father’s ailments? Or is his purple bathrobe carelessly thrown over the near-naked body that still suggests virility points towards much darker undertones to the relationship between the two?

Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled, from Beneath the Roses series, was included in the photographer’s solo exhibition, In a Lonely Place, at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 305: Them and Us, by Abdul Abdullah

Abdul Abdullah 2011

Day 305: Them and Us, by Abdul Abdullah

Last night I attended a lecture by Rosemary Crumlin, OAM, on the history of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, held in conjunction with the recent publication of Crumlin’s The Blake Book: Art, Religion, and Spirituality in Australia [Melbourne: Macmillan, 2010]. The Blake Prize holds a special significance for Crumlin, who is an ordained nun, with a personal interest in religious art that has expressed itself over the years in books and articles on the subject, as well as a number of exhibitions, the most monumental of which is arguably Beyond Belief, staged at the NGV in 1998. Furthermore, Crumlin had attended almost all Blake Prize exhibitions; was a finalist in a number of them; and dedicated her earlier thesis to the history of the first 25 years of the Prize. The book, which surveys 60 years of the Blake Prize history, is therefore very much a continuation and culmination of her life-long interest and association with the Prize.

The lecture was interesting inasmuch as it contained innumerable personal insights into Crumlin’s own impressions of the Prize; her thoughts on its various winners and runners-up; as well as personal relationships that had developed between the writer and the artists both during her involvement in the Prize and in the course of her research of the earlier thesis and the current volume.

The book itself is a treat to behold. Crumlin has taken an almost encyclopaedic approach to this publication in her aim to illustrate and provide authoritative insights to the sixty winning works from 1951 to 2010 by such artists as Justin O’Brien, Frank Hinder, Donald Friend, Eric Smith, Stan Rapotec, Leonard French, Roger Kemp, Ken Whisson, Alan Oldfield, Warren Breninger, Rosemary Valadon, George Gittoes, John Davis, Hilarie Mais, Euan Macleod, Leonard Brown, and numerous others. The images of winning pieces are frequently accompanied within the pages of the book by related works within the oeuvre of the respective artists, showing the depth of interest and involvement in their exploration of religious subject matter.

The lavishly illustrated fold-out pages feature works by some of the finalists from various years. Together with the winning pieces, they provide a most valuable insight into the gradually changing face of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, resulting from the timely, fitting, and increasingly visible presence of works by artists from diverse religious backgrounds (such as Abdul Abdullah’s Them and Us, winner of the MUA Human Justice Prize of the 2011 Blake Prize exhibition). /

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Max Dupain Doom of YouthTuesday, 26 June 2012

Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Controversy: The Power of Art at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery unites over a hundred works that reflect, inspire, or engage in a public debate and / or a controversial issue. The breadth and variety of works on display is quite astounding, and includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, installation, multimedia, and even fashion. Although by its very nature and the fact that most of the works come from Australian public and private collections, the exhibition is heavily weighted towards contemporary Australian art, it does encompass art from the sixteenth century to the present day, and includes works by Hans Baldung, Francisco Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, William Dobell, Ron Robertson-Swann, Steve Cox, Kristin Headlam, Tom Alberts, Brook Andrew, Huan Zhang, Juan Davila, Patricia Piccinini, Damian Hirst, and many, many others.

Norman Lindsay Pollice VersoAmong the works that drew my attention was an unusual photograph by Max Dupain, Doom of Youth (1937) featuring a male nude. While nude males are quite rare in Dupain’s photographs, they are usually engaged in a sporting feat. This image features a crucified beefcake, a very prescient image for 1937. Next to it is a rarely seen Norman Lindsay’s Pollice Verso (1907), a pen drawing of extraordinary dexterity. It shows a group of Greek and Roman deities turning their thumbs down at a scene of Crucifixion. The drawing laconically illustrates Norman Lindsay’s criticism of the restrictions imposed by the Church and State on cultural and intellectual freedom. The section devoted to female nudes include another Norman Lindsay; the monumental La Cigale by Jules Lefebvre; Bertram MacKennal’s Circe; and a full-length studio nude by Freda Robertshaw, which I never knew was a self-portrait, a quite astounding and liberating act for the era.

Angela Ellsworth’s Seer BonnetThere is a startling and revealing photographic double-portrait of topless Mike Parr and his wife – his with amputated arm; hers with drastic mastectomy. Lisa Roet is represented with one of the most touching and original works I had seen by this artist, Mother and Child, that combines her characteristic sculpture of a baby chimp resting in palms of its mother’s hands, situated against a stained glass window decorated with chimps and traditional religious motives, inveighing onto the Creation versus Evolution debate.

The recent controversy over childhood nudity in art is addressed through works by Sandy Edwards, Polixeni Papapetrou, Peter Kingston, and the most effervescent and joyous painting by Amie Swynterton, and obscure but most fitting find for this exhibition. Trans / sexuality is examined through the works by Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe; the inclusion of Barry Humphries’ alter ego, Dame Edna Everage, complete with a full-size gladioli gown, is most fitting within the context of this exhibition.

Anne Zahalka Girls II Cronula BeachHauntingly evocative Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnet, which is decorated with pearls on the outside and pins on the inside is a embodiment of the oppression faced by women not only within the Mormon community, which it directly addresses, but, to me, is also illustrative of women’s oppression throughout history. The though-provoking photograph by Anne Zahalka, The Girls II, Cronula Beach makes one rethink the changing face of Australia’s beach culture. It is interesting to juxtapose it with Emma Phillips’s most striking photograph of Pauline Hanson, imagined as a 1950s house wife, an Australian Marianne, a national icon, a tough country woman, hand-washing a load of Australian flags…

Ex de MediciLast but not least I was arrested by a most detailed drawing from the talented pen of ex de Medici, the details of which become apparent once the eye sight becomes accustomed to the intricacies of her design. The work represents the intertwined Swastika and the Star of David, bringing forth multifarious, uncomfortable, problematic, and emotionally conflicting connotations.

The strength of the exhibition lies in the fact that the curator, Vivien Gaston, did not go down an easy route and populate the gallery with images of pornography or gratuitous violence, but rather with works that much more strongly reflect the subtitle of the exhibition: THE POWER OF ART. The sheer breadth and variety of works on display show an almost omniscient approach, which bears evidence of Gaston’s long-standing interest in the subject, breadth of knowledge, and painstaking research. Despite the wide heterogeneity of works on display, the exhibition keeps the momentum going, for each image is a revelation that evokes a memory of the associated event and / or provokes a fresh reaction from the viewer. As the result, Controversy: The Power of Art is erudite, visually challenging, memorable, and thought-provoking.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

Emma Phillips Pauline Hanson


Brett Graham and Lisa Reihana @ Fehily Contemporary

Fehily Contemporary 2011aTuesday, 21 June 2011

Brett Graham and Lisa Reihana @ Fehily Contemporary

I finally made a pilgrimage to the new space of Fehily Contemporary in Glasshouse Road, Collingwood, which is just around the corner from James Makin and Catherine Asquith. There is a large exhibition area on the ground floor, the L-shape of which is slightly reminiscent of the Tolarno Galleries. Its spacious high walls are perfectly designed for the display of contemporary art, which will be the mainstay of Fehily’s exhibition program.

Lisa Reihana Kia OraCurrently on display are works by two New Zealand artists, which showcase the gallery’s ambition to stage exhibitions not only by Australian but also international artists. Large-format photographs by Lisa Reihana, Nga Hau E Wha (Four Wind Goddesses) feature the artist’s nieces, and blend together high fashion photography with traditional Maori lore. Despite the excellent quality of these works and striking appearances of the four young women, they somewhat lack the iconicity of the Marae series, which were recently shown at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Brett Graham’s large scale wooden sculptures from the Rikuhia series, the shape of which is based on deep-sea scanners, are ornately carved with traditional Maori designs. The pieces are quite impressive due to their size and the sheer amount of work that went into them, yet I could not help but feel that they lacked the intricacy and ingenuity of Robert Bridgewater’s large scale biomorphic wooden sculptures of the late 1990s.

Brett Graham Te HokoiThere is a smaller gallery upstairs, perfect for staging intimate and small-scale exhibitions. Currently on display is a selection of works under $1,000 by gallery artists in a variety of media. Most galleries around Melbourne intermittently put together exhibitions of their lower priced artworks under the banner of ‘affordable’, ‘small treasures’, and the like. The Fehilys have picked up the idea and repackaged it as their “Young Collectors’ Program”, which displays an enviable flair for marketing and re-branding. I have to give it to the Fehilys ingenuity: instead of making one feel like a cheap-skate who can only afford to shop at the lower end of the market, they make their entry-level collectors feel a part of a special and exclusive group. The works on offer include pieces by Ash Keating, Sonia Payes, Gosia Wlodarczak, and many others.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but full or partial use is welcome with proper acknowledgement. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Sue Ford @ MGA

Sue Ford SelfPortrait1969Thursday, 12 May 2011 

Sue Ford @ MGA

The exhibition of works by the late photographer Sue Ford spans a period of nearly forty years, and contains at a glance nearly 100 works by the artist, encompassing several periods, genres, and photographic streams within her oeuvre. The exhibition opens with a set of eight pairs of portraits taken by Sue of the same individuals (including herself), although several years and even decades apart. It is an interesting exercise, very much along the line of the Seven Up series. It is quite remarkable in the way it reflects the changes not only in fashions and aesthetics of the respective eras within which these photographs were taken, but also, very frequently, the changing personal and socio-political environment of her subjects.

The next section is solely devoted to an extensive display of Ford’s self-portraits. Ford pictures herself either alone, or with children and friends; at home, or within her studio environment. The photographs veer between artistic and documentary approaches, some of them no more than casual snapshots. It is an intriguing and intimate insight into her life, an illustrated biographical narrative that makes words virtually unnecessary. I was a bit perplexed to read the accompanying wall text, which basically posited that Ford’s interest in self-portraiture reflects the fact that she was a woman, wife, and mother; and as such, given her domestic commitments, was stuck for time and subjects, and therefore resorted to photographing herself.

SUE FORD SelfNot having known the photographer personally, I do not know whether the statement is true or false. However, when we consider this body of work against the background of current scholarship, which examined the genre of self-portraiture within psychological and psychoanalytical contexts, not to mention the stand-alone validity of the genre as profiled in numerous publications and exhibitions (including the recent one at the NGV), such simplistic dismissal of the intent behind Ford’s numerous self-portraits is baffling to say the least.

The wall text to the third section of the exhibition emphasises Sue Ford as the feminist photographer. I carefully looked at the images within this section, and came away baffled once again. The word ‘feminism’ emphasises a certain ideological, almost militant stance regarding gender inequality and women’s rights issues. As hard as I looked, I could not see an expression of feminist theories in her photographs. The women in her photographs enjoy shopping for dresses and nick-knacks; they expose their beautiful bodies; wear  fashionable clothes; and attend to their beauty routines; they raise children and grandchildren, and proudly display their pregnant bellies. I suggest that the curators confused the words feminist and feminine, for Sue Ford definitely focuses on femininity rather feminism.

Sue Ford hairdryerOf course, every exhibition, especially the one in a public gallery space, has to justify its curatorial choices. Unfortunately, in many cases, it seems that public galleries cannot leave the recognition of the importance of this or that artist or photographer to its visiting public, who might be able to make an informed judgement for themselves, based on the quality of the works on display. The point about the perceived importance has to be drilled with a verbal hammer-head. The MGA’s wall text boldly proclaims Sue Ford as “… one of Australia’s most important,… a leading feminist,… key role, … highly significant,… major legacy”, and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, after such a bombastic marketing preamble, the exhibition falls rather short. I acknowledge the fact that it is the first important posthumous survey of Ford’s work (the photographer died in 2009), but it is by no means a block-buster type of exhibition, filled with iconic images. It eschews any of Ford’s colour photography; or anything completed within the last decade or so, when she produced a number of important bodies of work. The show is about quiet contemplation, an intimate dialogue between the photographer and the viewing public through the medium of her camera, rather than a challenging, ground-breaking, earth-moving experience, or a veritable call to arms for women’s rights the wall text would lead you to believe.

And this is what I have done in the end: stopped reading the marketing spin on the walls, and lost myself in Sue Ford’s silent images, the most magnificent of which to mind’s eye is Marlene at Cottes Bridge of 1964, a beautiful and soulful portrait of Clifton Pugh’s wife seated in profile in a chair in front of one of her husband’s (?) portraits. The image is beautifully composed. Marlene’s slim silhouette virtually blends with the darkened atmosphere of the picture. She is unaware of the camera, and faces away from the viewer. She is lost in contemplation of her thought, or perhaps of the featured portrait, the sinuous hands within which echo and interplay the outlines of her own limbs emerging from the darkened sweater.

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


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]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

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