Francis Baker-Smith, We Hardly Knew Ye

Uncategorized Sep 29, 2004 No Comments

Francis Baker-Smith is closing. Then it’s reopening on November 3 upstairs from its present location under the name Gallery Wren (which is what it was called when the current management team took over from Rubyayre Gallery a couple of years back but then changed the name to Francis Baker-Smith for eight months). Confusing, no?

People have asked why it was called Francis Baker-Smith and we can now exclusively reveal that we went to school with him at St. Aloysius College in North Sydney. Baker-Smith was a philanthropist even at the age of 15 and used borrowed money to buy up art works at the annual end of year art exhibitions. He was a budding patron and a helluva great guy. We hadn’t see him again for some years after we finished high school – in fact, the last time we saw him was when he had hired a stretch limo to take us around the Gold Coast during schoolies week in 1994 – but it didn’t surprise us that he popped up again with a generous offer to fund Gallery Wren when the chips were down. It’s a real shame that Frank got caught up in an investment banking scam and is now missing somewhere in South East Asia and hence the name change back to Wren. We wish him well!

To finish out the FBS period the gallery is having a show that runs until this Saturday (October 2). There’s work by Todd McMillan, Emma-Jane Gallagher and Benedict Ernst and in a way it’s the perfect show to remember their benefactor – schizophrenic, illusionary and multi-headed.

Emma-Jane Gallagher has a work called …but words cause permanent damage in the front room that’s comprised of artfully arranged cushions and a tree branch covered with felt and little diamante jewels hanging off the ends of a couple of twigs. The works represents nature in a plush version of itself and it’s a welcome respite from the real world. Seeing this piece causes an almost immediate visceral reaction in that you want to lie down on the cushions, get under a warm blanket and gaze up at the branches. There’s some unaccountable and odd psychological state that is induced by plush creatures – it’s partly a childhood wonder mixed with an adult revulsion that these kinds of infantile urges exist, but also an amazement that emotional states can be induced by textured felt and anthropomorphic characters. In Gallagher’s work, nature itself is replicated but with the edges and threat removed.

Next door to Gallagher’s work is an installation of Todd McMillan’s video piece called By The Sea. McMillan spent 12 hours looking out to sea (from what looks like the golf course at Dover Heights) with his back to a video camera that recorded the event in time lapse. Telescoped down to just a few minutes, the video is a dazzling blast of changing cloud, sunlight and skyscapes with the white dots of ships passing and planes flying overhead while the artist uncomfortably shifts his weight from one foot to the other. You can’t help but wonder how the hell he stood there for 12 hours, but we’re thankful that the video is so brief – until quite recently any artist worth their salt would have made the video 12 hours long as well. The Art Life thanks Todd for sparing us the pain he went through. The interesting aspect of the video is how it displays a very contemporary aesthetic in both its presentation – unadorned, nothing extraneous – and in its reference to the concept without enforcing duration upon the viewer. The piece is more like a parenthetical summation taking a step away into making an entirely new work but one that couldn’t exist without the first step. McMillan is also selling the work as a limited edition DVD, which is very a la mode, and as Mr. Spock was want to say, hmmm, fascinating.

Benedict Ernst has transformed the back gallery room of FBS and the big surprise is that he’s hacked an enormous hole in the wall to reveal a lift shaft that was covered over when the gallery was set up. The framing idea that Ernst uses in his work called Casket (bury me deep in love) is a cute, almost throwaway idea that the gallery is in fact a burial chamber for an ancient/modern cult that will be familiar to all fans of pop culture and japanime. We don’t really want to give away the whole game here and urge you to check it out before the show closes, but we have to say that while we liked the work a lot, Ernst has somewhat over egged it. Perhaps that’s part of the concept, the bronze fertility statues in the shape of that animated character, the collected videos in a box, the room supports and hanging lights of archaeologists and the giant sarcophagus that is like a cross between packing foam and the last resting place of the artist all work very well together. But we couldn’t escape the notion that Ernst could have made just as an effective work if he had just hacked the hole on the wall, threw in a bronze statue and came up with an artful title. Sure, we know the work isn’t like that and what it sets out to do, it does very well, but we’re very much of the school that less is more. Or, on the other hand, more is more.

Every time we’ve gone into FBS something odd was happening at the front desk. This time there was a woman knitting what looked like teddy bear ears while listening to country and western music, she was humming with an odd, far-away look in her eyes. We told her we knew Francis and had been to school with him. She said that Francis Baker-Smith was a woman and like all those galleries with women’s names in the title (Crowley, Oxley, Weiss, Sherman et al…), she had put her brand on the space too. We are somewhat confused by all of that and realise, Francis Baker-Smith, we hardly knew ye.

The Art Life

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