How Many Artists Can You get In A Room?

Art Life , Reviews Jun 02, 2004 No Comments

Another exhibition that’s getting in on the act of the Biennale excitement is a show at The UNSW College of Fine Arts called Without Reason that’s been curated “in response to” the theme of the Biennale .

The COFA show has been put together by a curatorial team of students doing their Masters in exhibition and curatorial studies and features art works by 11 artists all in the MA course at the college. There are 25 individual pieces in the show, all wall works, and they range in size from small to huge. The gallery, a small exhibition space called the EPS Gallery, is about the size of our living room and the walls are absolutely choc-a-block – there’s is no room to move at all, you can’t look at one work of art without seeing another and it all blends into a huge mass of images and colours. The catalogue doesn’t provide much relief from the exhibition’s maximalism – every artist in the group show gets a separate paragraph-long essay written by one or two of the curatorial team and the back pages lists out everyone involved in the show – we lost count at 23 names. As much as we applaud student shows that mix it up with the big kids of the Biennale, this kind of show isn’t doing anyone any favours. It would have been much better if the show had about half as many artists and a third as many artworks – or a bigger gallery – because as it is, it’s like looking at a collection of art inside a suitcase jammed-packed with gold watches – too much dazzle and too much going on for a visitor to figure out which are the Rolexes and which are the fakes.

So what’s in this show and what’s it all about? Apparently, there is no reason here, more a psychic discord conjoured up by the “intuitive and sensory aspects of contemporary art” and manifested in the art. The most appealing works in the show – and the ones afforded the most amount of space – are four images by Gordon Snow – shallow focus shots of glass bulbs and vacuum tubes. They could be 2D as fas as we could tell, taken either at macro levels or zoomed in from outer space. We couldn’t figure them out and perhaps that was why we kept coming back to them. On the other end of the scale, was a wall work by Carol Christie who has done a series of paintings of her friends and colleagues on sheets of clear plastic, one on top of the other. She’s doubled up the images so you get a shift from one layer to the next where figures repeat and you sense a kind of filmic movement. But there is something very disturbing about this work – perhaps it was the cartoonish look of the faces, the slightly childish brush work, the fact that we recognised some familiar hats – we don’t know – but we found it extremely disturbing.

Also of note were some paintings of toy soldiers battling it out on fruit platters by Monika Behrens and some paintings of Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Demi Moore done in a style that was a mix of Pop Art and Agitprop Soviet propaganda from the early 1920s. Both of these artists have a interesting way with a brush but the works are conceptually thin and perhaps better suited to photography than canvas.

There are plenty of other works in Without Reasonand if you can decipher one from another there are some surprises – there are a suite of works by Jeanette Seibols stuck in a corner and some good paintings by Tanya Chaitow above a doorway (!) – but with so many people involved and some much clutter, the show lives up to it’s name.

Andrew Frost

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