We really should have thought through our offer and defined the small print a bit better before we promised to visit every gallery in Sydney. Although we stand by our Art Life Guarantee of Quality!(that’s a solid gold guarantee you can take to the bank!)we should have added “Depending on the weather, the state of tiredness of our staff, general lethargy and/or general crapulence of the art on offer.” Who could have anticipated we’d be schlepping around Sydney on the hottest day of the year? But enough with the complaining already!
Our first port of call was the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the exhibitions by Lee Bul from South Korea and Australian artist Destiny Deacon.
Lee Bul’s work is just exactly what you’d want from a South Korean artist whose work is a melange of manga, anime and botanical science with a little karaoke on the side. It’s all beautifully made and dramatically lit and is the perfect distillation of these kinds of influences, an archetypal amalgam of contemporary sci-fi cool. It’s also kind of obvious as well, speaking more about contemporary notions of futurism – and how those notions have migrated away from marginal audiences into the mainstream – than any actual manifestation of the “future”. One day Lee’s work will have the same retro sheen as Art Deco. But the thing that elevates this work out of the realm of brilliantly executed special effects is the artist’s abiding interest in trasmogrification of forms and the way this central concept plays through all the pieces – human into cyborg, plant into machine, solid into fragment, public expression into private space. Lee’s work is pretty damn good – you can take it on its superficial sfx level and be amazed by that – and take note fans of Patricia Piccinini, this show demonstrates how sfx should be done – or you delve a little deeper and find something of more interest. For unbelievers of the whole technomage hocus pocus, Lee is also showing a suite of works on canvas and silk that are breathtakingly beautiful.
Level 4 at the MCA is like a stage when the curtains part – when the doors of the lift open there’s usually a surprise in store. Destiny Deacon’s Walk and Don’t Look Blak has an installation of her house in Brunswick in Melbourne with all her kitsch and crap strewn about and a TV playing her video works, the parody ones where Aboriginal people pretend to be in a really awful soap opera and a bloke in a dress and wig falls down all over the place. Ha ha, we thought, how amusing. But we couldn’t sit in Deacon’s faux-apartment because there’s a rope stopping you getting into the spirit of the piece. Oh well. There are a few bookcases with all the artists trinkets and dolls and hats and heads that appear in her many, many photographs and you can cross reference the works to the objects if you’re feeling fit. (This is a value for money exhibition – although you don’t have to pay to get in. Thanks Telstra!). We like Deacon’s work because it’s so in your face and so unapologetic, but we also have some reservations about the poundingly repetitious use of the worst excesses of racist imagery. But that’s just us and we understand that of course that is the work.
Just up the road from the MCA is the Touch of Mandela Gallery, a shop devoted to the art of Nelson Mandela. They have a few art works on sale and some of them were done while Mandela was locked up on Robben Island. You’re no doubt asking yourself, “Is Nelson Mandela a good artist?” Put it this way, he could have spent his time in prison making models of ships out of match sticks, so we should at least be thankful for that. And since he did do some drawings and watercolours, he can make editions out of them and sell them to raise money for AIDS charities. Which is good. Obviously.
Next door is Ken Done‘s Gallery. We rate the air conditioning as very good and also found the lighting to be excellent. The service is friendly and the service in the shop is professional but the ceilings could be higher. We should also mention that the windows are exceptionally clean and the gallery has a very good use of partitions. The art on the other hand, is very, very bad. Seeing a whole lot of Ken Done in one hit is like taking in too much sugar. A little goes a long way, but too much and you’re suffocating under an avalanche of white death. Done has his commercial work – the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and he has his personal work. Unfortunately, it’s Paul Gauguin‘s personal work and he wants it back! Actually, we quite liked some of Done’s white on black harbour Bridge’s and wondered if he ever gets bored doing them – does he get tempted into making additions to the bridge or Opera House, extra spans, roadways, castles, that sort of thing. It must get very repetitious, rather like signing his name – he just does it over and over again. And he signs his name beautifully.
We almost skipped our next gallery, Collins & Kent because although we had never actually been inside, we just thought it was a shop. Which it is, but it sells art, and so we had to go and have a look. If you’re in the market for a print by Dali, Rembrandt, Vuillard, Miro, Matisse or Picasso, this is the shop to go to. $990 seems like about the right amount of money to pay for a Dali, considering the market is flooded with thousands of fakes (after a truck load of blank pieces of paper with the artist’s signature was hijacked)and Collinb’s & Kent have loads of ’em.
The wisdom of hanging art in a cafe or pub has always been a mystery to us because while there is an audience there, they rarely look at the art. The Arthouse Hotel has regular shows and the management there have been incredibly generous to artists and projects with no money, allowing all sorts of activities to go on in their bars. For December there is an exhibition of the Arthouse Collection, a hodgepodge of works by among others, Denise Campbell, Margarita Georgiadis, Ernie Gerzbek, Ruth Law and Annie Gordon. There’s also an artist with a work up named Katherine Bliss, who may be related to Edith Bliss, we’re not sure. We can’t say much about this show because there is nothing much to say, except the bar staff mix a very lovely lemon, lime and bitters.
Another mystery is the monthly appearance in Art Almanac of a listing for a gallery called Flying Lobster, on the fourth floor of Dudley House at 468-472 George Street, a shambling wreck of a place with locked doors, frosted glass on the doorways of anonymous offices and the reverberating echo of a distant fire alarms. Flying Lobster is not really a gallery, more a jewelery workshop and show room decked out in red velvet curtains which make you think the staff will read your palm if you ask nicely. (Actually, the woman we spoke to was so stunned that we visited she asked us how we knew they were there). There are some simply lovely bits of jewelry on show, some watercolours and a few drawings. And that’s it. We said farewell and vowed silently to never return.