Part 7: "This is the end, my friend…"

Uncategorized Dec 12, 2004 No Comments

Friday was probably the worst possible day to finish our project. Hot, humid and raining, we seemed to only run into to people who were as hung over as we were, and that was very, very hungover. We looked at the rest of our list, and using pataphysical reasoning (that is, applying the law of exceptions) we quickly ruled out Watters Gallery from the remaining galleries as that venerable Sydney institution is having a Christmas Group show. We promise to go back more often in 2005.

Then there is the mysterious case of Artspace. According to Art Almanac, the show on until the 18th is a show of honours students from the University of Western Sydney. According to the Artspace website, it’s a show called Big Noise, curated by Nick Tsoutas. Shurley shome mishtake? We drove around and around Woolloomooloo on two consecutive days trying to find a park but the entire suburb was full of drunken office workers in Santa hats going to the Tilbury. We even considered double parking to get to the gallery, but in the end we said Nein Danker!

We haven’t forgotten the Art Gallery of NSW and the Anne Landa Award show, which we have seen but have been spending some time contemplating before we review it, but promise to finish with it no later than Wednesday, honest. In the meantime, make your thoughts known on who should win the prize by voting in our exclusive poll…

So those are the exceptions. What did we see? We went down to Global Gallery which is at the bottom of a very steep hill on Comber Street in lower Paddington. If you got very drunk and ran down the hill very fast you could really do yourself some serious damage, so beware. Currently showing at Global is Seaing Is Believing , an awful pun on the nautical theme of the exhibition.

Global gallery is massive, with five rooms, each bigger than the last, and the curators can fit dozens of paintings in there. Seaing Is Believing has 85 works, which is about 55 more than the biggest group show we’ve ever been to, and about 65 more than the safe maximum number. Anyway, there are some good pictures here. Richard Vevers has some psychedelic paintings of what might be coral in the first room and Susan Cadby does some very passable copies of Cy Twombly-esque seascape scribbles and we’re sure she’d have been very happy to let the entire series go for $4.5 million. Just ask. Meanwhile Paul Mallam, the photographer who had done the fish fashion show at Beatty Gallery, is back with more prints from that series and they look just as unconvincing the second time around. A special mention should be made of Duncan Hulme who has done a breathtaking trilogy of paintings called Returning from Treachery I, II and III which combine seascapes, planets and perspective tricks that may just be sincere, but if not, he should get down to Phatspace for a solo show where he’d be hailed as the king or irony.

Speaking of Phatspace, they have a double show on at the moment – in one room is a fund raiser and the other has a show we believe is curated by Chris Hanrahan called Stuporband. Unfortunately, Phatspace was recovering from the opening of both shows the night before when we visited and there were no room sheets available (apparently they had all been used as rolling paper when the Rizzlas ran out).We couldn’t quite connect the puzzle-like room sheet stuck to the wall with the works and although we did recognise some names (Kathy Gray, Danielle Dickson and Patrick Swann) we’ll address our remarks more generally to the whole show. Stuporband is more like one entire installation than a series of artworks and fits the defintion of what we called The New New Realism a couple of weeks ago (which is where the artworks delight in a Arte Povera/Grunge aesthetic of crappy materials set up like a play pen). If you’re prepared to put in some effort to decode just what is going on here, you might work it out, but with a pounding head and a tongue that tasted like a piece of aged cheese, we gave up pretty quickly.

The fundraiser in the next gallery is a mass of works, all pinned to the walls, with a similarly incomprehensible layout sheet telling you who did what. Hanrahan has a collage in this show with an explanatory text that pretty much summed it all up:

“While not supporting genetic modification the Danish Royal Family consented to the robot’s proposal for a Mary Kostakidis/Lee Lin Chin hybrid to become the godmother of the first born child of Prince Frederick and Mary Donaldson.”

Yeah! One thing you can say about Phatspace is that the artists they show really know how to use text. Another artist had a work with the words STUPID SNOWMAN CAN’T EVEN CRY. We know how he feels. Iakovos Amperidis did a piece called After Life Art Manifesto which features these words laid out as a parody of the cover of Australian Art Collector. We did a double take when we saw it. The image on the cover of his bogus magazine is a river with the cover line “Dead artist found in Cook’s River undertow.” If the real magazine had the nerve, they’d print this as the cover of their next issue. It’s a fantastic piece.

Next to Phatspace is The Dentist, who is not a real dentist, nor even a single person, but some sort of design collective who have created a small gallery for showing the work that is “innovative, interesting and exciting.” We caught the last day of a show called Easily Lead , a group show of artists doing drawings. Before we discuss the work, we should mention that the exhibition was accompanied by an unsigned two page essay explaining that drawing is an exciting medium that can be as casual and immediate as it is timeless and important. We kind of felt we knew that already but we liked reading the essay anyway. We were so last minute with seeing this show that they were taking it down as we looked at the work and had to negotiate a huge pile of designer jeans piled up in the middle of the room – such are the dangers of the art life. Two artists work in the show really stood out – Brad Crook’s pile up doodles, scribbles and collage-like images and Haruka Kokubu, who combined Shinto Buddhist patters with pop culture icons. Another gallery to add to our list of must-returns for next year.

Over on Liverpool Street a couple of streets back from the National Art School is Robin Gibson Gallery and an exhibition by an artist who did exactly what the artists at The Dentist are trying to do except he did it years ago. On show is a collection of 17 works on paper by Elwyn Lynn that date from 1975 through to 1996 and the uniformity of the work is remarkable. Using collage with paint and various mixed media, Lynn didn’t really stretch out, keeping his work within a very narrow range of elements – paint splatters, newspaper and magazine cuttings, inks and washes, sometimes on surfaces like tarps or cardboard boxes. Lynn’s work was a hit and miss affair and the pieces here are pretty dull although, when considered historically next to the abstraction of their day, they are perfectly respectable. Someone recently put it to us that Lynn was a great writer and curator but a terrible artist, and we couldn’t quite come to terms with that idea. Although we know that’s probably true, we just can’t accept it emotionally. Perhaps it’s the old world ambience of the Gibson gallery, perhaps it was the crapulence of the accompanying exhibitions by Lex Dickson (boring ceramics) and Tina Barahanos (boring etchings) but it felt like we had gone back in time and Lynn looked good. Mind you, when we’d gone outside the whole notion had evaporated.

Looking at out list we saw that TAP Gallery was just down the road. We have to confess to a prejudice – we hate TAP Gallery with it’s crummy galleries and equally hopeless art, we feel sorry for anyone who shows there. Luckily, it’s closed until the New Year and that meant we didn’t have to go there. Phew.

We don’t have much time for Arthouse Gallery either but we have seen some half decent work there over the years so we shouldn’t be too harsh. Besides, the gallery assistant woman who works there has been to the same school of art speak as the gallery assistant who works at Roslyn Oxley Gallery, so she must know what she’s talking about. There was a time people who worked in galleries would just ignore you and that’s how we liked it. But now, when you go in, they say hello, ask if you need anything and then lay on some art talk when you get close to their desk. At Arthouse (just like at Oxley), the woman will say “doesn’t [the artist] have an interesting use of colour?” or “are you familiar with the work of [the artist]”. We always say no when we get asked questions like that because we like to find out what they’re going to say, and when they respond with “[the artist] has got an extraordinary sense of [form/colour/space/detail/surface/perspective/material]” we always nod and say “yes, extraordinary” or some other equally vague adjective.

The extraordinary work at Arthouse is actually quite extraordinary in that not only is good, uses interesting materials, has a sense of colour and design, uses form, space and detail well, it’s all art by David McKay, a Mambo artist who works across the road from Arthouse. Sadly, the gallery does not feel the need for its own website, so we’ll have to be brief. Taking a holiday from his Mambo work, McKay has done a series of paintings of flowers painted on crazy surfaces – tapestries, various shocking wallpapers (holograms, 1970s nude women, patterns) – and although you can see the link to his commercial stuff, this show works as individual paintings. It’s too late in the year to go into a whole rave about why design isn’t really art and why a whole host of other Mambo guys stretching out into fine art hasn’t really worked all that well, but if you were looking for someone who seems to understand that making a pattern isn’t necessarily the same as making art, then McKay would be your guy. The opther refreshing aspect of this work is that it’s funny – but smart-funny, not obvious-funny like most of the other Mambo guys.

And so finally we come to the very last gallery on our list, Stills Gallery, and perhaps one of the best shows we’ve seen all year, Narelle Autio’s Watercolours. Over the last few decades photography has changed from something you did with a camera into something that you finished on photographic paper. With an endless herd of graduates coming out of art schools who rejoice and celebrate in the technological possibilities of computers, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a show where the works are the result of an artist going out into the world with her camera, taking shots and then printing them up in a darkroom. Autio has travelled around Australia taking of photos of people at play in the water – on beaches, in rivers, underwater and dropping from bridges – and she has created a stunning exhibition. Her Not of This Earth show which featured equally amazing shots of people taken looking down from the footway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge were inexplicably and unnecessarily printed on canvas. For Watercolours, Autio has gone back to basics with large 80 x 120 cm prints and they are astounding and colourful widescreen views of Australia’s obsession with solar radiation. Sometimes words fail us when we try to explain how good a show can be, and perhaps in this case we can’t think of exactly the right words for Autio’s show. It’s on until Saturday the 18th of December, so just get down to the gallery and see for yourself.

We walked out of Stills Gallery and realised that we had suddenly come to the end of our project. It was time to go home.

The Art Life

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