The Gratuitous Caprice

Art Life , Media May 10, 2004 No Comments

Melbourne is a bit of a conundrum for us; we like to know that there is another entire city in Australia that you can visit for long weekends or shopping trips or perhaps to go and see the odd exhibition in, but the reality of Melbourne is that we rarely (if ever) think of the place except to wonder how our friends down there are getting on, or perhaps of the people who want to sue us (hello Mary Lou!).

So thanks go out to one mysterious JL who emailed us a link to Robert Nelson’s review for The Age of an exhibition called New 04 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne that highlights “who’s hot” and mentions one of our favourite artists, Guy Benfield. As much as we detest the death-by-tedium art writing in Sydney newspapers, we could find ourselves roughed up like they do in Melbourne. Robert Nelson is the art critic for The Age and operates on a tough love philosophy. No sweeties and puppies for artists in Melbourne, oh no, he calls it like he sees ‘em and he doesn’t seem to like much of what he does see.

The New04 show is, according to Nelson, about the “inside/outside dichotomy”, and is apparent in some artists work in the show, not in others. Speaking of Benfield, Nelson opines thus:

“[The inside/outside dichotomy is not] compelling in Guy Benfield’s re-enactments of countercultural grunge of the 1970s. With echoes of Yves Klein, performers paint with their hair on a knee-high lazy Susan. As art-about-art, the artists are on the inside and you’re on the outside. It looks a bit like gratuitous caprice. But set in retro space-age furniture, the ugly works harbour a vein of bitterness and aggression. This is revealed in a catalogue essay by Ashley Crawford, boastfully declaring that the artist “had to unlearn the crap he had been taught at the VCA” by “painting Nazis“.

Oh well, and never mind the fact that Nelson’s idea of what the show is about is entirely his own invention, and never mind that the show, as he says at the end of the review, is probably more about notions of memory and narrative, or that, as the curator Geraldine Barlow said, there was no theme at all, just a bunch of people brought together because she liked them, or the fact that Benfield’s art is as humorous as you’ll find in the art world, no, let’s not worry about any of that. What we should be worrying about is Ashley Crawford spouting off about ‘painting Nazis’! Whatever can he mean?

They say loose lips sink ships and if Crawford’s ill-chosen words are anything to go by (and lets just assume that Nelson is right about that one) we’ll thank our lucky stars that we live in a city where people only have nice things to say about one another.

Andrew Frost

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