We have been having a lot of thoughts recently about the nature of obviousness. Is it good to be obvious? Is it bad to be obscure? Could we formulate a unified theory of “getability”? We weren’t sure and confused and fuelled by some better than decent port after a sumptuous lunch, we got in the schwimmerwagen and went on a gallery crawl.
First port of call was Kaliman Gallery. There are two shows on there until the end of March, Raafat Ishak has some paintings and Kate Rhode has some installation type thing going on featuring stuffed animals in museum style glass boxes. In one instant we got the idea of what one artist was doing straight away and are still pondering the other.
Rhode’s work is a fairly ambitious project which seems to mostly succeed. The room has been set up to look like a natural history museum complete with wood paneling, flooring and picture rails. There are paintings of wild animals that look like they have been copied from National Geographic photos, and in various glass cases of different sizes, are taxidermied specimens arranged in poses. Only the animals are all fake, hybrid beasts somewhere between cute, Japanese anime style creatures and real animals. The fur is fake fur and the eyes are too big to be real, the grasses and rocks in the cases are rudimentary papier mache constructions and the greenery looks like it was cut from felt samples.
We pretty much understood what Rhode was doing – nature versus anti-nature, simulation versus reality, museum versus gallery, specimen versus imagination. In some ways, the works are overloaded with ideas that teased you with their implications. But what struck us about the work was how we “got it” almost immediately. We liked it. And we weren’t the only ones. The show was a sell out and Vassily Kaliman was pulling works by Rhode out of the storeroom and selling those too (plinths extra). It seemed all good for Kate Rhode.
But the troubling factor about these works is that they were pretty rudimentary. They weren’t as good as finished museum objects that you would see at The Australian Museum and, to us, that’s the standard by which these things should be judged. You could argue that the people who bought the works liked the idea better than the aesthetic qualities of the actual objects, but was it the slight crapness of the execution the real charm here? We were confused. Maybe this is the artist’s style or something? We just didn’t know and we’re still pondering whether they could have been done a lot better or were just fine the way they are.
In the large room at Kaliman are works by Raafat Ishak and there are no questions about the execution of the works. They are flawless little gems of paintings that are also completely lifeless and dull. The works feature bits of architecture, coloured blobs over the top and crazed, raised surfaces of paint, all lovingly laid down on miniature rectangles of MDF. You could imagine them on a t-shirt or in a magazine and they would look just fine there, but there was little to keep your attention. Clearly, we’re more inclined to a good idea done in a slightly shit way than something that looks decorative.