Part 6: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Uncategorized Dec 09, 2004 No Comments

We’ve had to make some tough decisions in our quest to review everything. We looked at our list.

We’ve eliminated from our schedule galleries with Xmas stock room shows: Tim Olsen Gallery has not one but two stock room shows in the gallery and annex; Darren Knight Gallery has a stable show and half of Roslyn Oxley Gallery is a stock room show. In Kings Cross, Martin Browne Fine Art has a stock room show of gallery artists (who we are surprised to discover includes Rosalie Gascoigne) and Yuill/Crowley has a show called Open Season, which we think means you can do whatever you like, or perhaps Kerry Crowley will be celebrating Christmas on the roof of her building with a high powered rifle and telescopic sight.

Other galleries never seem to open. Rex-Livingston Contemporary on Abercrombie Street in Chippendale has a drive-by arrangement where the busy motorist doesn’t need to stop at all, you can just slow down and look in the window and see all you need to see. It cuts down on the time spent by gallery people or artists minding the space and we consider it a definite boon for time deficient art critics. Over in Woolloomooloo, Soho Galleries situated on the corner of Crown and Cathedral Streets has more or less the same arrangement, although it does have opening hours, but as it only has two walls you can see everything from the outside. The problem of course is that there is nothing to see there.

Then there are the galleries that aren’t listed in Art Almanac (hello, Performance Space, what’s the deal?) or just can’t stand – Dickerson Gallery, Blender… The galleries attached to art schools and universities are having graduation shows and they don’t offer much to the casual visitor. Call us fickle, but we wrote the rules so we can do what we like, so to hell with all y’all. What’s left on our hit list? We haven’t really done Darlinghurst or Surry Hills properly yet, and with only one day left, will we make it? Of course we will! Today we went on a mopping up operation, taking care of those pesky galleries all on their own in weird places, or ones we missed for no obvious or rational reason.

We started with Roslyn Oxley Gallery which, aside from the stock show (which features a painting by Dale Frank called Viggo Mortensen), there is a new show Absence and Presence by Mandy Martin, with some collaborative works between the artist and Trisha Carroll. Painting in a style that wouldn’t seem out of place in a gallery in the Rocks, the works are elevated out of a rather tedious and boring – and not to mention literal – interpretation of the Australian landscape by the superimposing ghostly elements of Indigenous art. Your enjoyment of the paintings will probably depend on whether you think such an obvious idea can sustain itself beyond the visual and thematic juxtaposition. Luckily for both artists, it can, and this is mostly due to the fact that Martin can push paint around like a champ. Visually, it’s very pleasing.

Speaking of boring and literal, there is a show at Brian Moore Gallery by Julia Griffin called New Paintings. The paintings in the show are new and they are of landscapes, and the canvases are rectangular, which, as you know, is the format called “landscape”. As we looked at the paintings, we overheard another gallery visitor saying to her friend that the works were very restful. Comatose might be a better description, but that’s just us, having grown up with these kinds of boring pictures in our lounge rooms, and some people might find this type of thing generally good. We don’t know who they are, but we know they are out there.

Ash Hempsall also has a show called New Paintings at Brian Moore Gallery, which we know is not entirely true as we originally saw some of these works in 2003. What’s the deal there? We know, however, that Hempsall thinks in the long term so in a geological sense, they will remain new for some time to come. Finally giving his Mr & Mrs Dawn series of works a showing in a proper gallery, we know that Hempsall’s work isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there aren’t many people out there brave enough to show this kind of symbolic figuration, be we like it. Hempsall’s painting has a lot of promise and the works that are the most successful – like Therianthorpe and Mr. Dawn – are already there. His foregrounds and figures are great, his backgrounds and brushwork not so great. If he can put them together as he does in the successful pieces, he’ll be on his way.

Michael Cusack is having his debut show at Martin Browne Fine Art and before you ask, yes, he is John Cusack’s brother. We saw David Wenham having a coffee at a café in Potts Point. We don’t think Wenham and John Cusack have been in a film together, but maybe someone could arrange that – as they’re both intelligent actors it might be fun to see what they could do together. Joan Cusack is John Cusack’s sister, which is not a widely known fact, but she was in Gross Point Blank, which is one of our favourite film’s of the 1990s – coming out at the same time as the Adam Sandler vehicle The Wedding Singer – but with much better music… Yes, we know all of this has nothing to do with Michael Cusack, but to be perfectly frank, there’s nothing much to say. Cusack does very polite mixed media works, layering materials, painting it white but leaving holes with underpainted colours poking through. His smaller works were much more successful – and were sold – while the larger ones were much more problematic; the bigger they were, the less convincing they became.

Over at MOP Projects in Redfern they’ve again managed to squeeze two shows into their modest space. Heidrun Lohr has an installation called Not Quite Ready Yet: A Multitude of Pre-Snaps and Kirsten Farrell a show entitled All Night On The Road.

Lohr’s work is about the essentials of photography, featuring a light box with hundreds of negative frames and a large inkjet print of proof sheets and some framed works of artfully arranged negs in various shapes. The work is also a sort of eulogy to the negative in the age of the digital camera and the supply of white gloves means that this work is definitely hands on for a process that is going the way of the wax cylinder. Farrell’s works – op art stripes on glass – are accompanied by a subtitle from Jorge Louis Borges (“By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters…”) and poetry from Sydney poet Melinda Smith. With such exacting but obscure accompanying text we have to confess, we have no idea what this show is meant to be. But it looks good, and that’s half the battle.

The best show we’ve seen for awhile is Changeling: Childhood and The Uncanny at the Australian Centre for Photography, curated by Alasdair Foster. Mixing Australian and international artists whose work is about children and adolescents, this show is excellent, albeit with one significant caveat. Like their 30th Anniversary show, the ACP seems to think it’s a good idea to add theatrical elements to the way the work is staged. First they started painting the walls dark grey and spot lighting the photographs, now they’ve got spooky ambient music and gauzy curtains on the doorways to each section of the space. Does Foster really believe that the works need this kind of extraneous and silly stage dressing? The best works here are so powerful they would have worked no matter what the setting but the not so great works are diminished by this absurd over production. What’s next? A laser light show?

That aside, Changeling: Childhood and The Uncanny has some of the most disturbing works we’ve seen for some time. The Norwegian artist Simen Johan has a series of photographs of kids playing that catch the utter madness of childhood and the wanton destruction in a world devoid of adults. Loretta Lux, a German photographer, digitally manipulates photographs of kids into a Tin Drum psychodrama via anime eyes. Also of note are Donna Bailey’s funny/weird shots of kids outside and Glenn Sloggett’s Toys On Sticks is a kind of Golgotha for teddy bears. Deborah Paauwe’s work, in comparison, doesn’t look so great, being far too overstated and kitschy for our tastes and Julie Sundberg’s work is maybe too subtle. Polixeni Papapetrou is not, mercifully, represented by her simply appalling Alice in Wonderland pictures, but by a suite of works called Olympia Wearing Her Grandmother’s Jewellery from 2001. Featuring shots of her naked daughter in poses reminiscent of soft porn, these works are deeply troubling, not so much because of the disturbing way in which the artist depicts the child, but more because the artist seems unable to understand what the objection might be to the power relationship between the photographer and the subject. The artist contends that her daughter is completely complicit in the process, but to look upon these pictures is to imagine otherwise. We may be wrong, but we’ll be fascinated to know what Olympia will have to say about her childhood experiences with her mother when she’s an adult.

The Art Life

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