We Get Sort of Mixed Up

Art Life , Reviews Apr 28, 2004 No Comments

We try to apply an even level of ignorance to everything we see. It’s like being consistent but it doesn’t demand as much effort. We had gone last week to see Dani Marti’s show at Sherman Galleries but we’d missed it by a week. Instead there was some incredibly dull work that, while nice, there was nothing to say about it. We went down to Watters Gallery to see the Richard Larter show and, again, we had missed it by a week. We blame the Sydney Morning Herald because they like to run stories about shows that are closing the next day, or perhaps we should just read the dates a little more closely.

What we had managed to do was see the Rosalie Gascoigne ‘show’ at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. The show was in the paper – we went to the gallery and the show was on. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. We had completed our part of the bargain, so what about the gallery? There were 25 works in the ‘show’, ten of them hitherto unseen works from 1999 called Earth 1-10. They are in the hands of the Gascoigne family and are only now being exhibited following the artist’s death. Earth 1-10 are large panels of brown and red coloured builders foam board arranged in grid patterns. These works are attractive but are a little atypical of the Gascoigne works that are so hot in the secondary market. They’re also not for sale, apparently the family wants to hold on to them or sell them to a museum (or whoever can buy them as a set).

In the next room are 15 small works that date from the early 1980s up to 1997. They are of various sizes and are made from all sorts of materials and they are – let’s be frank about this – are a grab bag of leftovers from the artist’s studio.

You could speculate on why the Gascoigne estate thought it a good idea to put these works on the market. The ones that sold (about six of the 15 pieces) look the most like the artist’s best loved work from various periods, and although quite reasonable in their own way, are definitely minor efforts. Interestingly, one work called Untitled – a piece that measures just 90x199cms – looks the most like her Schweppes box works and is made from pieces of sawn weathered wood with fragments of white paint on them. The asking price? $130,000. An unkind person might say that the Gascoigne family wanted to clear out the back room and make a bit of money, cashing in on the secondary market prices that put the late artist’s work out of the range of just about all but the most dedicated blue chip investors and corporate collectors. But that would be unkind wouldn’t it? Criticising Gascoigne is like criticising motherhood – it’s just not on.

So what did we see at Watters ? Oh right. There was a show by James Gleeson called Disguised Signals and upstairs was a show by Tony Tuckson called Abstracts, Gouache, Colour. The last time we saw a Gleeson show there was a show by Tuckson as well. It must be spooky to have a show with a dead man every time you’re exhibiting your paintings.

There’s nothing bad taste in saying that, by the way, it’s just a fact. Watters Gallery acts as agents for the remains of Tuckson’s estate and every year they have a show of carefully selected pieces from the warehouse of stuff left behind by one of Australia’s most prolific artists. This year it’s small works on paper and the arrangement of pieces acts like a graph of what people like to buy; at one end of the room are all these little works in red and blue – some just blobs, others drawings of circles and squares in a semi-tribal pattern – and down the other end are darker, monochromatic works that are little gestural abstract masterpieces. Ranging from the late 1950s to the late 1960s the works don’t have titles as such, just a catalogue number. Of course, the red and blue end is all sold out, while the dark end is still available to a discerning buyer.

What can you possibly say about Tuckson ? The man is art history now and the work, with the patina of age and importance, is beyond the critical comprehension of us mere mortals. On their own terms, they are extraordinarily good, and anyone who thought we were too harsh on some doofus with a cartridge pad and some ink should get down to Watters and see how that kind of work is meant to be done.

Downstairs is Gleeson: more roiling cloudscapes, spaghetti marinara monsters, echoes of the biomechanical creatures of Max Ernst and the flat skies of Velasquez via Salvador Dali. We said our piece on Gleason a couple of years ago, but we’ll say this now – he’s the last surviving member of the war against the rational, the artists who stormed the reality studios with pen and ink and oil on Belgian linen. Gleeson and Robert Klippel were the only Australian artists to be anointed by Andre Breton, the Pope of Surrealism. Whatever you make of the artist’s latest works – and there is nothing new here really – you still gotta pay big respect. Aiight!

The Art Life

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