All Ricky All The Time

Stuff Jun 19, 2005 No Comments

Talk about suffering for art. Fabric maker John Kaldor had to break a golden rule when he took on the role of commissioner for the Australian exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

Having declared before the last Biennale that he and partner Naomi Milgrom would duck the opening because it was “tedious”, Kaldor was top cheerleader when the Australia Council threw open its pavilion full of Ricky Swallow‘s sculptures overnight.

“If you want to see the art it’s better to go in off-peak times. Same with any exhibition, avoid openings,” Kaldor declared in 2003.

Having overcome his crowd phobia Kaldor took to his Biennale role with gusto, rattling the tin to decibel levels not experienced before. Kaldor inspired dozens of local corporate warriors to hand over $5000 or more for the privilege of becoming a Biennale “champion”

Jeni Porter, Opening Fright, Sydney Morning Herald.

Helen Coonan made her apologies but the crowd were quite happy when they got Cate Blanchett instead.

The Minister for Communications, Technology and the Arts was sorry she couldn’t be around to open 30-year-old Ricky Swallow‘s show at the 51st Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art.

But for the large crowd of Australians this was not too crushing a disappointment when they heard Blanchett would be Senator Coonan’s replacement.
Before the official ceremonies, the media were herded into a pavilion in two groups -first photographers, then reporters, to enjoy an exclusive audience with Blanchett and Swallow. The questions were banal and the answers predictable, but nobody’s enthusiasm seemed to falter.

John McDonald In Venice, Coonan can’t but Cate can for Australian art, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Cate Blanchett with some guy.

Australia’s Ricky Swallow has also been the beneficiary of a long-standing promotional programme, extolling his undoubted merit as an inventive sculptor of immaculate, haunting humanistic figures and artefacts.

Venice Triumphant, Studio International.

The commissioner of the Australian pavilion says I must meet Ricky Swallow, who, at 30, is the youngest solo artist in the Biennale, so we go over to the Australian pavilion to admire his work. Unfortunately, it is in raw carved wood, a medium I hate, but it is brilliantly done – trompe l’oeil still lives, a skeleton, a cactus and a crash helmet crawling with rattlesnakes. Swallow looks even younger than 30 and started doing wood carving about four years ago; he says his whole career seems to be a search for slower and slower methods of working. Moreover, he moved to London, ‘which was a bit of a challenge, trying to outdo Grinling Gibbons’. He is obviously quite canny about publicity because he got his friend Cate Blanchett to open his show, thus ensuring maximum television coverage.

Lynn Barber, Anyone for Venice The Observer .

Cate Blanchett said she did not possess a Swallow – “but not through lack of trying”. Since the process of creation is so slow, with each piece taking up to four months to make even with the help of assistants, she is still on the waiting list. The 30-year-old Swallow, the youngest artist to have represented Australia, refused to say how much his works sell for, but claims that he earns only A$2.50 (£1.00) an hour.

Charlotte Higgins, Blanchett Brings Hollywood Glitz to Venice Biennale, The Guardian.

More than any other biennale, this has been the biennale of the celebrity spruiker. Bjork was doing her crazy stuff at the Icelandic pavilion; Harry Dean Stanton was strolling moodily around Ed Ruscha’s exhibition at the US pavilion; and Gilbert and George, in their dapper new suits, had the vocal support of Rufus Wainwright at the British pavilion – and Frieze magazine enlisted Jarvis Cocker as their party-night DJ.

But none of them drew the international media quite as much as Cate Blanchett, who made a warm and intelligent speech for her friend Ricky Swallow from the balcony of Australia’s pavilion at last Thursday’s opening.

It didn’t stop there. Later that evening, at the lavish party thrown by the Australia Council at the legendary Cipriani Hotel, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, with bad girl of Brit-Art, Tracey Emin on his arm, came to pay tribute to Swallow.

Peter Hill, Guerillas in their midst, The Age.

The Australian Ricky Swallow pulled off a coup by getting the actress Cate Blanchett to open his show, This Time, Another Year, at their national pavilion. His meticulously carved objects in wood are inspired by Dutch still-life painting and the 16th-17th-century English master of decorative carving, Grinling Gibbons. Swallow’s work dwells on the passage of time, the transience of existence, the memento mori. A skeleton sits on a chair clasping a staff, a skull lies sunken in a beanbag, snakes slither through the vents of an upturned cyclist’s helmet lying of the ground, hinting at the death of its owner.

Roderick Conway Lewis, Pushing Boundaries at The Venice Biennale, International Herald Tribune.

N? di?n viên ng??i Úc Cate Blanchett (gi?a) ?ang trò chuy?n cùng ngh? s? Ricky Swallow (ph?i) và Davide Croff – ch? t?ch Qu? tài tr? Biennale (trái) v? tác ph?m ?iêu kh?c g? “‘The Exact Dimensions of Staying Behind”.

TH? MINH, Tri?n lãm ngh? thu?t qu?c t? Venice Biennale l?n th? 51, Tuoi Tre Online.

Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood was among the guests at Australia’s opening party at the Venice Biennale art show.

In exuberant spirits at Venice’s Hotel Cipriani on Thursday night, Wood embraced Ricky Swallow, the diminutive artist who is Australia’s representative at the world showcase for contemporary art.

Wood is an artist himself, having painted celebrity portraits of models Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and fellow Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. His clients include composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Sultan of Brunei.

Earlier, Cate Blanchett opened Swallow’s exhibition of carved wooden sculptures at the Australian Pavilion.

Blanchett heaped praise on Swallow’s sculptures, which include a skeleton, a potted cactus and a bicycle helmet crawling with snakes.

Sebastian Smee, Cate helps Aussie art make a splash in Venice, The Australian.

Born the son of a shark fisherman in 1974, Ricky Swallow makes obsessive sculptures with a certain boyish cool. With finicky precision, he models turntables, scuffed trainers, tape decks and BMX bikes. Much of his work riffs on mortality, such as his brilliantly grisly iMan Prototypes, desktop computers with a skull instead of a screen. The upper gallery of the Australian pavilion will contain Killing Time, a sculpted marine spread of upturned langoustines, crustaceans and crabs that evokes the golden age of 17th-century Dutch painting.

Alastair Sooke, Ten Hot Biennale Artists, The Telegraph.

Oscar winning actor Cate Blanchett has provided a touch of Hollywood glamour to Australian Ricky Swallow‘s art installation at the Venice Biennale in Italy. The actor visited the Australian pavilion at the festival to check out Swallow’s wood sculpture, The Exact Dimensions of Staying Blind. “It’s superlative, remarkable, arresting, monumental,” Blanchett told The Guardian newspaper.

Swallow, who was chosen as Australia’s representative at the biennale, has filled the pavilion with a number of carved wooden objects. The collection includes a potted cactus, a marine still life and a bike helmet crawling with snakes.

Blanchett supports artist in Venice, NineMSN.

Here at you’ll find all the latest Cate news, media and the most extensive Cate gallery. Please leave your comments in the guestbook before you leave. Any thoughts and suggestions are always very welcome! At the Venice Biennale, the contemporary art world’s most significant event, nations vie with one another to flaunt the best and most moment-defining works they can muster. The battle of the celebrity endorsement, however, was yesterday won hands down when Cate Blanchett, dripping in Hollywood glamour, turned up to support her friend and record-buying companion Ricky Swallow, the artist chosen to represent Australia. In fact, Blanchett could hardly have given the work higher praise. “It’s superlative, remarkable, arresting, monumental,” she said.

Blanchett brings Hollywood glitz to Venice Biennale,

Impressively crafted elaborate still lives out of wood. Not much more to say. A lot of the subject matter was that of traditional paintings with Flemish style still lives and skulls on wooden ‘leather’ beanbags. Clearly Ricky Swallow is very handy with a chisel. The press release says “ his art is one of brilliant contradictions: totally contemporary in concept the work remains in the spirit of the great tradition of sculpture”. Looked like a compromise to me. Nice pavilion space and glossy flyer.

Eva Bensasson The Venice Biennale: The Giardini, World Wide

So what then is there to praise? One success is certainly Serbia’s Natalija Vujosevic, whose harrowing video In Case I Never Meet You Again is deeply moving. The nearby Hungarian pavilion is also of a high standard, with the eerily disturbing masked dummies of Balazs Kicsiny. While I was taken by the ironic wood sculptures of Australia’s Ricky Swallow, I wonder how many visitors missed the tiny window at the back of the Italian national pavilion, which with its view into a cobweb-strewn 18th-century interior must be the festival’s greatest secret as well as one of the best pieces – though I’m still unaware of its creator’s identity.

Iain Gale, Art of Walking On Water, New Scotsman.

Navigating contemporary culture is often a question of performing a translation without losing the essence of the content to be translated. Electronic streams of data form highways on which information is sent and received everywhere in the world in real time. Nevertheless, cultural diversity challenges how far content is explainable within, compatible with and applicable to different spheres and societies different zones of religion, belief systems and economies, as well as traditions habits and curiosities.

Within such diversity, what does it mean to be an Australian cultural export or to represent Australian culture on the world stage, as is the case for Ricky Swallow exhibiting in the Australian Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale?

When I look at my home country, Germany, I see internationally renowned artists but 100 million German-speaking contemporaries haven’t come up with a single pop star in the last fifteen years – models and athletes are the only people under fifty years of age who have become world famous in the years following reunification.
Looking at the pop-culture exports that have emerged from the Australian population of approximately 20 million makes one more optimistic. Australia has spawned Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue and Peter Weir, among others.

Klaus Biesenbach, Panem Et Circuses: Ricky Swallow in Venice, Art & Australia, Winter 2005.

One criticism of the display was that it concentrated only on Ricky Swallow‘s recent wood carvings and gave no indication of the versatility the artist has shown in his brief but dazzling career. This made it possible for some to simply say “boring” without pausing to look.

The gamble, for the prize-hungry Australians, was that the jury would be ready to reward an artist for skill and application – qualities that have been out of fashion for so many years they must be due for a comeback That gamble was lost, but with dignity The less dignified bit was the press conference with Cate Blanchett, who was flown in to open the pavilion. This was a shameless attempt to get some press attention on the back of a celebrity story, and we were all obliged to play the game.

What impressed this year’s jury of international curators was the thing that always impresses them – politics. In the rarefied world of contemporary art, a strident political gesture always has an impact. This may be because contemporary art is often so decadent, so swathed in artifice and pretension, that anything portending to the real world of blood and conflict stirs the conscience of the tastemakers.

John McDonald, A Fellini Cast, Spectrum.

The philosopher Simone Weil once spoke of the beatitude that envelops a child struggling with a maths problem. One suspects the happiest and most intense moments of Swallow’s life are when he’s carving a lobster out of a hardwood block. It’s suggestive in this context that Weil’s example is of a boy – presumably she was thinking of her brother Andre, one of the 20th century’s great mathematicians – because there is something very boyish about Ricky’s obsessions too: skulls, Game Boys, BMXs. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to discern a swerve away from the messy details of human sexuality and towards the safer boy-zones of solitude, sci-fi and death. I can’t think of a single work by Swallow that directly confronts sexuality in any interesting way; his apocalyptic chimps, whacked-out robots and Hollywood serial killers are typical symbols by which adolescent boys deal with the banal traumas of growing up. In the end, what exposes itself through all the pop references and high finish is a melancholy sense of dereliction, a Swallow utterly alone. Or as Nat, from the Australian art-duo Nat and Ali, wonders: “Why is a guy so young wound so tight?”

This tension invariably means that a Swallow piece will be gorgeously made and impeccably finished, the product of long thought and hard labour. It will probably fit comfortably in a variety of spaces, perhaps in an architect-designed summer mansion at Pretty Beach, New South Wales, or on an expensive coffee table in a New York condominium. The work will bristle with allusions, both kitsch and high-art, from dinosaur theme parks to Philippe de Champagne. It will have a great title. It will contain tiny details that, properly noted, will impress dinner guests. It will hint at intense autobiographical events. Yet it will be immediately accessible. A child could appreciate its symbolism – even if no child could have made it.

Justin Clemens, Boy’s In A Hood, The Monthly.

Australia’s 31-year-old representative Ricky Swallow missed out on the Golden Lion for best artist under 35. The jury awarded it instead to the Guatemalan artist Regina Jose Galindo. Galindo had two videos on display. One showed her shaving hair from her body and scalp then walking naked through a street; the other showed disturbing close-up footage of a surgical operation to repair a woman’s hymen. Galindo was commended for embodying courageous action against power.

Sebastian Smee, Lions Share For Women, The Australian.

Andrew Frost

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