Space Is The Place

Art Life , Reviews Dec 14, 2007 No Comments

The latest poll results for the most influential artist of all time has thrown up some surprising results. As of today, it’s a dead heat between Lloyd Rees, Brett Whiteley, Mike Parr and Mark Titmarsh, with Daniel Mudie Cunningham and Ken Done a close second. We would have bet money that Matthys Gerber would have been the easy winner. All roads lead back to that erstwhile lecturer in painting at Sydney College of The Arts, his invisible hand evident in an awful lot of painting, much of it awful, an equal measure not. The group show at Gallery 9 that’s finishing out their big first year, has a few artists in it who seemed to have learned a trick or two from the happy Dutchman.

Nana Ohnesorge, Snow white, 2007.
Courtesy Gallery 9.

Nana Ohnesorge‘s work is especially redolent of Gerber-esque colours and landscapes, mashed up with random bits and pieces of decoration, dividing lines and faux textures, a menstruating woman lost in a swamp possibly Ohnesorge’s own invention. Along with the paintings are an accompanying series of works on paper called Nature Studies which layer images and patterns and, despite the sense that you’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing a before, they are spookily effective. If Ohnesorge could be said to be into Figurative Gerberesque, Phil Williams whose work shares the room, is also a disciple of Abstract Gerberism. His big paintings are like small Gerbers, swirls of colour very carefully and deliberately applied so you end up with a kind of Hesitant Abstraction, mixed with a florid representation of nature. In an act perversity typical to The School of Matthys, Williams has a series of portraits on paper that look like they are straight outta the 70s, like the illustrations you’d find on the front of school exercise books. With titles such as Kurt, Miranda and Jesse, the works combine a blocky image of a face with star bursts, star fields and rainbow prisms. Remember what they used to say in the 70s? Space is the place!

Phil Williams, Dark, dark house in a dark dark wood, 2007.

Courtesy Gallery 9

While viewing the group show we were told that Timothy Price, whose work is out the back, is “big in Canberra”. Trying to imagine his deliberately crude paintings in the windows of a Manuka gallery conjured up images of flaming torches, pitch forks and a pyre of paintings crackling in the cold air of a Canberra winter. Chilling.

Timothy Price, Space Precinct, 2007.
Courtesy Gallery 9

Matthew Hopkins continues to be an artist of promise. Instead of Gerberism, Hopkins has turned to Stephen King for inspiration. Sometimes people tell you useful things while looking at art. In this case we were told that the Hopkins works – sculptures, drawings, paintings and video – were all related to the King book/TV show IT, which was very handy because we have never read a King novel and have only by accident seen the movies. Until that moment we did not know what to make of Hopkins mini-show. Had the artist gone mad? Was the whole clown motif an overworked and overwrought pop culture reference point? Maybe, but once we had our bit of contextualising information it was a relief, not mad after all, a rabid fan perhaps, an act of homage. 10 Corporate Portraits of IT might be Hopkins play at mainstream acceptance, being rather expertly applied paint instead of his usual spider drawings. That it sold and may yet end up in a coporate boardroom is a fantastic thought.

Matthew Hopkins, 10 Corporate Portraits of IT, 2007. Installation view.
Courtesy Gallery 9.

In the next room is a big installation by Tom Polo. Although relatively young, Pollo seems to have won many, many awards – from language class and attendance awards to a special certificate for being the “quietest achiever”. Lovingly saved by his mother over the years, these dozens of awards, certificates and prizes create an informal wallpaper of excellence against which Polo has created shelves featuring statuettes for his sporting activities and paintings featuring smiling faces and childish heads. On closer inspection you notice that the sports trophies aren’t his, the name TOM POLO Dymo-labelled into place. Slowly, what seems to be a monument to achievement, becomes increasingly uncertain, partly jokey yet sincerely deprecating. Lovely.

Tom Polo, Winners are grinners, 2007. Installation detail.
Courtesy Gallery 9 and the artist.

Over at Chalk Horse in leafy Surry Hills, are the last couple of days of a show featuring three artists – Alex Davies, Stephanie Smiedt and Renny Kodgers. It pays to go to exhibitions in artist run galleries, if not on the opening night, then certainly in the first few days following because as time passes most ARIs seem to find it harder and harder to keep up standards. At Chalk horse, the lights were turned off and the gallery person unimpressed by our request for a roomsheet.

Smiedt’s work is a big room of paintings with splats of paint dolloped onto huge acreages of white canvas. It looked great and might have looked even better if the lights had been turned on. In the small second gallery Renny Kodgers installation/performance/video was said to have been a huge hit on the opening night, featuring Renny nude in a specially constructed sauna meeting and greeting fans as they came in for a steam. On our visit, the sauna was cold and empty but a video screen showing the action of opening night beckoned. Popping on the headphones we saw [NAME REMOVED ON LEGAL ADVICE] gently stroking Renny’s massive penis and offering to fellate it [or words to that effect]. On the bench next to Renny was [NAME REMOVED ON LEGAL ADVICE], also nude, explaining how they do it in Finland. Boy, did we ever miss out. You really had to be there.

The show we’d come to see was Alex Davies show Ultimate Stocking Stuffer Sale! a massive collection of prints of images shot over the last couple of years. Older people would call his style “reportage” but instead of objective photojournalism, there’s something much more immediate and personal in Davies encounters during APEC, his portraits of friends, fellow artists and writers [thanks to this show we now know what Adam Jasper looks like, so we can put a face to the excellent pieces he writes for Frieze]. The photo that illustrated the invitation is amomng our favourites in this strong show Justin Shoulder APEC Ghost Protest which manages to be seem both utterly contemporary and timeless, like a throwback to Sydney in the 40s. There are a couple of series of images taken overseas – Thailand and Japan – and although Davies undoubtedly has an eye, these works seem unremarkable, touristy, and he’s much better on places and subjects he knows more intimately, such as a great portrait of Shaun Gladwell.

We were sorry we’d missed the opening of these shows and regretted that we’d left reviews so late, so when we were admonished by Vicki Papageorgopoulos that her show with Jonathon Bailey The Stickers hadn’t been appropriately ‘big-upped’ on the blog, we decided we’d make damn sure that we’d get down to Firstdraft and see the show proper. We’d also been hearing positive word on Emily Hunt and Sean Bailey‘s shows too. Unfortunately it was not to be. Despite checking and double checking the opening days and hours, when we got down there we realised we’d forgotten about the Curse of The ARI… Firstdraft was closed. We can’t be too harsh on Firstdraft or any other ARI, gallery or institution at this time of year. Xmas rot has set in. There is a feeling of the end, the place closing down until late January.

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Porcelain, 1985 / 2007.
Courtesy the artist

That feeling of the end is embodied in Daniel Mudie Cunningham‘s show Funeral Songs at MOP. The set up is fairly simple, yet amazingly profound. Cunningham asked 150 people to nominate a song that they would have played at their funeral, from serious stuff like John A Douglas‘s nomination of 4th Movement Symphony #3 with text by Friedrich Nietzsche by Gustav Mahler to Margaret Mayhew‘s desire for her near and dearest to hear The Muppets version of Danny Boy. All of the songs have been compiled onto CDs and loaded up into an antique CD juke box. Visitors to the gallery can select favourites and imagine the end. On a video screen Cunningham mimes enthusiastically to his own song. We won’t spoil it for you by telling you which song it is, but we have to say, he’s go some serious moves in his dance repertoire.

Andrew Frost

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