The Endless Column is 100 years old

The first version of Brancusi’s Endless Column was made in Paris in 1916. The largest version, at Targu Jiu in Romania, was finished in 1938. It is a memorial to those Romanians who died defending Targu Jiu during the first World War.

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The Afghan Modern @RKD

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Perhaps it is only from the outside that one can decode aspects of the visual culture of a country like Afghanistan and formulate a proposition like “The Afghan Modern”. To propose an indigenous modernism within a distant culture is, inevitably, an act of cultural projection. And yet the bodies of work we have encountered beg the kind of formal analysis and iconographic interpretation that applies in any number of contemporary cross-cultural circumstances.

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Afghan Modern @RKD is a small exhibition of ten conflict carpets from Afghanistan at Nigel Lendon’s studio space (@RKD) at Wamboin, near Canberra. The exhibition may be viewed by appointment (iconophilia@gmail.com) until 24th March.

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The essay posted on Rugs of War summarises my thoughts about this group of Afghan conflict carpets produced in the years from 1988 to 1992, in which the dominant visual framing device is a map. Innovative in character, these carpets are distinct from other conventional uses of the map in the same medium during the same period, which I have written about elsewhere. These particular examples are, I suggest, artefacts that collectively constitute an instance of a regional, or indigenous, modernism which has emerged independent of any cultural dependency or external influence, and which signals a break with the continuity of local traditions. In this sense, at least, it is like any other modernism.

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continued HERE

Nigel Lendon: Modelling the now

Videography by Axel Debenham Lendon, photography by Rob Little.

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Image: video still from “Self Portrait (Homage)” 2013 (Rob Little, photographer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sS1JLcbnp0

And see the discusssion that came with the companion exhibition at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery:

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Australia at the Royal Academy

Iconophilia is pleased to post the text of Ian McLean’s talk given at the Royal Academy symposium on November 1st, 2013.

‘Anxious identities: Reinventing Australia in a changing world’

A child of the Enlightenment, the conception of Australia was inadvertently set in train by the Royal Society 245 years ago, coincidentally the same year that the Royal Academy was established. I say inadvertently because the Royal Society had its eyes on Venus, not Australia. An afterthought of Cook’s secret mission to explore the South Pacific after the transit of Venus, Australia was unintended and unloved from the beginning. Be that as it may, the result was its birth as an idea and eventually a nation.

Beginning with these thoughts is my way of acknowledging this venerable institution, the appropriateness of the exhibition ‘Australia’ being here, as well as a mentor, Bernard Smith. He believed Australian art began under the sign of the Royal Society not the Royal Academy, by which he meant it was about nature and science, not neo-classicism and fine art. I think he put too much weight on this difference. For me they were essentially the same institution: each an arm of the Crown and Empire. Nineteenth-century Australian art is a happy alliance of neo-classicism, naturalism and science, and so has a natural home here, in Burlington House, which the Royal Society and Royal Academy shared for 100 years. Half the art in this exhibition, the first half, really belongs to it. It is the art of Empire, not Australia, which conveniently narrows my topic to the other half of the exhibition. Continue reading →

Public Aesthetics and Public Ethics

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What makes public art fair game for political graffiti? This 1969-1972 monumental untitled sculpture by Margel Hinder occupies a courtyard space in Woden, Canberra. In its time, such art was resolutely apolitical. In those days, such examples of public art were a source of cultural pride. Untouchable. However one might now say that the concept of the public in the space of public art enables the kind of transgressive political action we see here. I’m not sure I know how to unpack the ethics of anti-aesthetic actions such as these. Graffiti on works of art maximises attention, as we see from recent examples around the world. But does it also diminish the politics of the action? And today there’s a topical piece at Hyperallergic. Food for thought in every direction…

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Public art can be dangerous for your health (and psychological wellbeing)

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One of my favourite works in the Australian National University’s sculpture collection used to be Witness, by the renowned Indonesian/Australian artist Dadang Christanto. Comprised of aluminium forms attached to the skeleton of a eucalypt tree, it looked for all the world like a flock of Sulphur-crested cockatoos that had lobbed into the branches of the tree, as they do. Commissioned in 2004, when Dadang was artist-in-residence at the School of Art, for quite some time it stood in splendid isolation overlooking the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Subsequently, in a wind storm, some of the aluminium forms detached themselves and fell to the ground.

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For the last five years there has been a dodgy star-picket and wire fence to keep spectators at bay. Now (shock! horror!) the whole area has been surrounded by a vast backyard fence! It is now framed in a way such that the original work has a radically inappropriate new visual component. Now I know (and I’ve argued on this site) that reframing is a particularly Canberran discourse – witness the way the experts and architects at the National Gallery have redesigned and reframed The Aboriginal Memorial – but this is example of what is technically known as outsider design. Or is this Occupational Health and Safety gone mad? In which case, what about the psychological health of the artlovers like your iconophile who have to walk past it every morning?

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There are ethical and moral rights issues at play here. Was the artist consulted? If so, we will need to reconsider whether the work has been transformed in some way into a sad statement about art in the public domain. Was anyone asked whether this was an appropriate addition to the work? If so, there is an interesting question of curatorial responsibility at play. Alternately, perhaps this is a test case for public art more generally? The Skywhale, for example, could be flown behind a giant fence, and then nobody would be unhappy. Except me.

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If you read my previous post, you will realise that a debate has erupted in the skies over Canberra over what constitutes appropriate forms of public art. Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale, which was commissioned by Centenerary Director Robyn Archer, has flown into a storm of oppobrium. People don’t like it, people hate it, people love it. It’s inoppobriate. The peeps think it should better represent them.

Whoa! Since when has public art been required to represent the citizenry? Except, perhaps, indirectly, in representing the wisdom and foresight of those who commission the work, and those whose responsibility it is to design and curate our public spaces… And, in this democratic age, if you don’t like this one, how about that one?

So why on earth has our ex-Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, arisen from his siesta on Christmas Island to bag Robyn, and her political mistresses, his political allies, in such a virulent manner? Is it perhaps to distract our attention from his own parting gift to the excessive collection of mostly minor and mediocre works that were acquired as a result of the percent-for-art scheme (now defunct, subsequently abandoned by the ex-Chief Minister in the face of voter angst). But this final excruciating ensemble (by whom I can’t tell you, I couldn’t find a plaque, perhaps they’re sitting on it) has an interesting story…

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When the ex-Chief Minister was the Chief Minister he convened a panel of experts to advise on the expenditure of the percent-for-art. They recommended against this work. Very well, decided the then-Chief Minister, I don’t need a panel to tell me whether or not I like something. We’ll have it anyway… The panel was dissolved. The money was spent.

Now if only we could get the damn thing to fly away, everyone would be happy.

So is it the purpose of public art to incite controversy?

Public art is never universally loved, or hated. And Skywhale is not to my taste. But I’m with Robyn Archer when she says the Piccinini Skywhale is there to evoke “powers of imagination that allows wonder and curiosity into our lives.” And when our ex-Chief Minister Jon Stanhope (who must suffering sensory deprivation on Christmas Island, along with all the refugees he’s looking after) says the commission is “arrogant” and “self-indulgent” and should have been vetoed by the current Chief Minister. But how does that differ from the myriad examples of his own taste plonked all over the town, that we have to continue to live with? And let’s not forget that he caved in to political pressure and abandoned the 1% for art scheme…

What Skywhale isn’t is as significant in this debate as what it is. It isn’t safe, parochial, or self-referential, and it signals adventure, challenge, and invention as it’s seen and appreciated all over the world. Publicity you can’t buy. The risk is, judging from the reaction, that’s false advertising…

Conceptual / Minimal

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