Entries from June 2010 ↓

in the air

If, like your Iconophile, you missed last Friday’s opening of Deborah Clark and Mark (aka Marcel) Van Veen’s show Something in the Air: Collage and Assemblage in Canberra Region Art at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, readers within striking distance of the capital should make the effort to see it. Arguably, collage and its sibling inventions of assemblage and photomontage were the significant innovations of early 20th century modernism. In Canberra it happened a little later. This exhibition of 132 works by 40 artists is drawn from the collections of CMAG, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, other public galleries, private collections, and the artists’ own studios. In broad terms, it describes three (overlapping) generations of assemblage artists dating from the 1970s, plus a grouping of significant Australian and international art historical precedents borrowed from the collection of the NGA. These include Nolans from the 30s, the Annandale Imitation Realists, and some Rauschenberg prints. Without these loans (and yes, the Cornell, and the Duchamp, Hoch and Schwitters illustrated in the catalogue would have augmented this frame of reference considerably) one of the curators’ key theses would not be made so explicitly. That is, that it is the presence and accessibility of the NGA’s collection since the 1970s that has paved the way for successive generations of Canberra artists to scrounge the detritus from the streets and environs of Tidy Town as the raw materials of their art. If Canberra art has a style, this is it.

Rosalie Gascoigne, (1917-99), Pink Window, 1975, (Gascoigne Family Collection, Canberra).

Of course the senior figure of significance to this aspect of the local scene is the late Rosalie Gascoigne. As the curators point out, her recognition rocketed from emergence to the Venice Biennale in just a decade or so. It’s arguable that her career as an artist also was a product of the NGA effect – given the strong support and mentorship of its first director, James Mollison. She is represented here by four works, the selection of which more than compensates for the absence of the Cornell and Duchamp – her Parrot Morning 1976 from the NGV is just one of many bicycle references in the show. But it is the work above, one of the great works of her middle phase, which captures the spirit of this show, perfectly combining the urban and the rural, the domestic and the outdoors, which is a characteristic of so many of the works in the show.

Neil Roberts (1954-2002) Cryonic Quintet 1994 (Collection CMAG)

There’s another distinction that could be made in this exhibition between those artists for whom assemblage is the core of their practice, and those for whom it is a means to an end. Neil Roberts and Rosalie Gascoigne were of the former category, and it is mindboggling to consider the time and effort that went into the searching and discovery of the myriad of elements from which their work emerged. At this level collecting materials with the potential to become art is purely instinctive. You can’t go out looking for a cardboard box with a parrot on it – rather, it comes to you, if you’re in the right receptive frame of mind. And so this mesmerising set of totem poles made of cast glass objects on Duchampian stools is the result of years of accumulation, until they coalesced into their final form. And, of course, any work of art which employs collage and assemblage to create new forms and meanings carries the implication of its possible dissolution, as if the poetry of the conjunction of materials always remains essentially tenuous. It is as if the work retains an ephemeral quality, and could just as easily come apart, undoing the creative process in the same manner as it was done.

David Sequeira (1966-) Zen Picnic (1998-2006) (Collection of the artist)

How could you not but be impressed by David Sequeira’s capacity to assemble his materials – here trays, plates and dishes in various (vulgar) plastic materials and colours? These flattened totem poles employ the same process as Roberts – a cumulative building of a final form – and similarly convey a nostalgic familiarity with the historical origins of the building blocks of the work. But here, like Roberts, their mode of assemblage transcends the mundane origins of the materials of the work, and challenges the viewer’s expectations – in this instance in a pictorial rather than a sculptural sense.

Hamilton Darroch (1972-) Resurface 1, 2008 (collection of the artist)

The majority of works in the show have been made in the last decade. Most of the artists are graduates of the ANU School of Art. And yet assemblage is not in any sense a “house style” of the School, or even the core of their teachers’ practice. Ham Darroch now works in London (once as studio assistant to Bridget Riley), and the ancient elements of these works were recovered from the Thames at low tide. He took his Canberra Style with him.  And yes, people still stroll along the mudflats on summer evenings! But what caught your Iconophile’s eye in this case (along with many other such elements to be discovered in other works in the exhibition) was the delicate, elegant manner in which Ham has painted the (new) handles of his shovel, gaff hook and plumb bob sculptures. Perhaps the London light had something to do with it?

With a show like this, you could write such stories five times over. Don’t miss. Read the excellent catalogue. And P.S. There’s a link to the Neil Roberts website in this previous post on ArtWranglers.

camouflage and/or symbiosis

camouflage. noun 1. 1917, from Fr. camoufler, Parisian slang, “to disguise,” from It. camuffare “to disguise,” perhaps a contraction of capo muffare “to muffle the head.” Probably altered by Fr. camouflet “puff of smoke,” on the notion of “blow smoke in someone’s face.” I’m sure this isn’t what Gordon Bennett intended?

And then I wondered, there must be somewhere better than this window-sill for a moth to hang out, relaxwhich reminded me of

li-chen. noun 1. any complex organism of the group Lichenes, composed of a fungus in symbiotic union with an alga and having a greenish, gray, yellow, brown, or blackish thallus that grows in leaflike, crustlike, or branching forms on rocks, trees, or Ford Anglias.

And special thanks to Sharon Peoples who has lent me the fantastic Thames and Hudson/Imperial War Museum (2007) publication Camouflage by Tim Newark. This you must see.

The Rules of Photography at The Tate Modern

I’ve previously pointed to the interesting exhibition EXPOSED at The Tate Modern. It’s about sly photography, from (almost) the very beginning. It has been curated by Sandra S. Phillips, from the SFMMA, and while understandably there’s an American bias, there are some stunning moments. Weegee, Lee Frielander, Lee Miller, Susan Meiselas, you name them, they’re there. Images that define our understanding of photography. Politically Incorrect, mostly. Can’t wait to order the book for the Library.

The book. While I was having my snack, I began to think that the exhibition went off a little bit when in the final room when it engaged with Wilful Artful Conceptualism. By the time we get to Vito Acconci in the late 60s being photographed from behind while filming people from behind, it seemed that the whole thesis of the surreptitious photograph having an ethical tension – the tensions of invasion, control, desire, intrusion, voyeurism – was becoming an art world convention. So I thought.

So I wandered over to the stack of books where a young man was browsing the display copy, and asked him whether I could photograph him reading the Acconci page for Iconophilia. Sure, he said, and we were setting up the shot when an officious little man from the shop zoomed over to tell us we couldn’t do it, and took the book away. Why not? I asked. You’re not allowed to photograph the books, not here, he said. Even surreptitiously? I asked. No answer. What if I buy a copy? You can take it home and do whatever you like with it, he said. It’s for your own protection, he added, firmly. Meanwhile

elsewhere in the gallery people seemed to be able to photograph anything they liked, no problems. But in The Shop?  There are still boundaries to be transgressed, apparently. Especially if it’s against our own interests. When, I ask you, is it transgressive to photograph a consenting adult reading a book? Answer: when the Gallery is already full of photographs taken without their subjects’ consent.

P.S. I bought the T Shirt. Watch out for a person walking around town who has been EXPOSED to transgressive thoughts.

P.P.S see Mark Brown’s review in The Guardian See a slideshow here.

football 1 fourth plinth 0

all eyes on the main game

a reasonable result, all things considered.

swiss environmental art

great graphics had Tim out of the car and tugging at the cable ties – all to no avail…

things not seen

Things not seen from the top of  Mt Ainslie… this is das Freiburger Munster

If the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt once said that the church’s 116-meter tower will forever remain the most beautiful spire on earth, then

das Schlossberg Tor is not the most beautiful spire on earth. Isn’t there something a tad melancholy about the stump alongside those big sticks from the Black Forest? Nevertheless, what you see from the top takes your breath away.

and your problem is?

…clearly the eponymous Bill Indman now walks the streets of Freiburg. In the Black Forest you can’t see the art for the trees. With due deference to Mel Ramsden for this arcane art historical reference

what a difference a day makes

In Das Neue Augustinermuseum they’ve created an inside-out cathedral in the old Museum of the Augustin Monastery in Freiburg. Brilliantly designed by Christoph Mackler. This, to our surprise, turned out to be one of the great museum experiences anywhere. All of the gargoyles and sculptures that were under threat on the magnificent Munster, plus windows, plus the extraordinary treasures of the Museum, are on view under the old roof of the Monastery.

You see things from vantage points that were never meant to be, and the sculptures become animated in completely unpredictable ways. And then there’s the sculptures and paintings of the German Rennaissance (medieval, gothic, high gothic, baroque, etc.)…

Our nerves needed steadying.

St Vitus needed one too.

And the installation is itself a masterpiece of curatorial design. How beautifully challenging it is to show these two Pieta fragments together?

The Museum is full of such experiences. Bravo!

where the are we?

…we’re in that building that looks like the Hindenburg on stilts. The streamlined caterpillar. Zoom in…

But who’s the old geezer blowing smoke rings with his cigar? Zoom in…

He’s caught the attention of the sheila across the way…

Who’s going to be late for the train downstairs…

Shit! Wrong platform!

Guttenfelder iPhotographs Afghanistan

These David Guttenfelder photographs for The Denver Post were taken with his iPhone. Compelling viewing. Somehow the social and political complexity of Afghanistan seems to make sense from above…