Entries from May 2011 ↓

as you turn away…

…from what appears to be a nondescript greenish grey painting with an embedded line of leds (Patterns of Perception, 2005, by Ruth Schnell), (oh yes, you think), in the gloom at the end of the tunnel (here), at the entrance to the Roy Grounds Round House, on your way to the MONA research library, or to the Keifer Pavilion, you’re wondering, what the, when there! You thought you saw something? Shake your head in disbelief. It will happen again. It speaks to you…

The Blue Metal in Museums Story (continuing)

Everything in a museum has a story to tell. Forgive me this post, but readers of Iconophilia will remember my anguish at the way the National Gallery of Australia has used “blue metal” – called “Nimmitabel Blue“, which is crushed basalt from a quarry on the Monaro high plain – to simultaneously de-sanctify Australia’s Guernica, The Aboriginal Memorial at the same time as it is used to ice-proof its new box gutters? In this regard, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart is nowhere as radically functionalist or pragmatic. I’m not exaggerating. Read the Ron’s own account.

There’s no semiotic confusion in this gutter for the roof of the MONA Library, at the rear of the Roy Grounds Round House. It’s a gutter. While there’s plenty of challenging framing devices inside the museum, the blue metal knows its place. Outside in the gutter.

And even gutters are elegant at MONA. Here’s where the water goes when it rains, creating a waterfall-effect. Nice detailing. Only one stone out of place (unlike the NGA).

remembering Ai Weiwei

June 22 (day 79): here’s another just-translated interview on Dazed. And here’s Lu Qing’s latest letter to the authorities at Scribd.

June 20 (day 77): Archaeologist Paul Bedford thinks Ai Weiwei should have been arrested for crimes against Chinese heritage… And the Association of Art Museum Directors won’t be rocking any Chinese boat (The Don’t Rock the Junk Policy) any time soon, according to Eric Gibson, in the WSJ.

June 14 (day 71): catch up on a daily basis at the FreeAiWeiwei @ posterous site (which has better connections than I do). The best of this crop is Lisa Rochon, Globe and Mail.

June 10 (day 67): Just look at this beautiful monument at Ruta del Peregrino by Ai Weiwei on Dezeen. Which I found at another Ai Weiwei daily blog http://freeaiweiwei.posterous.com/ And there’s a YouTube song to accompany this by Tres/Arash Moori, who attempt to deliver a letter in Spain.

June 9 (day 66): And here’s an image just found: by Ralph Ueltzhoeffer in Paris.


From ArtDaily: A marble sculpture by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei entitled ‘Marble Arm’ is seen at ART HK 11, Asia’s largest art fair, Hong Kong, China, 25 May 2011. Despite China’s crackdown on the artist, the ART HK 11 is able to host galleries from around the world, some of whom are displaying his work under the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement which guarantees freedom of artistic expression in Hong Kong, under the city’s mini-constitution, or ‘Basic Law’. EPA/ALEX HOFFORD.

Part one of this post seems to be labouring under its 100 or so links on this topic: and so I continue here…

June 7 (day 64): Here’s a video of Hamish Fulton’s Slowalk (in support of Ai Weiwei) April 30, at Tate Modern. The Guardian has been the most consistent advocate of Ai Weiwei’s rights: now they’re asking, where is the art establishment when they’re needed? Hyperallegic summarises who has said what. Taiwan’s President Ma is the latest world leader to call for an amnesty.

June 4 (day 61): On the anniversary of the Tienanmen massacre, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi condemns the recent crackdown on democratic rights, and calls for Ai Weiwei’s release. And get your China Webblocker and Ai Weiwei glasses here.

June 3 (day 60): Reuters reports other supporting artists being detained in Beijing – over a wall left blank for an absent Ai Weiwei.

June 2 (day 59): The IFEX letter. Plus a Royal Academy title.

June 1 (day 58): Jeffrey Goldberg, (on Bloomberg) talks about a “tipping point”. And SBS Australia reports on HK protests (Hannah Belcher, Jian Jun Xi, and Kasey Wong). Plus this exhibition “Red” at 10 Chancelry Lane.

May 31 (day 57): James Dean @ Scribd reports on support from international law firms.

May 29 (day 55): now the Chinese Government seems to be interfering with his sales: read Tyler Green on Modern Art News.

May 28 (day 54): Hari Kunzru, in the Guardian: “We are all Ai Weiwei”

May 27 (day 53): Read Fred Scharmen at Archinect on the “continuum between art, architecture, and political activism” in China. The next US Ambassador to China says he’ll raise the issue. Pascale Trouillaud (AFP) reports on the “dialogue of the deaf”. The art world isn’t doing enough, says the WSJ. Ditto, says the Art Newspaper. Apart from the sculpture above (said to be “on reserve” at $280K) CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout reports that Ai Weiwei is effectively missing in action at the HK Art Fair.

May 26 (day 52): while the bird may not be his best work, his presence at the HK Art Fair keeps him in our thoughts…

May 25 (day 51): stand by for another stronger condemnation (yet to be translated)…

May 24 (day 50): Ai Weiwei’s mother leaps the wall, as reported in The Telegraph. And will the Hong Kong Art Fair generate any attention? asks The Squeeze. Here’s more on the same topic at the WSJ. Touchy topic for some… And see Geandy Pavon’s projection on the NYC Chinese Consulate at Hyperallergic… Here it is on YouTube. Or read Tyler Green interviewing the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Hugh Davies about the dilemma facing public institutions in the U.S..

May 23 (day 49): The Guardian reports on Ai Weiwei’s missing friends. Continue reading →

Ai Weiwei: the person people will need to remember “when they have forgotten”

Iconophilia is pleased to welcome Thomas Berghuis to its pages, where he reflects on conversations he held with Ai Weiwei in 2008, and the difficulties in keeping his disappearance in mind.

The following thoughts have come to mind over the past four weeks, as the news surrounding the arrest of Ai Weiwei continues to mount, so long as there is no clear information of his whereabouts, nor that of others, including some of his close friends and staff. The underlying issues are indeed complex and certainly deserve further attention. At the same time our attention needs to focus on remembering when people go missing. Let it not be our thoughts that are forgotten. It would be too easy to forget, or worse still, to ignore.

The initial reports on the arrest of Ai Weiwei, such as in the New York Times on April 3rd, raised the concerns of human rights advocates with the “ominous sign” of an increase in detentions and that a “crackdown on rights lawyers, bloggers and dissidents is spreading to the upper reaches of Chinese society.”

Four days later a Letter to the Guardian contained a petition urging the UK government to respond to the arrest. This was sent by email on 7 April, and published and signed by many people on the next day. The petition mentions the release of another great artist, and a great mind, Wu Yuren, on the very day that Ai Weiwei was arrested, and disappeared. It was thanks to the organisers of the petition that the news of Wu Yuren’s incarceration (and release) was published in the Guardian.

Think about it, before forgetting. People get arrested in China, and they do disappear. The first part may be considered familiar, even expected perhaps, especially for those who like their authorities to rule. Yes, it is also true people get arrested in Britain, and have to wait for their charges to be expedited. But do these people just disappear? Continue reading →

is MONA a paradigm shift?

Seems that way to me. If the experience of the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart irreversibly changes the way you think about the potential of the art-architecture experience, the old guard had better look out! If MONA has established a new paradigm for museum practice in Australia, then how will all the other orthodox public and private museums respond? Mount a rearguard critique? Ignore it? Keep doing what we do? I think not.

In the few months since its opening, MONA has been seen by 163,000 people, and there have been more than 100 reviews internationally. (Some of the best are linked at the bottom of this post).  Sure, the MONA effect is individualistic, some say quirky, but certainly a challenging conjunction of architecture and art. Some say, a tad dismissively, it’s a twenty-first century wunderkammer. And if you are really threatened, professionally, you can argue that it’s not really a museum, but rather an egoseum, a private collection made accessible to a curious public, with none of the constraints and obligations attendant on public collections. Its owner, David Walsh, makes the principle of unpredictability his only standard, where any given event or manifestation is just one of “the multiplicity of things that could have happened”.

And yet, if Walsh and his architect, Nonda Katsalidis, have succeeded in making you think about art and its architectural setting in different terms, has it not also altered the standard by which you engage with works of art when you’re in all those other places? In future posts I want to think about such questions. In the meantime, let me show you why it took us an hour to get to the first work of art…

Your iconophile was traveling with Marr Grounds and his daughter Marina Ely, together with Pam McGrath (these photographs), plus Rebel Films‘ David Batty and Jeni McMahon, who are working on a biographical film of Grounds. It was Marr’s father Roy Grounds who designed the two original 1950s modernist houses on Moorilla Estate for Claudio Alcorso (the Courtyard House) and his parents (the Round House).

When you arrive from Hobart on the MONA ferry (which is a kind of mobile coffee shop) you wonder at the red ochre Cor-ten steel windowless forms which enclose the cliff face at the end of the peninsula. As you arrive at the jetty, you are presented with a long narrow staircase which takes you up to the original level of the Alcorso villa. The staircase is your first experience of the excavation of the site, and the sandstone becomes the key motif of the underground spaces which you discover when you eventually enter the galleries below your feet. But first, as you pass the steel and zinc structures, between the sandstone and concrete walls, and the first plantings, you are being prepared for the material qualities that you will experience throughout the building. It feels very good.

When you reach the top of the stairs you realise you’re in for a lot of visual gymnastics. The spaces of the building often appear like a sparring match between an owner-builder and his architect(s). The ground plane of the original Grounds building is linked to the meandering concrete spaces of the gallery roof to the south via a synthetic tennis court. It was Walsh who was the advocate of this icon of suburban popular culture, which faces off the architect’s rejoinder, a stainless steel mirror which frames the Museum’s entrance. In one direction you are attracted to the view of the world outside, framed by the architect’s elegant transparent steel battlements and the modernist villas, while in the other direction the illusionistic mirror draws you in.  Continue reading →

Aboriginal Art Centres on Nicolas Rothwell’s Frontier

For this post Iconophilia is pleased to draw on the recent essay by Darren Jorgensen, “Bagging Aboriginal Art: The Intervention and the community art movement” first published in Arena #111 (March – April 2011) pp 38-42.

Jorgensen writes: “In the wake of a 2007 Senate Inquiry into the shoddy ‘carpetbagging’ practices that work to rip off remote Aboriginal artists, one would think that the ethical alternative of remote art centres would be looking good. Yet in the mainstream media at least the centres find themselves more embattled, and the journalist whose work sparked the enquiry, The Australian’s Nicolas Rothwell, has changed his mind about the centres’ place in the greater Aboriginal art industry. After supporting the work of art centre co-ordinators across the deserts and Top End of the country for many years, Rothwell’s writing now holds art centres responsible for a deterioration in the quality of Aboriginal art.

“The reason for this shift, however, appears to have less to do with Aboriginal art than its changing political context. In “The Intellectual Class should support the Intervention,” Rothwell complains about welfarism and the chattering leftist class (Australian, December 3 2007). It was also in 2007 that Rothwell shifted his longstanding support for art centres. His writing was always a touchstone of positive news in a newspaper otherwise dedicated to constructing the most troubling representations of Aboriginal people. And this style of reviewing has continued, contributing valuable accounts of artists’ work in remote Australia. However Rothwell has also begun to pen another kind of position, coincident with the government’s own. My argument here is that this position has spilled into his writings on the work of Aboriginal artists themselves, in a worrying conflation of the politics of the moment with opinion about the quality of art from remote communities.”

Iconophilia has also commented on Rothwell’s perverse usage of the figure of death in his writing from this period, (cited here, referencing back to April 1, 2006) and his later more pessimistic view of the contemporary developments in Aboriginal modern art – a concept first articulated by Ian McLean, from which Nicolas Rothwell would surely resile.

Jorgensen marks June 2007 as “the turning point in Rothwell’s writing, …the month that the Senate inquiry made its recommendations, and the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was released and served to justify the Intervention. When Rothwell released his first pessimistic essay about the future of art centres, “Colour fades into Shadow”, on June 22, the Howard government had just announced its intention to stage the Intervention on 20 June. He argues that few art centres “are profitable, and making large new funds available to them will not automatically change this picture,” and that “the policy map in place today is really a subsidised culture industry program.” The real crunch comes later in the essay, where Rothwell somehow aligns the death of a young artist with his argument about the Aboriginal art industry:

The attempt to fund, and fence, and define this creative current carries its subtle, inevitable costs. Deep in the Western Desert, at Kintore, the heart of the Pintupi painting movement, and the source of the Centre’s most collected art, a young man died of a heart attack in the smart new clinic building a week ago.

Continue reading →