Entries Tagged 'EXHIBITIONS' ↓

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 →

Conceptual / Minimal

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MINIMAL / CONCEPTUAL

exhibition slideshow here at Milani Gallery.

Minimal \ Conceptual is the first in a two part exhibition exploring the transition from minimal to conceptual practice in Australian art. Part one includes the work of Ian Burn, Peter Cripps, Robert Hunter, Peter Kennedy, Nigel Lendon, Mel Ramsden and Normana Wight.  Part two will focus on the dematerialisation of the art object into other forms of practice, and will take place in 2014.

Who would have thought relational art would become so lucrative?

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Nearly two decades ago Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term ‘relational art’ to describe “a set of practices which takes as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (Bourriaud 2002: 113) Relational artists are, he said, orientated towards collective rather than individualistic expression, and envisage their art as a political rather than aesthetic project. Nowadays everyone is a relational artist, or so it seems.

With the latest acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia of the work ‘A–Z homestead unit’ by the Californian relational artist Andrea Zittel, it is the presence for ten days of the Canberra/Melbourne artist Charlie Sofo that will provide the work with its social context, as he “customizes” the work, (according to the Gallery blurb) and blogs his experiences. Sofo has been invited to inhabit this diminutive “dwelling” – on his own terms – using it either as a space for work, for thought, or to sleep over.

In itself, habitable art has been around for a lot longer that relational art. In the mid-seventies, the Californian/Australian artist Marr Grounds, together with his two dogs Mutt and Pete, “inhabited” a sandbag bunker (entitled the “art thing”) that he had built under the stairs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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People visited, and contributed to his evolving concept of a participatory art practice: visitors to the “art thing” poured sand onto prepared “art bit” cards, and took them away as their own work. Grounds’ motive was as much a commentary on the elitist climate of the art world as it was an experiment in a “democratic” mode of practice.

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Like the later work by Tim Burns and Michael Callaghan in the same museum, living in the gallery space was a deliberately disruptive gesture aimed at challenging the prevailing modernist dogma of art’s autonomy from its social context, intending instead to  re-conceptualise the gallery as a social space.

If these were some of the precursors of relational art in Australia, Zittel’s work occupies another world indeed. Like a piece of DIY backyard furniture, if it were more functional, and a lot less expensive, it’s the kind of thing you might buy at Bunnings, the local hardware store. More like a commodity than a piece of sculpture, it gestures towards lived spaces, without having to function in anything but a nominal manner as a space in which anyone might actually live.

Made of steel, glass and chipboard-based building materials, it’s about the size of two double beds, and contains the kind of basic equipment you’d need for a camping holiday. However its functionality leaves a lot to be desired. There are no windows to open, no screens, and the mosquitoes are free to come and go through the gaps around the roof. The glass walls are enhanced by printed imagery which depicts a kind of abstracted reflection of a surrounding landscape. Other than the print imagery, there is nothing to suggest that this is a sculptural object, or a work of art in any recognizable sense. It is so loaded with other kinds of referents (to homelessness, to isolation, to incarceration, even) that it functions both as a kind of inversion of an aesthetic discourse as much as it suggests its impossibility as a space to live in.

While this work has been located on the lawns of the NGA sculpture garden, for it to have any kind of longevity it will ultimately have to be moved to a sheltered environment, or the galleries indoors. In that context its aesthetics will be rendered even more bizarre. One wonders in what context this could be shown… as some banal parody of Utopian Design, perhaps?

Perhaps it is only its rumoured price tag of $150,000 that will signify its institutional significance as a work of art. Clearly relational art is no longer a zero-sum game.

Author’s disclosure: Pete the dog also belonged to your iconophile.

Automatism and/or involition

are nicely reviewed here on Hyperallergic by Albert Mobillo.

Was Alighiero Boetti the last Orientalist?

Hopefully, yes. In the text below you’ll find me proposing that the work of the late Alighiero Boetti should be recognised as a contemporary form of Orientalist practice, despite all the protestations to the contrary. And further, that the surge of biographical and curatorial activity of the last few years – culminating in Boetti’s recent retrospectives at the Museo Reina Sophia, the Tate Modern, and the MoMA, another at the Fowler, and soon another at MAXXI – has produced its own form of a contemporary Orientalist discourse. This has been achieved in the Boetti literature through strategies of denial and negation which have amplified and exaggerated the artist’s original avant-gardist postures. This is posited through a strategy of inversion: the artist’s own denial of agency is set against the retrospective claims now made for his refugee camp workers’ “co-creative” “relational” “collaboration” in the production of his embroidered works. So suggests Mark Godfrey, his most recent biographer, and the Tate Modern curator of his retrospective. To the contrary, I argue that his workers’ anonymous, abstracted, and mystified representations, both in the work and in the literature, is but the latest manifestation of a contemporary orientalism.

Sceptical? Listen to this: “Ali Ghiero, the Bedouin in transit, camped next to the Pantheon” – exemplifies how the latest blurb from MAXXI has (even further) mythologised/orientalised his practice. See here.

ALIGHIERO BOETTI ORIENTALIST

In recent years biographers, curators, and followers of the late Italian Arte Povera artist Alighiero Boetti have gone out of their way to deny the orientalist character of his work – in favour, even, of presenting him as a prophet of globalism. And yet although Tate Modern’s Mark Godfrey at one point recognises the inherent idealisation in Boetti’s engagement throughout the 1970s with his Afghan “Others”, he also remains convinced that, for Boetti, “Afghanistan should be understood neither as some “other” place untouched by Western civilisation nor as a culture somehow under-developed or ahistorical.”[1]  How can such contradictory views be reconciled? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, including Boetti’s opposition to the modernisation of Afghanistan and his problematic “relationship” with his outsourced workers in the refugee camps of Pakistan, in his recent biography Godfrey asserts his mode of production was evidence of Boetti’s  “determination… [not to] represent them… the peoples he met… as an exotic other.” Such are the twists and turns of the logic of denial and inversion in the Boetti story.

Art History 101 teaches us that Orientalist Art is characterised by analysis of the representation of “exotic” Others and the conditions of their presentation and reception in the Euro-American West. The consequences for an understanding of the historical context of the colonialist relations between ‘the West’ and its ‘Eastern’ subjects places such art in its wider socio-political context. So it goes, in university classrooms around the world.

Continue reading →

How to look at a Rothko

Answer: through a guard, sideways. This prescient photograph is from Meredith Rosenberg’s analysis of the effects of the recent Basel art fair, here discussed at Hyperallergic.

beyond photography

Light Painting was widely hailed as the best work in the Biennale of Sydney – apparently also by Thierry de Duve, among others – but you have to have seen this work by Nyapanyapa Yunupigu to understand why its random streaming imagery is “beyond” the documentary potential of still photography. Then again, Will Stubbs’ explanatory label was also far and away the most thought-provoking piece of text generated by this guff-laden event… Equally interesting was the fact that the collective mode of its production suggests an entirely new mode of art-making coming out of Yirrkala. Collective agency is in their blood…

PS See what I mean here at Ros Oxley’s website

shamelessness

on the part of your iconophile at habitusliving

some more at Less is More

One of the unexpected pleasures of visiting Less is More: Minimal + Post-Minimal Art in Australia at the Heide Museum of Modern Art was the game of retrospection: what the work meant then, compared with how it looks now. As I remember it Untitled Floor Structure (1969) was meant to be seen ambiguously as both abstract form (rectilinear, coloured, layered, optically active, with a physical presence, and aesthetically engaging) and at the same time looking like a stack of paintings. As if they had been taken off the wall and piled up on the floor, these ‘painting objects’ were seen to be out of place in the habitat of sculpture, that is, the three dimensional space between the walls of the gallery. Occupying also the space of the spectator, who might wonder if they had wandered into a de-installation, such works set out to confuse conventional (orthodox, in some cases) ways of looking.

At the time such category confusion seemed like a pointed way of challenging the predictability of the conventions perpetuated by the Greenberg/Fried formalist dogma – where art was only Art when it knew its proper place – and when it remained within a narrow (and exclusive) essentialist frame of reference. Minimalism and conceptual art opened the door to subversive strategies, when colour and form were shown to be no longer sufficient as the apotheosis of the modern. Breaking with convention, abstract art still seemed to have the potential to be meaningful, or phenomenologically challenging, or conceptually engaging. And so the challenge was to see whether material, colour and form could still be significant – or meaningful – depending on its origins, associations, or presence in the gallery. Art could, it was argued, be propositional: its if, then, and maybe opened the way to forms of aesthetic experience no longer dependent (or so it seemed at the time) on precursors and traditions. For a brief moment abstract the noun was superceded by abstract the verb.

I’d forgotten, for instance, how my Untitled Wall Structure (1970-2012) picked up ambient colour and movement from other art works and from its surroundings – and how the shadows added to its illusionism. The original of this piece was exhibited in a number of different configurations: this third layout mirrors the first, which was destroyed in transit in 1972.

For even more, see the show, and read the excellent historical account of these fleeting moments in Australian art history written by curator Sue Cramer in the extended catalogue essay. And special thanks to Pamela Faye McGrath for these photographs…

PS Robert Nelson reviews here