Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nothing New at William St Windows - 10 September

So I've just started schlepping walking to work from Paddington.  It's not a bad walk, about 30 minutes or so if determined and more like 40 if dawdling.  One of the side benefits (or positive externalities for any art loving economists out there) has been the City of Sydney sponsored William Street Windows (here's their website).  It is basically a couple of windows from a council owned building that have been taken over in a curatorial sense by Sophie Kitson.  I understand there are going to be a few shows from now until November.  The first show in the window, Nothing New, runs until 15 September - so you've only got a couple of days to check it out ...

Now I've been seeing the show twice daily for the last month, so I feel I am more than well qualified to opine on it.  Sophie has collected a bakers dozen of artists (thats 13 for the art loving non-bakers out there).  The show itself is an agglomeration of paintings that the artists just had lying about - hence they called it nothing new.  So far so literal.  Anyway, lots of random works and some have grown on me, some have not.  I am actually surprised how much I've enjoyed Tom Polo's Fleshy (top) on my daily walk past.  Am I just a whore for recognisable style or is Tom's naive oeuvre growing on me?  And is Andrew Frost's full court press to blame?  Part of me thinks that it is great you can be acknowledged as a painter without actually seeming to know how to paint.  That sounds like a terrible thing to say but really Tom will just have to learn to live with comments like that for. the. rest. of. his. life.  Unless he changes his style.  The jokes on all the haters anyway as it is a trick Tom seems to be pulling off over and over.  Certainly no "decorative obsequiousness" here.  Would I want one?  Hmmm, maybe.  I could go a 'Self Portrait with Lamington'.  I think I've mentioned a couple of times before that I am a big fan of tiki.  And I was really feeling an exotic vibe from Rosie Deacon's Face Feels series (above).  Again with the naive but this time with feeling.  And much brighter colours! I think a few high vis pinks, oranges and yellows.  Again, I could go for a few of these, and you'd need a few.  This is one of those pieces that works well displayed en masse but would look a little lame on its own.  I know from experience, I have a little Penny Byrne that looked great with its mates in the gallery but is pretty sad all by itself on my shelf (by the way, just checking out S+S website trying to remember Penny's name and it looks like she's been cut from the roster - tough gig this art biz).  Mitchel Cumming's this picture isn't absolute (below) was an interesting conceit.  Mitchel has copied the Tintin illustration of Professor Calculus from the coffee cup (foreground) into a diptych leaning against the wall.  Reason? None that I could think of. But luckily for Mitchel a lot of people like Tintin.  And I am one of them.  Other hits included Angela Garrick's colourful patterns, Anna Kristensen's Column and Emily Hunt's totes over the top collage work called Fermi's Paradox (image bottom).  This even has clocks embedded behind the canvas.  This was one of my early favourites but I feel now it has too much going on in it and I think I would prefer Emily to split this up into a series of 12 separate works.  Some of the squares are much better than the others.

Points:  This is a tough one.  Tom Polo will take the 3 points!  Keep up the good work.  My advice to artists is to beware using titles where the wikipedia entry threatens to be more interesting than your work.  Luckily for Emily Hunt her Fermi's Paradox just did it for me, and she will grab the 2 points.  1 point will go to Rosie for the tiki faces.  I love tiki all year round but especially at Father's Day as the junior critics buy me a tiki mug every year and this years was a beauty.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Venereal Architecture at Roslyn Oxley - 16 August

Hands up who wants to see some Lego® animals?  Thought so.  Full complement of my junior critics along for the gallery jaunt today plus a couple of nieces and nephews to inspect the creations of Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro.  With five junior critics aged 6 and under the standard warnings were emphasised: no touching, no running and no yelling. Waivers signed lets go see the show ...

I am going to open by stating the obvious.  This is a very family friendly show that is open for another two weekends.  Definitely get down and check it out.  The second point I will make is that I know Lego® is a pretty expensive toy, certainly if you see what Santa is bringing the Big Lamington HQ this Chrissy.  But I wasn't really expecting the sticker shock of this show, probably a price rise in the move from Gallery Barry Keldoulis to Roslyn Oxley.  Now I did wonder about why they teamed the Lego® sculptures with ikea furniture.  I know they've used both in the past, the ikea with dinosaur and the lego space shuttle portraits at their MCA retrospective.  But as was pointed out to me, at these prices they might've sprung for some decent furniture! Thankfully a pretty decent artist statement accompanied the exhibit:

"they are both objects of aspiration that require assembly. Lego, which we grew up with, represents the dreams and fantasies of a child; Ikea furniture, which has become so ubiquitous, represents the dreams and fantasies of an adult. By meshing these two objects together we can think about the gap between our fantastic dreams and our banal longings. Both products represent destruction and re-construction, which are concerns we revisit continually within our practice."

This is where they should've stopped.  After this the artists went on to compare a trip to ikea being all about sex.  Um, not really.  I try to avoid ikea like the plague, and I think most people popping in to Roslyn Oxley on a weekend wouldn't even know where the closest ikea is (and would be proud of the fact).  This sex thing is where the show got a little disjointed for me, as around on the walls were these Lego® brick portraits of porno screenshots of films where ikea furniture was used on the set.  Again, not being convinced of the original link, these works seem very out of place.  Thankfully they are not explicit and whilst I suspected it at the time you wouldn't notice from looking at them, and the junior critics didn't give the portraits a second glance.  Neither should you, the big stars are the animals.  Lions, deer, monkeys, penguins, snakes, sharks all imprisoned within a piece of ikea furniture.  I am not sure they made me think about the gap between fantastic dreams and banal longings but I did hear a lot of "wow", "cool", "awesome" and "hey daddy, take a photo of me in front of this".  And that is a good review in anyone's book.

Points: full participation on the points today.  My favourite was the deer, 3 points to the 8 pointed buck (top).  Most popular amongst the junior critics was the Lion (pictured middle), 2 points.  Another crowd favourite was the Manta Ray (above).  This will pick up the 1 point.  The final observation was that the kids were pretty impressed these were done without instructions.  Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro - master builders!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The 2014 John Fries Award at COFA Galleries - 9 August

So after a few weeks of getting to exhibitions on their last day I thought I'd change it up and actually score a scoop.  It's the first day of the John Fries Award on show at the Galleries at COFA.  I am so early that they haven't even awarded the prize yet!  So without sway from the professionals, who am I going to give the kiss of death to ...

The Fries Award is for emerging artists, a category I really enjoy exploring.  I've seen this a couple of times and obviously there is a massive change year to year just based on the sample size of artists that make the cut.  This year I felt a strong institutional feel running through the show, but maybe that was just because I recognised two artists from the MCA's last primavera.  Two of the judges are from Alaska Projects and Artspace and their respective spaces aesthetic also showed.  I mean, I wouldn't expect to see George Egerton-Warburton's dirty dishes sculpture at a commercial gallery or displayed in a home but I could see it at Artspace! As a collector I found a lot of the work challenging.  But even as a garden variety art lover I struggled with some more than others.  Heath Franco is one artist I just really don't get.  Every time I see his work (and thankfully this had headphones so you could tune in or tune out, and I did for the full 3 minutes and 12 seconds) I always wonder what he is on, because he's not just high on life.  A lot of the video had me tuning out actually, I had to read the catalogue to see what it was all about.  Some clever concepts, like Justin Balmain putting a Woody Allen movie dialogue into a text to voice program and animating it with twitter emoji's. But in the gallery I was irritated by this monotone within seconds.  I just couldn't watch it.  The empty Seinfeld set with just the laugh track is the one that might've grown on me.  My top picks had a bit more analog about them.  Sam Hodges photos were great (image second from bottom, sorry about the title, I grabbed the catalogue it is incomplete as to titles!), although I remember he was in this prize last year and even highly commended?  Maybe this is his year.  Kate Scardifield is right up there for me.  Her work, "Garland (Objects and new artefacts)" (pictured top), was a colourful piece that took up a lot of floor space.  There was video in there and these very shiny braided objects that had a primitive look to them.  I was excited to see Jason Wing's name in the catalogue (I had flicked through his new book at Artspace the other day) and his brick installation intrigued me (pictured bottom, Xucun Village).  I think this is one that is definitely better in the flesh as the gold leaf on the bricks creates a very delicate pattern. I'm guessing it is a map, and I like maps!  Other picks were the naive acrylic works of Mark Etherington (pictured second from top, right hand side). He had some mixed references, Wes Anderson movies, the Big Lebowski, NWA, Lionel Richie.  I can't believe he has painted the Darjeeling Limited and not referenced the luggage, my favourite thing in that movie.  Another cool work was from Hamishi Farah (pictured second from top, left hand side) - the stream of tweets appealed to the twitter tragic in me.  Hamishi's work, 'Apologies', has all these twitter apologies from companies he has obviously punked.  All printed on an overly long t-shirt.  Now that is an alternative aesthetic I can get into.  I could even see it in a commercial gallery!

Points:  drum roll please.  My pick for the John Fries is Kate Scardifield, 3 points for you.  Runner up, and 2 points will go to Hamishi Farah.  The 1 point is tough, and coaches call I am going to give one to a couple of players that I couldn't split. Samuel Hodge and Jason Wing, 1 point each.  Now if I don't get a winner out of 4 picks I am going to be amazed.  Well, not really, as most awards are a bit of coin toss in the first place.  I'll come back in a couple of days with a postscript of the official winners*.

*Winner announced Tuesday 12 August.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Curtain Breathed Deeply at Artspace - 7 August

Last week for this Justene Williams show at Artspace.  I'd heard some good word of mouth so I popped by after lunch to quickly check it out.  Lucky I didn't really have any expectations, because this wouldn't have been within the scope of my imagination to invent.  If you need a three word review then "Just. Plain. Nuts" will have to do.

I really didn't know what to think, this was a case of stroll around and then read the room sheet later to see what gives.  I liked the random owls she had made (pictured below). And the red video room down one end was pretty cool (image above).  Although it was bordering a little on PG-13 or more. I took it as these were meant to be the artists fantasies so left wondering 'crazy in the head, crazy in the bed'?  What else? I thought the white falcon ute at the entrance a novel way of presenting video works (image top), although I think she would've had a lot more street cred if it was a holden, particularly a WB ute.  Back at base and after misplacing the room sheet logged on to Artspace's site to try and make sense of it all.  The text does use words like 'chaotic', 'sensory overload' and 'dazzling theatrical environments' to suggest that my experience was as intended, even typical of the average punter coming in to check out the gallery after taking down a Tiger at Harry's across the road. Whilst I didn't really inhale what the curtain was breathing I am happy that there are places like Artspace that are going well out on a limb with non-traditional work like this.  I don't expect to like everything I see here, but I do appreciate the effort that they put in.

Points:  despite utter confusion I will give Assisted Performance Sculpture (the owls, above) 3 points.  2 points to the red room, aka 'The Joy of Life' and 1 point to the random wishing well, again also known as 'Assisted Performance Sculpture (relics)'.  This had coins in the bottom of an inflatable pool and I am not sure if it was the artist or random punters who'd thrown the coins in. Maybe she had visited the State Library for them.  Now that would be some powerful art.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

ENGAGE at .M Contemporary - 2 August

So I thought this was the last day of the group show of emerging artists at .M contemporary, despite the wall text proclaiming it would run to the 24th.  Turns out that we are both correct.  The show is closing in the main space and the last few weeks will be upstairs, and if something has sold it might not be transferred up.  Even Liz Ann Macgregor was confused, as her assistant had noted this show as 'last day' in her calendar.  Now as an aside, there is something the MCA should promote, what commercial shows is their Director off to see. I'd be interested.  But enough of the intro, lets get on with the show ...

I'm always excited to see some emerging artists, more so if I see a familiar name.  Eloise Cato took the 2 points at the National Art School grad show last year so I was keen to see more of her work.  And I also recognised the name of an artist that complained bitterly on twitter about a Big Lamington reference, so we won't mention them again!  First up was a random looking installation (image above).  Turns out this was the end state of a performance called 'The Arrangement' by Adrian Clement.  All those little balls are pink and blue bubble gum that started out mixed in the middle perspex vessel and Adrian's performance sorted them.  Well, I'd probably be more impressed if they were from Bubble O'Bill's but this was still a clever little concept.  It made more sense when I got home and had a look at the catalogue online and saw the 'before' shot (see image bottom).  I also like that Adrian is merchandising this performance through a video (set of 5), although I didn't get to see this as the technology was on the fritz.  Very zen and in my mind I can link the performance here to the Marina Abromivic documentary where I remember seeing the artist get her volunteers to 'get in the zone' by sorting out different coloured rice grains.  Moving through to the back you come up against a giant framed silver survival blanket.  This was a memento attaching to another video work, this time by Jacobus Capone (Dark Learning, image below).  To me this evoked a Warhol factory look.  The framed silver blanket that is.  The video, which ran for a little over 8 minutes, didn't seem to have all that much action in it.  That's likely the point, and whilst it does force you to slow down to try to appreciate it you are left wondering what the artists intent was.  Looks like it is back to the catalogue, and boy is this artist statement a doozy: " 'Dark Learning' is an ongoing process attempting to integrate all action into the wholeness of one lived experience utilising certain experimental gestures that earnestly strive for the sublime." Maybe.  I kind of like the one word artist statement I had imagined before reading the catalogue.  Contemplative.  I recognised Eloise's work next.  The resin/polyethylene/charcoal mix is quite a unique signature (image top, Untidaled Artithesis). I think I heard the Director of the MCA describe this work as very 'tactile', no wonder she gets paid the big bucks.  I only remember her resin finished works from before, but in this show she has contrasted those with some very matte finished pieces.  Still all Johnny Cash in feel, that is all black, they look very good in a gallery setting against a white wall.

Points:  3 points goes to the bubble gum performance of Adrian Clement. This is a bit of a leap of faith as I hadn't actually seen the performance, and the video wasn't working.  But thanks to the before and after photos and a little bit of imagination I think this would've been cool (note: if I do ever see the video, and if it sucked, then I might reverse the points!). Nevertheless a great concept and quite a decorative outcome.  Eloise will pick up another 2 points.  I do like the effect she gets with resin.  Very shiny, tactile even!  Also, I think Eloise was the pick of Liz Ann, based on observed iphone photography! 1 point will go to Jacobus Capone for Dark Learning, I did like the merchandising here, with the 'special collectors edition' of the video coming with the framed survival blanket.  Keep up the good work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hall & Deacon at Roslyn Oxley - 26 July

Last day of the solo shows of Fiona Hall (in the main space) and Destiny Deacon (in the side room) at RoslynOxley.  I'd heard very good word of mouth about these shows so phoned ahead to make they were still on to avoid disappointment.  I grabbed the 6 year old to come with as we made the short trek downhill to Paddo gallery central ...

Let's cut to the chase, these shows lived up to the hype.  I didn't love everything but there were a couple of standout works in each to make this a show to see.  So sorry about the late review and all, but hey, we try our best!  For those that came in late, Fiona Hall is a bit of a big deal.  Selected to represent Australia at the upcoming Venice Biennale in 2015 her works deal with the relationship between people and nature.  Upon entering I made a beeline for the vitrine (pictured top).  This work, Thicket, was totes amazeballs.  The container was filled with pvc pipes painted up as faux branches with ceramic birds that looked like they were sourced from ebay or vinnies perching upon each branch with targets on them.  Then on top of this was a collection of jet planes.  Crazy.  Weird.  Fantastic.  I've seen a few Fiona Hall vitrines and this was a beauty.  It is amazing what putting some random objects in a very formal glass box will do to the mind.  I can't help thinking Museum of Natural History.  I guess I was also expecting to see some stainless steel sardine tins but the closest we got to that was an aluminium skull sitting on a pile of burnt books.  What did surprise me was the collection of Tongan bark cloths.  Would've liked to have investigated these in a little more detail but the junior critic was unsupervising herself around the corner.  Destiny Deacon's installation was a top effort.  The walls were covered in images and then the prints were displayed on top.  I liked a couple of the kitschy dolls which reminded me of my hometowns one time (former?) calling card, the Black Boy.  I tweeted an image of the Cake Man but you can also have a look at the images on the gallery site which has them all.  Also, this seems a good a time as any to call out Roslyn Oxley for having THE BEST room sheets in Sydney, perhaps Australia.  Nearly always an A3 that is folded booklet style I love that they have a little thumbnail image along with all the details, prices and there is usually a little blurb / essay on the back.  Keep up that great work.  Now the highlight from Destiny for both of us was the video work, Snap out of it.  My daughter was lying on the floor strapped into get the whole 2 minutes 30 seconds of this intriguing work.  Hard to explain but luckily a few stills were available (see above, Snap out of it, C).  It is basically two hands rolling around a few different coloured 'water bombs' (or something that looked like a water bomb) over what appears to be a wallaby fur.  We were Transfixed.  On the way out we had time to appreciate some of Fiona's Untitled pieces.  There were, confusingly, 6 of them.  All just plain 'Untitled'.  Not even the Richard Prince style brackets of 'Untitled (Cowboy)' to tell apart the Vatican on the Tank from the Billiard Ball Antlers.  Someone might want to give Fiona a book on Damien Hirst before she heads to Venice ...

Points:  Well the 3 points is easy.  Fiona Hall's Thicket stands out by a country mile in my mind.  Loved this.  Loved the old school vitrine and the interesting contents.  I still don't necessarily get it, but love the aesthetics and that it gets you thinking.  Another detail shot below and will also tweet a close up of the jets.  The 2 points will go to the Destiny Deacon video.  Snap out of it.  Although this could've been called Untitled because now I am thinking about Cher, which is dangerous as it is nearly bedtime.  Just like Fiona's vitrine I still don't really get this work either but ditto for the aesthetics and the thinking. The final point will go to Untitled. Wait, you want to know which of the 6 untitled works?  Hint:  The one pictured above.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Archibald, Wynne and Sulman at the AGNSW - 19 July

The big prizes have moved back in the AGNSW calendar and that's a good thing as far as I can see. There really isn't anything else on right now in the art world.  Which is why yours truly decided to brave the crowds and head over to the AGNSW on the first weekend after the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes were announced.  Would we concur with the trustees / judges?  Would we be allowed to take a selfie?  Let's find out ...

So first up is always the Archibald.  I would like to see the AGNSW mix this up for once and have you enter through the Wynne, that'd get everyone talking!  Hardly any real controversy this year, even the chicks making out didn't raise an eyebrow.  What is going on?  I did like the collection of smaller works that had been hung together.  I, like many others, decry the super sized entries that this prize seems to encourage.  One other thing I like about the Archibald is that it is quite acceptable to tee off on the art.  John McDonald has had a great go this year, see here, lots of reasonable arguments there.  John's pet peeve this year is portraits painted from photographs rather than the subject formally sitting.  I know what he is talking about.  I sat for a portrait back in the day and it took quite a few of them.  My own pet peeve concerns all the random punters being painted.  Officially the prize is for a portrait "preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia".  My preferential is a little stricter than the AGNSW, hence I would've flicked about half the entries for non-compliance.  I was particularly annoyed with Vincent Fantauzzo's 'self-portrait', which is actually a photo realistic portrait of his son and a particularly cloying artist statement to try and get it to qualify for this prize.  Anyway, I'll stop there before I pick off a few others.  Breathe.  Okay, on to those that did actually float my boat.  Top pick was Mitch Cairn's Reg Richardson AM.  Distinguished subject, check.  Portrait in distinctive style of artist, check.  Not too large, check.  This was a very striking portrait (mainly because of those glasses, image top) but I really liked how the portrait was still obviously in the modernist style that Mitch is making his signature.  Other highlights were Sophia Hewson's kissing girls (or the twins as my three year old called it) and Zoe Young's Torah Bright.  I liked the aesthetics of James Powditch's Citizen Kave, it did look like a good movie.  I did try to think, based on the entries submitted, who I'd get to paint my portrait if push came to shove (apart from Mitch). Paul Mallam (pic above, The Card Player) was probably the other winner there.  Before we move on, please note that the top image is courtesy of my iphone, the rest are from the AGNSW website.  You see, they are rocking the no photos allowed policy.  I had seen a few people taking snaps so started to help myself when a guard said no.  I said what about that dude - he turned out to be an artist, and apparently you are allowed to take photos of your own work.  Hey AGNSW, how about next time we actually get on the social media train.  After just coming back from New York where Sotheby's are trying to promote their auctions with the #sothebysselfie tag I can't see why we are being backwards about it.

Next stop is always the Wynne.  For once, I agreed with the judges.  Michael Johnson's Oceania high low (pictured above), probably would've got the nod from me.  This was quite a large work but at the same time a very retro abstract work.  Quite colourful and the 3 year old junior critic liked it a lot, although in her mind the pastel cityscape of Michael Muir would've given it a run for its money.  I liked Noel McKenna's Palm Beach wharf and also Kate Shaw's Maralinga (which I think would be even more striking if she did it when the bomb was going off).  I'm getting a bit over Joshua Yeldham's Wynne entries.  It's like he has had the same work for about 5 years now.  Also due for a spell is Tim Storrier.  You won the big prize last year Tim, take a year off!

Last stop is ... you guessed it - the Sulman!  Now this is usually my favourite prize given how random it is (especially if R. Bell happens to be judging).  Sadly this was one of the weakest years in my mind.  Didn't like much.  I like political paintings but political artist statements give me the irrits, so Darren Wardle was discounted straight off the bat.  Fiona Lowry had one of her trademark works (by the way I did like some random interwebs criticism of her Archie winner that instagram should just develop a Lowry filter - meow), Noel McKenna had a still life and that was about it for the big names.  I quite liked Maz Dixon (image above, Colony). I've seen Maz repped on Sydney's own little art startup Art Pharmacy (link here). So I was familiar with her vintage postcard inspired practise.  Now I think I prefer her Big Pineapple, Gold Coast meter maids and Currumbin Bird Sanctuary lorikeets but this seaworld inspired dolphins and the random blob (which happens to be a whale) are streets ahead of the field here.

Points:  Mitch is going to bag the 3 points for his Archibald entry here.  More prestigious than the Trustee's Highly Commended?  Probably not ... yet.  The 2 will go to Maz for her Sulman entry.  The 1 from the Wynne will actually go to James Drinkwater as I did like his retro abstract landscape and I figured Michael already won the Wynne so what was a point to him!  James' Down the Awabakel Trail (above) lets me in on the fact he is from the Hunter, and Hunter boys stick together.  Well down Jimbo.