‘Tis a gorgeous time of year to wander around and take in the abundance of spring sunshine, blossoms and exhibitions.
There are and have been some interesting exhibitions around town of late.
Let’s start with Jensen Gallery, a commercial gallery in Paddington with a strong international focus and position. Dealer Andrew Jensen, who hails from across the ditch, has a stable of artists that reach far and wide and offers a refreshing and valuable contribution to the national art scene.
Jensen represents the estate of esteemed New York sculptor Fred Sandback (1943-2003) whose lineal sculptures of coloured wool recalibrate the space they are configured in. He takes the line of wool for a specific, well-defined ‘walk’, giving density and shape to what could otherwise by assumed as an emptiness. The taut coloured line is so subtle and unobtrusive that it could be easily overlooked. You do have to look twice to actually ‘see’ the work and, when you focus on it, it is a revelation. There is a great interview with Sandback dating from 2002 on the Estate’s website, which reveals him to be down to earth, inquiring and having a good sense of humour. Definitely worth a read.
Jude Rae, based in Canberra, also shows with Jensen. Her masterful still life practice has been extended to include portraiture (she won the Portia Geach twice -in 2005 & 2008) and architectural frameworks – such as the interior of parts of the Heathrow terminal. Rae has a show in Melbourne opening imminently, in collaboration with Jensen Gallery and Greenwood Street Projects in Abbottsford.
Acclaimed Scottish born artist Callum Innes is also represented by Jensen. He was exhibiting again this past week, for a private viewing (though open to the public), together with the young and very impressive NZ artist Sam Harrison.
Again, you’ll come across artworks which take time and thought. This gallery is not for a fleeting visit. Innes’ paintings can be defined as ‘coolly atmospheric abstraction’, smears and stains on the canvas which appear through a process of washing away the paint with turps. He ‘makes and unmakes’, ‘adds and subtracts’. Australian artist Clinton Nairn paints and washes and bleaches in a similar way: it is what is taken out, off and left over that becomes the final artwork.
As intense and confident Innes’ work is, it is Sam Harrison’s works, his woodcuts and life-size sculptures which I found mesmerising and commanding. His is such a sure hand in charge of a sharp tool, used to define a human body. It is not just delineation or mass he finds, but the emotion held taut within the bones, sinew and muscle that make up the individual. These large woodcuts, in limited editions, are beautiful.
His sculptures do not declare a ‘Here am I’ personage. In poses which suggest glimpses of private moments, of deep emotions held in check, the bodies are curled away from us, or looking down or towards the wall, their backs to us.
Jensen is slowly moving down the hill, to join what has become a well established art precinct, at the bottom of Paddington, on the edge of Edgecliff, with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Australian Galleries, Martin Browne Contemporary Art, Art & Australia HQ and Sarah Cottier Gallery. Now all that is required is a decent coffee bar, which could morph into a wine bar around exhibition opening times. Need only be a hole in the wall ….
Moya McKenna’s first showing in Sydney in a long time has just closed at Sarah Cottier Gallery. I do love a quiet thoughtful show and this doesn’t disappoint. Idiosyncratic, individualistic, outside of any trendy stylistic groove, modest, this small show of small works is intense. McKenna, based in Melbourne, was recently a recipient of a residency to NY, and the symbols of Northern American boom industrialisation made a deep impression on her. Though they are subjects of yesteryear, they are refashioned and repainted throughout a very contemporary body of works. For example steam trains, which assumed prominence for McKenna after she saw a performance of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach in Brooklyn, silhouettes of men in top hats on old fashioned bicycles, and the dotty pumpkin created by Yayoi Kusama. I gather McKenna (and a number of these works) will be included in the NGV’s much-awaited Melbourne NOW exhibition, opening in November. Another good reason to visit Melbourne for a weekend.
Cottier’s elegant, relatively new, gallery feels comfortable and settled. The picture windows at the front with table and chairs, is a welcoming reminder that visiting commercial galleries should be engaging and relaxing. The days of the intimidating white box without a soul (literally and metaphorically) to greet you, are so passé.
Next at Sarah Cottier Gallery is work by Christopher Hanrahan.
Then, back up the hill, to COFA (aka the College of Fine Arts). The refurbishment is more or less complete, the new Dean Ross Harley is comfortably ensconced and the new Galleries UNSW are open with the exhibition Making Change, marking the changes at COFA and celebrating the start of the next stage.
Making Change is a collaborative exhibition between COFA and the Australian Centre for Photography, put together by Felicity Fenner (COFA) and Kon Gouriotis (ACP) and in partnership with the National Museum of Beijing. For an exhibition whose mandate came from deep within Government to celebrate the 40 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and China, it has depth, histories and insights that go beyond international political machinations.
All the works are by contemporary Indigenous artists and, nearly all, are photographs, digital photo media, videos and video installation. The exhibition speaks to the history of Gough opening doors to China in the early 70s and the concurrent opening of doors in Australia for Indigenous artists – by way of photo media – who were at the forefront of making this change.
The works aren’t new. Many have been seen before in some major exhibitions eg Undisclosed, the most recent Indigenous Triennial from the National Gallery of Australia, which is now touring nationally and in the Asia Pacific Triennale at QAG, but they are well worth re-viewing.
Vernon Ah-Kee’s tough video piece in 3 parts Cant chant (wegrewhere) 2007-09, which was first shown at Brisbane’s IMA and then in the 2009 Venice Biennale, is a necessary reminder of the battle for cultural acceptance and equality. His practice stems from anger at the treatment and alienation of urban Aborigines, such as himself. He contends that the only true or most authentic Aboriginal art is that of urban Aborigines in that it reflects the manied and varied lives of contemporary Aboriginal people.
Ah-Kee was dubbed the ‘sovereign warrior’ by Indigenous academic Aileen Moreton-Robinson. She describes him as an Aboriginal artist at war in the ‘white postcolonial borderzone’ that is contemporary Aboriginal arts. The same can be said of his colleagues at ProppaNow, also in this exhibition, Richard Bell and Tony Albert, both of whom are committed in their positioning Aboriginal art outside the given contemporary art paradigm. Bell’s stance is uncompromising and tough and is made pretty clear when he said “Aboriginal art – it’s a white thing”.
CantChant was made in response to the Cronulla Riots of 2007, which arose from deeply ignorant and misguided attitudes to who belongs here and where. Ah Kee’s response is a multi-layered, complex and provocative video and installation, a sublime declaration of the in–placeness of Indigenous people at the beach and in the mainstream, maintaining their sovereignty while participating in the 21st century. There is a great article in Artlink Blak on Blak 2010 issue by Garry Jones which can be found online. Definitely worth a read.
Christian Thompson’s video Heat 2010 is sited at the entrance. Thompson’s practice continues to be one which investigates representation, history and identity within the complexities of post-colonial Australia. Heat, video on 3 screens, is of three young, seemingly very different, women. Unadorned, against a bleached out backdrop, they gaze directly, without falter, into the camera.
What feels like a hot and dry wind gently stirs their respective hair, which gradually fans and wafts around their faces. There is no room for stereotypes here. Each declares themselves as Indigenous Australian women, strong, proud and beautiful. As individualistic as they are, they are all closely connected as grand-daughters of Charlie Perkins. Thompson is the first recipient of a Charlie Perkins Scholarship which has enabled him to study for a PhD in Fine Art at Oxford Uni. He’s doing some really interesting work there – go back to an earlier blog of mine.
Daniel Boyd’s video installation of an iridescent undulating milky-way, a galaxy of dots, was a star feature of QAG’s APT7 2012 and is featured in this exhibition: Shimmering fields of coloured dots drift between what appears to be moving abstract images and figurative ones. The subject is dark matter, particle physics and indeterminate cosmologies. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery press release 2012
I loved Brenda L Croft’s series Man About Town: retro images of a very dapper, poised gentleman (her father) which offer a different perspective on Aboriginal history, one which is private and personal and again, non-stereotypical.
Croft’s essay in the catalogue gives a great insight into the history of photography/ photomedia within the Indigenous art community, with artists such as Michael Riley, Tracey Moffatt, Mervyn Bishop, r e a and Croft herself leading the charge. There are some really key moments in recent art history which Croft details and which should be heralded. They include the NADOC exhibition of Aboriginal and Islander Photographers in 1986; After 200 Years: Photographic Essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today in 1988, a Bicentennial initiative and the commission of Tracey Moffatt’s Something More series in 1989 by Albury Regional Art Gallery, which was visionary at the time and propelled Moffat’s stellar ascent. Importantly it was the commitment and energy of the smaller public art galleries which were at the forefront of nurturing talent, like Boomalli, The Tin Sheds, the fledgling ACP and Garage Graphix.
A highlight, which resonates as much now as it did 30 years ago, is the incredibly moving image of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, captured so poignantly by Mervyn Bishop in 1975. The day of the exhibition opening started for me with hearing Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody’s song From big things little things grow, as 702 ABC Sydney was acknowledging the anniversary of the walk off Wave Hill Station (1966). It was particularly fitting to finish the day with hearing Mervyn Bishop speak at the opening.
Welcome back COFA! The last few years have been rough to say the least, but it is good to have you back and open for business. May the Galleries UNSW lend the same force, rigour and edge to the Australian art scene as the IDG did for so many years.
Making Change is on until 5 October.
The next major art happening in Sydney is the first international Sydney Contemporary art fair to be held at Carriageworks in Redfern, from 20 to 22 September. It is a packed schedule – check out the VIP programme particularly. Register your interest and immerse yourself in it for a weekend. If you become a VIP (as no doubt you are already) you could join in my ‘Preview Walk Through’…. You have to register first – here.
Until next blog – happy exploring.