Archive for the 'Out and about' Category

Sydney Sculpture Conference

Sydney sculpture conference: a universal language was held in the Sydney Opera House on 5 November. The Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) were joint presenters of the conference together with Sculpture by the Sea. Although there was a focus on education the day was quite diverse and I’m having trouble picking through my notes to create a coherent story.

There was a welcome from the head of China tourism (?if I got that right) plus a number of speakers from CAFA, and it sometimes felt a little careful. Nothing wrong with presenting your best side. There seems to be huge activity, lots of projects and money available, particularly as cities attempt to move up the tiers of importance. Huge scale seems to be a must. Then John McDonald, an Australian art critic, spoke on the topic “A Revolutionary Transformation – The Sculptors of China”, and I wondered how it felt for the Chinese guests, listening to their history from an external perspective.

As mentioned there was a lot of talk about education. I get the impression that many felt that in current Australian degree courses not enough time is spent in the studio, working, making, under the guidance of tutors. Forms, space and light; the manipulation of tools on a material. Presumably the rest of the time is spent with theory and research – perhaps the academic requirements within the university structure have had a high price. CAFA’s course takes five years. It had me wondering about my own goals. I left the Open College of the Arts course after completing first year (taking 5 years 🙂 ) because I wanted to move from a textiles focus. Do I want to do more, perhaps locally, if I could? Am I drifting without structure? Off topic here, at any rate!

Paul S.C. Taçon, amongst other distinctions Chair in Rock Art research at Griffith University in Queensland, spoke on Rock art in the Greater Sydney Region. Paul defined the topic as a mark of the landscape in purposive, symbolic ways. The sites are places where people connect with ancestors.

With over 4,000 individual rock art sites in the greater Sydney region, a current need is conservation and management of rock art landscapes, not site by site. Paul showed us lots of images, and in some a strand of red wool had been put into the groove of a petroglyph as a non-impact way to improve visibility. I mentally shuffled in embarrassment remembering times as a child we drew on them in chalk. The world was different in the 60s.

The oldest art found in this area so far has been dated to around 4 or 5 thousand years. Our sandstone isn’t the greatest for longevity. Paul was excited to give us a tip for news about to break – now published here (and no doubt elsewhere), new analysis dating cave painting in Borneo to at least 40,000 years old – “the oldest figurative cave painting in the world”.

The plan is to include a talk on rock art in each year’s conference program, which I think is a great initiative given Australia is so rich in this.

There was an artist’s focus talk – Hossein Valamanesh: Out of Nothingness. I was surprised by the range of his work, some of which was familiar to me (just not the name). A couple of examples are Longing belonging at AGNSW, and the Gingko Gate in Adelaide Botanic Gardens. I think Hossein described it as an attitude in the work rather than style. He sees it as the work of an artist to throw a little light. His attitude to changes to a work over time was interesting – “The responsibility of a work lingering on is part of their lives, not mine”. Changing materiality is part of the work.

Exhibitions in Canberra

In Canberra for a short visit, mum and I hit exhibitions at some of the big institutions.

Rome: City and Empire at the National Museum of Australia.
With over 200 objects loaned from the British Museum, this exhibition was the main motivation for our visit. It’s a diverse group of things, flitting around place and time. There’s a light touch of some themes, at cross-purposes with chronology. A lot of marble, a lot of coins, some jewellery, domestic and military paraphernalia… Much of the overview information wasn’t new to us, that was mainly in the detail. So for me no earth-shattering insights, but some pleasant hours of looking and thinking.

Javelin head

Dated to mid-1st century CE, found at Hod Hill, Dorset inthe UK, a javelin or pilium head, is softened steel. They were designed to bend on impact, so the enemy couldn’t throw them back. Clever. Dreadful.
Can’t see a way to make that visible and meaningful in a work, but a curious idea.

Military diploma

Bronze plaques, 122 (dated 17th July), Brigetio Hungary, were given to a soldier after 25 years of service. It records Gemellus was granted citizenship on his retirement. The plaques are described as “a four-leaved document” on the British Museum website.
I’ve already been thinking about hammer-punching text into metal tags as inserts to folded books. Was planning to buy a set of alphabet punches, but I should explore other ways of making the marks. And making them directly into a book… possibilities…

Punic funerary stele

Amazing, graphic, lines carved into this burial stone. It’s probably from Carthage, Tunisia, 1st-2nd century CE.
This link might be the right object – the description doesn’t quite fit.

National Library of Australia

Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp
1637

Following up some of mum’s recent reading, we visited both the National Gallery and the National Library, to see Cuyp’s Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter. A very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly volunteer at the Library took us into the gallery – to the wall where it usually hangs. Just so we know next time where to go, as it had been away on loan and was perhaps now being checked in and checked over before rehanging. The Library website catalogue notes “On loan to the National Gallery of Australia”, but when we asked at the NGA information desk they had no information on it. So a reason for another visit to Canberra in a few months.

While at the Library we took in the Cook and the Pacific exhibition.

Tricky stuff. As the website notes “The exhibition web pages may also contain material with terms and descriptions that may be culturally sensitive or considered inappropriate today.” Delicately put! A lot of thought and effort has gone into giving context, and in making sure First Nations peoples from the places Cook visited were heard and seen in the exhibition. Still, some very uncomfortable reading. Included is a document with ‘hints’ provided to Cook by the president of the Royal Society, James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton. The hints advise ‘the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch’. Cook may have taken this to heart, but further on:

To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:—They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent. Conquest over such people can give no just title; because they could never be the Aggressors.

No excuses.

National Gallery of Australia
Over a couple of days we got to a few exhibitions here.
Australian art: Earth/Sky

Philip Hunter
Night Wimmera X


This abstracted landscape drew us both in, quietly contemplating. There is a shimmering, unearthly feel. Wheat sways in patterns, making visible the patterns of the wind. Are those the min min lights, dancing across the ancient, slumbering land? There is industry in the tracks of the harvesting equipment, balanced by the calm and unmoving certainty of the infinite horizon.

I can see those fields in textured rows of stitching; those graceful, turning, tangles of line woven in metal in a sculpture. While the painting soothed my mind it had my fingers twitching with an urge to be making.

A view of part of the Sky gallery space


Taking a step back to think about the curation of this exhibition. I love the freshness, the new insights, provided by moving away from the geographic | chronological lockstep in presenting a collection. I first became conscious of an alternative when seeing the New Classical at the Art Gallery of South Australia (5-May-2013). Back then I quoted Director Nick Mitzevich in the press release “Boundaries of geography and time have been collapsed to inspire a new way of looking at the rich diversity of the Gallery’s collections. Objects from different periods and cultures are juxtaposed to reveal how art links the past to the present”. In this current exhibition in Canberra, people from different periods, different cultures, different belief systems, but all within Australia, are shown to have a commonality in looking around themselves at this land, at the southern skies. We all seek to explain, to express, how we come to be here, what this amazing place means to us. Visiting the exhibition, I can get a glimpse of other perspectives and share a moment of delight, wonder, perhaps understanding.

Bronwyn Oliver
Comet

I’ve never felt moved to write about Bronwyn Oliver’s work before now. Reading about her work it sounds exactly in my interest area, that should have me buzzing with admiration, inspiration. Wire used to create abstract forms, woven or soldered, sewn with wire. Instead there is a level of calculation, control, perfectionism, closed and ungiving, almost desperately balanced, in the work that I find alienating.

As so often happens, I need to think again, look again. Comet has a delicacy, the trailing tendrils of wire are slightly wayward, not all the personality groomed out. You’ll get a better view of the structure on the gallery website, but my poor photos (especially the general gallery view) give at least a sense of the movement, hung in a corner with shadows at different angles on the two walls. Being connected, in conversation, with the other works here also helps me approach it.


Margel Hinder, Revolving construction.
Sorry about the raw, poor video. Any past small skills in my editing software have vanished. The kinetic nature of the sculpture is important, but again, you’ll get a better photo of it on the gallery website.

I have written about Margel Hinder’s work before – see 13-Jun-2014 for a figure sculpture that was warm and inviting, and 31-Dec-2013 for her Free standing sculpture in copper and steel that manages to be enormous, self-effacing, tactile and inviting, and an expression of the importance and economic might of the Reserve Bank of Australia(!).

The NGA sculpture is serious, scientific, an expression of ideas, while still fun and playful. I see a lightness and sense of adventure. Seeing it move, the shadows drawing on the walls, gave a nice segue to the next NGA exhibition visited.

Performing Drawing
This exhibition “explores how actions can become art. Focusing on chance and change, this exhibition highlights the NGA’s collection of process-based drawing, video and photography.”

Ilka White
Still from Drawing breath


In this video Ilka White draws on the ground using sand that trickles down from a sack resting across her shoulders. It is an intensely physical and meditative process. Ilka moves carefully, thoughtfully; pauses and pivots; stretches and expands then draws back in to herself. When the sack is empty she balances, reaches down, gently brushes the sand with her hand and you can feel its texture, the grating of the grains.

Ilka White Installation view in Group exchange, Tamworth Triennial 2015

Ilka spoke at the Art Textiles conference in Sydney in 2008 (ATASDA, supported by COFA). I have a general memory of someone deeply thoughtful, a weaver interested in exploring her world through her craft. She was also included in GROUP exchange, the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial – not in my post (22-May-2015), so I’ve dug through my photo archive to give a view of the range of work she presented then. In that the billabong near her home was her muse, and a central theme the interconnectedness of the world.

That sense of deep and still waters of thought, of reflection of the world around, of stepping lightly on the land, of beautiful traces that will blow away and rejoin the earth, continues though all the different expressions of her work.

Kieran Browne
Trace


Kieran Brown
Gallery view

This was so much fun.

Entering this part of the exhibition, on the wall was a screen, blank except for a black mark on the right edge. I looked a while, read the blurb, looked again – and there were grey and black smudges on the screen.

A little thought, a careful scan of the gallery ceiling – and a small black camera or sensor discovered.

I ran to get mum, and we danced together to draw on the screen. Move slowly and a line of grey smudges records your progress. Pause, a little conversation, and that smudge darkens to black. Step away, wait, and the traces gradually lighten and disappear. The viewer creates meaning in the art in a very literal, if transient, way.

David Rosetzky
From memory

Could any maker, weaver, not love, love, love this? In this photomontage portrait of Stephen Phillips the actor plays with a length of string, a metaphor for the act of remembering. The double exposure suggests the passage of time. I think of people telling stories as they make shapes, illustrations, in string between their fingers.

David Moore
Moon writing series

The beautiful lines continue – these works by David Moore seeming so connected to Philip Hunter’s work up near the top of this post. Here the photographer used his camera as a drawing instrument, under the full moon in Tasmania, moving to create shapes. Rhythm, elegance, incredible skill; a flow and a spark.

All this and the long weekend still wasn’t over. We had a spare hour before setting off for Sydney, so returned to the NGA to breeze through American Masters.

American Masters
As I write this post this exhibition is in its final hours, and I am so annoyed with myself. I needed much, much, much more time here.

Alexander Calder
Night and day


Walking up the long, high, dimly lit, hallway to the special exhibition space, this mobile by Calder speeds your pace. Backlit, a series of red ovals can be discerned, with two circles, black and white, moving amongst them. Get closer and look down – a white circle, filled with circular shadows.

It was quite different with the Calder work I saw at NGV this year. The post was 15-Sep-2018, but I didn’t include any photos. Remedying that:


My brain registers everything as circles, even when I concentrate on it.
It’s not just my photography. From the institution websites:

I think there are enough clear circles on the MoMA work that I accept all of them as circles, even those at an angle that makes them just a vertical line. In the NGV version all the red shapes appear oval, with the odd effect that the proportions change as I walk towards them.

Is there something to exploit here? For my own work, don’t know. For the person who designed the NGV presentation, with that white circle on the ground and the shadows – brilliant!

Most of my time was spent visiting old friends:

Eva Hesse
Contingent
Post 7-Jun-2015


Mark Rothko
1957 # 20
Post 27-Dec-2013


Blue Poles, of course (post 26-Dec-2013). A few more.
Why is that? Is it a comfort thing? I think more that for me they are strong things, works that I continue to think about, that influence in some way the way I see the world and other art, including my own.

So maybe some new friends:

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Core samples of stratified stone, drilled from between 1.5 and 40 metres below ground level in different locations across New York City. Monumental. Fascinating in detail. Seeing what is usually hidden – the structure of the land beneath us. Centering. Dare I say, grounding.

There was a quote from Sonfist on the signage: “My feeling is that if we are going to live in a city, we have to create an understanding of the land… We have to come to a better understanding of who we are and how we exist on the planet.”

Hans Hofmann
Untitled
(1943)

The energy and excitment! While writing this up, I found a great description on the NGA website – read it there.

This post has taken enormously more time than I intended. My son sensibly pointed out that I enjoyed it. Plus I know that this process of later thinking and relooking helps me retain memories – and the blog acts as a supplementary memory too. So before I move on, time to record just a couple of works in the general NGV collection that caught my eye.

E. Phillips Fox
Promenade

Stripes! Diagonal lines! Too many posts, too much material, relate to those. My final assignment for the Open College of the Arts course Understanding Western Art is one. I’ve been enjoying analysing the structure of this painting.

Jane Sutherland
A cabbage garden

Why do I like this so much? It seems to trigger a memory that I can’t track down. Something about the composition? That bending figure? In my memory the colours have more purple. Something familiar…

Sculpture by the Sea 2018

Sculpture by the sea at Bondi is always a feast for the eyes – the sculptures of course, the stunning location, and the people. People relaxed and happy, out for a few hours of entertainment and fun in the sun/rain/cloud/buffeting wind/… I’m also watching myself of course – what is drawing my attention, what about it is attracting me?

Sculpture Inside Gallery

The Sculpture Inside gallery is a fascinating place. I think all of the artists showing there also have large works outside (occasionally in a different year). It’s the scale I work at, so there’s a familiarity. There’s often more freedom and a sense of spontaneity. Safety and gravity aren’t such concerns. Cost in effort and resources is less. Some pieces appear to be maquettes, some are simplifications with similar ideas to the large sculptures, some seem to be basically scaled versions (often produced in multiples, at a more approachable price point than the large works), some appear unrelated other than being from the same hands and mind.


Mikaela Castledine’s Feral installation included 15 pieces placed around a wide area in a small gully. The same crocheted polypropylene was used in her small sculptures. There’s a simplification, but on their plinths the inside cats have personality and attitude.


Wassily Kandinsky
Landscape: Dunaberg near Murnau
1913

vanishing cultures by Stephen Hogan I find very exciting. Perhaps not surprising given my ongoing interest in diagonal lines
– for example by Kandinsky (see 15-Oct-2018). Then there’s the recycled steel rod – linking to my welded Germination II (30-Jun-2017). The base of the sculpture is a number of triangles pieces, which together with the poles create a dynamic mood, but the pagoda/gateway effect of recycled forged steel bracket from a horse dray stabilises the work and gives a serenity. Calming and energising. Hogan’s large work outside is much more placid and stable. It frames the constantly moving waves, but doesn’t respond to them. I felt detached, not drawn in.

Barbara Licha
CBD

I didn’t photograph Barbara Licha’s inside sculpture. It was a much simplified version of the same idea, and had much less impact than the large sculpture. For me there was a disconnect in the artist’s statement, which refers to the beauty of Sydney and a desire to make us conscious of where we are. Those caged, twisted forms under the city seem more tortured than happily occupying the space.

Itamar Freed
the kiss (study of auguste rodin)

This small work by Itamar Freed was 3D printed. It’s an interesting modern take on a well-known classic. The figures, clothed in modern dress, appear much more energetic to me than the languorous forms of Rodin’s marble. Male and female have swapped positions in a modern twist. Freed has created an edition of 20, plus 5 artists proofs – taking advantage of the modern technology. I find it interesting and a “proper” use of technology – unlike the AI portrait recently sold at Christies (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2018/oct/26/call-that-art-can-a-computer-be-a-painter).

Moving outside now…

Sandra Pitkin
Wave Within

Sandra Pitkin
Wave Within (detail)

Beautifully detailed and crafted work from Sandra Pitkin. The wave motif is clear, especially in this location. The artist’s statement references an integration of neural activity within the waves, and our inseparable part in nature.

Lucy Barker
Outlet (detail)

Lucy Barker
Outlet

Lucy Barker provides quite a different kind of detail. The materials listed for this work are bamboo, salvages electrical cables, bronze. The artist sees this as “a means to rewire and decode our problem of mindless waste”.

Sheltered in the shadow of a rocky overhang, the work looks like an unworldly cocoon. Again, beautiful detail and complexity of surface.

Eric Green
Tetrahedron (detail)

Eric Green
Tetrahedron

Which has me questioning myself about this work by Eric Green. I was attracted to it by the detail. The form seems odd – busy, complex, almost ungainly. The finish close up is so unusual. It looks really rough. Honestly, it looks like my welding. Most of the metal sculptures in the show are beautifully finished, ground down cleanly, often a mirror finish. The artist’s statement is basically about geometric form.

It was curiosity, trying to decipher what I was seeing, that texture, that led me closer to the work. Obviously that “no trace of the maker’s hand” of lots of other works isn’t the point. I feel conflicted. I normally make approving noises about good craftsmanship. Clearly that’s not the point in this work, there’s a different approach, prioritisation, train of thought. I like messy, lively work. Is it the the thick paint that bothers me? Somehow I find this work unsettling. Which makes it interesting.

Leo Loomans
Icarus Rising (detail)

Leo Loomans
Icarus Rising

Back on safe ground here.
Lots of detail and interest, voids and shadow. Even a classical motif. Interesting, powerful, satisfying, I find more each time I look at it.

Andrew Rogers
Embrace

“Hold closely in one’s arms; form not anchored by weight; motion within, rhythms, lustrous sheen.” (artist’s statement).

Complexity and detail. Polished and precise – a little too perfect and manicured perhaps. Balanced movement.

It’s getting long and late, so a quick slideshow.

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Deborah Halpern
The Face

Finally, simply – joyful and fun.

Exhibition: Masters of Modern Art from The Hermitage

A first peek at this exhibition at AGNSW. It opened on Saturday, mum and I just happened to be at the gallery (an excellent lecture by Susannah Fullerton), so we went for a quick reconnoitre.

It’s an interesting comparison and companion to the recent MoMA at NGV (15-Sep-2018). Both exhibitions start in the 1880s, but only a few at AGNSW go beyond the First World War compared to the up-to-the-minute NGV. I think all the works at AGNSW are wall-based paintings and drawings, while the NGV included sculpture, textiles, film, furniture and industrial products. The NGV felt like an illustrated book on the History of Modern Western Art, with very few artists represented more than once. The AGNSW exhibition is much more focused, and my initial impression is that it is more idiosyncratic as many of the works were originally selected by a small number of private collectors. And that, I think, could be this new exhibition’s strength – that it isn’t scholarly and balanced and broad, that there is passion and partisanship, that it has space and material for eight works by Matisse, eight by Picasso, four each by Kandinsky, Derain and I think Cezanne (with the inclusion of “our” painting). More visits will test my theories.

For now, a taster with a few works that particularly caught me.

Georges Dupuis
Notre Dame embankment, Le Havre
1908

Wassily Kandinsky
Landscape: Dunaberg near Murnau
1913

Henri Matisse
Woman on a terrace
1906

The images above are from https://www.arthermitage.org/, and like all images are pale and dull imitations of the originals. The texture, the play of light, the sense of scale, the feeling of sharing space with the artists… for those, get yourself to Sydney (it closes 3 March 2019).

The selection in this post shows my current passion and partisanship. Colour, contour, drawing. The energy and excitement of diagonal lines. From the website on the work by Matisse: “Like colour, drawing is an important element in the painting and plays an active role in the rhythmic organisation of the picture surface.
“Giving an energetic outline to the horizontal balustrade, the yachts on the water, the soft hills and comfortable figure of his wife, Matisse creates a world in which we feel both the beat of the pulse of life, and majestic calm.”

Somehow that, and Jane’s “drawing” of a shirt (14-Oct-2018), and all my recent experiments and components… there’s something there pulling me…

Exhibition: Make Your Mark

This is the inaugural exhibition at the new White Rhino Artspace. The exhibition “celebrates creative expression as a valuable tool in promoting wellbeing and community spirit.” There are works by 13 contemporary female artists, mediums including sculpture, textiles, installation, and paintings.

The team behind White Rhino consists of three women, all of them showing works in the exhibition. On the opening night the rooms were packed and there was a great buzz and positive atmosphere. It was exciting and inspiring to see the support and energy they have generated.

Caroline Kronenberg: Shadows
Caroline presented three works – a bamboo sculpture and two A2 sized framed photographs. The sculpture was one of a series created in collaboration with a bamboo master during a residency in Thailand. The seed-pod form was inspired by local fish traps. I was very interested in the photographs shown, and especially Caroline’s statement that this documentation was of the shadows, the cast mark of the form.

This idea of documenting and extending work was also seen in Matthew Bromhead’s drawing (22-Jul-2018). I thought I’d documented a lot of shadows in my own work, but a quick search of the blog didn’t turn up any evidence on that. Something to bring to the fore in the future.

Jane Bodnaruk: Holding by the seams

Jane’s work here references the roles of women sustaining and maintaining their families – the repetition, the joys, the tedium, the traces we leave of our voyage. I’ve shown some of Jane’s work before (13-Nov-2016) which explored the journey of women convicts on the first fleet. It’s interesting to see the themes of women, the domestic, tedium, responsibilities, developed in different ways.

Chatting with Jane at the opening I was particularly taken with her comments on the highly deconstructed shirt. She thought about how to make it a drawing of a shirt. Fascinating.

Christine Wiltshire: Strung, not unravelling mistakes

Christine “works with, and at times subverts, the traditional rule based conventions of hand knitting, whilst considering the generative potential of unintentional made mistakes. These mistakes occur randomly and often mark the site of an internal or external distraction of the maker.” In the exhibited pieces, rather than going back to a mistake and fixing it, Christine changed material (cotton and nylon threads), improvised any adjustments (for example to get the number of stitches the pattern expected), and continued knitting.

Christine explained to me that she deliberately chooses to use techniques in which she is not highly proficient, that she finds awkward or difficult. Some of that is an interest in the development of muscle memory, but there is also opening up oneself to making mistakes, to see what happens. In an earlier work Christine used cross stitch. At first she unravelled the piece entirely whenever she made a mistake in the pattern and started again. Realising this could leave her with very little to exhibit, Christine adjusted her brief so that she stopped working on a piece and began fresh with each mistake. Some attempts were abandoned quickly, one or two advanced much further, but I don’t think any were “completed”. There is so much to think about here – the nature of work, particularly repetitive (women’s) work, perfection, learning, “finished”, enough…

Ruth Hadlow (mentioned many times in this blog) has been a significant influence on Christine. I think this can be seen in the clarity Christine shows about her focus and interest, the rules or briefs which she sets herself, the open-ended outcomes she welcomes.

Tracy Stirzaker: Double wedding rings: something blue
Tracy is one of the three partners in White Rhino. I wrote about her solo exhibition in Lane Cove earlier this year (25-Mar-2018).

Tracy’s artist statement references Irish philosopher and poet David Whyte who writes of Three Marriages – to another, to work, to self. The wedding rings here refer to the marriage to oneself, the importance of commitment to oneself, and Tracy’s research into anxiety, depression, and self-worth.

The idea of the Three Marriages is new to me, but it’s an interesting experiment to try to declare “I am enough”. It’s about on a par with “I am an artist”.

MoMA at NGV

MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art is like an Art History course – the module on modern western art. It starts with four foundation works, by Seurat, van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin, then speeds through the decades, finishing with an ephemeral installation, Roman Ondak’s Measuring the universe which is growing with audience participation throughout the exhibition time. There are over 200 works in all – painting, sculpture, film, digital, plus architectural models, graphic designs, furniture and textiles…

It’s a pretty nice life when you can give three days to experiencing an exhibition. For me in practice not full days – it can be a race to see if back, feet or brain give out first – but I could spend half a day going through getting a feel for the whole thing, initial impressions and reactions, then keep returning for concentrated time with key (to me) works. In between I wandered through the NGV generally, including visits to old favourites from my week there in 2013 (21-Jul-2013 gives an overview, 23-Jul-2013, 7-Sep-2013 and 13-Sep-2013 annotations of particular works).

Paul Cézanne
Still Life with Apples
1895-98

What a luxury, to stand in front of a Cézanne still life and go “slow down, wait… what are you seeing. ..”. To take as much time as you can to focus, concentrate, and see. What is happening here? Why is it important? What am I seeing? Paint. The act of painting. The act of seeing. Of experiencing. Space. A man’s effort, struggle, belief.

At times I was absorbed, following hills and valleys of “cloth”, play of colour and light, deep shadow behind. Then listening to the conversations around me – painters, educators, general punters… We shift around each other with varying degrees of awareness of sight lines. Some give just a glance at the painting, more spend time with the wall label. Few are able to stand and look – this is only the first wall.

André Derain
Bathers
1907

André Derain
Fishing Boats, Collioure
1905

One of many great advantages to seeing actual works is the sense of scale. Bathers is 132.1 x 195 cm; Fishing Boats, Collioure just 38.2 x 46.3 cm. Both exciting to look at – the colour, the application of paint, the forming of space, the vivid worlds created, the insight into a moment of significance in art history – but one surrounds you and has a sense of sustained effort and intention.

Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
1913 (cast 1931)

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is 111.2 cm high. Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined something that could sit on a table. On its pedestal in the exhibition it has so much more force and dynamic energy than I anticipated. Folds or flames flutter and snap behind the striding figure, the powerful thighs and buttocks propelling it from the classical past into hard, fast, machinery, racing forward. There seems such purpose, such confidence and exhilaration…

I felt maudlin, missing the point, thinking of Boccioni’s death in WWI, and on to my grandparents and the impact of that war on their generation. But then, that’s part of looking at art, being taken on one’s own journey.

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Non-Objective Painting
1919

My response to Rodchenko’s Non-Objective Painting is deeply subjective, personal. From this perspective its place in the chronology of art history seems irrelevant. Instead I felt it captured some of my own recent swirling thoughts and interests. I could write about the materiality of the painted lines, but what I saw was movement and depth. Lines and grids, the impact of limited colour. It was all about my own desire to be making.

The Art as Action gallery was the place I kept returning to. Two free-hanging room dividers by Anni Albers were spare and linear, using materials to great advantage. One was a spanish lace structure (I show an early sample version 24-Aug-2008) – very effective. A large mobile, Snow Flurry, 1, by Alexander Calder, moved slowly and majestically in one corner.

What absolutely captivated me was a 1949 work by Mark Rothko, No. 3/No. 13, also called Magenta, Black, Green on Orange. This was an experience. Immersion. A physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience. I returned to it again and again. I also wanted more, so on the first day went searching for the NGV Rothko I remembered from 2013. Confident strides to the 19th – 20th Century galleries… and it wasn’t there. I tried again on day 2, and found it. In a side gallery. Tucked away in an area focused on decorative arts.

The platform in front kept me far away. Other items impinged on peripheral vision. The ceiling was low. The lighting drab and uneven. On first attempt I didn’t even find it. On second I just couldn’t see it, couldn’t enter into it. Third attempt I went earlier in the day, before my eyes and mind were filled. Finally I got somewhere. Just a little I lost myself in it, was absorbed, expanded.

Rothko works, roughly to scale.
On the left MoMA’s No. 3/No. 13
1949.
On the right NGV’s Untitled (Red)
1956.


The works are not too dissimilar in size. One has more – is “incident” the right word? More varied in colour, and incredible vibration in the lower green/orange area.

The current presentation is entirely different.

Rothko in MoMA at NGV installation


The MoMA work is in an airy, well-lit, high-ceiling gallery, plenty of breathing space, seen in this photo with works by Barnett Newman, Louise Bourgeois and Jackson Pollock.

Rothko – NGV installation


This photo flatters the NGV presentation. As well as the single other painting, a work by Pierre Soulages, there is a chaise longue designed by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, a mannequin in evening dress by mayber Lagerfeld, then mainly furniture on that side of the gallery. All 20th century, but spread across it. I think possibly three visitors glanced in during the times I was there.

It made me cranky, and then wondering just why I was so cross. Pretty much all the galleries I went into at NGV had a mixture of what might be termed fine art, decorative art, applied art. The ratios of these varied wildly. The sequence of galleries following the NGV Rothko were heavily furniture focused, including entire room and apartment settings. A broader view of “art” seems a reasonable idea. The decorative arts were really my entry point to looking and experiencing beauty, back when I first traveled in the 70s and 80s, and it’s good to see them afforded respect in an institution like NGV. Objects of interest in themselves can also give a wider context for the traditional gallery art – for example see my comments about a cabinet of items displayed next to a still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem (21-Jul-2013). But apart from coming from the same century, the works sharing space with the Rothko had nothing to say to it in my view. It felt more like a bunch of oddments that they wanted to display but couldn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Pollock’s Blue Poles in the apartment of Mr and Mrs Ben Heller, New York.

It did start some reflection on the nature of art, how we expect to see and experience it. Pollock’s Blue Poles used to be in a living space. Work may be intended for a chapel or a restaurant (read a bit about Rothko’s works intended for the Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York – an article by Jonathan Jones, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/dec/07/artsfeatures, and the website of the Tate, where Rothko gifted the works https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/in-the-studio/mark-rothko). A big gallery is really quite a strange idea. Then there’s seeing contemporary works in a smaller commercial gallery, in groupings and repetition/variation that won’t survive purchase and dispersal…

This post has been underway for too long already. A couple more quick notes.

Still from Pathé Frères film of Loïe Fuller

In the NGV Rothko room there was another connection to the MoMA exhibition. That included a film by the Lumière brothers which paid homage to American dancer Loïe Fuller’s ‘Serpentine dance’ (in the film performed by an anonymous female figure). In the NGV room there was a 1905 Pathé Frères film showing Fuller herself. Next to it was a lighted sculpture by François-Raoul Larche, Loïe Fuller, the dancer.

François-Raoul Larche
Loïe Fuller, the dancer
c. 1900

Interesting to compare the two sculptures of moving bodies, Larche’s and Boccioni’s, created around 13 years apart.

Also on at the NGV, Japonisme: Japan and the birth of Modern Art is a fascinating exploration of the impact of Japanese art and design upon the arts in the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Well worth a browse.

Gallery Lane Cove – recent exhibitions

The Art of Friendship
This exhibition marked the opening of the new cultural precinct in Lane Cove. The curatorium was led by Guy Warren, and the exhibition was a selection of works by Warren and his friends and colleagues. This made for quite a mixture (almost all rectangles on walls), and I was very conscious of the choices I made, what attracted me, as I moved around the gallery.

The standard apology for photos with odd angles. There were a lot of reflections to battle.

Margot Goodall
Within The Gorge


Margot Goodall
Secret Waterhole


Two small collographs by Margot Goodall were modest but beautiful little worlds. Shapes, composition, texture. Quite simply, I wanted to run home and start printing.

Jim Croke
Slowly Falling


Jim Croke
Slowly Falling (detail)


I struggled with Jim Croke’s large (160 x 150 x 10 cm) steel piece. Of course it uses material similar to material I use. It reminded of some of Tracey Deep’s work (29-Sep-2016). I had to do a lot of letting go to see it (probably not entirely successfully). The apparent horizontal lines give a stability – I find it hard to accept it as “slowly falling”. The unruly curls are tightly contained in the rows, the rectangle. I found focusing on rhythm my best entry point.

Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0


Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0 (detail)

Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0 (detail)


This hand-coloured and wash etching was very exciting. The lines of the etching are so flowing and energetic. So much is done with very little. Then more energy and luminous colour from the wash, layers and depth. Plus so absolutely Sydney. I’m sure I remember seeing Kingston’s work before and being excited – I’m thinking in the Destination Sydney at Mosman – but haven’t been able to track down the catalogue on my shelves. The crisp, deep mark of the press, framing the main area of the picture, increased the thrill of the splatters of paint.

Luke Sciberras
Curlewee Point

Euan Macleod
Crossing Figures, (Golden Hills)

There were works by both Luke Sciberras and Euan Macleod, and a strange mixture of familiarity and difference to the works at Manly (27-Jul-2018). General style and preoccupations could be seen, but also quite different by both artists.

Sciberras had such Australian colours and forms, in addition to the name. I find the divide down the centre of the picture, the contrast of the two parts, disturbing, unsettling.

There is so much more space in Macleod’s painting compared to the claustrophobic beaches of Belle Ile. The ghostly figures seem more animated to me, striding purposefully across the frame. That thin stripe of green at the bottom gives them support and solidity, and together with the golden hills and many of the colours in the water it’s bright and … well, not exactly cheerful but not gloomy and brooding.

Chris Gentle
Rozelle Bay


Chris Gentle
Rozelle Bay (detail)


Chris Gentle’s painting zings with colour and vibrant lines. (I wouldn’t normally describe a line as “vibrant”, but here it seems right). The composition seems static – a few zippy diagonals, a jagged line, but nothing really seems to be heading anywhere. But the colour and marks fizz!

ARTPark @ Gallery Lane Cove: An Exhibition of contemporary sculptures
This exhibition of nine sculptures is on the terrace of the gallery. ARTPark Australia constantly runs sculpture exhibitions in Australia. Constantly in that when an exhibition ends the works are moved for display at the next venue. They are bringing sculpture to the people, which seems a pretty worthy goal. These are “high quality collectable sculpture suited for placement in commercial foyers, luxury homes and innovative garden design” (from the website).

None of it attracted or excited or drew me. The sculptures weren’t big exactly, but they were all a bit more than domestic in scale. They were pretty much static, balanced. Durable.

It was quite enlightening really, to go to an exhibition that I thought would grab me but didn’t.


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