Posts Tagged 'UWA-P3-other'

UWA-WA1:P3 Review

My tutor has suggested that after finishing the exercises in a Part of the course I take some time to look for connections and comparisons between works.

The most obvious comparisons can be made about the nature of painting. Particularly when doing a course like this which races through centuries, the history of modern painting seems to be a long series of move and countermove as artists react against their predecessors (or their previous selves) as they explore art. I started my study of this Part with Fauvism (see post 8-Dec-2014), noting those artists tended to be reacting against Impressionism, were anti-theoretical, and did not feel constrained to represent an objective world. Cézanne’s techniques (30-Jan-2014) were both additive and subtractive, making clearer the tension of artificial space, three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Very relevant here is a blog post by my tutor, Gerald Deslandes, in which he commented on a recent exhibition in which the organisers focused on the particular light of the Mediterranean (see, allowing perceptual Impressionism to be followed by conceptual Post-Imnpressionism. “Their argument was that only as a direct result of their exposure to the Mediterranean, did artists come to concern themselves with the flatness of the picture plane and with the expressive power of their emotions. Hence no longer were they concerned with merely copying nature through the conventions of perspective” (Deslandes, 2013).

Braque, previously a Fauvist, learnt from rather than reacted against Cézanne’s discoveries, shattering perspective and somehow creating volume without depth (9-Feb-2014). By the time of the abstract expressionists Clement Greenberg was able to assert that “Realist, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art. Modernism used art to call attention to art” (27-Dec-2013). Greenberg championed the work of Jackson Pollock, focused on the flat surface of the canvas and the physical presence of the paint, but was less convinced by later works such as Blue Poles, where a hierarchy of sorts was re-introduced (26-Dec-2013). Pop art (7-Feb-2014) reacted against the heroic gestures of abstract expressionism, downplaying the hand of the artist. Space was flattened, but there was a definite foreground and background. I’ve had a post about conceptual art semi-written for some time, hoping for the right moment to finish it. The label covers a wide range of artistic practice but could include a total absence of the artist’s hands, either with assistants following instructions to create the artwork (as with Sol Le Witt) or by regarding the concept itself as sufficient.

Only a slight digression from the above, one comparison I find interesting involves use of space. Cézanne created space, contracted, expanded and distorted it (30-Jan-2014). Braque created space without distance using the relationships of parts (9-Feb-2014). The interesting addition is Henry Moore (15-Dec-2013). The space between the components of Hill Arches both separate and connect the work. It gives the viewer something to work with, to engage with. It also makes the location, the space around, a significant part of the sculpture.

Together with the nature of painting, the role and status of the artist has continued to evolve. It’s not a recent thing. Arachne’s fate was determined by her challenge to the authority of the goddess Minerva. Peter Paul Rubens’ Pallas and Arachne (see post 8-July-2013) shows the proud young Arachne at work at her loom, the artistic triumph of her tapestry, and the vengeful response of the goddess to such presumption. Painted in 1854, Courbet’s Bonjour M. Courbet ( shows the deferential attitude of collector Bruyas and his servant to the artist Courbet – a free man with his feet firmly in nature. During his life Cézanne was famous amongst other painters but by the time of Jackson Pollock the idea of the heroic, tortured and flawed artist was well established (post 26-Dec-2013). Later artists including Andy Warhol have very consciously sought celebrity (7-Feb-2014). When it came to Yoko Ono, I was so conscious of her celebrity status that I found it difficult to see the art (31-Jan-2014).

Contemporary politics, particularly the expansion of Europe, colonialism and post-colonialism has been examined in a number of works. Rembrandt’s Two old men disputing (13-Sep-2013) has a globe in the background which reflects the thirst for knowledge as well as wealth in the society of the time. The vanitas still life paintings around the same period responded to the religious unease of some in Holland when spending the new wealth that exploration and trading provided (11-Jan-2014). The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville demonstrates an imperial power’s ability to take a country by force and to write a history that makes themselves heros for doing it (24-Oct-2013). Whether that action was for economic or political purposes is not clear. Europe’s colonial and economic might has faded over the years. The American Abstract Expressionist movement was heavily influenced by the Second World War, the related arrival of many Europeans in America, the relocation of the cutting edge of art to New York. The Cold War also played a part (27-Dec-2013). Currently, proppaNOW is a highly political collective, raising the concerns of urban aboriginal Australians (5-Jan-2014). The ongoing discrimination and disadvantage highlighted by this group is the direct result of European politics and colonisation. The politics shown in the other works I have mentioned is indirect, reflective of their times. ProppaNOW is deliberate and focused. As Richard Bell declares, “There is no better platform for politics than art … this way I don’t get arrested”. Finally I’d like to reference my recent Reflection (16-Feb-2014). While talking about art rather than art itself, the remarks that concerned me came I believe from a post-imperial mindset.

I hope to continue to explore some of these themes in later assignment choices.

Deslandes, G. (2013) Aix Marks the Spot: Post-Impressionists, Rodin, Photography, Contemporary Art [online] Available from (Accessed 2-Mar-2014)

UA1-WA:P3 Review
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life


A few weeks ago I received an email from someone I know who reads my blog – let’s call him / her “Sam”. Sam made a connection between Turner’s The Wrecked Female Convict Ship, the Amphitrite: Women and Children Abandoned in a Gale (see 12-Oct-2013) and The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville (see 24-Oct-2013). Sam suggested one could compare the reactions of the captain on the ship with those of the defenders at Rorke’s drift, each facing an elemental onslaught – one by nature the other by the Zulu – one deserting his post the others standing resolute.

I had an instant reaction of outrage – comparing the Zulu to acts of nature is to dehumanise them, making them a mindless force that the valiant British face with courage, rather than a valiant people fighting for their country against invaders. It is racism, totally unacceptable and abhorrent.

Sam I think had no intention to be racist. Her / his idea was about otherness and the choices made by someone faced by an overwhelming external force. The racism inherent in this may be unconscious, but it is there and insidious and deeply wrong.

However Sam is a person who knows a lot more about some things than I do. So I had to question this automatic response I felt. Was this instinctive reaction misplaced? For example, is it appropriate in scholarly debate to consider ideas which one finds anathema? In the end, no. There are some things that are bedrock and cannot be called into question. Respect for the fundamental humanity of each individual is part of my bedrock. My very vague recollections of Descartes is that he gave precedence to the bedrock of his God before he started building again with “I think therefore I am”. Yes, that may have been politically expedient, but one could get lost forever in loops of cynicism. For me, I am less human if I deny the humanity of others. For me a debate premised on the non-humanity of others is meaningless and dangerous and racist.

Could it be that Sam was considering the attitudes of most people at the time those two paintings were produced? Given our wider discussion, which I haven’t repeated here, I don’t think so. Possibly I am mistaken – in which case part of the fault is mine, but I think if discussing anathema one should be very clear about placing it at a distance. Personally I would prefer to avoid it altogether.

“Personally” is a revealing word. While researching ProppaNow (see 5-Jan-2014) I read the phrase “scratch a white Australian and you’ll find a racist”. I so much don’t want that to be true, and fear that in my case it is. Australia is built on racism. I “own” the land my house is built upon on the basis of terra nullius – on the basis of a lie. Yet this country is my home and I love it. Sam is from a country that has not been conquered in centuries. I can’t speak for Sam and his/her country, but in Australia racism is active and current and toxic and must be called out and challenged where-ever it is found. I will not treat it as an intellectual curiosity.

Is this censorship of myself and others? Of a sort. I don’t like censorship but fighting racism, making sacrifices to address the wrongs done and the ongoing disadvantage of Australian indigenous people is more important. And on a personal level it’s not actually censorship or a sacrifice to try to act like the person I would like to be.

This may make me less of a scholar, this emotional reaction. So be it. I think it really means that I am making my studies relevant to myself and my life. I first noticed this back near the beginning of the course when I mused about the meaning of being Australian (see 26-Apr-2013). I noted difficulties about past ideas and attitudes when researching the Enlightenment (10-Oct-2013). I chose proppaNOW as my focus on art in the last thirty years (see 5-Jan-2014). I was in Canberra again for a few days this week and went to the National Portrait Gallery ( as part of my preparation for Assignment 4. The artworks I have chosen to research will continue the theme.

Related reading: A recent newspaper opinion piece suggests cautious optimism for progress – once impossible, now extremely difficult. See Gordon, M. (2014) “Five reasons to be optimistic” In The Age 15-February-2014 [online] Available from (Accessed 15-Feb-2014)

Edit 3-March-2014: There are many ways of measuring physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. A very blunt indicator is life expectancy. 2 in 3 Indigenous Australians died before age 65 (2004–2008) compared to 1 in 5 non-Indigenous Australians. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Exhibition: Yoko Ono. War is Over! …

ono_bannerI visited this exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney this week. Click here for the exhibition webpage.

The fine print below the title, not readable on the banner is if you want it.

I went to a talk about the exhibition last November, together with other OCA students Kath, Claire (her post on the exhibition here), and Jackie (exhibition posts here and here). The ticket I purchased then has been sitting in my wallet for over two months. I finally got there in the last weeks of the exhibition because I thought I “ought” to.

I resisted it. I expected to be irritated by it. I was right.

At least in part this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went in with reservations, negative expectations – and I found / interpreted material to confirm them. This is a Very Bad Thing for an art history student to do. I didn’t go down without a fight (nice word in this context!). I tried to challenge myself, tried to try to find things interesting, thought provoking, enlightening – but there it is. If I had to sum up this exhibition in three words they would be “pretentious, sanctimonious twaddle”.

My first concerns related to the celebrity / John Lennon thing and the age of much of the material. This is at least in part the result of decisions by the MCA curator. There was quite a bit of John Lennon to be seen in the exhibition and quite a lot of the works had their origins in the late 1960s. Condemning war, promoting peace and understanding are still good messages, but can’t we expect a little more nuance, a little more depth, some development after 40+ years? It just looks a bit dated and … stuck. There was a really intense period in Ono’s life and she can’t leave it behind. Of course with the celebrity thing, we won’t let her.

Yoko Ono Glass keys to open the skies 1967.  Four glass keys in perspex box with brass hinges

Yoko Ono
Glass keys to open the skies
1967. Four glass keys in perspex box with brass hinges

An example. A 1967 work with a title that means … what? Open the skies??

(Apologies as always about the rubbish photo. Shots of clear glass and perspex are not straightforward.)

This was one of a series of work displayed together, and on a nearby wall was a later series.

Yoko Ono Bronze Age: Keys to open the skies 1966/1988 Artwork painted bronze

Yoko Ono
Bronze Age: Keys to open the skies
1966/1988 Artwork painted bronze

The basic form and scale of the keys was the same. The associated signage included a little story, where in 1987 Ono had been distressed when someone suggested she work in bronze. Then she realized that the air had a “special shimmer” in the 60s. She was still holding on to that. She had to move into the 80s – bronze could become a “warm shimmer instead of the dead weight”. “Eighties is OK. It has to do.”

That sense of nostalgia, of holding on despite herself to past glory days, felt to me a dead weight in the exhibition.

Yoko Ono Helmets - Pieces of sky 2001 / 2013

Yoko Ono
Helmets – Pieces of sky (detail)
2001 / 2013

Another of my concerns was fuzzy logic and pious, portentous phrases with no actual content.

In this work we are presented with military helmets (apparently different origins in different installations) suspended from the ceiling. In each helmet are jigsaw pieces showing areas of sky.

ono_04There is a little note from Ono – “Take a piece of sky. Know that we are all part of each other”. Apparently the hope is that on some unspecified future day in some unspecified future way we will all get together and somehow make the pieces fit together “to build a beautiful new sky.”

I chose not to take a jigsaw piece.
I had more time for this participatory work. As the game progresses, if you can’t tell who owns each piece how can you compete? I still find the commentary from Ono stilted: “Ideally this leads to a shared understanding of (our) mutual concerns and a new relationship based on empathy rather than opposition. Peace is then attained on a small scale.”

Some of the other issues I can point to curator selection, language differences… This one I found squirmingly awful.

The message: We’re all the same. In the end we all amount to a bottle of water. Look at this shelf of bottles of water all the same.

Except the artist has chosen to name her bottles of water. Mary Shelley, Osama bin Laden, Virgin Mary, Nikolai Gogol, Isaac Newton, John Cage… There was a long row and given the number of names I recognized it seems reasonably likely that the rest are my ignorance rather than their obscurity. If the artist had named the bottles John and Mary or equivalents in every language and alphabet available the work might have resonated. Instead she chose to restrict her choices to a certain class of people – we’re all equal but some are more equal than others. (thank you Mr Orwell – I didn’t see his name but it could have been there somewhere).

It’s a long time since the 1960s. We can’t get things just by wanting them. I’m sorry I wasn’t proved wrong by this exhibition.


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