Saturday, May 30, 2015
Tony Schwensen at Sarah Cottier - 30 May
"If you liked how Tom Polo became an emerging art star without learning to paint, then you are going to love how Tony Schwensen has been able to sustain a career retrospective with a $200 Bunnings voucher" - Irvine Welch
Okay, so that quote is made up. But I was made to think of the transpotting novelist's collection of short stories when I toured around this solo show at Sarah Cottier.
And it might surprise you that, on the whole, I didn't mind it. But that was mainly due to the presence of 'Border Protection Assistance / Proposed Monument to the Torres Strait (Am I ever going to see your face again?)'. This work from 2002 (pictured top), mainly appealed due to the use of the famous Angels crowd refrain as an apt summary of Australia's approach to illegal maritime arrivals. Most of the other pieces seemed needlessly conceptual. Namely, Monument to Progressing Thought (aka the wheelbarrow on the car stands) and Elegy to the Australian Republic (aka the pvc pipes set in concrete in buckets with the coloured lights). But I may have just been reacting to the titles. This guy has a PhD in art, I wondered if his thesis might have been "Alternatives to the use of (Untitled) in contemporary art". Tony was at it again around the corner. Here is a room with vinyl letters spelling out Nothing Makes You Free in three languages. This title is a beauty: 'The Indelible Stain of the White Australia Policy / or the gates of Manus Island / or for all the lucky cunts in the lucky country'. My problem with it, is that all the work is in the artist statement, the actual idea is very lazy (the analogy to Auschwitz's work makes you free). Is there a contemporary art version of Godwin's Law where the first artist to link Australia's immigration policies to Nazism has to give back all their Australia Council grants?
Points: I am going to give 3 to the Torres Monument. I will give 2 points to the party lights because I am a republican and will give 1 point to 'The Idiot' (aka the steel bucket with speedos stretched around it with concrete and a steel post). This was at least easier to guess the subject given the literal metaphor that red speedos have become (for better or worse, but I'm a sunburnt lobster type of guy myself).