Thursday, December 30, 2010

James Turrell at the National Gallery - 30 December

I have been looking forward to checking out this installation for quite a while.  James Turrell is an enigmatic American artist I had read about a couple of years ago when I was living in the US (really good NY times article here).  He has been working on turning a huge crater in Arizona into a vast piece of art.  He takes commissions around the world to finance work on the crater which has been going for 30+ years.  This was his first work in Australia and seeing as how we were spending Christmas in the Southern Highlands it was only going to be another 90 minutes down the Hume to the National Gallery.

Well I wasn't to be disappointed here.  This is an amazing piece of work and must be seen to be truly appreciated.  Turrell is famous for his 'skyspaces' which are basically big rooms with a hole in the roof.  His one in Canberra is called
"Within without" and is located inside a big earthen pyramid on the site of the old carpark.  You go down a path inside the pyramid and see this big stone stupa inside, this is where the viewing room is.  It would be great to be here at dawn or dusk but we enjoyed our visit in the early afternoon. 

A great way to end the year art wise.  Points - 3 for Turrell, if I had the cash (and the space) I would want a skyspace.  2 for the NGA - thumbs up for commissioning this new work.  1 point to my little art critics who were reasonably well behaved on our visit (and didn't splash in the reflecting pool too much!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dobell Prize - 6 December

We checked out this years Dobell Prize for Drawing at the Art Gallery of NSW during the week. Calling itself the most respected award for drawing in Australia (maybe it is, I can't think of another) but deliberately not defining what constitutes a drawing in the conditions of entry leads me to think the Dobell trustees are trying to manufacture controversy. I thought the only controversy this year was that the winner, Suzanne Archer's Derangement, wasn't very good. Did have some colour in there with the use of the pastels and it was easily one of the bigger works but probably wouldn't have taken the chockies if yours truly was the sole judge (yes only one judge here, Alun Leach-Jones the responsible party this year).

On one hand there were some excellent examples of pencil draughtmanship, Catherine O'Donnell's #19 being one example of finely detailed work of an apartment building facade. But on the other there were some entries I think I could have easily dashed off a copy of, Katherine Hattam's ink and liquid paper Snakes and Ladders comes to mind. Fiona Fenech's triptych of thread and collage and pen didn't meet my definition of drawing but around the corner from this I did like Betty Bray's ink Kimberley Rockface.

My own pick for the 2010 Dobell was Gino Palmieri's Untitled Drawing #13. This was a large geometric piece with pencil lines done with a ruler sitting on top of a charcoal background. The silver of the lead pencil worked well over the charcoal and had the AGNSW not had a no photos rule (or put images up on its website, sold postcards or not had attendants all around) would have been pictured above (instead we have the actual winner).

Points on the day were 3 to Gino, 2 to Catherine O'Donnell for some actual drawing and 1 to Betty.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

National Art School grad exhibition - 4 December

We like checking out emerging artists at big lamington and they don't get more emerging than the graduate exhibition at the National Art School. It is on in the galleries there until 14 December but the first weekend had the studio spaces open as well. The 3 year old art critic and I went along on a sunny Saturday afternoon to check out the offerings ...

I was really impressed by some of the work the students had on show, and was also a little surprised to see that quite a lot of it was for sale. But that's commercialism and HECS for you I guess. We didn't make any purchases but I did make a serious enquiry on behalf of the junior collector. She was quite taken by one of Zoe Walford's images. Hers were all pop style collage / painting on board. One of them included a very striking purple pony which naturally caught the eye of someone who herself collects this theme in depth. Zoe's other images of a Japanese nurse probably weren't suitable for a childs bedroom so on we went.

Another little thing I noticed were the number of awards handed out to the graduating class. The first time I saw it I thought to myself, oh congratulations, X has won the prize. But by the time I saw the 5th or 6th marker advertise this I was a little less impressed. It was lucky I saw ceramicist [bear with me while we try and locate our notes and get the artists name!] early and was impressed by her prize winning work. She had a couple of pieces in the main gallery and we saw more of her work, including a nifty little video, in the studio.

The Big Lamington prize, if awarded this year, would have gone to Angus Fisher (don't worry readers, he had won another prize) whose bird print of a north american turkey could have gone straight to my pool room (or more appropriately, library). The Little Lamington prize, again if awarded, would have gone to Stephanie Gallagher for her work endless space (pictured).

The committee awarded the points this week, 3 for Stephanie (the "tents" as they were referred to left a lasting impression), 2 for Angus and 1 for Zoe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Melbourne corporate art - 23 November

One of the interesting aspects of being an investment banker that I have been able to visit offices all over the world. Sometimes they are memorable spaces (such as Presidio in San Francisco) and sometimes they are not (think any hotel conference room).  This last week I have been down in Melbourne working on a deal that saw me snooping around the executive floor of a large listed corporate down in the docklands precinct.  So what did they have on the walls?

The room I spent most of the time in was dominated by the Elizabeth Nakamarra work (pictured above) called Water Dreaming.  I mostly subscribe to the contemporary (aboriginal) artist Richard Bell's view that aboriginal art is a white persons thing but I did like this piece. 

Unfortunately I wasn't given full run of the floor so only squizzed a couple of other pieces which included a large (and uninspiring but recognizable) Tim Storrier, a medium size John Kelly (he of the expensive cow paintings) and another large aboriginal piece by Greeny Petyarre.  A pair of digital prints by Young Zerunge (aka Hong Kong and Australian artist John Young) caught my eye so I did a little research on him.  He is represented by the Michael Reid gallery in Sydney and actually lists this corporate collection on his resume.  Not so amazing when you consider this resume, of an artist I have only just heard of, runs to 16 pages and can be downloaded in pdf.  Methinks the punters need to be sold a little on this guys importance prior to parting with the scratch required for one of his large colour printouts!

Verdict: nice building and from the glimpses I saw a decent, if fairly safe, corporate collection.  Points: 3 - Elizabeth Nakamarra; 2 - Young Zerunge; 1 - Greeny.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

FONAS plate auction - 4 November

The Friends of the National Art School (otherwise known as 'FONAS') hold an annual fundraiser where they get established and emerging artists, NAS alumni and other prominent Australians to decorate plates that are then auctioned off. This was my first plate auction and the collector in me was jonesing to add a plate to the big lamington collection.

The auction was held in the cell block theatre, a wonderful old sandstone building on the NAS campus. Scattered around the walls were about 150 plates. 10 plates expected to make the most were to be auctioned live with the remained going by silent auction at lists around the room.

There was some spirited bidding on the live lots with most going for $2,000+. The pick for me was the Reg Mombassa, famous for his mambo illustrations. Other big names that the punters were after were Euan MacLeod, Peter Godwin and Elisabeth Cummings. I would've bought a Norman Hetherington but my ceiling was $500 and he made $800. Norman who you ask? Well you would've realised if you saw the plate - a big Mr Squiggle. Norman (the man behind, or above, the puppet that introduced every Australian child of my generation to drawing) is an NAS alum and contributes a plate every year - maybe I need to up my budget for 2011!

It was a real mixed bag for the balance. I liked the Octopus by Jan King, the Bison by Sophie Hopmeier and didn't mind the plates by Kim Spooner. However, my pick was the doughnut plate by Madeleine Hayes - she was in the postgrad show we just saw having just completed her honours year in ceramics. It was the only plate that had gone beyond painting and had added some sculptural elements. Less dishwasher friendly but more memorable. A heated silent bidding war erupted on this plate but yours truly won the day by deploying standard eBay practice (sniping in at the last minute) and by being willing to pay $320 which was at the higher end of the silent lots with some going for around $100 which was the minimum bid.

It took a while for everyone to pay up and the MBA in me thought the processing could have been better organised but once my credit card had been processed I was able to walk away with my plate that very night. A good night out, FONAS - pencil me in for 2011.

Points: 3 - Reg Mombassa, if I was prepared to drop $2k you would have been mine; 2 - Madeleine Hayes, obviously I thought hers was the pick of the bunch; 1 - Mr Squiggle! When is the ABC going to put this out on dvd? Seriously, I need to educate my children on these key cultural matters ...

White Rabbit visit - 4 November

White Rabbit is a privately owned space, named presumably for the owners affinity for South Sydney rugby league given its location in an old factory in Chippendale.

This houses the contemporary chinese art collection of the Neilsen family who made heaps of scratch in funds management. The gallery staff tell you that the founder has been collecting chinese art for over 10 years. I believe this is meant to impress. Well this visitor has kicked the bricks in moganshu lane (probably the main shanghai contemporary gallery precinct) back in 2005 and picked up a healthy scepticism of this next big thing back then. Sure there is some decent art but the branding of it is definitely 'Chinese', and China as a country is certainly rising but does that mean the art is getting more important? I think that if there were a billion Fijians and they were running a huge trade surplus with the rest of the world then spaces like White Rabbit would be full of tapa cloth and tribal carvings. Anyhoo, on to the show ...

White Rabbit is currently hosting their 3rd show, the Big Bang. One of the attendants confided to me that this one is much weaker than the first two. Despite this I liked quite a few things.

I liked the happy balloon men of He Jia but saw a little too much Koons in them, knock offs not being a big issue for the Chinese! I was pleasantly surprised to recognise a piece - Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds which is creating controversy at the Tate (originally you could walk over them but me thinks people were pocketing souvenirs hence it was closed to public due to "porcelain dust"). White Rabbit have half a ton and Ai told them he would only make 2 tons. Well he made 150 tons for the Tate (over 100 million seeds). An artist lied about editioning? Well I never.

My favourite piece was 'the correct road' by Xu Xiaoguo which references propaganda art that this right winger is particularly fond of. Wang Jiuliang's large scale photos of rubbish dumps around Beijing proved the adage that if you make a photo large enough and hang it in a gallery it will look like art. Same goes for Yang Fudong's black and white photos of a night out in Shanghai. I happened to be passing this when the guided tour was on and the explanation on this work confirmed my suspicions that the backstory was more involved than the composition.

The best photography art (also on a much smaller scale) was the identity series by the Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso. I would have happily picked up a postcard of this, if the front desk actually had any postcards from the current show (all available images are from the first 2 shows). For a gallery that wants to enforce a no photography rule they need to lift their game here.

Points: 3 - the space, hats off to the Neilsens for doing this, more Australians that have the means should. I would too if I had the cash (and I hope I'd do as good as these guys). 2 - Xu Xiaoguo, keep up the good work. 1 - the kitschy aprons the gallerinas get to wear. They are black with the red chinese peony fabric trim, just like some boxer shorts I had made for me when travelling in Asia in 2004, saved me 20 clams at the gift store. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kate Shaw at Sullivan + Strumpf - 2 November

Kate Shaw has her opening on the Thursday night but we managed to sneak in on Tuesday for a look see. Sullivan + Strumpf is one of big lamington's favourite galleries and the Mrs is quite keen on Kate's work so things were looking good.

We had seen a documentary on Kate's landscapes as part of a show on the Wynne prize so were familiar with how she works. Which is to say she does these paint pours on paper, then cuts all these colourful shapes out and makes collage landscapes and then encases them in resin.

Despite being in early there were a few pieces that had sold. Thankfully for me the triptych that the Mrs liked the look of (1/3 of it is pictured on the top left). This was also the top priced item at $11.5k. I liked the look of Canyonlands which was one of the cheaper ones at $1,800 and would have been happy to add Neuron to the collection. This was a mid sized piece that had a tree shape and moon against a sky, the gallery used it on the card that announced the exhibition and again, reasonably priced at $2,200. Other favourites were El Dorado and an intriguing video work.

All in all a solid show and whilst there were some pieces we liked there wasn't one that was an immediate absolute must have for us. That said, we will be putting ourselves on the list for her next show to see if we can't find the right one for us. Keep up the good work Kate. It will be interesting to go back on the weekend to see how the exhibition is selling.

Points: 3 - projected futures, top price and strongest work although we would have been happy to turn it into a diptych by buying the left part. 2 - Glitter Gulch, 1 - Neuron.

National Art School postgrad show - 2 November

So my staycation is not going to plan. It is Tuesday and I am not in the office, two of the kids are in daycare and where am I? Well it is raining so golf is out which means there are a couple of galleries to check out. First up was the postgrad show at the national art school.

If you have never been to NAS you should put it on your list, primarily just for the campus. Located in the old (very old - c. 1840) Darlinghurst Gaol the galleries are all in lovely sandstone jails and cell blocks that have had the bars taken out and the walls painted white. The postgrad show covers students completing their MFA (masters in fine arts) or doing an honours year in their BFA (bachelors). About 40+ students all told exhibiting their work in 3 galleries.

It was great to look at the student's work and compare that to the emerging artists you see at galleries.  It will be interesting to see whether we see some of these students in a few years time as practicing artists in their own rights doing solo shows and the like.

Points: 3 - Criena Court, she is meant to major in painting but her exhibit was a plywood structure about waist height that had a floor and two walls, one with a mirror and one with a black and white print of a minimalist living room. Maybe I just liked the chairs! 2 - Either Todd Fuller or Alex Jackson Wyatt - process of elimination based on where the student said his work was, he was just about to graduate and was working in the cell block section and was good to talk to. 1 - Darlo Gaol, great to be back on a campus.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Joan Ross at GBK - 30 October

Next up was Joan Ross at GBK (acronyms come in handy when the full name is 'gallery barry keldoulis'). In my opinion this left Ben Quilty at grantpirrie for dead. GBK also took it up a notch in terms of Saturday staffing and had three gallerists on duty. I assume Barry his-self was present but no one really introduces themselves these days, and I certainly don't until I get my three year old out of there without breaking anything.

'Enter at your own risk' as the artists show is called lives up to its name as both my daughter and I had to don bright fluoro yellow vests to see the show. We both loved the gimmick. The main part of the show is this living room of essentially op shop finds that have been 'upcycled' into what GBK is hoping the punters consider art at reasonably high prices.

My daughter, demonstrating a precocious talent for spotting the good stuff, settled on a large ceramic dog that had been painted fluoro yellow - yours for $4,500. I am a bargain hunter at heart and would have settled for a small ceramic bird that had a fluoro yellow vinyl hammerhead looking head piece attached to it - a steal at $900. At least I assume it was - you had to look at the room sheet which had a list of works and prices and then a low res photo of the room where these pieces could be found. A reasonably hard task given the names of most pieces didn't really correspond to their form. My bird was called, I think, 'Pirate of the Tasman'.
Moving into the backyard we came across a series that would be happily added to the family collection. 'When I grow up I want to be a forger' is a video piece that was meant to have been commissioned by the Newcastle art gallery for their exhibit 'curious colony'. I will definitely be checking this show out when it comes to Sydney in the new year. My daughter loved this one and we watched it many times, mainly I think as some of the small red characters look like the pontypines from in the night garden, I am not sure this is what the artist intended. By the third viewing this piece had grown on me but luckily for our bank account the video was all sold out, this only being an edition of 5 plus one A/P. I am not really across the mechanics of video work but couldn't we burn another DVD? If anyone bought this I am very willing to purchase a pirated copy! The name of the work is practically daring people to forge a couple of extras. Maybe next week I just take my flip video camera and make my own shaky version, appropriation Richard Prince style ...

I would've happily settled for a print that came out of the video. There are three different but similar images of 'Once upon a time in Great Parrotland" which are an homage to colonial artist Joseph Lycett (which yours truly, without knowing it actually guessed - I put it down to growing up in the Hunter). At $3,500 for an edition of 5 I thought these prints were pushing it a little (given a digital print is just a big photo blow-up). Oh and by the way mounting the print was an extra $380 as the room sheet helpfully pointed out. Please, $3.5k and now I need to mount this photocopy? Anyway ....

My three year old art critic by now had wandered off to explore the stockroom. She didn't think much of Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy's lego works (I agreed, Daddy could smash those guys at lego). She did however, love Sean's shopping trolley mash up (two shopping trolleys joined like siamese twins) and passed this feedback on to the gallerists upon departure.

Points: 3 - the video work, 2 - Parrotland prints, 1 - Sean's shopping trolley (the fluoro vests get an honorable mention).

Ben Quilty at grantpirrie - 30 October

First art review for big lamington and I'm not sure the Ben Quilty show at grantpirrie will get us off to the start we wanted. I was looking forward to visiting this gallery. I haven't really ventured back into Redfern since returning to Sydney after many years in the states. But as any former Bourke street boy will tell you, you can take the boy out of Bourke street but you can't take the Bourke street out of the boy. And if you understand where I am going with this please write and tell me.

Anyhoo, the space is pretty promising. All white walls, sparse former warehouse and polished concrete floors. I didn't really know what to expect as their website is blocked at the office (maybe our IT department is doing its own art criticism) but had read the blurb on the art magazine website so had an idea of what was on show. I liked a few of the evolution of captain cook paintings. It's not exactly a new idea but executed reasonably well. I had no idea what the bird cage had to do with it all and grantpirrie, despite having two gallerinas on hand on a fairly empty Saturday afternoon, didn't really assist with matters.

We moved on to their second room which had a few prints of Abi Alice. On the room sheet, grantpirrie had actually deigned to provide prices for Abi's works. The 3 year old art critic who was accompanying me took a shine to this graphical work and had soon picked two that she liked. Unfortunately she is a little too young to understand that "giclee" is a fancy art gallery term for large colour photocopy and that Daddy doesn't think they should sell for an amount that has a comma. She was satisfied with the artist post card at the front desk, which is just as well.

On our way out the gallerina's helpfully suggested we check out the kaleidoscope installation in their window around the corner. We like kaleidoscopes and installations so high tailed it around the corner to be sorely disappointed by Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forwards's collobaration. It might work in the home but the angle of attack, the smudgy window, and the fairly dodgy home made viewing tube (I cannot actually confirm whether it is a kaleidocope) resulted in five minutes of my precious weekend time lost for not much.

Points: 3 - Abi's spirals, 2 - Ben's painting, Lack of information at the gallery - 1.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Start baking ...

Welcome to the Big Lamington! Tea towels will be available in the gift shop shortly. For now it's just a blog but when my powerball ticket hits it will be built in the style of the Big Prawn (ie all shiny and fibreglass) somewhere - maybe Prada Marfa style in the middle of nowhere or perhaps Waterloo if I follow all the other Sydney commercial galleries in flocking to Sydney's inner south.

While I am waiting for my lucky numbers to come up I'll be checking out the galleries and museums in and around Sydney with the occasional jaunt to foreign climes. The criticism and reviews presented herein are my own and my taste in art is probably best described as 'all over the shop' so I encourage everyone not to take just my word for it but to get out and have a look see at the shows for yourself.

To go with my 'rugby match report' writing style and to keep it interesting I'll be handing out the points for each exhibition footy coach best & fairest style - 3, 2 and 1. Maybe the artist with the most points will get a big lamington pewter mug at the end of season award night (as Australia needs more arts awards!)