Friday, April 29, 2011

Alexander Seton artist studio visit - 29 April

For me, the great thing about the MCA young ambassador program is the artist studio visit. This was confirmed again by the trip out to Alexander Seton's studio in Enmore. I was familiar with Alexander's work from his shows at Sullivan & Strumpf. He is a sculptor that works in marble so not surprisingly there was marble dust everywhere - and that is not a euphemism. He is currently working on his next solo show at Jan Murphy gallery up in BrisVegas and from what I saw it looks like it will be a cracker.

Alex's work uses a lot of visual tricks - you want to touch the marble to make sure it really is stone. One work is carved so that a sheet looks draped over a body. In another corner there is a sheet draped over a machine - another clever sculpture? No that was a real sheet, but you had to look twice. My favourite pieces were his flag series - we are big fans of flags over here at Big Lamington. I preferred the ones that he had hanging off little metal poles - he has also painted some symbols on them. He has another flag work inspired by the Afghanistan war - 23 folded Australian flags (to represent the war casualties). These are marble carvings of how an Australian flag is officially folded to give to the family of the dead. Not sure if that is sold as one job lot of 23 or by the piece. Will have to email Jan closer to the time and find out. There is a lot of work in these and they get pretty pricey so am not sure Alex is going to grace the Big Lamington collection anytime soon but they do get the tick of approval.

Points - 3 to Alex, a very gracious host with an interesting little studio. One thing I learnt was that he has a couple of assistants who help out and do specific tasks and even some of the flag multiples. 2 points to the Hon RJ Hawke, who has recorded a video message for the upcoming show. I am a diehard liberal but even I don't mind the Silver Budgie. 1 point must go to the assistants who were thanked by Alex but don't themselves get all that much limelight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Archibald, Wynne and Sulman at AGNSW - 27 April

I actually checked this out with the whole family back on its first weekend. But if you have ever taken three kids aged three and under to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman then you will be able to appreciate how fleeting that first visit was. The kids saw some stuff they liked and then were off and racing. Which is why I am back at the AGNSW in my lunchbreak forking out another ten bones to see this gig.

Which is just as well because at last the requisite controversy has erupted courtesy of Richard Bell (contemporary aboriginal artist and guest judge of this years Sulman). I actually thought the awards were all handed out by the trustees so at least it has also educated a lot of people to how the comps work. Here is the scandel here, but the gist of it is that Richard Bell narrowed it down to some works chosen fairly haphazardly, wrote those down on scraps of paper, laid them out on a table and then tossed a coin. Wherever it landed - winner! I am fine with this, it does highlight how subjective all these prizes really are, and long time readers (all 3 of you) will know I am a believer of Bell's Theorem which is that aboriginal art is a white mans thing. Now the eventual winner of the Sulman, Peter Smeeth, has come out and complained that this cheapens his win. Not in my opinion - it is a great story, and also explains why this fairly ordinary work won the chockies. And I know you won't believe me now but had I posted on the 16th I would have said the Sulman was the weakest winner this year!

Enough of the scandal, on to the rest of the show. I really liked Michael Lindeman's Archibald entry - great combo of his classic text work and a portrait to boot. I also liked Del Kathryn Barton's - again a very recognisable style but am not sure Cate Blanchett was that recognizable in it (my wife, a big fan of celebrity spotting didn't even pick who it was meant to be). Not sure I would've given it to Quilty. I think his Moran winner was better (and what is with SMH critic John McDonald calling him young and fashionable? he is older than me!). The portrait subject figured large in my assessments so I found myself liking Geoff Dyer's David Walsh (I heart Mona) and disliking works like Lucy Culliton's Ray Hughes.

Onto the Wynne which comprises landscape and sculpture. Given the small painting won last year it was the turn of a really big ordinary sculpture to win this year. I didn't care for the motorbike on the back of the rickshaw. I was glad to see Nell get a guernsey for one of her sculptures and I did chuckle when I saw Graham Fransella had won the Trustees watercolour prize again (this must be like an annuity for him, hardly anyone enters any watercolours so he picks up this mini prize, awarded out of the Wynne field but just to the best watercolour - he has won it 5 times now, including four out of the last five). I liked Kate Shaw's entry and I hope she wins this one day as landscapes are really her thing but I don't think a triptych will do it (I think this one is yours for $11k but like most triptychs I would prefer just a single panel - I think she should just go all out with a big single frame next year).

Points, I'll give one to each category. 3 for Ken Yonetani's salt frame in the Sulman. I think it is a shame it is hanging outside the ticketed area as most punters will walk straight past this. They also got the 3 points for their blog entry explaining that they were cool with how the Sulman was judged. 2 for Lindeman's portrait - I am sure Richard Bell would agree with me voting for someone in the Big Lamington collection. 1 point for Kate Shaw, probably the only Wynne I would've wanted in my pool room.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter show!

Now those that know me (and I realise this blog isn't as anonymous as I would've liked but on the flipside I can also tell which artists google themselves) will know that I am a huge supporter of the Royal Easter Show. I even have a couple of ribbons from them! So it was natural I would head over to the Binnie Pavillion to check out the Arts & Crafts on Day 1 of this years show.

The show gets hundreds of exhibits in a range of categories. The works tend to steer closely to the traditional, quite understandable when you consider the traditional nature of the RAS itself. It has exhibited arts since 1869 which is considerably earlier than some of the better known Sydney prizes (1897 for the Wynne and 1921 for the Archibald). One of the things I like about the competitions at the Easter show, nowadays officially known as the 'Sydney Royal Arts & Crafts Show', is that not only do the judges hand out the first, second, third ribbons but the competitors are asked to name a price and the punters can walk off with whatever takes their fancy. I think everyone should go to the show - woodchopping and precision driving are the classic attractions but definitely put the Arts & Crafts on your itinerary.

Points - I never thought I would say this - 3 to me. There is a Big Lamington in the drawing section this year! No ribbons for the work but some clever collector (and totally unrelated party for all those that thought it was my mother) spotted a bargain on the preview night and has already put the red spot on my entry! I am back at the show over Easter and will hand out the remaining points then ...

Post script - 2 points for Jeanette Garben's Midnight Pony, given on acclamation from two of the junior collectors accompanying me who liked both the pony and the train in this still life (a bargain at $400 and yes, it is sold). 1 point to Garry Pettitt who picked up a few ribbons, the Presidents ribbon for his rural landscape 'Govett's Leap vista' (yours for $9,500, interestingly despite picking up a ribbon from the President the work did not get near the podium from the main judge, Cressida Campbell) and a 1st prize ribbon for his 'Life on the Land' in the figurative section ($5,000 for this one). Both still available, surely the punters are looking to drop a couple of grand on art right next to the showbag pavillion? In the tradition of the show I should also hand out 2 highly commended ribbons (although I note that judge Tina Spira in the miniature section didn't get that memo and only handed out one, a little ungenerous in my opinion). One will go to Susan Stafford for her watercolour 'Poppies Galore' (which won the blue ribbon in its category and is available for $1,000 although my wife has her eyes on it) and the other I will give to the Robyne Palmer's Black Cockatoo in Class 6, that would be the Australian Bird or Flower section, I think I she might have some competition next year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New acquisitions - Michael Lindeman

So we went and picked up our latest acquisition today which was quite exciting as I had never actually laid eyes on it. This sounds like a really novel approach to collecting art but we had a good idea of what it would look like. We had commissioned Michael Lindeman back in November to make one of his text paintings for us. Michael has been doing a series of these paintings that basically rip off ads in the trading post (pictured attached is his Sulman Prize winning work from 2010).

I really enjoyed his show at Sullivan & Strumpf last year and remember trying to picture a link between any of the advertisements in that show and any of the stuff we owned at home. There was a ad for a painting of Gosford Harbour by a Russian artist that I thought might have fit the bill until we had the better idea to ask Michael to make us our own ad. My wife had bought a painting of Sydney Harbour before we moved to the US that I thought should be the inspiration. It was by Ken Knight, an artist who has churned out quite a few of these scenes. Now Knight gained a certain notoriety when a shonky Sydney gallerist bought a few Knight's, signed them as Arthur Streeton and then sold them 3 times to different folks for their self managed super!! Well Ken Coles is out of business but it turns out someone had actually placed an ad for a Ken Knight painting that noted a couple of those points. Michael tracked down this real ad and then basically just did a bit of copyediting so it would fit in a couple of lines. Once we were agreed on the text it was off to the races. And we even got to put our suburb and phone number on it (which is why it ain't pictured here!)

Points - 3 to Michael for a really cool idea executed flawlessly, to quote 'the dude' it really ties the room together. 2 for his gallery that helped make this happen and 1 for Ken, as if we didn't have a Sydney Harbour painting then we wouldn't have needed the ad.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Julian Meagher at Gallery Ecosse - 9 April

The team was back in Exeter this weekend and given Ecosse sits between two of our favourite landmarks (the General Store for lunch and the Train Station for train spotting with my 2 year old son) it was only natural that we would pop in to see what was going on.

Julian Meagher's solo show was opening this evening and there were already quite a few red dots before noon. You could see why as it was a really interesting collection of works that was priced attractively - most of the smaller works ranged from $1,400 to $1,900 with mid size works around $4,000 and bigger ones approaching $10k. I recognized Julian's work from some of the art magazines - it is fairly recognizable given he mixes Chinese pottery with booze such as Jack Daniels bottles or VBs. This show also included some tattoo paintings which looked good but I probably wouldn't put into the home collection as I don't want to encourage the kids to get any tough stickers. As a former doctor he had also included a skull which was inspired by his medical texts, one of the last of a series of skulls he has been doing, better get in quick for that one.

Points. 3 for the skull, which would suit anyone collecting the sex and death theme, perhaps Mona? 2 for any of the combo chinese vase / booze paintings; and 1 point for the team at Ecosse - they even have Sunday openings down in Exeter, how very Lower East Side of them!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Akira Kamada at Gallery @ 28 - 6 April

Gallery @ 28 (which would likely have to do a rebranding exercise if they ever left 28 Queen street) always has something interesting in their front courtyard and their latest show is no different. I saw it being installed on my way to work on Monday so decided to see the show when it opened Wednesday evening.

Akira Kamada is a sculptor that has been a finalist in the Woollahra small sculpture prize and also exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea so his pieces really run the gamut of size and this extends to his prices. The piece out front is called "Chaos and harmony" and is pretty big, which probably means on a cubic foot basis it is the bargain of the show at $13k! It is basically similar in design to what he had at Sculpture by the sea although this time he has painted the inside of the large wooden frames orange. It was this basic shape that appealed to me out of all his smaller works, mostly called "Constructions". These range from $500 for raw wood up to $2,000 for a painted work with lots more frames ("Shape of love"). The gallery had them hanging on walls or sitting on benches but I think they missed a great opportunity to take a leaf out of Sarah Cottier's book and hang some of these from the ceiling as mobiles! I think that is what we would do here if we brought one home. The balance of the show didn't really appeal but finding one thing is usually enough to bring me back.

Points: 3 - the big one, if I had the space or the country place I'd definitely consider it; 2 points for construction (orange) and 1 point for construction (green), I preferred them with a bit of colour and it will be interesting to pop in and see what sells.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New acquisitions - Ben Lord's "Humaliwo Chambers"

There is one set of editions we are very fond of here at Big Lamington HQ - the Peter Norton Christmas Project. Now if you haven't heard of it there is some great background reading here. The quick story is that art aficionado and billionaire Peter Norton (heard of Norton antivirus for your computer?) has publised an annual art edition to celebrate the holiday season which he then sends to his closest 2,000 mates. Now try as we might Big Lamington isn't yet on Peter's Chrissie card list but, shock horror, some of the recipients have taken to flogging his present on eBay. I learnt about the whole story back in 2005 in an interesting New York times article (here) and have been collecting them ever since, mostly on eBay but even the Moma store has a few spares for certain years. Now the last couple of years I have been buying them off an art insider that works at an unnamed US museum so had been a little concerned that it was March and it had been radio silence from my contact. Turns out the 2010 gift was running a little late. The identity of the artist is a secret each year so I was really interested to see who it was ...

LA artist Ben Lord has done the 2010 project. Called the "Humaliwo Chambers" it has been described as a meditation on 10,000 years of California history. The gift includes three print portfolios of an imagined archeologic dig in Malibu (Humaliwo being the native American indian name from which Malibu is derived). The prints are doubles and come with a rather large stereoscopic viewer so you can appreciate them in a kind of low res 3D (Harvey Norman eat you heart out). Now interestingly, the artist has kept a couple of AP's which he is trying to sell on his website for USD $500, which with the rampant Aussie Dollar is not a bad deal (although you don't get Peter's cool chrissie card and extra little gift). Alternatively you can keep your eyes peeled on eBay where I have seen one come up already.

Why would someone want to buy another persons Christmas presents? Well, in my opinion this does qualify as museum quality art (although I won't say which museum!), and when you have all the editions up to 2009 it is pretty hard to avoid signing up for 2010 (or future projects for that matter). Collecting the annual project has been a great way to learn about new artists and get a really good survey of contemporary art over the last two decades. The Norton project has been graced by a couple of reasonably big names (usually early in their careers) such as Yasumasa Morimura (1995), Kara Walker (1997), Vik Muniz (1999), Takashi Murakami (2000) and Yinka Shonibare (2002) to name a few. My top picks from the past have been Yinka Shonibare, who did a dollhouse which was an exact replica of his house in London and the furniture all used his trademark dutch wax cloth (we have two, one for the kids to play with and one just for looking!). The Morimura piece was another favourite - a fan with a photo of him emulating Marilyn Monroe (coincidentally that picture is also on page 527 of this months art & australia magazine).

Points: 3 to Peter, as without a Norton it would be hard to have a Norton Project - a real inspiration and I hope to do my own Christmas edition one day (so I can send one to you!) 2 to Ben for a really involved project - I did feel like a kid on Christmas day as I opened my box and set up the prints in the viewer. And 1 point for all those that decide to 'regift' by selling - I wouldn't have been able to get to know about this without you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Huseyin Sami @ Sarah Cottier - 2 April

Sarah Cottier's gallery is a little bit out of the way on Nield avenue but what a great building, an old butcher shop cleaned up with the obligatory polished concrete floors and white walls. Even better for those with young art critics in tow is that the Dillon street reserve (3 swings and a slippery dip) is a few steps up the road and the Nield avenue maze is right next door. With extra curriculars like that yours truly was able to bargain a bit of gallery time on Saturday afternoon to check out the Huseyin Sami show - Prime Cuts.

I'd done a little bit of background reading on Sami and you would want to as otherwise you are looking at large colorful collages that don't really make much sense. He makes the raw material by putting house paint in a self made painting machine that drips the paint out everywhere before cutting up these sheets of dried paint and collaging the "cut" series of paintings (yours for $4,500 for the largest works, 152 x 111cm, most of them still available including the one pictured above left). I was actually drawn to the mobiles he had made by wrapping this dried paint around wire (above right). Free wall space is a luxury at Big Lamington HQ (and this is before two large commissions arrive!) so the idea of utilising the ceiling is appealing. These "summer mobiles" as Sami calls them come in all colours and two different sizes ($1,750 for the small and $3,000 for the large). My daughter loved them as well but then again she already has a few mobiles in her collection. I didn't really get the "summer" part of the title but guess given its only April these 2011 works were made in that season. There was also a series of smaller (45 x 36cm) print looking acrylics on canvas which shared the bargain status of $1,750 but didn't appeal to me - smaller than, and not as colourful as the "Cut's".

Points - 3 for the mobiles, I'd like one but would struggle to get it past the new acquisitions committee. 2 for the cut paintings which I think are probably priced incorrectly given they are visually arresting but are all still available two weeks in. 1 for the maze next door, and yes we did make it to the middle and found our way back out - three times!