Monday, July 22, 2013

Niesche / Goran / Sampson at Firstdraft - 20 July

There are four galleries at firstdraft and three shows on at present which means someone is double parked.  Hopefully the combined impact of what is here can make up for it!  The current shows are on until August and include Jonny Niesche with a show called 'Too many heroes', Simonne Goran with 'The colour of shadows' and Lizzy Sampson with 'Dollars and sense'.

I was here primarily to see Jonny Niesche's latest work.  I've seen his stuff a few times now (at RoslynOxley last August and at Galerie pompom just the other month) and it is really growing on me.  Even the logicsticks (giant wooden poles covered in glitter, pictured below) seem like something I need to have in the house, although the one in this show at 3m long is starting to a bit large for most domestic settings.  Of the works on show I preferred the straight up glitter to the 'wall work' which I am still kind of trying to work out.  The glitter work included the tricky 'Split event horizon' which had a double sided glitter triangle sitting on a mirror to make a visual cube from the right angles.  It is like something he had at RoslynOxley and I must say it is a neat technique.  The glitter on the wall was a more traditional shape but hung in a diamond pattern ('A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond', pictured top). More evidence as to my growing appreciation for Jonny's work is my reticence to take the piss out of his room sheet which uses far too many big art words for my comprehension.  The bits I did get I agreed with for the most part, this did seem like "a magical carnival of shape shifting possibilities", it was "teasing and stretching the spatial limitations of traditional painting" (I think he means the mirror here!!) and I do see the "visualizations of deep space ... glam rock and geometric minimalism".  Roll on August 3 for the artist talk. Bring a dictionary, or Andrew Frost. Moving further back into the main room you meet up with Simonne Goran's experimental sculptures.  In general I like her re-use (not sure it is upcycling) of everyday objects into sculptures.  She claims to extract materials from their more familiar uses to make more ambiguous shapes, "the challenge thus becomes to extract their [the new shapes] meaning".  Again, we are going to need to come back to get to the bottom of this!!  Finally Lizzy Sampson is in the back room with Dollars & Sense.  This was a pretty random collection of technique brought together with some (at times tenuous) connection to 'finance'.  I quite like the video concept, Lizzy is out with the metal detector looking for treasure in her back garden.  This references quite well to the sculptures in her show where she has some made up metal detectors with all kinds of odds and ends including coins, old batteries, sticks, tape and random handles.  On one of the walls there is a map of Australia made just by marking where a mine is located, it was pretty interesting and even better there was a souvenir version to take home.  Score!

Points:  Really like what Jonny is doing with all this glitter on a large scale, he won't scoop all the points but he'll get the 3, for the diamond that is as close as a rabbit gets etc.  I will give Lizzy 2 points for her metal detector, helped also by the fact she had the giveaway map! 1 point will go to Simonne whose 'Pearls' (pictured middle) was probably my favourite work of hers and possibly also the least ambiguous.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wild Colonial Boys at OlsenIrwin - 17 July

I am not sure whether it was boho elitism or scheduling naivety that saw the opening for the Paul Ryan and Luke Sciberras fall on the same night as the State of Origin decider.  I would hope the latter.  Despite this, there were quite a lot of punters willing to give up the chance to get a prime table at the London to check out the wares in these shows.  A topical sighting given the current Ashes series was former England captain Douglas Jardine (and I nearly punched him in the nose until I realised it was Hugo Weaving and he was only acting in Bodyline).

I think this is my first time back in the Jersey Road gallery since Olsen became OlsenIrwin.  I would've liked a bit more time for a browse but as I said, with kick-off looming I needed to prioritise.  I was here to see Paul Ryan's show so unfortunately merely passed through Luke's show on the way to the annex.  I have got to know Paul's work primarily through art prizes (his works in the last two Sulman's have been great, and he took home a Big Lamington point in 2012).  He also has the greatest artist statements I have ever read so it was a shame I didn't get to stalk talk to him here.  This show is called 'Wild Colonial Boys' on the web and the nice glossy catalogue but interestingly called 'Wild Young Cannibals' on the room sheet (maybe a slip from a gallerina recalling his Sulman entry 'Fine Young Cannibal?).  I think I prefer Colonials to Cannibals, and really enjoyed his depictions of Captain Cook especially.  The theme of colonialism is a recurring one in Australian contemporary art and you could make quite a collection just focusing on the depiction of Cook (Ben Quilty, Daniel Boyd, Jason Wing etc).  To me, these are nearly political works, calling into question the process of how colonialism took place (which, like Paul's painting style was not exactly neat and tidy).  Apart from people he does a great background scenery, really evocative of the wild Australian scrub landscape that is familiar to most Australians but was obviously quite foreign to the explorers of the day.  As well as the navy boys Ryan has also assembled a rag tag collection of other characters including a Drover, a Cowboy, a Trader and a Squatter (those were also the titles of the works).  These themed portraits were very strong and showcase his paint heavy technique (quite similar to Quilty in my opinion) really well.  Finally there were also some head shots of what looks to be his mates from the 'gong - modern day wild colonial boys.  A great show and one you should definitely get to if in Sydney, it is on until August 4.

Points: I am a big fan of the Captain, I will give 3 points to 'Cook, is that a sword in your pocket' (above) and 2 points for 'Second coming of Cook' (top).  1 point will go to 'He Walked these hills in a long black coat' (middle).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dancing Words at Black Penny - 14 July

I always like to stalk do further research on artists whose works I've noticed.  3 point winner from the yen art prize, Robin Clare, is no exception.  Luckily for me she has a decent website.  It was here I learnt of her solo exhibition at Black Penny in Bourke Street Surry Hills.  Well says I, a new ARI in Surry Hills?  Turns out Black Penny is a small bar, and before any hipsters start sniggering I used to live on this stretch of Bourke Street and back in my day we called it Redfern.  Turn out Black Penny is a pretty cool small bar in the former home of the old Tandoori Rasoi (once home to the Tendulkar of the Tandoor!). As well as slinging cocktails Black Penny also peddle art in their back lounge area.

Sadly I couldn't make the opening which sounded great with reggae and rum and dancing girls.  When I was in NY I worked with a couple of Jamaicans who introduced me to the wonders of beef patties and coco bread and I've been fortunate to visit Jamaica and developed quite a taste for the island and its culture. So it was wonderful to be virtually transported back to Kingston for this show.  The Dancing Words of the shows title reference the dancehall moves that are invented to go with certain songs.  I can't say I was familiar with any of the moves (e.g. Thunder Clap, Wacky Dip, and Pretty Wine - see image top) but really liked the aesthetics here.  Vibrant colours and bold text.  They could also be instructional if you ever did need to learn how to 'signal di plane'.  The little illustrations kind of remind me of a bow tie instructional.  From memory these acrylic and inks on paper were very affordable and quite a few had sold by my visit.  As well as the Dancing Word series Robin had also included some of her 'Bulls Eye' series (one of which was the finalist in the yen art prize we saw last week). I loved these, her inspiration is vintage Jamaican comic book imagery but they also look kind of like Jamaican bollywood movie posters. Again, vibrant colours, eye catching images and lots of text. This show has ended but make sure to visit Robin's website as she also had links to her etsy shop where she sells prints of the works and zines.  I think I might be buying my first zine shortly!

Points: I will give the 3 points to a dancing words work as that was the main theme.  I think my favourite was Signal Di Plane (above).  The rest of the points will go to the bulls eyes. 2 points to The Youth (below) and 1 point to Dancehall Duel (middle) whose costumed dancing girls had a retro James Bond feel to it - I also love the last line of text ... "Rewind and pull up Selecta"!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Everything is Lit at Gaffa - 11 July

Three days later and I am back at Gaffa to see a few shows.  It is a great space in the CBD, 3 galleries AND a project space.  Today is the first day for Kirra Jamison in Gallery 1, Leyla Stevens in Gallery 2, Nick Collerson in Gallery 3 and Claudia Stevens in the project space. I was interested to see it all and struggled to coin a collective title for this smorgasbord of art.  I ended up channelling my pinball fuelled uni memories when you've managed to get all the features on the machine turned on and you don't know where to hit: 'everything is lit' ...

In a quirk of interior design I couldn't get to Gallery 1 without going through either 2 or 3.  So I decided to check out Nick Collerson's work first.  I have one of Nick's paper leaves he did a few years ago but was struggling to connect the titles to the images in this group of work.  Turns out the numbers were all squiff as Gaffa had skipped the 2.  Once that was fixed (and gallery staff alerted, my good deed of the day) it all came together much better.  These works showcase a minimal almost naive style of painting and for me I was left wanting to know more about the 'why'.  The statement in the accompanying room sheet didn't really help, however Nick's website has a more detailed post about the Gaffa show.  It turns out he is being cryptic on purpose (primarily the paintings but to me also the text).  Thankfully Gallery 1 doesn't ask that many questions.  Kirra Jamison's work in this show is at the more decorative end of abstract.  There are large (all around 120-170cm cubes and rectangles) acrylic on polyester pieces which will take the better of $7k down to smaller (76 x 56cm) gouache on paper works (like Loop, mineral blue 4, above) that will run you closer to $2.5k.  These are bright and energetic works that kind of remind me of Gemma Smith's last show at Sarah Cottier, just even more colourful. There is nothing wrong in an artwork that would actually look great above the mantelpiece so I am not going to try to ascribe some deeper meaning here.  Moving on to Gallery 2 and here Leyla Stevens has some great video works. On the smaller screen is a work called 'Buoy', which coincidentally depicts a buoy with a flashing red light (which kind of recalled the Great Gatsby, just with red instead of green) and on the big screen a work called Signalmaster (still image top). Here Leyla is performing a semaphore sequence to the empty ocean in front of her. I loved it, you could tell there was a message here but given most of us don't know semaphore (I am not even sure they would teach it in the navy these days) the meaning is obscured despite being in plain sight. A riddle you are drawn to keep watching but one that you will never solve.  One riddle Leyla has solved for the punters is the editioning puzzle.  Usually right now I would be complaining about an edition of 5 in the digital age being all about enforced scarcity to drive up prices but these are editions of 100 for $80, a complete bargain in my mind.  Finally tucked away in the Project Space was Claudia Nicholson. Her show is called Silly Homelands and includes a few of the works we had recently seen at 4A as well as a couple of new ones. There was a mix of NFS and very reasonably priced works here. Of course the star of the show in my mind, the pimpin pink dolphin 'Papi Chulo', was NFS.  The new watercolours were all great. The cabbage patch and pink dolphin myths were covered in her earlier show (for those that couldn't be bothered clinking the link, Claudia's work explores children born out of wedlock so coming from the cabbage patch or the pink river dolphin that shapeshifts into a stylish man to seduce young women at parties) but the significance of the coconuts in Los Cocos was not immediately apparent.  I really liked this body of work and I think it is an interesting exploration of culture I have no familiarity with - definitely one to keep an eye on.  Oh, and watch out for pink dolphins slipping roofies into your drinks.

Points: No conflict, no interest - there is a new acquisition here.  3 points to Leyla Stevens' 'Signalmaster' (top).  Great video, great editioning. I will definitely put my money where my opinions are when it comes to a bigger edition at a reasonable price (and in this case it is probably a little too fair!). Can't wait to see what it looks like on the smaller screen at Big Lamington HQ.  2 points to Claudia for the pink dolphins in Mamacitas (above).  1 point to Kirra for the Loops, on the night I liked the mineral blue version the best but now I am beginning to think more pastel might be the go.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wangechi Mutu at the MCA - 9 July

So here we are with the Curator's Assistant or the Assistant Curator (there is a little bit of uncertainty about the exact title, and I am sure a lot of rank between the two) for a walk through of the Wangechi Mutu exhibit at the MCA. For those that came in late, Wangechi is kind of a big deal. Kenyan born and living in the US, she was awarded 'artist of the year' by my old bank back in 2010.  This is her first show in Aus, what would the locals think?

I liked quite a few works, but in a show as broad as this there are always going to be a few things that didn't float my boat.  I didn't get the significance of the recycled plastic bag soccer balls and am still struggling to understand Mutu's massive fascination with packing tape (although it was very interesting to learn that Wangechi is very particular about the correct shade of tape, and in fact all the packing tape you see here has been imported from the US).  For mine, the collage works were the strongest.  My favourite was probably 'Intertwined' (pictured top). I actually had this poster at my desk for a few years (a freebie of bank propaganda) so it is very familiar and maybe was what I was 'expecting' to see.  I was excited to go to the NC17 room but my prurience was not to be sated here, not all that shocking.  One room contained a collection of sculptures that the artist called 'blackthrones'.  I would include a photo but the MCA is always loathe to put enough images online, preferring you to do the old fashioned thing and actually visit. Here's a link to some blackthrones exhibited in Germany back in the day. These were old chairs that have been extended and given some anthropomorphic qualities.  Although they also really looked like pimped out tennis umpire chairs.  In the big MCA room the masking tape mountains were quite random, don't kick them as they are hollow.  The big star for me was the purpose built room for 'Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem' (pictured above).  Loved the lights, loved the pelt trophy and loved the story that one of the walls has bullet holes so the artist had to get in here and personally shoot some holes to give it the authentic effect.  Although I am sure her assistants had to build those packing tape mountains! Fair call, I would keep the shooting gig to myself as well.

Points:  I am going to give the 3 points to the Exhuming Gluttony bit.  Probably a little too much spilled red wine to want to replicate at home but a great museum piece.  2 points to Intertwined, this is the 'signature' image that comes to mind when I read her name and it is no wonder the MCA is using it for the poster they are flogging in the gift shop.  I will give one point to the tennis umpire chairs, not something you see every day!

Monday, July 8, 2013

2013 Yen Artist Awards at Gaffa - 8 July

Hands up who loves a random art prize?  Yep, thought so.  So do I and I was lucky enough to squeeze in a visit to Gaffa on the last day they were showing the 2013 Yen Artist Awards.  According to their website, Yen Magazine is Australia's #1 independent magazine for women.  Who knew? Their art prize is also women only, but they've gone all contiki tours and made it for 18-35s only.  You can't see this at Gaffa anymore but Yen have done a great little website with all the finalists (all the entries, as in at least a hundred appear to be online, at Gaffa there were probably only 20 works).

I had actually spent some time on the award website prior to my visit so had seen quite a few familiar works online (Leah Emery's cross stitch porno come to mind!) and probably a few that should've made the exhibit in my opinion (Sarah Sheehan's entry a great example here). Some works look much better in person than on the computer, Annie Davidson's Cactus Land was a great example. Bright, vivid colours and a little bit quirky.  The official winner was a fairly dour affair for mine, certainly when compared to works that really captured the eye like Robin Clare's Tropical Thunder (top) or Emma Coulter's Foreign Landscape (above). It was about 50/50 works for sale versus NFS, and given most of those featured were emerging the prices were more than reasonable. All in all a great show and certainly one that has given me some names to watch out for. A few I was already aware of, like Claudia Nicholson and Montana Miller but also some new ones like Robin Clare and Nicole O'Loughlin.

Points: 3 points to Robin Clare's Tropic Thunder.  Just like 10CC said, 'I don't like Jamaica, I love it'! Robin actually has a solo show right now at Black Penny in Surry Hills.  Here's a link.  I missed the opening but will be sure to go check these out over the weekend if not before, stay tuned!  2 points to Emma Coulter.  It's a little more abstract than what I usually go for but it certainly stood out in the room.  I will give the 1 point to Greedy Hen (their "we just ignore the neighbours" digital collage above). I do like their name! Great work Yen, just shout if you need a hand with the judging next year. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Richard Bell at Artspace - 5 July

Fresh off a great hosting gig (of the NITV show Colour Theory) the activist who masquerades as an artist has a show in Sydney at the Artspace.  Bell's latest show is called "Imagining Victory" which is also the title of of his trilogy of politically charged videos.  I was here on the opening night for the artist talk and it was busier than standing room only!  The huge crowd that came out to hear Richard speak also made it hard for the average punter to hear any dialogue in the movies so I had to trek back across to Woolloomooloo this last Friday for another look see (and a hot dog de wheels from Harry's across the road).

I think it is great that Artspace have got all of Richard's movies playing in different rooms.  It is kind of like catching up on a series of your favourite TV shows at once (if I was tech savvy enough to know how to download TV shows).  I started with 'Scratch an Aussie' (screen shot above).  This is from 2008 and cuts between Richard in therapy with Gary Foley and Richard as therapist with 4 blond Aussies (2 blokes and 2 chicks).   Next up was 'Broken English' (screen shot image at bottom).  This was done in 2009 and asks a lot of interesting questions about Aboriginal politics. I really liked the use of the chess sequence (again with Gary Foley).  It is pretty easy to see that Richard was playing chess with all those interviewed for this work. The re-enactment of the landing of the first fleet and the questions posed to random people on the street gave Bell lots to work with and I left this eager to see the final work. 'The Dinner Party' (screen shot, top) from 2010 completed the series and this imagines a future world where in some twist of fate China has bought Australia and given it to the Aboriginal people. In this video Gary Foley is now the President of the People's Republic of Australia and we are privy to a dinner party conversation in an upmarket Bris Vegas home of a serial art collector whose tastes are at the hyper end of the hyper-sexual scale. Given I'm contemplating a movie trilogy I am going to try really hard to work a Star Wars analogy in here. How about the Dinner Party has the republic winning. Spooky right? That 'winning' moment is the question posed by this show, what would a victory for the aboriginal people look like? Personally I can't answer that question but Richard's imagination at least provides a starting point.  And as Richard said on the night ...  "nothing ever happens without being imagined first".

As well as videos Richard had four large canvasses on show.  If you love a bit of text in art then you won't be disappointed by these works.  Inspired by Liechtenstein pop art these are brightly coloured and for the most part pack a punch. I'm not sure I get the white girls can't hump piece. I know his t-shirt caused a bit of controversy back in the day but the joke is lost on me (maybe I've just been more fortunate than Richard in that sense?). I preferred the more straight forward protest piece 'Foley versus the Springboks' (above). I was vaguely aware of the protests against the Springbok tours (it did happen before I was born) and was forced to consult the wiki to learn more about this chapter in history. So in that sense the work was a great success, it got me thinking! On to the points ...

Points: 3 points for Broken English. To continue the Star Wars analogy this was my Empire Strikes Back, and I love that flick.  I also loved the ending, Bell screaming "Checkmate Motherfucker!" (above).  I will give 2 points for Scratch an Aussie. The Gold Coast meter maid inspired gold bikinis on the two Aussie chicks certainly didn't hurt in the overall assessment! I will give 1 point to a painting and as much as I love the Lichtensteinesque bedroom scene will give the 1 point for 'Foley versus the Springboks' as I do like some activism from this artist.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tony Albert - 'Projecting our future' at AGNSW (May-July)

So this is quite remiss of me.  I came to the opening artist talk for this back in May but am only posting now, and mainly just to let you all know you've only got until 7 July to get down to the contemporary project space at AGNSW to check out this massive Tony Albert installation called 'Projecting our future'. I think this is what the internet had in mind when it coined the term 'totes amazeballs'.

I had the opening for this locked in my diary for quite a while.  On top of the great artist chat on the day all the punters got to go over the buzzing gallery line and get a nice close up at the work. Trust me on this buzzing line thing, when I came back another day for a look see I set the sensors off (Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment I aint!).  This work is officially described as an "installation made of reworked objects, sculptures and paintings; original photographs, paintings and drawings and three unique artworks by Daniel Boyd, Dale Harding and TextaQueen, dimensions variable approx 280 x 1200 cm".  It is a collection of ephemera and Tony's own works from his archive that he has re-worked (or "intervened" with was the term they were using on the day).  It's no secret I am a big admirer of Tony's style, I too am an eBay tragic and it was reassuring to hear that despite Tony signalling that this was going to be his last big Aboriginalia (a term Tony has coined for kitschy Aboriginal themed Australiana) inspired piece he is still online fighting the good fight for the treasures that are out there. One of my favourite things about this show is that fact that the work was completed right at the last minute. The outcome of that is that the AGNSW brochure shows the work in progress (see picture below).  So you get to see the finished product and play the "spot the differences" game.  It was really interesting to hear Tony say that this work was meant to be more full of hope for the future than the previous works which were a bit more sorrowful.  In that regard he felt he needed to tone down some of the messaging in this work as it was being completed, one example I can see is that the map of Australia with the 'f*&k off we're full' has simply become a monochrome black (you can kind of make that out in the action photo below and then the detail from top).  I could never fit this in my home so if I were to cherry pick some items I would've taken the 'make decisions not reactions' plate (detail photo top) and the upcycled teaspoons (above) which I thought was a really neat idea that is about to get stolen by the Big Lamington household.  There was also a union jack type design on a yellow number plate which I thought would be a good flag - Tony can we make one of them?

Points - it's usually just a best on ground with a solo work by a single artist but there are some others lurking to the observant.  Naturally Tony will take the 3 points, its a really impressive installation.  I will give 2 points to Texta and the 1 to Daniel Boyd for their cameo appearances.  Nice touch.  Am really looking forward to see his next body of work at SSFA in August ...