Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reko Rennie at Chalkhorse - 26 June

Opening night at Chalk Horse used to mean ... well let's be honest I've never been to an opening night at Chalk Horse as it was always just a bit out of the way.  But they've moved.  To Darlinghurst.  Somewhere on William Street to be imprecise.  Luckily there were a few punters having a dhurrie outside to give me some guidance as to exactly where they are (it is downstairs from some random doorway that I swear you will never find the first time*).  This show 'No Sleep till Dreamtime' is by Reko Rennie (who according to an old blog post has been on my collecting shortlist since 2012).  Let's see if I still want one.

Well the answer to that is yes and yes.  Luckily (or unluckily) my top 2 picks already have the red sticker, so I can calmly check out the show.  First impressions.  Wow.  Seriously frickin' impressed.  Both by the basement space of Chalk Horse which is just what you need for a cool gallery and by the art that Reko has on display.  I do love the glitter that Reko is rocking in these works, will have to bring the junior critics along to check it out.  He also showcases his trademark kamilaroi diamond pattern that we've seen on building and in galleries.  In fact a lot of the old favourite imagery is here: he had the message stick spray can and the crown motif that he has used before.  New for me was the kangaroo on the boomerang (image top, Fade #1, image below screen print #5).  The version on gold glitter is the first thing you see at the door. It is a 70 x 70cm square and is a great size and a bit of a bargain really so no wonder its sold.  The version on sunset colours (top) was in the second room around the corner.  This is the biggest work at 152 x 152cm and is probably the star of the show (in fact people lined up for photos in front of this bad boy).  It looks great in the flesh but it is interesting that the glitter seems to come up better in these online photos.  Safe to say that these were my top picks.  Love the iconic imagery.  This would look really good next to some Liam Benson works, I realise that might seem a little too interior designy but in my mind they both use iconic imagery to ask questions of Australian identity.  From memory Reko did a series of native animals in Melbourne so I am not sure if there is special significance to the kangaroo or not.  It looks very familiar but I can't exactly place it.  Like from an old stamp or the coat of arms (although the 'roo is the other way on the coat of arms).  Maybe that is just how Reko has drawn it, to look like he has sourced if from somewhere back in time.  This is on till July 12, get there.

Points: well after the gush above the only question is what is going to take the 1 point.  The Kangaroo's are taking the 3 and 2 (for the fade and the gold glitter respectively).  Complicating matters a little further is I am not sure if the other works hung in groups of three (image middle) are meant to be together or not.  Pricewise I think you could take one, two or all three of the pieces.  If that is the case I would take one of the bright teal blue diamonds for the 1.

* but you would be in good company as even a couple of big name artists admitted they got lost coming from artspace.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 Yen Art Award at gaffa gallery - 19 June

So it turns out that this is the 3rd year of the Yen Art Awards which means the Big Lamington has coverage of 67% of their history (see last years thoughts here, I just re-read the post and it was a cracker!).  For those that can't be bothered lets do a quick revision:  Yen is an Australian magazine aimed at "smart creative cookies who love to be inspired".  I guess they target smart young creative cookies as this award is restricted to women aged 18-35.  Five judges in all (and yet they still didn't need me as a guest judge, editors my offer stands for 2015) and they have whittled the 530* entries down to 20 finalists.  Let's see who inspired this creative lamington cookie!

Now given the prominence of social media it is hard to keep anything a secret and so I'd already heard via tweeter that Claudia Nicholson had won this years award.  Congrats Claudia!  Loyal readers will remember Claudia has taken some points before (here and here) so it was great to see her recognised with a win.  Her work, 'Si Tomas el Agua de Neshuya (once you have tasted the water of neshuya)' (pictured top) continues with her pink dolphin theme which is a commentary on the folklore and myth of illegitimacy in Columbia (that is the pink river dolphins turn into charming blokes that seduce innocent girls).  Unless you know that back story I guess you are just appreciating the handmade aesthetics of the embroidery but with knowledge of the myth I find it much more interesting.  Also inspiring were the pencil or charcoal drawing of Phoebe Boyle ('Day trippin' in Versailles', pictured above).  There was some great technique on display here as the drawn folds were very intricate.  Top work and a great buy at $800.  Most of these works were very affordable (under $1k) so there were quite a few dots on the walls.  I'm a fan of collage so enjoyed Meredith Earl's 'Commonplace Magic' (you'll have to check out Yen's handy website which has a booklet of the finalists for this image).  And I liked the retro illustration of Camila de Gregorio's 'Birds 1'.  I had a great time looking at this exhibition, not only did I have the place to myself for my first walk through, but then to top it off I even got a curatorial tour from gaffa's own Grace Mackey at the end.  In addition to discussing the works above she pointed out Grace Blake's '3 hrs', '18 hrs' and '9 hrs' (pictured below).  These were prints but Grace's great trick is the framing which is actually coloured perspex.  Hello innovation.  I've been picking up a growing trend for inventive framing (Marian Tubbs, Phil James, and at the Frieze fair in NY) and this is a great continuation.

Points:  This is tough.  I was all set to give Claudia another 3 when the curators tips brought Grace Blake into the frame so to speak!  But the dolphin story takes it to another level for me and that pink pimp takes another 3 points.  2 to Grace and 1 to Phoebe.

* that is a lot, see them all here.  I am also going to call out a couple of artists that didn't make the shortlist based on my own trawl through the long list.  Two I would've included both rock a textaqueen aesthetic and incorporate a bit of text, Alanna Lorenzon's Things that are not healed (who has her own website here, good hustle) and Alexandra Sherger's Lana Americana.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Conquest of Space at COFA - 14 June

The Conquest of Space hey?  Was this to be a populist blockbuster or a group of random works flung together by some tricky semantics?  I love what Frosty the Curator does on the telly but he does have a tendency for a little intellectual pomposity from time to time (my favourite article of his is here).  What I needed was someone with both a firm grasp of what science fiction means to the average punter as well as unrelenting honesty.  Luckily my Star Wars obsessed five year old was available and willing to tag along with Dad to see some space art.

His verdict.  Some planets, tick.  A picture with a Star Wars helmet, tick.  Could've used some more space. Me? I quite liked the show, the artists selected and the work they exhibited.  That said, I feel Conquest of Space is a bit of a misnomer - but it did make for a great single picture (Adam Norton, image top).  I think the themes that Frost is trying to weave together define science fiction far too broadly, allowing virtually any work to qualify.  Frosty basically admits this in his conclusion, "in essence, contemporary art is science fiction".  So what did we like?  Hayden Fowler has a great video and I enjoyed seeing Lionel Bawden's paintings as well as his pencil sculptures.  Sam Leach has a recognisable work in there as does Kate Shaw.  And I guess I should include Jeffrey Smart in that description which reminds me that this wasn't just contemporary art but some older works borrowed from the AGNSW.  As well as the Smart there were some 19th century works from John Glover and Eugene von Guerard.  There was a very good reason why these old landscapes were included. But I didn't buy it, the philistine that I am.  My top picks were Phil James who does rock a real sci-fi feel with his works (and he was the one that actually included the Star Wars reference, image below 'Rebel Scum, Raygun Mary').  I really liked Callum Morton's 'Screen 4, Chargrilled' (image above) which had a great retro drive-in feel to it.  I thought my five year old would go for one of the big colourful planets like Giles Alexander's 'Our father is a red giant' but instead he opted for Shoufray Derz's Negative II as his top pick (image bottom).  Intriguing work, and mightily impressed by the refinement of taste shown by the junior critic.

Points:  I am going to give Phil James the 3 points as to me this hit the brief.  2 points will go to Callum Morton.  What can I say?  I love the drive-in.  We had one back in my home town, which I actually got to work in, but sadly after the movies had long stopped.  It had become a flower nursery which was kind of spooky with a big drive in screen in front of thousands of native flowers being grown for export! 1 point will go to the junior critic's pick Shoufray Derz. I think I preferred the orange version better but I liked how the artist has conveyed the emptiness of landscape in these works.

Paddington Gallery Crawl - 14 June

Great to be back enjoying a fairly mild winter in Paddington.  So lets take a stroll around the area that is really establishing itself as gallery central, what I like to call 'lower Paddington' near Trumper Oval.  Roslyn Oxley has been here for many years alongside the Australian Gallery.  And then Martin Browne, and then Sarah Cottier, and then Jensen Gallery and then?  No more and then* at the moment!

I was with one of the junior critics taking our afternoon constitutional so we hit Cottier, Jensen and Roslyn Oxley before he pleaded no mas which is a pretty decent sample.  Sarah Cottier was first.  Their exhibition at the moment is Jamie North's 'terraforms' (pictured top is a smaller one).  I've seen Jamie once before at this gallery and also in a group show at Artspace before.  These living works are growing on me!  Actually, I like the plant selection better this time, some native Australian orchids which I am a fan of.  I would've preferred if Jamie had even been a bit more specific than the 'Australian native plants'.  Punters love detail nowadays.  So listing dockrillia striolata or whatever species of dendrobium it is would've got me even more excited.  Price wise these are quite cheap for art but probably pricey for garden ornaments.  I am not sure exactly how I would display if I had one as sadly Big Lamington HQ lacks a lovely expanse of polished concrete a la Sarah Cottier.  The other conservational issue is of course keeping the plants alive!

Moving on we hit the Jensen gallery which is the newest in the 'hood.  This used to hidden up on Caledonia Street in Paddo and I think in all my years in the area I went there maybe once (certainly didn't find any hits using the fancy search function on the blog!).  Jensen are showing James Casebere who it turns out is an American artist.  So this series titled 'Dutchess County' is entirely appropriate coming from him.  Dutchess county is one of the areas just up the Hudson River from NY for those less cosmopolitan readers.  I don't really know much more about this work (pictured above) except that it looks like large scale photos of some very good model railroad dioramas.  If so, congrats Jimbo.  Top effort.  Other than that it looks like a bit of a tough sell to Australian collectors.  I know I have parochial tendencies.  

Last on the hit list was Roslyn Oxley.  Now they have two great shows on at the moment.  The first is the video area in the garage / entrance (at least it seems like it is turning into a video area, Nell had her fly video here on my last visit).  This time around it is Clark Beaumont which isn't a dudes name but two female artists.  I think using their surnames in a touch of identity theft.  They are dancing to what from memory was Whitney Houston and this was overdubbed with them saying "me" and "you". Hence it is no great stretch of the imagination that the video is called 'You and/or me'.  We've seen Clark Beaumont before on the Big Lamington, performance arting their way through 13 rooms. Good to see they are putting out something collectable but my observation from then is as relevant now. This work asks questions, it doesn't provide answers! Upstairs was the randomness of the group exhibition called Never Never Land which was a co-production with Melbourne gallery with a cool random name Utopian Slumps.  Dylan Martorell had an interesting sculptural construction and I nearly confused him for Sarah Contos whose work I was looking out for.  Sarah's pieces (pictured second from top) are quite recognisable so once I clocked the covergirl from the Aussie Post I had my bearings.  As well as Dylan and Sarah the show had geometric shapes from Esther Stewart, random abstractions from Jake Walker and non-traditional pottery from Sanne Mestrom.  In other words, everything!  My favourites here were probably Dylan and Sarah.  Sarah's work was probably more 'out there crazy' but I liked how Dylan had mixed the crazy sculptural creation that would be a tough sell with the smart merchandising of a series of c-type prints.  Crazy like a fox old Dylan.  Nice touch.

Points: Overall I think Jamie North is going to bag the 3 pointer here (Jamie's second contested 3 pointer as well!).  As I said above, I am appreciating these concrete forms more, especially the different materials being used like marble chips, steel slag and coal ash.  Lets hope we actually keep a blast furnace going somewhere in this country for the raw materials!  2 points for Dylan Martorell and 1 point for Sarah Contos.

* Dude, where's my car.  Seriously you had to look this up?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

19th Biennale at Cockatoo Island - 7 June

Back from the US and one weekend left to see the Biennale at Cockatoo Island (I'd seen the MCA and AGNSW offerings before we left).  I'd already seen enough at the MCA and AGNSW to see why the big time critics were underwhelmed.  I was hoping that the island might redeem it somewhat so I grabbed 2 of the junior critics and hopped on the ferry to try and make a dent in the massive visitor shortfall that the 19th Biennale had over previous versions.

Short answer is no.  Longer answer is I have sympathy for how hard it must be to pull together such a big show, but this just seemed like a large group of random works thrown together.  The junior critics liked the google train (Callum Morton's ghost train, pic above) which wasn't half as scary as we worried about.  That said they preferred the ferry trip!  We didn't mind 'The Village' by some Danish artists which looked like oversized gingerbread houses.  But not much else which is a shame as cockatoo island is a great underutilized venue.  The imagination station where the junior critics made some fun projects was cool.  And I quite liked the Green Light by Kate Daw which was a very literal take on the Great Gatsby, pity it was just stuck right amongst the convict quarters where I reckon less than 20% of the visitors to the island would see it.  Why not the ferry wharf?

Points: 3 for the google train; 2 for Eva Koch's massive video installation 'I am the river' and 1 point for the green light.  See you in two years ...