Are you confused about Art? Do you know what you like or where to find it? Is the work any good or is someone just trying to sell you something? And how are you expected to decipher those dense wall texts? Even Google translate is stumped.
National Gallery of Victoria 11th November 2016 – 13th March 2017
Two mobile phones attached to a purple wall greet you at the entrance to this exhibition. Their screens are displaying images of David Hockney’s drawings done on a phone. My younger companion’s first reaction is not to the image but to the type of phone. Iphone not android she observes glancing and moving on.
Is this an exhibition about drawing, about Hockney or about technology? Or about advertising? Apple doesn’t seem to have its logo anywhere, but let’s face it; this exhibition is about one company’s product. Is Apple getting all this endorsement for free?
There’s a converted butter factory in a small town tucked into the green rolling foothills of the Strzelecki ranges, where the main street is wide and cars are parked at 45 degree angles. Anyone who can spell Strzelecki must be a local. This is Yinnar on the doorstep of the still-operating Hazelwood coal-fired power station, subject of much debate and despair.
There’s a Drawing Prize here of national repute. Despite the rhetoric of demographic disasters: job losses, mine fires, pollution, asbestos and the rest, Arc Yinnar an artist run venture has been operating for 32 years. As well as hosting a national prize, it boasts two galleries, public access facilities for printmaking, ceramics, metalwork, photography, painting and drawing, a retail outlet, theatrette and private studios. All this on a shoestring grant of $3000. When the lights go out at Hazelwood, this sort of cooperative venture is what keeps communities afloat and shores up their identity. Its funding should be assured for the long term, but I am told it is reduced every year and tied to utilitarian outcomes.
A drawing show throws up immediate questions; how much drawing is going on, what do people draw and what do they draw for
This landscape painting prize, based in Sale, is one of those generous moments when a local benefactor makes a significant contribution to the nation’s cultural life….and ensures that serious contemporary work reaches the regions. It encompasses vertiginous highs and repellent lows. Predominantly the work is largish and surreal. Colour has mostly escaped any sense of
Categories. They are very useful things. All sorts of unlikely objects or ideas can be clumped together simply on the basis that they have one thing in common. Art historians tidily sweep works into certain little piles from which a narrative can be plotted. Post Impressionism can go over here, tuck Baroque back a bit, pop in those Futurists there, and now where did I put the Surrealists? It’s a helpful tool albeit with limitations.
In art things are always much more complex. An artist like any human being has a multiplicity of influences, yearnings and aims. And a trajectory of work over a lifetime can veer like a drunken sailor, as for instance in the case of Turner who for many years produced highly rendered topographical views and house portraits before his work transformed into almost completely abstract whirling vortices of light and colour.
If it’s hard to categorise either art or artist, you can imagine the difficulty of administering an art award that has a $50,000 purse for ‘a painting of an Australian subject in sympathy with the work of E. Phillips Fox.’ The artists trying to get their work before a judge might pause and wonder what exactly this means.
The curators at ACCA need to get out more. Painting, more painting, purportedly an overview of contemporary Australian painting, constructs a narrative not about painting but about power in our publicly funded galleries.
This curatorial high priesthood has put together their version of the canon, and it’s a very narrow one. The unrepresentative swill (with thanks to P. Keating) exhibited in Painting, more painting is the result. Predictably, like the joke about Catholics in heaven, the conceptualists are pretending that there is no one else here. This narrative hegemony amounts to a concealment of the real status of painting – tantamount to government censorship.