Great moments in art criticism: losing your bottle

Tuesday 1 November 2005

The wonderful thing about writing up an exhibition of well-known artworks is that not only do you not have to look at it (thus saving you from putting your drink down at the opening), you don’t even have to look at reproductions of it in the catalogue. It’s all been written down for you already! So you can just copy down some other critic’s description of the work in question, and thus tweak your opinions on it to best suit your audience. If it’s a particularly famous work you don’t even have to pretend to be original – you try saying something new about The Scream, smartarse!
The only time this method might come unstuck is if the description you pick turns out to be, in fact, completely wrong. Now the exhibition is open, Adrian Searle might want inspect Les Joyeux Farceurs for himself and ask why a milk bottle has a tube down the middle, and why the milk is transparent and fizzing. Alternatively, he can quote other critics who have actually worked out what the painting depcits.
You’d be amazed how much you learn from a painting by looking at it.

It’s a stopcock boxlid. You’re welcome.

Sunday 16 October 2005


Photographed outside the bunker, where they’ve been overhauling the drains up and down the street for the last month. I only know the name of these things because of Tom Phillips‘ project A Walk to the Studio from the 1970s, in which he obsessively catalogued everything found on the half-mile walk from home to studio in his native Peckham, which resulted in, amongst other things, the photocollage 64 Stopcock Boxlids (see also Peckham Heads).
The main problem Phillips encountered in his efforts to document the entirety of his daily walk across a small section of south London was that his observations became so comprehensive that by the time he finally reached his studio, it was time to return home. The project came to a natural end when he moved both residence and studio into his former childhood home, halfway between the two buildings; thus saving him the need to ever leave the house, let alone Peckham.

Pity she never did any self-portraits

Sunday 18 September 2005

Overheard at the Tate Modern bookshop:
“Oh, so that’s what Frida Kahlo looks like!”

The Henry Moore/Jeffrey Smart Container

Wednesday 27 July 2005


The cool kids have been doing it, but since Laura’s found some real work to get on with I am stepping forward to partly fill the gap.
Sadly, I don’t have time to write it up just now, so in the meantime enjoy a few choice photos of Henry Moore’s bronze Locking Piece (1968), on Millbank, just outside what is now Tate Britain. Remember, this is the site where Jeremy Bentham’s Millbank Prison once stood. Somewhere behind that wall is where prisoners boarded ships for transportation to Australia.
Across the river is Vauxhall, with the MI6 Building and St George’s Wharf on the riverfront.
Thanks to Marwood Shipping Container Hire, the scene resembled a Jeffrey Smart painting.

The centres of tradition

Tuesday 17 May 2005


After arriving in London, it didn’t sink in that I was living in another country until I visited the Tate Gallery. It wasn’t the vast collection of art that did it, or even the view of St Paul’s from across the Thames. It was the cafe, which prominently offered up a bain-marie of baked beans for the punters to dine on. Moreover, I was surrounded by tablesful of punters actually noshing down on beans, all making yum-yum noises. Clearly, I was not in an Australian art gallery.
It’s not that I have a problem with British food: any place where tea is plentiful and they like putting bacon on top of everything is OK with me. However, I suspect that some of their eating habits have a lot to do with the Royal Family, and I’m not talking about the “by appointment” insignia on bottles of HP Sauce. I’m talking about tradition for the hell of it. In the same way that you can be wandering down the street minding your own business only to find yourself barrelling into the arse of a Royal Life Guard in full uniform, ceremonial sword extended, so too can you wander into the local supermarket and find oldies that haven’t been seen in a Coles New World for decades and were long decreed inedible. Mutton – yes! Gammon – yes! And while I was fondling the pickled pork I overheard a couple saying “Must get some kippers for breakfast tomorrow.”
The down side is occasionally finding a product like this:

But back to the Tate: I was going to talk about the actual art they had hanging on the walls, but every time I stepped up to admire a picture Matthew Bloody Collings sprung out of nowhere, with lighting, camera and soundman in tow. He’s that bloke who presented This Is Modern Art on the telly a while back:

He was filming some new TV program with the working title Every Single Frickin’ Picture in the Tate that Ben.H Specifically Wants to See in his inimitable style, namely by standing squarely in front of the work and blathering on about the baked beans he’d just eaten in the cafe.

The BLAD artist interviews, no.3: Danius Kesminas

Sunday 20 March 2005

Another two months have passed so it’s time for another scorching exposé of the lives and work of some of Melbourne’s finest artists.
Danius Kesminas first came to the attention of law enforcement authorities when he napalmed a large section of suburban Adeliade, destroying several hundred brush fences in the process. He avoided prosecution by claiming the prank was one of the nebulously-described ‘free community events’ listed in the Adelaide Festival of Arts program and, with the help of some friends on the staff of the Adelaide Advertiser, shifted blame for the swath of destruction onto Peter Sellars.
This succés de scandale gave public exposure to the theoretical basis of his art practice, elevating him to prominence as one of Australia’s leading aestheticians. His theory being, in essence, that the function of art is to permit antisocial misanthropes to tolerate human company for long enough to get thoroughly pissed and then set them temporarily at large in the community, instead of leaving them to moulder at home, drinking alone and yelling at the TV. Of course, this thought had occurred to many people before, but Kesminas was the first with sufficient tolerance of alcohol to state it coherently in a grant application “while the thought was still fresh in his mind.”
More recently, Kesminas has exhibited the crushed remains of the car art critic Robert Hughes crashed in Western Australia, in an installation that served a double purpose of seductively goosing the sensibilities of art curators while simultaneously gulling the ABC into believing it was a comment on the “clash of cultures” (yes, both of them).
This interview was conducted at ACCA in 2000.
BLAD: How much is this CD?
KESMINAS: Get fucked!
Danius Kesminas is available to make obscure, sarcaastic in-jokes about a dwindling coterie of arts industry figures at your next gallery launch, function or patron schmoozefest. Contact Darren Knight Gallery for a schedule of fees.

Out of the loop

Tuesday 15 March 2005

It’s March and, as promised, I’ve come out from under the bed. I’ve also run out of cheap nasty hooch so I’m inspired to go mooching around art openings again. Not that the scene is making it easy for me to get back on my wobbly, alcoholic feet.
I’m used to frowsy little artist-run spaces misplacing their mailing lists from time to time, but I didn’t expect ACCA getting all sketchy on me: New05 has opened and they haven’t said boo to me about it. Maybe they want to keep emails down to a monthly newsletter, but wd it kill them to mention what their upcoming shows are, not just what’s already up? I presume they plan that far ahead, at least for their annual exhibitions.
If I sound bitter it’s because ACCA doles out free booze at their openings. Of course they don’t tell you when these are on the website and regular mailouts but you can figure it out.

The BLAD artist interviews, no.2: Ricky Swallow

Monday 10 January 2005

After November’s trenchant, incisive interview with Stelarc some readers thought I’d run out of artists to interview, but long-term readers knew I was just too lazy to upload more treasures of Australia’s cultural heritage.
Ricky Swallow became a household word after he handcrafted Melbourne’s Crown Casino complex entirely out of cardboard, balsa wood and carpet remnants, complete with a fully-working model of Steven Jacobs. After being named “Australia’s Most Collectable Young Artist” by Cleo magazine for three years running, he has now fled the country. This interview was conducted at 200 Gertrude Street last year.
BLAD: Hello.
SWALLOW: Hey there! You know, you look more like Jim O’Rourke every time I see you.
BLAD: Huh?
SWALLOW: Whoops, gotta go!
Ricky Swallow has been selected by the Australia Council for ritual sacrifice at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Why I am not a painter

Sunday 5 December 2004

West Space is holding its annual A4 fundraiser show this coming week. Opens Thursday 9 December, 6-9 pm, and stays open Friday Saturday Sunday. Details here. Yes, I’ve put some artwork in it which I am pleased to think might sell by appealing to the punters’ sense of chairty, if not their aesthetics. They also have good art for sale.

My last attempt to make a painting was not entirely happy. Having promised to paint something for an exhibition due the next day, I found an old box of cheap Chinese foil tubes of oil paints. Most of them had partly or completely dried out, and split open when I tried to squeeze some paint out of them. At least I got blue and yellow, two thirds of the primary colours. Also, I found a brush, which was useful. It was sufficiently frayed at both ends to make me spend a few seconds figuring out which was designed for applying paint. When I started painting I remembered that (a) oil paint needs thinner and (b) I don’t have any thinner. It was a very thickly-textured painting, and may still be drying to this day. The next revelation was that when you need to change colours, the brush has to be rinsed out (cf. points a and b, above). A solution of Sard Wonder Soap does the job nicely, but don’t expect it to improve the consistency of your paint.

Having admitted all this, it’s good to know that I’m still an artist. I have the survey letter from Macquarie University’s Economics Department that proves it.

The BLAD artist interviews, no.1: Stelarc

Thursday 11 November 2004

As part of my humble contributions to Australia’s cultural conversation, I am pleased to share with you some of my exclusive interviews with leading contemporary artists in Australia over the years.
Stelarc first came to public attention as a contestant on the TV talent quest Pot of Gold in 1978, performing “Jake the Peg” with a crude home-made cybernetic leg. Since then he has become renowned around the world for his art practice exploring the obsolescence of the human body as a physical subject, largely by trying to kill himself in various innovative ways. This interview was conducted at the University of Melbourne in 1997.
BLAD: Hello.
STELARC: Hi. Nice architraves!
BLAD: Huh?
STELARC: The mouldings are really huge in this place.
BLAD: Yeah. Check out the ceiling rose in this room.
STELARC: Wow. Hate to have to dust those things.
(laughs)
BLAD: OK bye.
Stelarc’s latest project, My Big Fat Greek Virtual Head, is on display in the Chadstone Shopping Centre Galleria until 11 December.

Small Art World

Monday 13 September 2004

I’ve spent the last few days getting reacquainted with an old girlfriend, so sorry to the three or four people who check into this site regularly.
I went to look at the exhibition at Bus last week. There was an interesting piece in the main room: two orbital sanders suspended from the rafters puttering around grinding away on panels on the floor. What made it interesting was that I’d seen it a few months ago at Federation Square during the Next Wave Festival, only as far as I cd make out the guy in the Bus show wasn’t involved with the Federation Square show. Wow, spooky coincidence, hey?
The panels had stencilled writing on them which was gradually being effaced by the sanders. The effect was negligible because what was written there didn’t look too exciting in the first place. Most people’s reactions were either, “Cool, dancing power tools!” or “This is just like that thing at Fed Square a few months back.”
It wd have been more impressive if the two panels had been Munch’s Scream and Madonna instead, but given the way the gallery directors in Olso have been banging on about how fragile they are (hey, it’s a bit late to start worrying about their welfare now) I doubt they cd withstand a Black & Decker for more than a week or so. Better still, save yourself the effort and just grab a few pieces left over from previous shows lying around the gallery that the artists are too lazy to collect, and let some automated 60-grit paper loose on them*. That’ll learn’em.
* The artworks, not the artists. But then who am I to tell you what to do?

Don’t know which is worse, the David Rosetzky bandwagon, or the making-jokes-at-David-Rosetzky’s-expense bandwagon

Monday 6 September 2004

We’ve all done things that we have later come to regret. For a moment, our baser instincts conquer our better nature and we make a decision that haunts us for the rest of our lives: sure, we may have gratified our immediate appetites, but at what cost to our soul? The thought nags away, that we may have fulfilled a material desire, but did it corrupt us spiritually, make us slightly lesser as a person? Will we someday be called to account for our misdeeds, and will we pay the price for them?
What I’m trying to say is that I get invitations to exhibition openings at the National Gallery of Victoria. They serve free wine of an acceptable quality, and free food of variable quality (their impressionists show had nothing except about 3 tons of ham and cheese sandwiches). There is no cachet whatsoever in being on the NGV guest list because they let in pretty much everyone who rocks up, although this is starting to change. The last couple of times I went to one of their shindigs in lieu of dinner they actually did demand to see an invite. I guessing that someone ordered a crackdown after a sculpture undergrad from RMIT snatched the last arancina from under Steve Vizard’s nose one night.
The last invite that arrived in my mailbox was for Living Together Is Easy, “12 artists from Australia and Japan” (shdn’t that be or?). Of course, the invite didn’t bother mentioning who the 12 artists are, and nor did the NGV website until after the show opened. This is because:
  • (a) who cares about the art, it’s the concept that matters! Australia and Japan! Let’s all close our eyes and pretend Paul Keating is still PM!
  • (b) who cares so long as we get the free booze and those delicious arancini.
  • (c) the NGV honestly didn’t know who was in the show until it arrived, because Art Tower Mito loves surprises and no-one in Federation Square knows how to google for it.
  • (d) they knew we’ve seen enough of these shows by now to have already figured out that David Rosetzky will be in it.
I’d pick (a), but only because I’ve read the blurb on the NGV website.
The exhibition is an ambitious collaborative project and result of cultural exchange. Living Together is Easy seeks connections between regional specificity and cultural identity, global politics and interpersonal relationships, biodiversity and sustainable ecologies, and the natural and constructed environment.
I wrote almost exactly the same sentence last time I was applying for a job I didn’t really want. So it’s basically a show which brings together art which is either global or local, political or personal, and about people, nature, or inanimate objects. The word ‘comprehensive’ comes to mind. Also, a lot of the pieces on display have been kicking around town for a few years now. The show is, however, an ambitious project of exchange, but only for furthering the networking prospects of the artists involved. Good luck to them, but it’s a pity no-one cd think of a better way of spinning this when keeping up the charade with the funding bodies that art has some vague yet tangible benefit for Australia’s value-added resource infrastructure.
While we’re on the topic, can someone please settle once and for all if it’s spelled Rosetzky or Rozetsky?

Signs of life

Wednesday 1 September 2004

My struggle to get art sites to go to the trouble of contacting people on their mailing list when they have shows coming up, conducted through a strenuous campaign of sitting at home bitching about it on a weblog, has started to pay off. The Make It Up Club is sending me email again. For a few weeks there they had some gigs on they didn’t want me to see.
It seemed that Bus had forgiven me too when out of the blue I received an invite to their latest Outer gig, but they forgot to mention anything about their new exhibition so I guess they were just teasing me.

August Drag (low budget version)

Monday 23 August 2004

Speaking of diminished enthusiasm across the general populace of Melbourne in August, the last Bus Gallery opening had more paintings than punters in attendance. Maybe it was another case of August Drag. Maybe it was because there was something else happening that night. Maybe it was because the punters have learned that Bus in winter is the only place in town colder on the inside than the outside. Or maybe it was because Bus never bloody updates their webpage or mails their subscribers any more.

Paved with good intentions

Tuesday 17 August 2004

I made a rare expedition south of the Yarra on Friday evening. A friend had phoned asking me to meet her down at the ACCA opening. The Melways in my house is too old to include any of Southbank’s features, and instead claims the area is entirely occupied with small bark fishing huts and jute mills. In fact I cross Princes Bridge so rarely that everything after Map 44 may as well be blank paper for doodling and phone numbers, with the addition of the legend “Here Be Monsters” printed in the vicinity of Prahran.
So out of friendship I stumbled through the dark across the trackless field of mud that separates the Yellow Peril from the Red Menace and which I am beginning to suspect is a consciously-designed landscaping feature. The aforementioned friend wasn’t there, and never showed up: it turned out she had a last-minute change of heart and was happily curled up at home in front of a heater and watching Burke’s Backyard. Apparently a lot of people wanted to know how to grow a hedge that night because I’ve never seen the place so empty at an opening. Either that or the August Drag has settled in over Melbourne. The good things about having ACCA relatively empty are (a) you can see people you recognise before they’re right on top of you, and (b) you don’t have to kick people in the ankles to clear a path to the drinks table. ACCA is about the only place around that still has free, albeit hideous, wine and doesn’t demand some form of notarised photographic ID before letting you in.
ACCA contracts a squad of nice young ladies to prevent you bringing your free and hideous wine into the exhibition, so my exposure to the show was limited to what I cd see from the entrance. Besides, the exhibition’s called Cycle Tracks Will Abound in Utopia, which frightened me off because it implies that Utopia will also abound with cyclists: smug, sanctimonious cyclists in shapeless hemp clothing congratulating each other on the fine job they’ve done of making Utopia abound with the corpses of carnivores suspended from gibbets.
From what I cd see, the show contained videos. Lots of videos. I’m sure some of the videos are very, very good but whenever I see one in an art gallery I think “FAILED FILMMAKER” and move on to the nearest artwork that doesn’t expect me to wait around until it’s ready to start for me. Everyone in the videos seemed to be doing something purposeful but uninteresting: a lot of them had subtitles, which meant that either someone had finally realised you can’t hear a bloody thing at these openings, or that they fell into the cultural genre once defined by Patrick Cook as Ethnic Anything. I know that last remark makes me sound like a columnist from the opinion pages of The Australian but look at the curatorial brief in the show’s promotional blurb:
architectural [sic], social planning, migration, industrial relations, politics, economics, environmental activism…

Even if you are an artist who wants to be “relevant”, wd you feel comfortable being seen dancing to a tune called by some government minister’s junior political adviser who’s been asked to draft a discussion paper on The Vision Thing? And you know who those advisers are. Remember when you were in VCA or whatever and met some student politicians, and discovered they were unscrupulous scum who wd stab their mothers in the back if they thought it cd even slightly further their own interests? That’s what those guys are up to today: writing stuff like that.
Anyway, if you want to make the world a better place through your art, good luck to you but there’s something you shd ask yourself. Do you know what will happen if you actually manage to make a successful career out of pursuing these goals? You will end up like Bono. Do you really want this to happen?