Archive for the 'Melbourne' Category

01
Mar
15

Review: ‘Richard Avedon People’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th December 2014 – 15th March 2015

Curator: Dr Christopher Chapman

 

 

You can tell a lot about a person from their self-portrait. In the case of Richard Avedon’s self-portrait (1969, below), we see a man in high key, white shirt positioned off centre against a slightly off-white background, the face possessing an almost innocuous, vapid affectation as though the person being captured by the lens has no presence, no being at all. The same could be said of much of Avedon’s photography. You can also tell a lot about an artist by looking at their early work. In the exhibition there is a photograph of James Baldwin, writer, Harlem, New York 1945, celebrated writer and close friend of the artist, which evidences Avedon’s mature portrait style: the frontal positioning of Afro-American Baldwin against a white background will be repeated by Avedon from the start to the end of his career. This trope, this hook has become the artist’s defining signature.

Spread across two floors of the exhibition spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, the exhibition hangs well. The tonal black and white photographs in their white frames, hung above and below the line against the white gallery walls, promote a sense of serenity and minimalism to the work when viewed from afar. Up close, the photographs are clinical, clean, pin sharp and decidedly cold in attitude. Overall the selection of work in the exhibition is weak and the show does not promote the artist to best advantage. There are the usual fashion and portrait photographs, supplemented by street photographs, photographs at the beach and of mental asylums, and distorted photographs. While it is good to see a more diverse range of work from the artist to fill in his back story none of these alternate visions really work. Avedon was definitely not a street photographer (see Helen Levitt for comparison); he couldn’t photograph the mentally ill (see Diane Arbus’ last body of work in the book Diane Arbus: Untitled, 1995) and his distorted faces fail miserably in comparison to Weegee’s (Athur Fellig) fabulous distortions. These are poor images by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said there are some arresting individual images. There is a magical photograph of Truman Capote, writer, 1955 which works because of the attitude of the sitter; an outdoors image of Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965 (below) in which the musician has this glorious presence when you stand in front of the image – emanating an almost metaphysical aura – due to the light, low depth of field and stance of the proponent. Also top notch is a portrait of the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, France, July 25, 1961in which (for once), the slightly off-white background and the pallid colour of the dancer’s lithe body play off of each other, his placement allowing him to float in the contextless space of the image, his striking pose and the enormousness of his member drawing the eyes of the viewer. All combine to make a memorable, iconic image. Another stunning image is a portrait of the artist Pablo Picasso, artist, Beaulieu, France, April 16, 1958where the artist’s large, round face fills the picture plane, his craggy features lit by strong side lighting, illuminating the whites of his eyes and just a couple of his eyebrow hairs. Magnificent. And then there are just two images (see below) from the artist’s seminal book In the American West. More on those later. 

Other portraits and fashion photographs are less successful. A photograph of Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967 (below), high contrast, cropped close top and bottom, is a vapid portrait of the fashion/model. The image of Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964 (below) is, as a good friend of mine said, a cruel photograph of the actress. I tend to agree, although another word, ‘bizarre’, also springs to mind. In some ways, his best known fashion photograph, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955 (below) is a ripper of an image… until you observe the punctum, to which my eyes were drawn like a moth to a flame, the horrible shackles around the legs of the elephants.

Generally, the portraiture and fashion photographs are a disappointment. If, as Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper states, “Avedon’s portraiture is a search for authenticity in the age of the fake,”1 then Avedon fails on many levels. His deadpan portraits do not revive or refresh the life of the sitter. In my eyes their inflection, the subtle expression of the sitter, is not enough to sustain the line of inquiry. I asked the curator and a representative from the Avedon Foundation what they thought Avedon’s photographs were about and both immediately said, together, it was all about surfaces. “Bullshit” rejoined I, thinking of the portrait of Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957 (below), in which the photographer pressed the shutter again and again and again as the actress gallivanted around his studio being the vivacious Marilyn, only hours later, when the mask had dropped, to get the photograph that he and everyone else wanted, the vulnerable women. This, and only this image, was then selected to be printed for public consumption, the rest “archived, protected by the Avedon Foundation, never allowed off the negative or the contact sheet.”2 You don’t do that kind of thing, and take that much time, if you are only interested in surfaces.

On reflection perhaps both of us were right, because there is a paradox that lies at the heart of Avedon’s work. There is the surface vacuousness and plasticity of the celebrity/fashion portrait; then the desire of Avedon to be taken seriously as an artist, to transcend the fakeness of the world in which he lived and operated; and also his desire to always be in control of the process – evidenced by how people had to offer themselves up to the great man in order to have their portrait taken, with no control over the results. While Avedon sought to be in touch with the fragility of humanity – the man, woman and child inside – it was also something he was afraid of. Photography gave him control of the situation. In his constructed images, Avedon is both the creator and the observer and as an artist he is always in control. This control continues today, extending to the dictions of The Richard Avedon Foundation, which was set up by Avedon during his lifetime and under his tenants to solely promote his art after he passed away.

When you look into the eyes of the sitters in Avedon’s portraits, there always seems to be a dead, cold look in the eyes. Very rarely does he attempt to reveal the ambiguity of a face that resists artistic production (see Blake Stimson’s text below). And when he does it is only when he has pushed himself to do it (MM, BD). Was he afraid, was he scared that he might have been revealing to much of himself, that he would have “lost control”? If, as he said, there is finally nothing but the face – an autograph, the signature of the face – then getting their autograph was a way to escape his mundane family life through PERFORMANCE. Unfortunately, the performance that he usually evinces from the rich and famous, this “figuring” out of himself through others through control of that performance – is sometimes bland to the point of indifference. Hence my comment on his self-portrait that I mentioned at the start of this review. It would seem to me that Avedon could not face the complex truth, that he could bring himself, through his portraits, to be both inside and outside of a character at one and the same time… to be vulnerable, to be frightened, to loose control!

If he shines himself as a self-portrait onto others, in a quest or search for the human predicament, then his search is for his own frightened face. Only in his the Western Project which formed the basis for his seminal book In the American West - only two of which are in the exhibition – does Avedon achieve a degree of insight, humanity and serenity that his other photographs lack and, perhaps, a degree of quietude within himself. Created after serious heart inflammations hindered Avedon’s health in 1974, In the American West was commissioned in 1979 “by Mitchell A. Wilder (1913-1979), the director of the Amon Carter Museum to complete the “Western Project.” Wilder envisioned the project to portray Avedon’s take on the American West. It became a turning point in Avedon’s career when he focused on everyday working class subjects such as miners soiled in their work clothes, housewives, farmers and drifters on larger-than-life prints instead of a more traditional options with famous public figures… The project itself lasted five years concluding with an exhibition and a catalogue. It allowed Avedon and his crew to photograph 762 people and expose approximately 17,000 sheets of 8 x 10 Tri-X Pan film.”3

In his photographs of drifters, miners, beekeepers, oil rig workers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, carneys and alike the figure is more frontally placed within the image space, pulled more towards the viewer. The images are about the body and the picture plane, about the minutiae of dress and existence and the presence and dignity of his subjects, more than any of his other work. In this work the control of the sitter works to the artist’s advantage (none of these people had ever had their portrait taken before and therefore had to be coached) and, for once, Avedon is not relying on the ego of celebrity of the transience of fashion but on the everyday attitudes of human beings. Through his portrayal of their ordinariness and individuality, he finally reveals his open, exposed self. The project was embedded with Avedon’s goal to discover new dimensions within himself… “from a Jewish photographer from out East who celebrated the lives of famous public figures to an aging man at one of the last chapters of his life to discovering the inner-worlds, and untold stories of his Western rural subjects… The collection identified a story within his subjects of their innermost self, a connection Avedon admits would not have happened if his new sense of mortality through severe heart conditions and aging hadn’t occurred.”4 Definitively, this is his best body of work. Finally he got there. 

Printed on Agfa’s luscious Portriga Rapid, a double-weight, fiber-based gelatin silver paper which has a warm (brown) colouration for the shadow areas and lovely soft cream highlights, the prints in the exhibition are over six-feet high. The presence of Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980 – freckles highlighted by the light, folds of skin under the armpit – and Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979 – visceral innards of the rattlesnake and the look in his eyes – are simply stunning. Both are beautiful prints. In the American West has often been criticised for its voyeuristic themes, for exploiting its subjects and for evoking condescending emotions from the audience such as pity while studying the portraits, but these magnificent photographs are not about that: they are about the exchange of trust between the photographer and a human being, about the dignity of that portrayal, and about the revelation of a “true-self” as much as possible through a photograph – the face of the sitter mirroring the face of the photographer.

While it is fantastic to see these images in Victoria, the first time any Avedon photographs have been seen in this state (well done The Ian Potter Museum of Art!), the exhibition could have been so much more if it had only been more focused on a particular outcome, instead of a patchy, broad brush approach in which everything has been included. I would have been SO happy to see the whole exhibition devoted to Avendon’s most notable and influential work (think Thomas Ruff portraits) – In the American West. The exhibition climaxes (if you like) with three huge, mural-scale portraits of Merce Cunningham (1993, printed 2002), Doon Arbus, writer, New York, 2002 and Harold Bloom, literary critic, New York City, October 28, 2001 (printed 202), big-statement art that enlarges Avedon’s work to sit alongside other sizeable contemporary art works. Spanning floor to ceiling in the gallery space these overblown edifices, Avedon’s reaction to the ever expanding size of postmodern ‘gigantic’ photography, fall as flat as a tack. At this scale the images simply do not work. As Robert Nelson insightfully observes, “To turn Avedon’s portraiture into contemporary art is technically and commercially understandable, but from an artistic point of view, the conflation of familiarity to bombast seems to be faking it one time to many.”5

Finally we have to ask what do artists Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon have in common? Well, they were all based in New York; they are all white, middle class, and reasonably affluent; they were either gay, Jewish or Catholic or a mixture of each; they all liked mixing with celebrities and fashion gurus; and they all have foundations set up in their honour. Only in New York. It seems a strange state of affairs to set up a foundation as an artist, purely to promote, sustain, expand, and protect the legacy and control of your art after you are gone. This is the ultimate in control, about controlling the image of the artist from the afterlife. Foundations such as the Keith Haring Foundation do good work, undertaking outreach and philanthropic programs, making “grants to not-for-profit groups that engage in charitable and educational activities. In accordance with Keith’s wishes, the Foundation concentrates its giving in two areas: The support of organizations which provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children and the support of organizations which engage in education, prevention and care with respect to AIDS and HIV infection.”6 I asked the representative of The Richard Avedon Foundation what charitable or philanthropic work they did. They offer an internship program. That’s it. For an artist so obsessed with image and surfaces, for an artist that eventually found his way to a deeper level of understanding, it’s about time The Richard Avedon Foundation offered more back to the community than just an internship. Promotion and narcissism are one thing, engagement and openness entirely another.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,335

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Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

1. Robert Nelson. “Pin sharp portraits show us real life,” in The Age newspaper, Friday January 2, 2014, p. 22.
2. Andrew Stephens. “Fame and falsehoods,” in Spectrum, The Age newspaper, Saturday November 29, 2014, p. 12.
3. Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015
4. Whitney, Helen. “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light.” American Masters, Season 10, Episode 3, 1996 quoted in Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015.
5. Robert Nelson op cit.,
6. Anon. “About” on The Keith Haring Foundation website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

 

American photographer Richard Avedon (1923-2004) produced portrait photographs that defined the twentieth century. Richard Avedon People explores his iconic portrait making practice, which was distinctive for its honesty, candour and frankness.

One of the world’s great photographers, Avedon is best known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards. The full breadth of Avedon’s renowned work is revealed in this stunning exhibition of 80 black and white photographs dating from 1949 to 2002. Avedon’s instantly recognisable iconic portraits of artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders feature alongside his less familiar portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West. With uncompromising rawness and tenderness, Avedon’s photographs capture the character of individuals extraordinary in their uniqueness and united in their shared experience of humanity.

Richard Avedon People pays close attention to the dynamic relationship between the photographer and his sitters and focuses on Avedon’s portraits across social strata, particularly his interest in counter-culture. At the core of his artistic work was a profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual in society. The exhibition reveals Avedon’s sensitivity of observation, empathy of identification and clear vision that characterise these portraits.

Text from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

“There is no truth in photography. There is no truth about anyone’s person.” –

“There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth.”

“Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is… the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.”

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Richard Avedon

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Richard Avedon People at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

 

“Photography has had its place in the pas de deux between humanism and antihumanism, of course, and with two complementary qualities of its own. In the main, we have thought for a long time now, it is photography’s capacity for technological reproduction that defines its greater meaning, both by indexing the world and through its expanded and accelerated means of semiosis. This emphasis on the proliferation of signs and indices has been part of our posthumanism, and it has turned us away consistently from readings that emphasise photography’s second, humanist quality, its capacity to produce recognition through the power of judgment and thus realise the experience of solidarity or common cause.

In keeping with the framing for this collection of writings, we might call the first of these two qualities photography’s ‘either/and’ impulse and the second its ‘either/or’. Where the first impulse draws its structuring ideal from deferring the moment of judgment as it moves laterally from one iteration to the next, one photograph to the next, the second develops its philosophical ground by seeing more than meets the eye in any given photograph or image as the basis of judgment. For example, this is how Kierkegaard described the experience of a ‘shadowgraph’ (or ‘an inward picture which does not become perceptible until I see it through the external’) in his Either/Or:

Sometimes when you have scrutinised a face long and persistently, you seem to discover a second face hidden behind the one you see. This is generally an unmistakable sign that this soul harbours an emigrant who has withdrawn from the world in order to watch over secret treasure, and the path for the investigator is indicated by the fact that one face lies beneath the other, as it were, from which he understands that he must attempt to penetrate within if he wishes to discover anything. The face, which ordinarily is the mirror of the soul, here takes on, though it be but for an instant, an ambiguity that resists artistic production. An exceptional eye is needed to see it, and trained powers of observation to follow this infallible index of a secret grief. … The present is forgotten, the external is broken through, the past is resurrected, grief breathes easily. The sorrowing soul finds relief, and sorrow’s sympathetic knight errant rejoices that he has found the object of his search; for we seek not the present, but sorrow whose nature is to pass by. In the present it manifests itself only for a fleeting instant, like the glimpse one may have of a man turning a corner and vanishing from sight.

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Roland Barthes was trying to describe a similar experience with his account of the punctum just as Walter Benjamin did with his figure of the angel of history: ‘His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events [in the same way we experience photography’s ‘either/and’ iteration of images], he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet’. As Kierkegaard, Barthes, and Benjamin suggest, the old humanist experience of struggle with the singular experience of on-going failure to realise its hallowed ideals only ever arose in photography or anywhere else fleetingly, but it is all but invisible to us now.”

Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or, volume I, 1843, 171, 173 quoted in Blake Stimson. “What was Humanism?” on the Either/And website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York' 1954

 

Richard Avedon
Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York
1954
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949' 1949

 

Richard Avedon
New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949
1949
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Richard Avedon People celebrates the work of American photographer Richard Avedon (1923 to 2004), renowned for his achievements in the art of black and white portraiture. Avedon’s masterful work in this medium will be revealed in an in-depth overview of 80 photographs from 1949 to 2002, to be displayed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne from 6 December 2014 to 15 March 2015.

Known for his exquisitely simple compositions, Avedon’s images express the essence of his subjects in charming and disarming ways. His work is also a catalogue of the who’s who of twentieth-century American culture. In the show, instantly recognisable and influential artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders including Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Malcolm X, are presented alongside portraits of the unknown. Always accessible, they convey his profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Kelly Gellatly said, “Richard Avedon was one of the world’s great photographers. He is known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards, and his revealing portraits of celebrities, artists and political identities.

“People may be less familiar, however, with his portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West,” Gellatly continued. “Richard Avedon People brings these lesser-known yet compelling portraits together with his always captivating iconic images. In doing so, the exhibition provides a rounded and truly inspiring insight into Avedon’s extraordinary practice.”

Avedon changed the face of fashion photography through his exploration of motion and emotion. From the outset, he was fascinated by photography’s capacity for suggesting the personality and evoking the life of his subjects. This is evidenced across the works in the exhibition, which span Avedon’s career from his influential fashion photography and minimalist portraiture of well-known identities, to his depictions of America’s working class.

Avedon’s practice entered the public imagination through his long association with seminal American publications. He commenced his career photographing for Harper’s Bazaar, followed by a 20-year partnership with Vogue. Later, he established strong collaborations with Egoiste and The New Yorker, becoming staff photographer for The New Yorker in 1992.

Richard Avedon People is the first solo exhibition of Avedon’s work to be displayed in Victoria following showings in Perth and Canberra. The exhibition was curated by the National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator, Dr Christopher Chapman, in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation over the course of two years. The Foundation was established by Avedon in his lifetime and encourages the study and appreciation of the artist’s photography through exhibitions, publications and outreach programs.

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Dr Christopher Chapman

Dr Christopher Chapman is Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery where he has produced major exhibitions exploring diverse experiences of selfhood and identity. He joined the Gallery in 2008 and was promoted to Senior Curator in 2011. He works closely with the Gallery’s management team to drive collection and exhibition strategy. Working in the visual arts field since the late 1980s, Christopher has held curatorial roles at the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia. He has lectured in visual arts and culture for the Australian National University and his PhD thesis examined youth masculinity and themes of self-sacrifice in photography and film.

A National Portrait Gallery of Australia exhibition presented in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York.

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965
1965
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955' 1955

 

Richard Avedon
Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955
1955
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia' c. 1963

 

Richard Avedon
Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia
c. 1963
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993' 1993

 

Richard Avedon
Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993
1993
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

“Insights into the crossover of genres and the convergence of modern media gave Avedon’s work its extra combustive push. He got fame as someone who projected accents of notoriety and even scandal within a decorous field. By not going too far in exceeding known limits, he attained the highest rank at Vogue. In American popular culture, this was where Avedon mattered, and mattered a lot. But it was not enough.

In fact, Avedon’s increasingly parodistic magazine work often left – or maybe fed – an impression that its author was living beneath his creative means. In the more permanent form of his books, of which there have been five so far, he has visualized another career that would rise above fashion. Here Avedon demonstrates a link between what he hopes is social insight and artistic depth, choosing as a vehicle the straight portrait. Supremacy as a fashion photographer did not grant him status in his enterprise – quite the contrary – but it did provide him access to notable sitters. Their presence before his camera confirmed the mutual attraction of the well-connected.”

Max Kozloff. “Richard Avedon’s “In the American West”,” on the ASX website, January 24, 2011 [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964' 1964

 

Richard Avedon
Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964
1964
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967' 1967

 

Richard Avedon
Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967
1967
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979' 1979

 

Richard Avedon
Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979
1979, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980' 1980

 

Richard Avedon
Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980
1980, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin & Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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08
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Bohemian Melbourne’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th December 2014 – 22th February 2015

 

Definition

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. (Wikipedia)

A Bohemian is a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

 

This is a fantastic exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, one of the best I have seen so far in Melbourne this year. I have seen it three times and each time it has been a thoroughly rewarding experience.

  • Visually and intellectually stimulating, with a plethora of artefacts, texts and photographs
  • Excellent curatorship, with the exhibition logically structured in order to cohesively display the history, characters and stories, and strands of creativity and rebellious spirit that make up Melbourne’s cultural life
  • A great hang, with disparate elements and mediums all informing each other, pithy quotes, unique film footage, video, music
  • Not too big, just the right size to indulge your senses and brain power

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One downside was that the exhibition needed a book or exhibition catalogue to flesh out the themes. Hopefully this will eventuate down the track. Also, it would have been nice to see more of what I would call ‘vernacular bohemianism’ – not just the famous people in each era, but the people that lived the life out on the streets, that supported the subcultures that sprung up from the 1950s onwards, but in a small exhibition it is understandable that there was not enough space.

Another perspective is that, in ordering such a diverse group of people who don’t want to be classified, who lived on the edge of society – you remove their cultural and historical ability to be transgressive, to cross moral and social taboos. By naming them as “bohemian” you seek to classify and order their existence and bring them within a frame of reference that is about control, power and visibility. This disciplinary power, Michel Foucault maintains, relies on surveillance to transform the subjects and the exhibition taxonomy is just that… a form of surveillance of the subject as well as a form of ordering it. Under this phenomena of power, dissonance/dissidence is neutralised and human beings are made subjects: through ‘the systematic linking of the categories of power and knowledge to form a hybrid, power-knowledge.’ (Hirst, 1992, “Foucault and Architecture,” in AA Files, No. 26, Autumn, pp. 52-60)

As John Tagg notes in his book The Burden of Representation (and this is what this exhibition does, it ‘represents’ a particular construction of identity as seen from the viewpoint of the establishment, the institution), “when Foucault examines power he is not just examining a negative force operating through a series of prohibitions … We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms – as exclusion, censorship, concealment, eradication. In fact, power produces. It produces reality. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth.” (Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 87)

Ultimatley, that is what this exhibition does, it produces a reality that many of these bohemians would not have bought into, for they lived outside the fold. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth that, through their naming, seek to classify and negate the transgressive and subversive nature of many of these people and groups. These people lived in opposition to the tenants and morals of everyday society and that is why we still love them – for their creativity, their individuality, their thoughts and above all their panache, stepping outside the orthodoxies and regi/mentality of everyday life. Against the system, for life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the State Library of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The mania of young artists to
wish to live outside of their time,
with other ideas and other customs,
isolate them from the world,
render them strange and bizarre,
puts them outside the law, banished
from society. These are today’s
bohemians.”

.
Félix Pyat (French, 1810-1889)

 

 

Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?

Revealing Melbourne’s enduring counter-cultures, Bohemian Melbourne celebrates a who’s who of creative free spirits through their art and the bohemian legacy that has shaped the character of this city. The exhibition shines a light on Melbourne’s cultural bohemians from 1860 to today, tracing individuals who have pushed against convention in their lives and art, from Marcus Clarke, Albert Tucker and Mirka Mora to Barry Humphries, Vali Myers and Nick Cave.

Venture into history’s backstreets and smoky salons to discover the stories of the daring poets, artists, visionaries, rebels and rock stars who changed Melbourne forever. (Text from the website)

 

Marcus Clarke: “A Punk in the Age of Steam”

Marcus Clarke, writer, journalist and later a librarian at the Melbourne Public Library, is generally celebrated as the father of Bohemian Melbourne – although he was more its wild child. After a privileged start in a wealthy English family, which allowed him to cultivate the life of a young dandy and to indulge his passion for the writings of Honoré de Balzac and others, a 16-year-old Clarke suddenly found himself in colonial Melbourne in 1863, thanks to a turn in the family fortune.

Determined to maintain a semblance of the life to which he had become accustomed, Clarke was soon to be found strolling the streets of Melbourne as a flâneur, an observer of the city spectacle. A short-lived post as a bank clerk was followed by a stint on the land as a jackaroo, but by the age of 21 he was back in Melbourne and working as a journalist for the Argus newspaper.

Clarke’s bohemian ways soon attracted other young journalists and writers, and they began to congregate at various Melbourne watering holes, in particular the Cafe de Paris establishing the Yorick Club, the early members of which included fellow writers Henry Rendall, George Gordon McCrae and Adam Lindsay Gordon. The Yorick had a human skull for a mascot and rules that parodied the gentleman’s clubs of establishment Melbourne. Its members gathered in rooms adjoining the office of Melbourne Punch to smoke clay pipes, drink from pewter mugs, recite poetry and generally engage in horseplay. Bohemian society had found a Melbourne home and a creative community was born. (Wall text from exhibition)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Bohemian culture in marvellous Melbourne

Marvellous Melbourne, which arose out of the egalitarianism of the gold rushes, gave birth to a strong bohemian culture. Marcus Clarke, the London-born journalist, writer, librarian and professional bohemian, joined the Athenaeum Club and founded in 1868 the Yorrick Club, Australia’s first bohemian club, which became a magnet for men of letters.

He was a dressed-up dandy, a flâneur and a heavy drinker, but had a touch of genius with his novel, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874/75), one of the classics of Australian colonial literature. He was dead by the age of 35, with suicide rumoured but rejected by his actress wife, Marian Dunn, the mother of his six children. Clarke in his behaviour and creative achievement became a model for other Australian bohemians to follow.

Extract from Professor Sasha Grishin. “Celebrating Melbourne bohemians at the State Library of Victoria,” on The Conversation website, 16 January 2015 [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' (detail) 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke (detail)
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

“In 1863, when the young Marcus Clarke arrived in Melbourne, he could have slipped easily into what passed for mannered society in the booming gold-rush city. His uncle was a County Court judge, his cousin a politician, and Clarke himself was granted honorary membership of the elite Melbourne Club. But he chose to turn his back on the bunyip aristocracy. “I am a bohemian,” declared the man who would go on to write the first great Australian novel. “I live, I walk, I eat, drink and philosophise.”

All of which sounds perfectly normal – except, perhaps, for the philosophising – but in reality, Marcus Clarke’s life was far from average. He became a celebrated satirist of Marvellous Melbourne, by turns outraging and titillating 19th-century sensibilities in Australia’s modern metropolis. He befriended fellow intellectuals and bon vivants to form underground literary clubs that didn’t so much turn their backs on as raise an insulting finger to colonial mores. He was a poet and a playwright, a journalist and a novelist, a jackaroo, a wastrel and, above all, quite the tremendous wit.

Clarke’s most enduring gift is his writing, particularly the classic convict novel For The Term Of His Natural Life. But a new exhibition at the State Library of Victoria pays tribute to his other major legacy – that of Australia’s first bona fide bohemian.

“Clarke was an iconoclast, dangerous to know and a dandy about town,” explains historian Dr Tony Moore, author of Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians

“Most people think of him as a venerable old Victorian gentleman, but I characterise him as a punk in the age of steam.” [Marcus: I don’t know why a venerable old Victorian gentleman – he was dead at 35]

Moore, who is a Monash University academic and passionate chronicler of unconventional Australians, was an adviser to the exhibition and worked alongside curator Clare Williamson to create this retrospective of radicals. Melbourne’s roaming free spirits have been corralled together for the first time using material – some of it never previously displayed in public – drawn from State Library archives and borrowed from public and private collections. Viewed en masse, they comprise a rogues’ gallery of some of the country’s most indelible cultural icons…

His [Clarke’s] image adorns the exhibition posters, a larger-than-life bohemian in breeches and knee-high boots with a cabbage-tree hat perched jauntily above his broad, handsome face. Melbourne’s original radical would be thrilled to see that his notoriety lives on, more than a century after his death.”

Extract from Kendall Hill. “Bohemian Melbourne: Exhibition” on the Qantas Travel Insider website [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

installation-k-WEB

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Members of the Ishmael Club' c. 1900

 

Unknown photographer
Members of the Ishmael Club
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975) 'Fifteen of the Founders' 1944

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975)
Fifteen of the Founders
1944
Oil on canvas and gauze mounted on panel
Collection of the Montsalvat Trust

 

 

Montsalvat is the result of Justus Jörgensen’s vision for a collective experience of art and life. Jörgensen had trained in architecture and then in painting with earlier bohemian Max Meldrum. His studio in Queen Street, the Mitre Tavern and the Latin and Chung Wah restaurants were sites for lively discussions in which Jörgensen put forward his philosophies of art, the revival of medieval craftsmanship and communal living. This vision began to take shape in 1934 when he and his wife, Lily, brought land at Eltham; with the assistance of friends and followers, he built Montsalvat, an artists’ colony of studios, workshops and the communal Great Hall.

While Justus Jörgensen rarely exhibited, his great love was painting. This multi-panelled work comprises portraits by Jörgensen of 15 significant figures from the early years of Montsalvat. They are, from top to bottom, left to right:

Ian Robertson – student of Jorgensen who also ran an antiques shop
Leo Brierley – businessman and backer of Mervyn Skipper’s Pandemonium journal
Helen (Nell) Lempriere – niece of Dame Nellie Melba, painter, sculptor, and an earl student of Jorgensen
Norman Porter – friend and student of Jorgensen and lecturer in philosophy
Mervyn Skipper – author, journalist and Melbourne editor of the Bulletin
Helen Skipper – Mervyn’s first daughter, Jorgensen’s partner for many years, and mother of Sebastian and Sigmund Jorgensen
Justus Jorgensen – founder and architect of Montsalvat, painter, assistant to artist Max Meldrum and teacher.
Sonia Skipper – second daughter of Mervyn Skipper, and painter and teacher
Arthur Munday – law student, sculptor and stonemason trained by Jorgensen
William (Bill) Cook – teacher, philosophy and president of the Victorian Rationalist Society
Norman Radcliffe – student and friend of Jorgensen, and philosopher
Ray Grant – student of Jorgensen and philosopher
Edward Goll – internationally renowned pianist and teacher at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
Arthur (George) Chalmers – pharmacist, student of Jorgensen, stonemason and carver, who also planted the first vineyard at Montsalvat

(Label texts)

 

Montsalvat is an artist colony in Eltham, Victoria, Australia, established by Justus Jörgensen in 1934. It is home to over a dozen buildings, houses and halls set amongst richly established gardens on 48,562 m2 (12 acres) of land. The colony of Montsalvat has a detailed history that reflects the life of Jörgensen and his friends and family; there is also a legend behind its name, while its buildings and gardens are steeped in the art and culture of Melbourne and its surroundings.

Visitors can pay a small fee to walk throughout the colony’s historical gardens, artists’ houses/workshops and explore the surrounding buildings. All of the buildings on the site were designed and built by residents with locally available materials, from various sources. The Great Hall offers an extensive network of spaces from extravagant halls and vast exhibition spaces, to small corridors and tiny balconies overlooking the gardens. (Wikipedia)

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Ella Grainger (1889-1979) 'Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger' c. 1934

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
Ella Grainger (1889-1979)
Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger
c. 1934
Cotton bath towels, plastic, leather and metal
Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

 

“In 1932 or 1933 my wife and I took up again this idea of clothing made of towelling and when in Australia in 1934 and 1935 we were amazed by the beauty of the bath towels on sale in Australia – some imported from England, Czechoslovakia and America, but most of them (and among them the most beautiful ones) manufactured in Australia. Here was a chance to show what could be done with the beauty born of machinery – a beauty as rich and subtle, in its own way, as anything made by hand or loom.”

Percy Grainger, c. 1955-56

 

Unknown photographer
Percy Grainger at White Plains, New York
1936
Exhibition graphic from silver gelatine photograph
Grainger Museum collection, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015, including at left Albert Tucker, Self-portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 (see below)

 

Albert Tucker. 'Self-portrait with Joy Hester' 1939

 

Albert Tucker
Self-portrait with Joy Hester
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

An Interview with Albert Tucker conducted by Justin Obrien in 1997.
Albert expands on his many insights,during the time he spent with John and Sunday Reed and other artists at Heide during the1940’s. An intimate insight into a unique man.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' (detail) 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café (detail)
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

 

These clips features home movie footage taken by Gertie Anschel (c.1953-1954) with audio commentary by film director Philippe Mora.

Part 1 of 3 features scenes of Melbourne, The Mirka Café and Joy Hester and Gray Smith’s property. Philippe reflects on his childhood and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene. 

 

 

Part 2 of 3 features the property of Roger de Stoop, artist friends and Arthur Boyd at work on his 1956 Melbourne Olympic statue. Philippe reflects on his childhood identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Part 3 of 3 features the Moras, the art gang at a balcony party and late American actor Melvyn Douglas. Philippe reflects on his childhood, parents and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Making Your Own Fun in the 50s

On the surface at least, Melbourne in the 1950s was a rather dour affair. For some non-conformists, such as Vali Myers and Barry Humphries, it was a place to escape rather than a place to be. For others, however, it was a site for creating underground cultures that were largely invisible to the mainstream.

This was no more so than in the case of gay and lesbian, or ‘camp’, culture, as it was known at the time. Homosexuality was illegal in Victoria until 1960, and in the 1950s it was sensationalised in the tabloid press as a subject for mockery if not horror. As a result, homosexual men and women developed alternative bohemian cultures and communities, with their own covert venues, house parties, secret languages and dress codes.

The gala costume arts balls that raised money for mainstream theatre and other arts charities were grand exceptions to the gnerally underground clubs and private parties. They offered rare moments in which camp culture could be expressed in public without fear for reprisal. Theatres and dance companies provided employment for many, and bars, such as the one nicknamed the Snake Pit at the Hotel Australia, and restaurants such as Val’s Coffee Lounge, provided opportunities for the camp community to meet and to mix with others who were outside the establishment.

 

Norman Ikin. 'Vali Myers' c. 1949

 

Norman Ikin
Vali Myers
c. 1949
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Mark Strizic. 'Barry Humphries in Melbourne' 1969

 

Mark Strizic (1928-2012)
Barry Humphries in Melbourne
1969
Exhibition print from flexible-base negative
State Library of Victoria
Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

 

 

A never seen on broadcast TV programme with Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage made in 1975. Barry Humphries was promoting his film ‘Barry McKenzie holds his own’. Films clips were provided officially by EMI. The interviewer trying to hold things together is Mark Caldwell. The programme was made in black and white.

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with, in the distance, Henry Talbot Portraits of actor Frank Thring 1963, with Thring’s jewellery box and contents in the foreground.

 

It has been said of Frank Thring that he could make most stages or foyers seem small. His larger-than-life personality was almost matched by his frame, often decked out in imposing black and with flamboyant jewellery. Son of Frank Thring snr, founder of Efftee Films and 3XY Radio, Thring jnr earned fame as an actor in London’s West End and in Hollywood films such as Ben Hur, often playing sinister or decadent characters. In the 1950s, he would recite poems laden with innuendo and hold court at the ‘head table’ at Val’s Coffee Lounge. To be welcome at his table was a sign one was part of the ‘in’ crowd. (Label text)

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Arts Ball, Palais de Danse - John Anderson as Sun God' c. 1963-64

 

Unknown photographer
Arts Ball, Palais de Danse – John Anderson as Sun God
c. 1963-64
Gelatin silver photograph
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

John Anderson was first-prize winner at a number of arts balls in the 1960s. His costume shown here reflects the creativity and effort that many put into their outfits. Costumes and headdresses were sometimes so large that Anderson and others regularly hired furniture vans to take them to the ball. One year the van that was transporting Anderson broke down and he completed the journey strapped upright on the back of a ute. His Sun  God costume wowed new audiences when he was invited to take part in a pageant on ice base on the theme of The Kind and I – with Anderson as the King – at the Southland shopping centre ice rink around 1970. (Label text)

But you will go to the ball, you will sweetie!

 

Richard Walsh (editor) 'The Review', Vol. 22, No. 22 Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co., March 1972

 

Richard Walsh (editor)
The Review, Vol. 22, No. 22
Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co.,
March 1972
State Library of Victoria

 

Before editing the irreverent Melbourne weekly The Review (Nation Review from July 1972, Richard Walsh edited counter-cultural Oz magazine with Richard Neville and Martin Sharp. Contributors to Nation Review included Max Harris, Bob Ellis, Phillip Adams, Michael Leunig and Germaine Greer. Greer had been part of the Drift in Melbourne, a loose association of artists, students and graduates. Enrolling in a Masters degree at Sydney University, in 1962 she becomes a leading light in the Sydney libertarian Push, an intellectual bohemia of larrikin anarchists. Gaining her PhD at Cambridge University, Greer then published her groundbreaking book The Female Eunuch. (Label text)

 

Ashley Mackevicius. 'Nick Cave' 1973

 

Ashley Mackevicius
Nick Cave
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2006

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Soapbox Circus - The Fabulous Spagoni Family' c. 1977

 

Ponch Hawkes
Soapbox Circus – The Fabulous Spagoni Family
c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park' 1979

 

Ponch Hawkes
Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with artist Ponch Hawkes work at right

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mirka Mora in her studio' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis
Mirka Mora in her studio
1978
Colour transparency
State Library Victoria
© Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003) 'Passions' 1981-82

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003)
Passions
1981-82
Pen, black ink, sepia, burnt sienna and watercolour
Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

 

Vali Myers discovered a love of drawing at an early age. Over the years it became her primary mode of artistic expression in place of contemporary dance. She dedicated her life to her art and would spend up to two years creating each of her intricately drawn artworks. Passions contains many elements that symbolically represent aspects of Vali Myers’ art and life. These include a fox (referencing her pet Foxy), ravens (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven being one of her favourite poems, a gypsy-like figure playing a violin and, at the centre of it all, a woman with flaming red hair. (Label text)

 

Liz Ham. 'Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building' 1997

 

Liz Ham
Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building
1997
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Australian artist Vali Myers moved to Paris from Australia at age 19 where she lived on the streets, danced in cafes, met Satre, Cocteau, Genet and Django Reinhardt. She moved to New York, tattooed Patti Smith’s knee, befriended Salvador Dali and met Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams.

Vali was a great influence on lots of famous people Tennesse Williams, Jean Cocteau, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Jean Genet and Kate Bush.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

 

Australian artist Howard Arkley interviewed by ABC television shortly before his untimely death in 1999.

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999) 'The Ritual' 1986

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999)
The Ritual
1986
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
State Library of Victoria

 

Howard Arkley is recognised as one of Australia’s most significant 20th-century artists. He is unique in embracing not only urban culture but also life in suburbia, a space generally shunned or scorned by bohemians, with exception of that other flaneur of suburbia, Barry Humphries. Like many bohemians before him, Arkley lived on the edge and experimented with mind-altering substances, and, like a good proportion of them, his life was tragically cut short as a result. Despite its large scale, comic-book style and pop colours, The Ritual is as much a cool and judgment-free study in composition and the human form as it is in the rituals or ‘habits’ associated with drug use. (Label text)

 

 

State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

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12
Jan
15

New Fredrick White Sculpture website

 

I have made a new website for my friend FW. The site is fully responsive on all devices and showcases his amazing work to advantage.

Visit his new website.

Marcus

 

 

Fredrick White Sculpture website

 

Fredrick White Sculpture website
2015

 

Fredrick White 'Transference' 2014

Fredrick White 'Transference' 2014

Fredrick White 'Transference' 2014

 

Fredrick White
Transference
2014
Aluminium pipe
802 x 133 x 290 cm

Photographed at Pipemakers Park, Maribyrnong

 

 

Fredrick White Sculpture website

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16
Dec
14

Season’s Greetings from Art Blart 2014

 

Art Blart Season's Greetings 2014

 

 

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16
Dec
14

Edmund Pearce Gallery to close

 

One of the few dedicated commercial photography galleries in Melbourne has decided to close its doors. Such a pity “that the depth and breadth of the Australian market is not sufficient to sustain a commercial space dedicated to photography.”

Many thankx to Tim Bruce and Jason McQuoid for their stirling efforts over the last three years… we will miss you !!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Press release

“Edmund Pearce to close Flinders Lane gallery space. After three years of operation the directors of Edmund Pearce have decided to close their gallery space in Flinders Lane following the final exhibition of 2014.

Dedicated to the appreciation and understanding of photography, Edmund Pearce has hosted over 100 exhibitions and special projects since February of 2012. The gallery has taken immense pleasure in supporting and promoting the work of both emerging and established artists. This has added to critical discourse and lifted the standards of contemporary photo-media practice here in Australia.

The decision to close has not come easily for the directors; most importantly due to the impact it will have on its artists and loyal patrons. Despite the strength and diversity of the gallery’s programme, it has become clearly evident that the depth and breadth of the Australian market is not sufficient to sustain a commercial space dedicated to photography.

Edmund Pearce expresses its gratitude to all of the exhibiting artists, collectors, curators, writers, interns, volunteers and patrons who have made the gallery such a well-respected and exciting venture. Directors Tim Bruce and Jason McQuoid are proud of the cultural impact the gallery has achieved in such a short period of time and will continue to be passionate advocates of Melbourne’s vibrant cultural landscape.”

 

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07
Dec
14

Exhibition/text: ‘Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st October 2014 – 18th January 2015

Artists: Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams

Curator: Joanna Bosse

 

This is a gorgeous exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art. Walking through the show you can’t help but have a smile on your face, because the work is so inventive, so fresh, with no pretension to be anything other than, well, art.

There are big preconceptions about ‘Outsider art’, originally art that was made by institutionalised mentally ill people, but now more generally understood as art that is made by anyone outside the mainstream of art production – “artworks made by folk artists and those who are self-taught, disabled, or on the edges of society” who are disenfranchised in some way or other, either by their own choice or through circumstance or context.

Outsider art promotes contemporary art while still ‘tagging’ the artists as “Outsider” – just as you ‘tag’ a blog posting so that a search engine can find a specific item if it is searched for online. It is a classification I have never liked (in fact I abhor it!) for it defines what you are without ever understanding who you are and who you can become – as an artist and as a human being. One of the good things about this exhibition is that it challenges the presumptions of this label (unfortunately, while still using it).

As Joanna Bosse notes in her catalogue essay, “Most attempts to define the category of Outsider art include caveats about the elasticity of borders and the impact of evolving societal and cultural attitudes… The oppositional dialectic of inside/outside is increasingly acknowledged as redundant  and, in a world marked by cultural pluralism, many question the validity of the category.”1 Bosse goes on to suggest that, with its origins in the term art brut (the raw and unmediated nature of art made by the mentally ill), Outsider art reinforces the link between creativity, marginality and mental illness, proffering “the notion of a pure form of creativity that expresses an artist’s psychological state [which] is a prevailing view that traverses the divergent range of creative practice that falls under the label.”2

The ambiguities of art are always threatened by a label, never more so than in the case of Outsider art. For example, how many readers who visited the Melbourne Now exhibition at NGV International and saw the magnificent ceramic cameras by Alan Constable would know that the aritst is intellectually disabled, deaf and nearly blind. Alan holds photographs of cameras three inches away from his eyes and scans the images, then constructs his cameras by feel with his hands, fires them and glazes them. The casual viewer would know nothing of this backstory and just accepts the work on merit. Good art is good art no matter where it comes from. It is only when you enquire about the history of the artist – whether mainstream or outsider – that their condition of becoming (an artist) might affect how you contextualise a work or body of work.

Bosse makes comment about the rationale for the exhibition: ‘The decision to focus on artists’ engagement with the exterior, everyday world was to counter one of the common assumptions about artists in this category – that they are are disconnected from society and that their work is solely expressionistic, in that it relates almost exclusively to the self and the expression of the artist’s emotional inner life.”3 Bosse agrees with the position that to simply eliminate the designation would be a different kind of marginalisation – “one where the unique world view and specific challenges the individual faces would become lost in a misguided attempt at egalitarianism.”4

As chair of a panel session at the international conference Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context, 23-26th October at The University of Melbourne, curator Lynne Cooke also sees the classification “Outsider” as valuable, for “Outsider art is the condition that contemporary art wants to be” – that is imaginative, free, intuitive, visceral and living on the edge. She sees contemporary art as having run up the white flag leaving Outsider art – however you define that (not the white, middle class male establishment, and belonging to the right galleries) – to be the vanguard, the new avant-garde.5 The exhibition catalogue concludes with her observation that, while current curatorial strategies breakdown the distinctions between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ – making significant headway concerning stigmatisation – these might have the effect of loosing what she describes as the “‘unique and crucial agency’ that this art has to challenge the ‘monocultural frame’.”6 These artists positions as ‘circuit breakers’, holding counter culture positions, may be threatened as their work is made ready for market, especially if they have little knowledge of it themselves.

And there’s the rub, right there. On the one hand Outsider art wants to be taken seriously, the people promoting it (seldom the artists) want it to be shown in mainstream galleries like the National Gallery of Victoria, and so it should be. Good art is good art not matter what. But they also want to have their cake and eat it too; they want to stand both inside and outside the frame of reference.7 In other words, they promote Outsider art within a mainstream context while still claiming “marginal” status, leveraging funding, philanthropy, international conferences and standing in the community as evidence of their good work. And they do it very successfully. Where would we be without fantastic organisations such as Arts Project Australia and Arts Access Victoria to help people with a disability make art? Can you imagine the Melbourne Art Fair without one of the best stands of the entire proceedings, the Arts Project Australia stand? While I support them 100% I am playing devil’s advocate here, for I believe it’s time that the label “Outsider art” was permanently retired. Surely, if we live in a postmodern, post-human society where there is no centre and no periphery, then ‘other’ can occupy both the centre and the margins at one and the same time WITHOUT BEING NAMED AS SUCH!

[Of course, naming “Outsider art” is also a way of controlling it, to have agency and power over it – the power to delineate, classify and ring fence such art, power to promote such artists as the organisations own and bring that work to market.]

Getting rid of the term Outsider art is not a misguided attempt at egalitarianism as Joanna Bosse proposes, for there will always be a narrative to the work, a narrative to the artist. The viewer just has to read and enquire to find out. Personally, what I find most inspiring when looking at this art is that you are made aware of your interaction with the artist. The work is so immediate and fresh and you can feel the flowering of creativity within these souls jumping off the page.

For any artist, for any work, what we must do is talk about the specific in relation to each individual artist, in relation to the world, in relation to reality and resist the temptation to apply any label, resist the fetishisation of the object (and artist) through that label, absolutely. This is the way forward for any art. May the nomenclature “outsider” and its discrimination be gone forever.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Bosse, Joanna. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art.” Catalogue essay. The Ian Potter Museum of Modern Art.
2. Ibid.,
3. Ibid.,
4. Ibid.,
5. Cooke, Lynne. Senior Curator, Special Projects in Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. My notes from the panel session “Outsider Art in the Centre: Museums and Contemporary Art,” at Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context, 23-26th October at The University of Melbourne.
6. Cooke, Lynne. Orthodoxies undermined’, Great and mighty things: Outsider art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz collection. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2013, p. 213 quote in Bosse, Joanna, op. cit.,
7. An example of this can be seen in the launch of the new magazine artsider - “Arts Access Victoria in Partnership with Writers Victoria invites you to the Launch of artsider, a magazine devoted to outsider art and writing.” What a clumsy title that seeks to have a foot in both camps. Email received from Arts Access Victoria 19/11/2014.

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Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Martin Thompson. 'Untitled' 2014

 

Martin Thompson
Untitled
2014
Ink on paper
52.5 x 105 cm
Courtesy the artist and Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin

 

Andrew Blythe. 'Untitled' 2012

 

Andrew Blythe
Untitled
2012
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
88 x 116 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tim Melville Gallery, Auckland

 

Terry William. 'Stereo' 2011

 

Terry Williams
Stereo
2011
Vinyl fabric, cotton, stuffing and fibre-tipped pen
21 x 43 x 14 cm
Private collection, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

Terry Williams. 'Telephone' 2011

 

Terry Williams
Telephone
2011
Fabric, cotton, stuffing and fibre-tipped pen
18 x 13 x 20 cm
Private collection, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

“An exhibition of Australian and New Zealand ‘Outsider’ artists which challenges a key existing interpretation of the genre will be presented at the Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne, from 1 October 2014 to 15 January 2015. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art, features the work of artists Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams.

The term ‘Outsider art’ was coined by British art historian Roger Cardinal in 1972 expanding on the 1940s French concept of art brut – predominantly artworks made by the institutionalised mentally ill – to include artworks made by folk artists and those who are self-taught, disabled, or on the edges of society. The work of Outsider artists is often interpreted as expressing a unique inner vision unsullied by social or cultural influences. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art counters this view by presenting contemporary Outsider artists whose works reveal their proactive engagement with the everyday world through artworks that focus on day-to-day experiences.

Curator Joanna Bosse says the exhibition questions a key interpretive bias of Outsider art that is a legacy of its origins in art brut.

“The association with an interior psychological reality that is unsullied by social or cultural influences remains deeply embedded within the interpretations of Outsider art today, and can lead audiences to misinterpret the agency and intention of the artist. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art questions this key interpretive bias, and presents the work of Australian and New Zealander outsider artists that demonstrate a clear and proactive engagement with the world. The work of artists Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams reveals their blatant interest in the here and now,” Ms Bosse said.

Terry Williams’ soft fabric sculptures of everyday items such as fridges, cameras and clocks convey his keen observation of the world and urgent impulse to replicate what is meaningful through familiarity or fascination. Kellie Greaves’ paintings are based on book cover illustrations with the addition of her own compositional elements and complementary tonal colour combinations. The traditional discipline of life-drawing provides Lisa Reid with a structure to pursue her interest in recording the human figure. Her pen and ink drawings are carefully observed yet intuitive renderings.

Jack Napthine produces drawn recollections of his past and present daily life in the form of visual diaries. Light fittings from remembered environments feature prominently as do doors with multiple and varied locks. Napthine’s work has a bold economy of means; he uses thick texta pen to depict simplified designs accompanied by text detail that often records the names of friends and family.

The work of Martin Thompson and Andrew Blythe also displays a similarly indexical approach. Both artists produce detailed repetitive patterns that are borne out of a desire for order and control. Thompson uses large-scale grid paper to create meticulous and intricate geometric designs whereas Blythe uses select motifs – the word ‘no’ and the symbol ‘x’ – to fill the pictorial plane with dense yet orderly markings that result in graphic and rhythmic patterns.

“In the last decade in particular there has been much debate about the term ‘outsider art': who does it define? What are the prerequisite conditions for its production? What is it outside of, and who decides? This exhibition doesn’t seek to resolve these ambiguities or establish boundaries, but looks beyond definitions to challenge a key assumption underlying contemporary interpretations of outsider art,” Ms Bosse said.

Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art is held in conjunction with the international conference Contemporary Outsider art: the global context, presented Art Projects Australia and The University of Melbourne and held 23-26 October at The University of Melbourne. The conference proposes an inter-disciplinary exploration of the field, drawing on the experience and knowledge of Australian and international artists, collectors, curators and scholars. More information at www.outsiderartmelbourne2014.com.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Julian Martin. 'Untitled' 2011

 

Julian Martin
Untitled
2011
Pastel on paper
38 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

Kelly Greaves. 'My little Japan' 2010

 

Kelly Greaves
My little Japan
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
59.4 x 42 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

Jack Napthine
Untitled
2013
Fibre-tipped pen on paper
59.4 x 42 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

Jack Napthine
Untitled
2013
Fibre-tipped pen on paper
42 x 59.4 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Lisa Reid. 'Queen of hearts' 2010

 

Lisa Reid
Queen of hearts
2010
Pencil on paper
35 x 25 cm
Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
Swanston Street between Faraday and Elgin streets in Parkville
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm
Monday closed

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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30
Nov
14

Review: ‘PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th October – 7th December 2014

Artists: Micky Allan, Pat Brassington, Virginia Coventry, Sandy Edwards, Anne Ferran, Sue Ford, Christine Godden, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Fiona Hall, Ponch Hawkes, Carol Jerrems, Merryle Johnson, Ruth Maddison, Julie Rrap, Robyn Stacey.

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

With the National Gallery of Victoria’s photography exhibition program sliding into oblivion – the apparent demise of its only dedicated photography exhibition space on the 3rd floor of NGV International; the lack of exhibitions showcasing ANY Australian artists from any era; and the exhibition of perfunctory overseas exhibitions of mediocre quality (such as the high gloss, centimetre deep Alex Prager exhibition on show at the moment at NGV International) – it is encouraging that Monash Gallery of Art consistently puts on some of the best photography exhibitions in this city. This cracker of an exhibition, the last show curated by Shaune Lakin before his move to the National Gallery of Australia (and his passionate curatorial concept), is no exception. It is one of the best photography exhibitions I have seen all year in Melbourne.

Most of the welcome, usual suspects are here… but seeing them all together is a feast for the eyes and the intellect. While most are social documentary based photographers what I like about this exhibition is that there is little pretension here. The artists use photography as both a means and an end, to tell their story – of mothers, of workers, of dancers, of lovers – and to depict a revolution in social consciousness. What we must remember is the period in which this early work appeared. In the 1970s in Australia there were no formal photography programs at university and photography programs in techs and colleges were only just beginning: Photography Studies College (1973) in South Melbourne, Prahran College of Advanced Education (Paul Cox, John Cato, 1974) and Preston Tech (c. 1973, later Phillip Institute) were all set up in the early 1970s. The National Gallery of Victoria photography department was only set up in 1969 (the third ever in the world) with Jenny Boddington, Assistant Curator of Photography, was appointed in 1972 (later to become the first full time photography curator). There were three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb). While some of the artists attended these schools and others were self taught, few had their own darkroom. It was not uncommon for people to develop their negatives and print in bathrooms, toilets, backyard sheds and alike – and the advise was to switch on the shower before printing to clear the dust out of the air, advise in workshops that people did no bat an eyelid at.

What these women did, as Julie Millowick (another photographer who should have been in this exhibition, along with Elizabeth Gertsakis and Ingeborg Tyssen for example) observes of the teaching of John Cato, was “bring to the work knowledge that extended far beyond picking up a camera or going into a darkroom. He [Cato] believed that you must bring to every image you create a wide depth of insight across social, cultural and historical concerns. John was passionate in his belief that an understanding of humanity and society was crucial to our growth as individuals, and ultimately our success as photographers.”1 And so it is with these artists. Never has there been a time in Australian photography when so much social change has been documented by so few for such great advantage. In all its earthiness and connection, the work of these artists is ground breaking. It speaks from the heart for the abused, for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. The work is not only for women by women, as Ponch Hawkes states, but also points the way towards a more enlightened society by opening the eyes of the viewer to multiple points of view, multiple perspectives.

There are few “iconic” images among the exhibition and, as Robert Nelson notes in his review in The Age, little pretension to greatness. One of the surprising elements of the exhibition is how the four photographs by Carol Jerrems (including the famous Vale Street, 1975), seem to loose a lot of their power in this company. They are out muscled in terms of their presence by some of the more essential and earthy series – such as Women at work by Helen Grace and Our mums and us by Ponch Hawkes – and out done in terms of their sensuality by the work of Christine Godden. These were my two favourite bodies of work: Our mums and us and Christine Godden’s sequence of 44 images and the series Family.

Hawkes’ objective series of mother/daughter relationships are deceptively simple in their formal structure (mother and daughter positioned in family homes usually looking directly at the camera), until you start to analyse them. Their unpretentious nature is made up of the interaction that Hawkes elicites from the pairing and the objet trouvé that are worn (the cowgirl boots in Ponch and Ida, 1976) or surround them (the carpet, the table, the plant and the painting in Mimi and Dany, 1976). This relationship adds to the power of the assemblage, juxtaposition of energy and form being a guiding principle in the construction of the image. While the environment might be ‘natural’ it is very much constructed, both physically and psychologically, by the artist.

The work of Christine Godden was a revelation to me. These small, intense images have a powerful magnetism and I kept returning to look at them again and again. There is sensitivity to subject matter, but more importantly a sensuality in the print that is quite overwhelming. Couple this with the feeling of light, space, form and texture and these sometimes fragmentary photographs are a knockout. Just look at the sensitivity of the hands in Untitled, c. 1976. To see that, to capture it, to reveal it to the world – I was almost in tears looking at this photograph. The humanity of that gesture is something that I will treasure.

The only criticism of the exhibition is the lack of a book that addresses one of the most challenging times in Australian photographic history. This important work deserves a fully researched, scholarly publication that includes ALL the players in the story, not just those represented here. It’s about time. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Circles must expand as history moves away from a generation and cohort and, hopefully, the future will ask its own questions” … and I would add, without putting the blinkers on and creating more ideology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Julie Millowick and Christopher Atkins. “Dr John Cato – Educator,” in Paul Cox and Bryan Gracey (eds.,). John Cato Retrospective. Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing, 2013.

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Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“As feminism took off among intellectuals of both sexes, art history would sometimes be interrogated to account for the reasons why there were relatively few great female artists.

While art historians would create reasonable apologies and impute the deficit to centuries of disadvantage to women, it was left to women artists to construct a view of art that redefined the stakes.

They sought a vision that didn’t see art as line-honours in transcendent inventions but a conversation that furthered the sympathy and consciousness of the community”

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Robert Nelson The Age Wednesday November 5, 2014

 

 

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled' 1984 (1)

 

Pat Brassington
Untitled
1984 (1)
From the series 1 + 1 = 3
Gelatin silver print
18 x 28 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy of the artist, ARC ONE Gallery (Melbourne), Stills Gallery (Sydney) and Bett Gallery (Hobart)

 

Pat Brassington‘s photographs have often made use of the artist’s home and family life as subject matter. The photographs included in this exhibition were taken during the early 1980s and, with their tight cropping and diagonal obliques, suggest that family life is an anxious and ambivalent place. Erotically charged body parts – whether partner’s or offspring – are left to hang, like fetish objects drifting through a dream. Brassington is consciously mining the clichés of psychoanalysis, with her focus on shoes, panties and an ominous father figure, but she reworks this symbolism with a comical lightness that is closer to a teen horror film than the analyst’s couch.

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 1
Gelatin silver prints
17.5 x 11.6 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' (detail) 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle (detail)
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace was a member of the Sydney-based feminist collective Blatant Image (which also included Sandy Edwards), which formed around the Tin Sheds at Sydney University. The collective was interested in examining and reconfiguring the representation of women in popular culture, and also in developing alternative venues for socially conscious art and film. The photographs displayed here point to the two interconnected preoccupations of Grace’s work at this time: the social and cultural construction of motherhood and femininity (and the way that each of these categories are produced by and through consumerism and popular culture), and the documentation of women’s labour. An active member of Sydney’s labour movement, Grace photographed women working in a range of workplaces (including factories and hospitals) for both the historical record and as promotional aids for activist organisations.

Grace’s Women seem to adapt to repetitive-type tasks was widely shown in Sydney and Melbourne, including the exhibition The lovely motherhood show (1981). This work of seven panoramas depicting a string of nappies on a washing line at once points towards the inexorable tediousness of motherhood, and at the same timeattempts to demystify the romantic myths of motherhood found in contemporary advertising and popular culture. Grace’s photographs were also widely used in posters produced by trade union and women’s groups. During the 1970s and 1980s screen printing was a cheap and effective way to incorporate photographic imagery into posters. Community groups also embraced screen printing because its aesthetic stood in opposition to commercial advertising, and the process lent itself to a do-it-yourself work ethic.

 

Merryle Johnson. 'Outside the big top' 1979-80

 

Merryle Johnson
Outside the big top
1979-80
From the series Circus
Hand coloured gelatin silver prints
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Merryle Johnson, 2014

 

Merryle Johnson‘s photographic feminism sits alongside her contemporaries Micky Allan and Ruth Maddison. In the first instance, it is expressed in the autobiographical nature of her images, which often refer to her family history. And like Allan and Maddison, Johnson also used hand-colouring to reinvigorate documentary photography and to bring a decidedly female perspective to the medium. Johnson’s contribution to feminist photography in Australia is also reflected in her use of photographic sequences – multiple images printed on the same sheet. In these works, the single, perfectly realised photographic image of Modernist photography was replaced with a series of images that draw attention to the fragmentary, contingent and inconclusive nature of photography. The serialisation of photographs also engages a more embodied, spatialised and assertive experience than single pictures alone.

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur' 1973

 

Christine Godden
Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur
1973
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
8.4 x 13.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie pregnant' 1972

 

Christine Godden
Joanie pregnant
1972
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden’s Untitled c. 1976 is part of a sequence of 44 images that represented fragments and textures that combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of poetry. The series Family c. 1973 details the domestic environment and experience of young families in the American West.

As well as presenting subjects that engaged a ‘feminine’ subject, Godden’s photographs critically interrogate many of the claims for a distinctly ‘feminine sensibility’ being made by and for women artists at this time. The ‘Untitled’ prints on display here were originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. These pictures were originally shown as part of a tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think’. The tightly cropped glimpses of bodies and textures combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of visual poetry.

Christine Godden’s Family series comprises a large number of images detailing the domestic environment and experience of young families living in the American west. Godden was at this time a student at the San Francisco Art Institute and was very active in feminist networks, including the Advocates for Women organisation, for whom she photographed events and actions. Godden’s Family series documents her experience of the counter-cultural families of America’s west coast, who provided and celebrated a new model of family life and women’s work.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art with, at right, Anne Ferran’s Scenes on the death of nature, scene I and II (1980-86)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Scenes on the death of nature, scene I' 1980-86

 

Anne Ferran
Scenes on the death of nature, scene I
1980-86
Gelatin silver print
122.0 x 162.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran‘s series Scenes on the death of nature presents five tableau-like scenes showing the artist’s daughter and her friends in classical dress. When they were first exhibited, commentators noted the enigmatic quality of the images, and how they resisted clear meaning, narrative and any attribute of personal style. To many, they represented a significant shift away from documentary photography. This might well be the ‘death’ to which the titles refer. For the critic Adrian Martin, the pictures appeared to evoke myth, while also being ambivalent about a photograph’s capacity to point to or allude to anything outside of itself; in this way, they can be seen to exemplify a certain post-modern approach to photography.

All the same, it is possible to see these important pictures as signposts for another kind of death. The photographs allude to some of the ways that the subject of girl/woman has been produced through visual culture, whether the monumental friezes of classical or Victorian architecture, or Pre-Raphaelite tableaux. In this way, they evoke the idea of ‘femininity’ as a source of meaning. Rather than rejoicing in, resisting or critiquing ‘femininity’ as earlier feminist photographers might have done, Ferran’s pictures remain steadfastly, even ‘passively’ ambivalent. As the artist wrote at the time, the works reveal ‘very little of a personal vision or private sensibility’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with 'Vale Street' (1975) at left

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with Vale Street (1975) at left and Lynn
(1976) at right

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems
Lynn
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems was one of a number of Australian women whose work during the 1970s challenged the dominant ideas of what a photographer was and how they worked. She adopted a collaborative approach to making photographs, which often featured friends and associates, and sought a photographic practice that would bring about social change. For Jerrems, as for many of her contemporaries, the photograph was an agent of social change, a means of both bringing people together and creating active and engaged social relationships. As she stated:
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I really like people … I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated; maybe it’s a way of bringing people together … I care about [people], I’d like to help them if I could, through my photographs…

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The iconic Vale Street shows Jerrems’s friend Catriona Brown standing in front of Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, teenage boys from Heidelberg Technical School where Jerrems was teaching at the time. The photograph was taken at a house in Vale Street, St Kilda. Although it is unclear if Jerrems conceived of this image as a feminist gesture, the subject’s assertive, bare-chested pose and Venus symbol led to this photograph being interpreted as a statement of feminist power.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series 'Our mums and us' at the exhibition 'Photography Meets Feminism'

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series Our mums and us at the exhibition Photography Meets Feminism. Her photographs were made by women, of women, for women.

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Ponch and Ida' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Ponch and Ida
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Lorna and Mary' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Lorna and Mary
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Mimi and Dany' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Mimi and Dany
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes‘s best-known series Our mums and us documents a selection of the photographer’s contemporaries standing with their mothers. The photographs were taken at each subject’s family home and record generational shifts in personal style and domestic decor. Originally shown at Brummels Gallery of Photography in 1976, which was Hawkes’s first solo exhibition, Our mums and us has become one of the most celebrated examples of feminist photography in Australia.

The use of pronouns in the title suggests the series was made by women, of women and for women; it is a defiant and celebratory feminist gesture, which foregrounds women as at once independent and connected to each other. Reflecting on the series, Hawkes explains that ‘feminism helped me to understand that my mother was actually a woman too, and not just a mother, and Our mums and us came out of that realisation.’

 

installation-i

installation-j

installation-k

installation-l

installation-h

 

Ephemera and books from Ponch Hawkes personal collection, including the cover of the seminal book A Book About Australian Women by Carol Jerrems and Virginia Fraser (Melbourne, 1974)

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison
Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
From the series Let’s dance
Gelatin silver print
27.0 x 18.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison
Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne
1985
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 24.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photographs shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

 

Virginia Coventry. 'Miss World televised' 1974

 

Virginia Coventry
Miss World televised
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.5 x 13.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Miss World televised is typical of Virginia Coventry‘s photographic work from this period, which tended to revolve around tightly organised sequences of pictures of the same subject (swimming pools in a Queensland town; the spaces between houses) or an event (a car moving through a carwash; a receding flood).

At the time, Coventry shared a house with Micky Allan. One night, while watching Allan’s black-and-white television, she saw footage of the 1974 Miss World pageant on the news. Immediately taken by the way the poor reception distorted the bodies of the contestants, Coventry began to photograph the footage. Once she developed the film, she realised the visual ‘disruption’ caused by the incongruity of the telecast process and the camera’s shutter speed obscured the figures and the beauty of the contestants, without necessarily deriding or critiquing the women themselves. As Coventry has written of the pictures: “I remember discussions with other women at the time about the way that the distortions offered a protection to the integrity of the actual person in the photo-images. Because of the radical slippage between reportage and reception, the individual is no longer the subject. The title operates to focus attention on Miss World telecast as a quiteabstract construction – as do the black-and-white, grainy, prints.”

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s looks at the vital relationship of photography and feminism in Australia during the 1970s and ’80s.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues.

On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s will feature vintage prints of important photographs, many of which have not been seen for decades.

MGA Interim Director, Stephen Zagala states, “We are proud to present this exhibition, which provides an as-yet untold account of Australian photography and draws heavily on MGA’s nationally significant collection of Australian photography.””

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

“This exhibition explores the encounter between photography and feminist politics during the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Both photography and feminism thrived during this period. Feminist politics of the 1970s expanded on its earlier fight for equal rights by illuminating discrimination against women in various contexts. This included addressing domestic violence, inequality in the workplace, sexism in the media, and the economics of parenting. Alongside this expanded critique of patriarchy, feminist politics also celebrated ‘sisterhood’ by drawing attention to the undervalued achievements of women and by taking pride in distinctly female perspectives on the world.

Photographic practice also expanded its parameters during the 1970s. Together with other art forms such as painting and sculpture, photography became more experimental and irreverent. Most photographic artists rejected the tradition of highbrow fine art photography and invested the medium with personal sentiment and everyday content. The camera also became a useful tool for a generation of artists more interested in social engagement than aesthetic finesse.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues. On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford‘s series The Tide Recedes 1969-71 was made for her first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. People were becoming more removed from nature but Ford felt that woman share a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. The contrasty black and white photographs of bodies melding with rocks in montage prints that are as rough as guts work magnificently.

These prints were made as preparation for Sue Ford’s ambitious series The tide recedes, shown as part of Ford’s first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. Throughout this body of work, images of naked women and of men and women embracing merge with a marine landscape. The series expresses Ford’s concern that people were becoming too removed from nature, and allude to the idea that women share
a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. It also draws on a technique that was central to feminist photographic practice – montage, where two disparate fragments are brought together to produce new and often unexpected meanings. While this reflects Ford’s work as a film maker, where montage is often used in storytelling, this strategy also embeds her pictures in the field of activist art. With montage, it is the viewer who ultimately makes sense of a work, as they find and see connections between disparate fragments.

While the prints presented in the 1971 exhibition were ambitious in scale and resolution, Ford preferred prints that were – in her terms – ‘rough as guts’. Prints such as those shown here represented an explicit rejection of the maleness of both the camera as a technological instrument and the arcane knowledge of the darkroom.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west (details)
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Picnic)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Picnic)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey established a reputation for her hand- coloured prints in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Introduced to the process by Micky Allan, Stacey’s early hand-coloured prints examined the life and culture of Australia, especially her native Queensland. Stacey hand-coloured her photographs so as to invest them with personal attributes: “At the time I was interested in hand colouring [because it was] a technique associated with women’s work and craft. This approach seemed a good way to visually re-enforce the personal and intimate quality of the prints.”

Among Stacey’s most important contributions to the feminist tradition of hand colouring photographs are her pictures of Queensland architecture, taken during a road trip to western Queensland made with her mother. These images refer to an heroic subject in Australian culture – the stoicism of the outback and the people who populate it. But Stacey revises these myths, by presenting the images as intimate and personal.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Ice' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Ice
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
104.0 x 175.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Jet' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Jet
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
164.0 x 103.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

In the late 80s, Stacey began to hand colour her transparencies rather than the print, thereby incorporating an aspect of reproducibility to the images. In this way the work shifted from the unique print, with its references to nostalgia and the careful rendering of places and times, to something resembling the glossy images found in 1980s’ mass media, especially Hollywood cinema.

 

Julie Rrap. 'Persona and shadow: Madonna' 1984

 

Julie Rrap
Persona and shadow: Madonna
1984
Silver dye bleach print
203.0 x 126.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997
Courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery (Melbourne) and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

This photograph is from the series of nine works titled Persona and shadow. Julie Rrap produced this series after visiting a major survey of contemporary art in Berlin (Zeitgeist, 1982) which only included one woman among the 45 artists participating in the exhibition. Rrap responded to this curatorial sexism with a series of self-portraits in which she mimics stereotypical images of women painted by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Each pose refers to a female stereotype employed by Munch: the innocent girl, the mother, the whore, the Madonna, the sister, and so on.

Appropriating the work of other artists is one of the strategies that characterises the work of so-called ‘postmodern’ artists active during the 1980s. The practice of borrowing, quoting and mimicking famous artworks was employed as a way of questioning notions of authenticity. Feminist artists tended to use appropriation to specifically question the authenticity of male representations of females. In more straightforward terms, Rrap reclaims Munch’s clichéd images of women and makes them her own. Rrap ultimately becomes an imposter, stealing her way into these masterpieces of art history, but the remarkable thing about these works is the way that the artist foregrounds the process of reappropriation itself. The procedure of restaging, collage, overpainting, and rephotographing becomes part of the final image, testifying to a d0-it-herself politic. (Wall text)

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan’s two series Babies and Old age were shown in Melbourne and Sydney around 1976-77; their reception revealed much about the anxieties that informed photographic criticism and practice at the time, with critics dismissing the works as ‘slight’ and ‘feminine photographs par excellence’. Across a series of exhibitions between 1976 and 1980, Allan challenged many of the established conventions of fine art photography, in both technique and subject. Allan overpainted the black-and-white print with watercolour, gouache and pencil to the extent of both acknowledging the under recognised history of women’s photographic work – historically, women were employed by studios to hand-paint or tone photographic prints – and transgressing the smooth surface of photographic prints that was prized by traditional art photographers.

For Allan, overpainting rejected the technical sameness of modern photography and introduced an emotional warmth. Allan’s hand-colouring also interrupted the myth of photographic transparency – the notion of the photograph as a ‘disinterested’ window onto the world. Overpainted, the photograph became subjective, contingent and fallible. The lightness of many of Allan’s interventions enhances this sense of fallibility. (Wall text)

 

With a body of work ranging across painting, photography and performance, investigations of subjectivity have been central to Micky Allan’s practice. Allan has consistently drawn on feminist strategies which emphasise the personal and autobiographical. In the early 1970s she became involved with the experimental performance and collective activities based at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, working there as both a set designer and a photographer, documenting early feminist work. Of this time Allan has said that she saw “photography as a form of social encounter … that in comparison with painting it [was] much more integrated to what was going on.”1

Allan has acknowledged social documentary as the basis of her photographic work. For a short period she recorded political figures and the surrounding social changes in which she was both a participant and an observer. Old age, the second of three series whose focus is lifecycles (the other two being Babies 1976 and The prime of life 1979-80), comprises 40 hand-coloured individual portraits. Allan introduced the technique of hand-colouring in her work in 1976, a technique taken up by many women photographers at that time to counter the then dominant modes of masculine production. While there is stylistic variation across the series, each portrait, close-up in viewpoint, is meticulously rendered in pastel colours. The images do not capture a simple moment but rather work together to poignantly symbolise a rich regard for age. Of this Allan has said: “Altogether they are an attempt to familiarise and personalise “age”, in a society which tends to ignore or stereotype the old.”2

1. ‘On paper – survey 12′, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 21 Jun ‘ 20 Jul 1980, as quoted in 1987, Micky Allan: perspective 1975-1987, Monash University Gallery, Clayton p. 4
2. Ibid p. 19

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

 

Exhibiting artist’s biographies

Micky Allan (b. Australia 1944) studied Fine Art at the University of Melbourne, and painting at the National Gallery School in the 1960s. Allan began taking photographs in 1974 after joining the loosely formed feminist collective at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. During this time Allan was part of a vibrant community of feminist artists that included Virginia Coventry, who taught her how to take and print photographs. Allan returned to painting as her primary medium in the early 1980s.

Pat Brassington (b. Australia 1942) is a Hobart-based artist who studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1985. Brassington draws on a personal archive of visual material to compose her images. This archive includes both photographic and non-photographic material, which has either been found or produced by Brassington. Her work takes inspiration from surrealist photography, with its recurring interest in fetish objects and uncanny domestic scenes. Brassington typically employs digital collage to manufacture disjointed compositions, and she exhibits her work in elliptical series that suggest dream-like narratives.

Virginia Coventry (b. Australia 1942) studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology during theearly 1960s, before undertaking postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. While painting and drawing have been constant features of Coventry’s practice, she started taking photographs during the mid-1960s and developed a significant reputation for her photo-based work during the 1970s. Her photographic work typically engages with socio-political issues and often incorporates textual elements that give it a discursive form.

Sandy Edwards (b. New Zealand 1948 arr. Australia 1961) has been an important figure in Australian photography as both a maker and advocate since the 1970s. Edwards’s practice has paid particular attention to women and their relationship with the media of photography and film. Most of her work is documentary in nature but her photographic prints are often presented in sequences that elaborate conceptual points. Edwards has also been a prolific curator of exhibitions promoting the work of contemporary photographers, especially in Sydney.

Anne Ferran (b. Australia 1949) is a Sydney-based photographer and academic. She studied humanities and teaching before training in photography at Sydney College of the Arts. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-1980s and has become one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed photographers. Ferran’s practice is largely concerned with using photography to reclaim forgotten pasts, with a specific interest in the histories of women and children in colonial Australia. In pursuing this interest, Ferran often develops her projects through archival research and fieldwork.

Sue Ford (Australia 1943-2009) studied photography at RMIT and was the first Australian photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1974. Over the course of her artistic career Ford worked with still photography and moving images, beginning with traditional analogue film and then embracing the possibilities offered by photomedia and digital technologies. In this respect, Ford is a key figure in the history of avant-garde photographic experimentation. Ford’s artworks are also remarkable for their critical engagement with contemporary social issues, while also expressing deeply personal perspectives on the world.

Christine Godden (b. Australia 1947) has played a significant role in Australian photography as a maker, curator and advocate. After studying in Melbourne, Godden completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1975 and a Master of Fine Arts at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York in 1980. On her return to Australia, she became director of the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, and was consequently a prominent spokesperson for Australian photography during the 1980s. Her own photography is couched in a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice.

Helen Grace (b. Australia 1949) is a self-taught artist who began making work as an active member of feminist and labour organisations in Sydney during the mid-1970s. Often straight-forwardly documentary in style, Grace’s approach to photography is closely aligned with political consciousness raising. Her work for the labour and women’s movements was widely circulated around the time of its production, both in the pages of publications and in posters produced by trade unions and women’s groups. Grace’s writing on photography and film, history and politics have also made a significant contribution to the critical discussion that surrounds feminist practice in Australia.

Janina Green (b. Germany 1944 arr. Australia 1949) studied Fine Arts at Melbourne University and Victoria College before training as a printmaker at RMIT. In the 1980s she taught herself photography and subsequently specialised in this medium. Green held her first solo exhibition of photography in 1986 and has exhibited regularly since then, participating in over 30 group exhibitions and producing over 20 solo shows. Green’s photographs are distinguished by their sophisticated and often sensuous surfaces, which testify to her early training in printmaking. In her role as a teacher in the photography department at the Victorian College of the Arts, Green has also played a significant role as a mentor for younger photographers.

Fiona Hall (b. Australia 1953) initially trained as a painter, and has ultimately become a celebrated sculptor, but photography was her primary medium in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hall developed an interest in photography at art school and worked as an assistant to the well-known landscape photographer Fay Godwin while she lived in London between 1977-78. Hall subsequently studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in New York during 1982. Hall’s photographic practice demonstrates a fascination with decoration and style, which is informed by a critical interest in the premise of a ‘feminine’ sensibility.

Ponch Hawkes (b. Australia 1946) took up photography in 1972 while working as a journalist for the counter-cultural magazines Digger and Rolling Stone. Her early photography was informed by her role as a commentator on alternative social issues, and she has often used her images to engage with contemporary critical debates. During the 1970s Hawkes was part of a loosely formed feminist collective based at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. Since that time she has continued to work closely with community groups around Australia and remains a key figure in contemporary photographic practice.

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949-80) was born in Melbourne and studied photography at Prahran Technical College under Paul Cox and Athol Shmith between 1967 and 1970. Although she practised as an artist for only a decade, Jerrems has acquired a celebrated place in the annals of Australian photography. Her reputation is based on her compassionate, formally striking pictures, her intimate connection with the people involved in social movements of the day, and her role in the promotion of ‘art photography’ in this country.

Merryle Johnson (b. Australia 1949) graduated from Bendigo College of Advanced Education in 1969 with a major in painting. She took up photography in 1970 and it subsequently became central to her professional life, both as an arts educator and an exhibiting artist. Johnson’s approach to photography is informed by her broader training as an artist. This is particularly evident in her use of hand-colouring and sequencing. While the subject matter of her images is largely drawn from everyday life, she employs artistic devices to bring a sense of drama and fantasy to documentary photography.

Ruth Maddison (b. Australia 1945) is a self-taught photographer and artist. Maddison began working as a professional photographer in 1976, and she has been regularly exhibiting her work since 1979. Photography has been her primary medium, but in later years her artistic practice has expanded to include moving-image, textiles and sculpture. An interest in personal biography and the celebration of everyday existence informs her artistic practice. She is most well-known for her hand-coloured photographs of domestic life. In 1996 Maddison relocated from Melbourne to Eden, on the south coast of NSW.

Julie Rrap (b. Australia 1950) studied humanities at the University of Queensland (1969-71) before establishing her career as an exhibiting artist in Sydney during the 1980s. Rrap’s involvement with performance art and avant-garde politics during the 1970s laid the foundations for her later work in photography, painting, sculpture and video, which is largely concerned with the representation and experience of women’s bodies. The photographic objectification of female bodies is a persistent theme in Rrap’s work, but her highly expressive self-portraits invest the medium with a subjective intensity that affronts the clinical quality of voyeurism.

Robyn Stacey (b. Australia 1952) is a Sydney-based photographer who has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s. During the 1980s Stacey produced staged or ‘directorial’ photographs that drew on the visual language of cinema and television. Through the 1990s Stacey engaged in further training and study, and experimented extensively with new media including digital photography and lenticular prints. In 2000 Stacey began working with natural history collections in Australia and overseas, using photography to bring the contents of these archives to life. Throughout her career, Stacey has been interested in photography as an expressive medium that can be used to reiterate, remix and reanimate visual information.

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
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Monash Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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