Archive for the 'review' Category

19
Aug
14

Review / Interview: Simon Maidment, co-curator of the exhibition ‘David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 31st August 2014

 

Here’s winking at you, sweetie…

My apologies for the slightly out of focus nature of some of the installation photographs, but I had to take them quickly as I walked through the gallery with co-curator Simon Maidment. If you relied on the nine press images supplied by the NGV (bottom of the posting), you would have no idea of the complexity of this artists work nor would you possess an understanding of the scale, intimacy, brashness, beauty and confrontational visibility of the art. You would also have no idea what a stunning installation the NGV has produced to display the work.

Simply put, this is the best exhibition I have seen in Melbourne this year.

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David McDiarmid (1952-95) – activist (the first gay person ever to be arrested in Australia) and multi-dimensional artist – proves the personal IS political AND influential. His work moves from early personal narratives through decorative to visually commanding and confrontational art. As homosexual identity transits from camp to gay to queer, McDiarmid deconstructs and redefines this identity using context as a FOIL for his art making. As Robert Nelson in his excellent review of the exhibition in The Age newspaper observes, “McDiarmid’s expression of the erotic is an act of protest as well as festivity. When McDiarmid began in full fervour, gay sex was not only reviled but illegal; and as he ended his career, homosexuality seemed to pass from the police to the undertaker. He began his expose of gay eroticism in the spirit of a demonstration and ended it as an act of compassion.”1

Well said. Homosexuality was illegal were McDairmid started making art and was deathly when he himself succumbed to the Grim Reaper. But during the journey that he took the key thing to remember is that McDiarmid never “passed” as something he was not. He was always up front, out there, doing his thing since he was first arrested in 1971. He was always pushing the boundaries, offering a wider perspective on social histories and political contexts. He questioned the marginalization of minorities (Secret Love, 1976), the boundaries of self and society and examined taboo and transgression in a conservative society. He lived at the cutting edge of culture. Later, he waged a life and death struggle for HIV/AIDS funding, awareness and compassion with a fierce determination combined with sparkling wit, humour and sardonic aphorisms. Sexual politics and safe sex campaigns went hand in hand.

Of course, sexuality and sexual identity were at the core of his creativity. He explored the urban gay male world and the struggle for gay rights, sexual and emotional sensibilities and the cultural politics of HIV/AIDS. Early work was influenced by time spent in New York (where he knew Keith Haring) and San Francisco, where he experienced the development of the clone scene and the music of the clubs. His mode of construction has a lot in common with folk and women’s art (in particular patchwork and quilting) coupled with the use of contemporary materials (such as holographic foil).

McDiarmid’s later work becomes more symbolic and universal but still contains that cutting edge of the personal (DEMENTED QUEEN REMEMBERS HER NAME – forgets to die; POSITIVE QUEEN FEELS NEGATIVE – goes shopping). In the most amazing room of art I have seen this year, McDiarmid uses reflective cut and tiled holographic foils to create moving tribute and biting comment on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In this darkened room the viewer is surrounded by tiles that “scintillate in spectral transience, changing their colours holographically according to your movement. The image is blunt and horny but also melancholy and scary; and similarly the medium impenetrable, deflecting the gaze and forcing you to change perspective.” (Robert Nelson)

But it’s more than that. You are surrounded by metallic flesh and embedded amongst the iridescence is both love and hate, life and death, winking eyes and holographic rainbow coloured skulls. Body language (1990, below) contains the names of McDairmid’s dead lovers woven into its fabric, a Swastika with the word AIDS for a head and the desire for the anus as a man pulls his arse cheeks apart. But here’s the rub – the tiny, puckered hole contains a holographic image of a winking eye, inviting you in, sharing the death/life joke with you. It’s a classic. In this room it feels as though you are surrounded by the fires of hell as the opalescence of the work changes from footstep to footstep, from positive to negative, from love to hate – and the pure beauty of the work is overwhelming. These are absolutely stunning works of art by any mark of the imagination, up there with the very best art ever made in Australia. His famous Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 (below) are strong but they are are not a patch on the silver foil works. Less successful are the textile and costume designs, the weakest part of the exhibition.

One question springs to mind. Would his art have been as strong without the impetus of “death art” behind it? What would it have looked like?

I wonder which direction his art would have taken after his initial investigation of gay male identity had he not contracted HIV/AIDS and started making art about the disease. This strong focus gives the work the impetus and grunt it needed to move from the purely decorative and graphic, ney camp in some cases, to work with serious gravitas. In these later works McDiarmid lays it all on the line and just goes for it. I am so glad he did. They are powerful, concise, confrontational, beautiful, shimmering renditions of a soul living life to the full while he still had time.

It’s a pity the NGV has not advertised and promoted this exhibition more extensively. With a stunning catalogue, insightful research, amazing installation and world class art this is one exhibition you shouldn’t miss in Melbourne this winter.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

ART BLART: THE ONLY PLACE TO SEE INSTALLATION PHOTOGRAPHS OF THIS EXHIBITION ON THE WEB.

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Many thankx to Simon for allowing me to take the installation photographs during our discussion and to the NGV for allowing me to publish them, along with the nine press images at the bottom of the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'David McDiarmid at his first one-man show 'Secret Love', Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1976' 1976

 

Unidentified photographer
David McDiarmid at his first one-man show ‘Secret Love’, Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1976
1976
Silver gelatin photograph
Dennis Altman Collection, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA)

 

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works

 

David McDiarmid
Installation photograph of early works including, in the case, Vest (c. 1972), hand-embroidered by McDiarmid with the words ‘sydney gay liberation’ as a gift for John Lee with photographs of McDiarmid and artist Peter Tully used as a wallpaper on the wall behind at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works including 'Secret Love art show, poster' (1976, far left), 'Secret Love' (1976, top centre left), 'Ken's Karate Klub' (1976, centre below left) and 'Tube of joy' (1976, above right) - all from the 'Secret Love' series, 1976 except KKK

 

David McDiarmid
Installation photograph of early works including Secret Love art show, poster (1976, far left), Secret Love (1976, top centre left), Ken’s Karate Klub (1976, centre below left) and Tube of joy (1976, above right) – all from the Secret Love series, 1976 except KKK – at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1976

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love
1976
From the Secret Love series, 1976
Metallic paint, red fibre-tipped pen, coloured pencil, collage of cut photo-offset lithograph and red and black ink on graph paper
78 x 66 cm
Collection of Paul Menotti and Bryce Kerr, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1978

 

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love
1978
Collage of cut colour photo-offset lithographs on plastic, metal and plastic
135 x 142.8 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1978 (detail)

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love (detail)
1978
Collage of cut colour photo-offset lithographs on plastic, metal and plastic
135 x 142.8 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid Various artworks from 1978

 

 

David McDiarmid
Various artworks from 1978 including Strangers in the night (top second left), Mardi Gras (top fourth left), Juicy fruit (top second right) and Real confessions (bottom second left)
All National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bush Couture, Sydney (fashion house) Linda Jackson (designer) David McDiarmid (painter) 'Paua kimono' 1984

 

Bush Couture, Sydney (fashion house) (front)
Linda Jackson (designer)
David McDiarmid (painter)
Paua kimono
1984
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Interview with co-curator Simon Maidment

MB: First of all Simon, can I ask how long have you been at the National Gallery of Victoria and what brought you to the institution?

SM: I’ve been at the NGV since June 2013 and I joined because of a new vision for the gallery which is making contemporary art a priority, both in collecting practices in the exhibitions that the NGV holds. Recently, there has been a real push for change, precipitated by the appointment of Max Delany who is a friend and colleague I respect a lot and who has been really supportive of my career.

MB: So what was your background in terms of training?

SM: I studied as an artist and immediately before coming to the NGV I was undertaking my PhD at The University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts Centre for Ideas with Elizabeth Presa as one of my supervisors.

MB: And what new knowledge was your PhD based around?

SM: It investigated curatorial practices that could be thought of as context responsive, looking at artists who seek to enact some sort of social and/or political change.

MB: So this exhibition would be perfect to fit into that…

SM: Yes, indeed… so largely my background has been working with living artists. I have done a few shows in which I have worked with existing bodies of work, but I have done a lot of shows where I have been facilitating artists works. I started as an artist working in media arts – sound, video, projection and digital technologies – and often worked as a studio assistant for more senior artists, people like Sue Ford, Susan Fereday, Ian de Gruchy and my role with them became more and more about facilitation. Then the directorship of Westspace came up and I got that, and my focus turned more from collaboration and working as a studio assistant to facilitation. I became a curator because basically that is what I was doing.

MB: So can you tell me Simon, what was the lead in time for this exhibition? I know it was postponed and delayed at various times, what were the reasons for that?

SM: It was kind of before my time so I am not really sure, but there have been different curators at different times from the NGV involved with the project. So Ted Gott was involved with the exhibition, even before he began work at the NGV. Ted was involved with David’s estate with Sally Gray, my co-curator, right from the start, so he’s been an advisor to Sally right from the start of this long journey. I think the initial discussion about the show was with Ted, and then when Jason Smith was in my position he was involved in this project. When I was talking with Sally the very first discussions about holding the exhibition at the NGV was maybe 15 years ago…

MB: So to finally get it here and up on the walls…

SM: So when I started 11 months ago there was really very little in place. So Max Delany and Sally started a conversation about working towards this show probably about 14 months ago. When Tony Ellwood started he was like, “We’re doing this show.” He’s a big fan of David McDiarmid. He was very familiar with his work so I think that helped speed things along and he really facilitated getting this exhibition done. It was scheduled for 2011.

MB: To get it together from start to finish in 14 months is pretty amazing really…

SM: It was a lot of work but bearing in mind how familiar Sally is with the material we kind of had a real head start.

MB: But then you have to pull it all together from lenders and institutions that hold works and that would have been very intensive. Then to design it all and to make it look like it does. It looks fantastic! Everyone at the opening was just smiling and having a good time, looking at the work, remembering.

SM: I knew the work en masse would blow people away.

MB: Reading the catalogue, you can see that David comes from a period where there was a ground swell of social movements, which was almost like one movement. Everybody went to everyone else’s rallies and they all protested together. David McDiarmid was the very first gay person to get arrested in Australia and at the moment I am digitally restoring the image of him being marched away by two policemen at the ABC protest in Sydney. It is so degraded it will take a long time to restore but it is a really important image. Out of that there comes a real social conscience, fighting for your rights and freedom. So leading on from that, when you think about having this exhibition here now (after Ted Gott’s seminal exhibition Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia in 1994), you observe that marginalised voices rarely enter institutional centres of art, rarely enter the mainstream art. It’s usually ARI’s or small public galleries. Not that the artist is gay (because they are just artists) but that the CONTENT addresses gay issues – which is why it’s so fantastic to see this exhibition here at the NGV.

So were there any barriers here to doing David’s show?

SM: No, not really. I think one of the really important things to note is that they show would not have really happened without the large gift from the estate. Becoming the key holder and custodian of David McDiarmid’s work added extra emphasis and responsibility about doing the right thing. At that point the organisation is implicated in that legacy and somehow we have to disseminate the work out into the community.

MB: It is quite a confronting show, how do you think the general public will respond to it?

SM: I have done a couple of tours of people through the exhibition, members and other, and one of the things that has been surprising to me, in a way, which has only become apparent when I have been describing the show in which David makes work in response to particular social and political conditions and contexts… is how different things are. AIDS is now not a terminal illness. To speak to a younger generation than even myself, they have no idea about dying from lack of a viable treatment, of AIDS being a death sentence.

MB: Last night I had a cry for all the people I had loved and lost. But it’s not just the public coming in to see this exhibition, it’s young gay men who don’t ever see anybody ill, don’t understand about the side effects of taking the medication, about what living with HIV is like. They don’t understand the struggle that went on for them to live as they do now. Do you think they will engage with that?

SM: We have structured the show in a way that teases those things out. One of the aspects of McDiarmid as a figure that I find very interesting is that, in 20 short years of practice, he spanned incredible key moments and periods of change in broader society and also within gay society. The legal, medical, institutional change… and really looking at that 20 years is looking at a period of immense social change. The narrative of the exhibition is then to reflect on that broader cultural shift through the biography of one person.

MB: It’s interesting when I looked at the show, when you start making work as an artist it’s always about personal narratives – lovers, friends, places – which then widens out into more universal concerns. You can see in David’s early work him scribbling, writing and really intimately notating his world, investigating his self and his relations to the world around him. And then to take that insight and then to mould it into these reflective images into the Rainbow Aphorisms at the end is an incredible journey. Stephen Alkins was saying to be last night that even the last works were still grounded in this humorous, ironic look at life. He as a really important multimedia artist when you actually study the work.

SM: Just to pick up on one aspect that you are mentioning, and going back into my own background, one of things that Max Delany and I have been talking about that has in some ways illuminated this project is that, in the 1970s and 80s that saying ‘The personal is political’, is very important. David’s work is talking very much about the political as his own biography. Perhaps there is a shift in his later work to a more symbolic realm, and I would argue that nowadays artists working in a political and social context and to affect social change is not so much now as a personal identity – a woman, a black man, a gay man – it’s not necessarily about individual identities anymore, in some ways those battles seem to have been won within Western society. Actually for artists now in this context it’s more about neo-liberalism or capitalism. So it tends to be more on an institutional level and people tackling that in a much more symbolic realm. For instance I am thinking of such people as Jeremy Deller, an English artist who engages with British history and in particular his Battle of Orgreave, a reenactment of the actual Battle of Orgreave which occurred during the UK miners’ strike in 1984.

MB: People like Tom Nicholson in Australia, then, who did the Monument for the flooding of Royal Park (2008-2010), a proposition for the scattering of nardoo sporocarp throughout Royal Park, a vast Park in Melbourne’s inner north which was Burke and Wills departure point, now commemorated by a small cairn.

SM: Exactly. Artists like Tom are working in very propositional ways about memory, social imagination, monuments and memorialisation. All those kind of things are very much within a symbolic realm now. McDiarmid’s work fills the personal and then moves into the symbolic.

MB: But then Stephen Alkins said it was always personal to David, still based in the personal. He was very loyal to his friends, he was a very quiet person, very loving person with great energy. But he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and I think that this comes out of that culture of standing up for yourself and being strong because of the stuff we had to go through to where we are today. Seeing this exhibition actually shows you that difference and what we had to fight for.

SM: There’s a real drive there in that last room. He made so much work, across so much media, at the end of his life – that impending death drive was the source of so much creativity.

MB: McDiarmid was heavily influenced by international artists such as Keith Haring but he never really showed overseas. What do you think about that diaspora, that going overseas and then returning home to then begin exhibiting?

SM: Well the earlier work is, as you say, heavily influenced by the New York scene, the clone scene that was prevalent in the 80s – San Francisco, New York – so he’s definitely channelling those places… Interestingly, unlike many other artists, his art practice is nearly all Australian.

MB: Finally, what do you think is is his legacy in terms of his standing as an artist?

SM: In the last ten years of his life he was heavily involved as a community artist. He was incredibly busy and incredibly involved with things like the organisation of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras and the design of the posters and floats. He was director of Mardi Gras from 1988-90 and he worked up float designs for various groups. You really get a sense of, as you said, of the solitary work of an artist and a real commitment to that work. In terms of his legacy as an artist, I don’t think that we will know until the exhibition is over. His work, such as the Rainbow Aphorisms, has been distributed widely but not really in an art context, and certainly not in a museum show such as this. People have not had the opportunity to visualise his work as a whole body of work until now.

MB: That brings me to the international context. The Keith Haring Foundation relentlessly promotes his work through books, exhibitions and conferences throughout the world. Do you think that you will start promoting his work overseas to other galleries and getting it into international exhibitions?

SM: I think the book will open a lot of doors. Because his work reproduces so well, because his writing is so interesting there is a broad range of voices for the scholars to investigate. But I think because the work reproduces so beautifully that will be hugely important. One of the aspects that the book will hopefully communicate to a younger audience is that of an infected muscular, sexually active, virile man not an emaciated artist… but to understand that and where that came from, and how radical that was at the time. I think that is one of the legacies that people will take away from David’s work. He is one of the artists that has been really instrumental in redefining that imaginary representation of a dying gay man.

MB: I remember seeing those + and – posters in gay sex venues, and thinking to myself, wow those are so amazing, who did those!

SM: Yes, those posters are about not closing down, about always been open to possibilities.

MB: Thank you so much Simon for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great.

SM: Always a pleasure.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan with Simon Maidment for the Art Blart blog June 2014

Simon Maidment is Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGV.

 

David McDiarmid Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group's 'Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992'

David McDiarmid Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group's 'Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992'

 

David McDiarmid
Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group’s Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992 (commissioned by the AIDS Council of NSW) at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Sleaze Ball, Horden Pavilion, 12 October 1985' 1985

 

David McDiarmid
Sleaze Ball, Horden Pavilion, 12 October 1985
1985
Screenprint printed in black and gold ink
91.2 x 65 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 1991

 

dm-o-WEB

 

 

David McDiarmid
So I walked into the theatre
1984-85
Synthetic polymer paint, iron-on transfer, and cotton thread on cotton
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

dm-p-WEB

 

David McDiarmid
So I walked into the theatre (detail)
1984-85
Synthetic polymer paint, iron-on transfer, and cotton thread on cotton
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

So I walked into the

theatre and lit a cigarette

I looked around. Then I

saw Tony. He lives in

Brooklyn and has a nice

beard and greasy hair.

He didn’t acknowledge

me, but I expected that.

I’d already made it with

him several times before

and each time, he pretended

was the first. He had

even told me his name

once, and that he lived

with a lover. We always

have great sex, but he doesn’t

want me to do anything

but stand there. He has

an incredible mouth…

 

David McDiarmid. 'Disco kwilt' c. 1980

 

David McDiarmid
Disco kwilt
c. 1980
Artbank collection

 

David McDiarmid Installation view of works, mainly from the series 'Kiss of Light', 1990-92 including at left 'Mighty real' 1991

 

 

David McDiarmid
Installation view of works from the series Kiss of Light, 1990-92 including at left Mighty real 1991 with Kiss of Light 1990 right at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood

 

David McDiarmid. 'Mighty real' (detail) 1991

 

 

David McDiarmid
Mighty real (detail)
1991
From the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
144.5 x 123.6 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

dm-r-WEB

 

Detail of one of David McDiarmid’s holographic film art works showing the winking eyes

 

David McDiarmid. 'Body language' 1990

 

David McDiarmid
Body language
1990
From the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
152.4 x 121.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

.
There is a holographic winking eye in the arsehole of this work

 

dm-v-WEB

 

 

David McDiarmid
Thinking of you (detail)
1990
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
140 x 120 cm
Collection of Steven Alkins, Mullumbimby, New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at left on the wall, work from the 'Rainbow Aphorisms' series 1994 with in front 'Totem works' 1992-95

 

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at left on the wall, work from the Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 with in front Totem works 1992-95 at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Standard bold condensed' 1994

 

David McDiarmid
Standard bold condensed
1994
Screenprint on mylar on colour laser print
255.7 x 242.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

Peter Tully (1947-1992) David McDiarmid Australia 1952-1995 Lived in United States 1979-1987 Ron Smith born Australia (1950s) 'Totem works' 1992-95

Peter Tully (1947-1992) David McDiarmid Australia 1952-1995 Lived in United States 1979-1987 Ron Smith born Australia (1950s) 'Totem works' 1992-95

 

David McDiarmid
Works from the Rainbow Aphorisms series
1994, printed 2014
Computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110 cm (image and sheet each)
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney

 

Peter Tully (1947-1992)

David McDiarmid
Australia 1952-1995
Lived in United States 1979-1987

Ron Smith
born Australia (1950s)
Totem works
1992-95
Anodised aluminium, found objects (installation)
Dimensions variable
Collection of Ron Smith, Woonona, New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at right on the wall, work from the 'Rainbow Aphorisms' series 1994 with in front 'Totem works' 1992-95, then at left on the wall 'Pictograms' 1995

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at right on the wall, work from the Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 with in front Totem works 1992-95, then at left on the wall Pictograms 1995 at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

 David McDiarmid. 'Pictograms' 1995

 

David McDiarmid
Pictograms
1995
Vinyl and reflective plastic on aluminium

 

 

“I never saw art as being a safe thing. I know that exists but that’s not something that involves me.”

David McDiarmid, 1993

 

The vibrant, provocative and pioneering work of leading Australian artist, designer and gay activist David McDiarmid will be presented in a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Defying classification, McDiarmid’s work encompasses the complex and interconnected histories of art, craft, fashion, music, sex, gay liberation and identity politics.

David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Mewill bring together more than 200 works, including the artist’s early gay liberation work; New York graffiti and disco quilts; fashion collaborations with Linda Jackson; his pioneering Rainbow aphorisms andGothic aphorisms digital work; material he produced as Sydney Mardi Gras Artistic Director; posters created for the AIDS Council of NSW; and, his significant and highly influential international campaigns developed in the context of AIDS, sexual politics and safe sex in the 1990s.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “The NGV is pleased to be staging this retrospective of an artist whose work had enormous impact on both the gay liberation movement and the international dialogue around AIDS, and whose clear messages of liberation, equality and emancipation continue to resonate today. David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me explores the social history, as well as political and art historical context, that informed McDiarmid’s work, which inspires through its courage, poetry, exuberance and cultural impact.”

Defying classification, the work of David McDiarmid encompasses the complex and interconnected histories of art, craft, fashion, music, sex, gay liberation and identity politics; happily residing in the spaces between high and low art, popular culture and community engagement. At once kaleidoscopic, celebratory and darkly humorous in tone, the artist’s idiosyncratic, highly personal and at times, confessional work highlights the redefinition and deconstruction of identities – “from camp to gay to queer” – drawing on the experiences of a life intensely lived in Melbourne, Sydney and New York. Charting the shifts in politics and individual and community expression that unfold across the decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, this exhibition also reveals McDiarmid’s artistic and grassroots political response to the impact of HIV / AIDS during the 1980s and beyond, for which he is best known internationally.

Recognising the cultural climate in which the artist worked, including the burgeoning of the gay rights movement, and a decade later, the advent of the AIDS crisis, the playful and provocative nature of McDiarmid’s work was critically related to changes that were occurring throughout this time to sexual identity and politics in Australia.

Dr Sally Gray, Guest Curator, said, “McDiarmid’s work speaks so eloquently of its time yet its importance and relevance endures today. David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me is the first exhibition in which the full scope of McDiarmid’s creative oeuvre is on display and is the culmination of painstaking research, with the support of many of his collaborators, friends and fans.”

David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me will coincide with the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in July 2014.

This exhibition includes coarse language and sexual content. Press release from the NGV website

 

William Yang. 'Artist David McDiarmid' May 1995

 

William Yang
Artist David McDiarmid photographed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales adjacent to his giant artwork on the gallery’s facade for Perspecta May, 1995
1995
© Reproduced with permission of William Yang

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Judy' 1976

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Judy
1976
from the Secret love series 1976
Metallic paint, red fibre-tipped pen, cut photo-offset lithograph and red and black ink on graph paper
78.0 x 66.0 cm
Collection of Paul Menotti and Bryce Kerr, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Strangers in the night' 1978

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Strangers in the night
1978
Collage of cut coloured paper and photocopy on mulberry paper
62.6 x 50.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Proposed acquisition
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Hand and heart' 1984

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Hand and heart
1984
Synthetic polymer paint on cotton
250.0 x 230.0 cm
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Gift of the Estate of the late David McDiarmid, 1998
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, poster' 1989-90

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, poster
1989-90
Colour photo-offset lithograph
69.0 x 49.0 cm
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Gift of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Limited, 1995
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Untitled' 1990-95

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Untitled
1990-95
Self-adhesive holographic film and self-adhesive colour plastic on plastic
122.7 x 122.7 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Discard after use' 1990

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Discard after use
1990
from the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
61.2 x 61.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift from the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'I want a future that lives up to my past'  From the 'Rainbow aphorisms' series 1994, printed 2014

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
I want a future that lives up to my past
From the Rainbow aphorisms series 1994, printed 2014
computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110.0 cm
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Q' From the 'Rainbow aphorisms' series 1994, printed 2014

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Q
From the Rainbow aphorisms series 1994, printed 2014
Computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110.0 cm
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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16
Mar
14

Review: ‘Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st February – 30th March 2014

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Installation photograph of 'Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation photograph of 'Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck' at the Monash Gallery of Art

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Installation photographs of Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck at the Monash Gallery of Art

1/ stygian gloom
2/large grouping of 14 works by Wesley Stacey

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UNKNOWN_WEB

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Unknown
Untitled
c. 1900
Cyanotype print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2012

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vapid [vap-id]
adjective
lacking or having lost life, sharpness, or flavor

Origin:
1650-60;  Latin vapidus;  akin to va·por [vey-per]
noun
a visible exhalation, as fog, mist, steam, smoke diffused through or suspended in the air; particles of drugs that can be inhaled as a therapeutic agent.

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This is an unexceptional exhibition, one that lacks jouissance in the sense of a transgressive kind of enjoyment, an investigation of the subject that gives pleasure in taking you to unexpected places. At times I felt like a somnambulist walking around this exhibition of photographs from the Monash Gallery of Art collection curated by Bill Henson, pitched into stygian darkness and listening to somewhat monotonous music. It was a not too invidious an exercise but it left me with a VAPID feeling, as though I had inhaled some soporific drug: the motion of the journey apparently not confined by a story, but in reality that story is Henson’s mainly black and white self-portrait. The photographs on the wall, while solid enough, seemed to lack sparkle. There were a couple of knockout prints (such as David Moore’s Himalaya at dusk, Sydney, 1950 below, the Untitled Cyanotype, c. 1900, above and Mark Hinderaker’s delicate portrait of Fiona Hall, 1984, below) and some real bombs (the large Norman Lindsay photographs, modern reproductions printed many times their original size were particularly nauseous) and one has to ask, were the images chosen for how they were balanced on the wall or were they chosen for content?

Henson states that there was no concept or agenda when picking the 88 photographs for this exhibition, simply his INTENSITY of feeling and intuition, his intuitive response to the images when he first saw them – to allow “their aesthetics to determine their presence… our whole bodies to experience these photographs – objects as pictures as photographs.”1 Henson responded as much as possible to the thing which then becomes an iconography (which appeals to his eye) as he asks himself, why is one brush stroke compelling, and not another? The viewer can then go on a journey in which MEANING comes from FEELING, and SENSATIONS are the primary stuff of life.

One of Henson’s preoccupations, “is an interest in the photograph as an object, in the physical presence of the print or whatever kind of technology is being used to make it.”2 He would like us to acknowledge the presence and aura (Walter Benjamin) of the photograph as we stand in front of it, responding with our whole bodies to the experience, not just our eyes. He wants us to have an intensity of feeling towards these works, responding to their presence and how he has hung the works in the exhibition. “There are no themes but rather images that appeal to the eye and, indeed, the whole body. Because photographs are first and foremost objects, their size, shape grouping and texture are as important as the images they’re recording.”3

Henson insists that there was no preconceived conceptual framework for picking these particular photographs but this is being disingenuous. Henson was invited to select images from the MGA collection with the specific idea of holding an exhibition, so this is the conceptual jumping off point; he then selected the images intuitively only to then group and arrange then intuitively/conceptually – by thinking long and hard about how these images would be grouped and hung on the wall of the gallery. I would like to believe that Henson was thinking about MUSIC when he hung this exhibition, not photography. Listen to Henson talk about the pairing of Leonie Reisberg’s Portrait of Peggy Silinski, Tasmania (c. 1976, below) and Beverley Veasey’s Study of a Calf, Bos taurus (2006, below) in this video, and you will get the idea about how he perceives these photographs relate to each other, how they transcend time and space.

This is one of the key elements of the exhibition: how Henson pushes and pulls at time and space itself through the placing of images of different eras together. The other two key elements are how the music rises and falls through the shape of the photographs themselves; and how the figures within the images are pulled towards or pushed away from you. With regard to the rise and fall, Henson manipulates the viewer through the embodiedness of both horizontal and vertical photographs, reminding me of a Japanese artist using a calligraphy brush (see the second installation image above, where the photographs move from the vertical to the square and then onto panoramic landscape). In relation to the content of the images, there seems to be a preoccupation (a story, a theme?) running through the exhibition with the body being consumed by the landscape or the body being isolated from the landscape but with the threat of being consumed by it. Evidence of this can be seen in Wesley Stacey’s Willie near Mallacoota (1979, below) where the body almost melts into the landscape and David Moore’s Newcastle steelworks (1963, below) where the kids on the bicycles are trying to escape the encroaching doom that hovers behind them.

One of the key images in the exhibition for me also reinforces this theme – a tiny Untitled Cyanotype (c. 1900, above) in which two Victorian children are perched on a bank near a stream with the bush beyond – but there are too many of this ilk to mention here: either the figures are pulled towards the front of the frame or pushed back into the encroaching danger, as though Henson is interrogating, evidencing un/occupied space. Overall, there is an element of control and lyrical balance in how he has grouped and hung these works together, the dark hue of the gallery walls allowing the photographs to exist as objects for themselves. Henson puts things next to each other in sequences and series to, allegedly, promote UNEXPECTED conversations and connections through a series of GESTURES.

As Henson notes,

“Maybe it’s the fact that the photographs have the ability to suggest some other thing and that’s what draws you in – that’s that feeling, the thing that slips away from thought. These are really the same things that apply to our meetings with any work of art, whether it’s a piece of music or a sculpture or anything else. There’s something compelling, there’s something there that sort of animates your speculative capacity, causes you to wonder. Other times, or most of the time, that’s not the case. Certainly most of the time that’s not the case with photography.”4

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For me, there was little WONDER in this exhibition, something that you would go ‘oh, wow’ at, some way of looking at the world that is interesting and insightful and fractures the plaisir of cultural enjoyment and identity. While the photographs may have been chosen intuitively and then hung intuitively/conceptually, I simply got very little FEELING, no ICE/FIRE  (as Minor White would say) – no frisson between his pairings, groupings and arrangements. It was all so predictable, so ho-hum. Everything I expected Henson to do… he did!

There were few unexpected gestures, no startling insight into the human and photographic condition. If as he says, “Everything comes to you through your whole body, not just through your eyes and ears,”5 and that photographs are first and foremost objects, their size, shape, grouping and texture as important as the images they’re recording THEN I wanted to be moved, I wanted to feel, to be immersed in a sensate world not a visible exhalation (of thought?), a vapor that this exhibition is. Henson might have painted an open-ended self-portrait but this does not make for a very engaging experience for the viewer. In this case, the sharing of a story has not meant the sharing of an emotion.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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1. 
Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014.
2. Ibid.,
3. Fiona Gruber. “Review of Wildcards, Bill Henson Shuffles the Deck” on the Guardian website, Wednesday 12 February 2014 [Online] Cited 16/03/2014
4. Fehily op. cit.,
5. Fehily op. cit.,

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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.

WARNING

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should be aware that the following posting may contain images of deceased persons.

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John Eaton. 'Sheep in clearing' c. 1920s

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John Eaton (born United Kingdom 1881; arrived Australia 1889; died 1967)
Sheep in clearing
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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Fred Kruger. 'Queen Mary and King Billy outside their mia mia' c. 1880

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Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831; arrived Australia 1860; died 1888)
Queen Mary and King Billy outside their mia mia
c. 1880
Albumen print
13.4 x 20.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2012

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David Moore. 'Himalaya at dusk, Sydney' 1950

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David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Himalaya at dusk, Sydney
1950
Gelatin silver print, printed 2005
24.5 x 34.25 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection donated by the Estate of David Moore 2006
Courtesy of the Estate of David Moore (Sydney)

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Stacey-willie-near-mallacoota

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Wesley Stacey (born Australia 1941)
Willie near Mallacoota
1979
From the series Koorie set
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Christine Godden 2011

Published under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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David MOORE Newcastle steelworks

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David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Newcastle steelworks
1963
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 1981

Published under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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“One of those preoccupations is an interest in the photograph as an object, in the physical presence of the print or whatever kind of technology is being used to make it. Part of the reason for that is that photography, more than any other medium, suffers from a mistake or misunderstanding people have when they’ve seen a reproduction in a magazine or online: they think they’re seeing the original. A certain amount of photography is made with its ultimate intention being to be seen in a magazine or online, but most photography, historically, ended up in its final form as a print – a cyanotype, or a tin type or a daguerreotype or whatever it might be.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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REISBERG-WEB

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Leonie Reisberg (born Australia 1955)
Portrait of Peggy Silinski, Tasmania
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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VEASEY_calf_WEB

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Beverley Veasey (born Australia 1968)
Study of a Calf, Bos taurus
2006
Chromogenic print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2006

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“I think when you look through any collection, you’re often struck by the kind of pointlessness and banality of photography. It doesn’t matter which museum in the world you look at. It’s like, “is there any need for this thing to exist at all?”. It probably comes back to the capacity of the object, the image to suggest things, the suggestive potential rather than the prescriptive, which is a given in photography of course, the evidential authority of the medium preceding any individual reading we have of particular pictures. Maybe it’s the fact that the photographs have the ability to suggest some other thing and that’s what draws you in – that’s that feeling, the thing that slips away from thought. These are really the same things that apply to our meetings with any work of art, whether it’s a piece of music or a sculpture or anything else. There’s something compelling, there’s something there that sort of animates your speculative capacity, causes you to wonder. Other times, or most of the time, that’s not the case. Certainly most of the time that’s not the case with photography.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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POIGNANT-WEB

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Axel Poigant (born United Kingdom 1906; arrived Australia 1926; died 1986)
Jack and his family on the Canning Stock Route
1942
Gelatin silver print, printed 1986
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 1991

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JOHNSON_light-performance_WEB

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Tim Johson (born Australia 1947)
Light performances
1971-72
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2011

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FAHD_alicia_WEB

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Cherine Fahd (born Australia 1974)
Alicia
2003
From the series A woman runs
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2011

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STACEY_friends-WEB

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Wesley Stacey (born Australia 1941)
Untitled
1973
From the series Friends
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Bill Bowness 2013

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“That was one of the things that interested me and continues to interest me about photography: how these things inhabit the world as objects. And indeed we read them not just with our eyes but with how our whole bodies read and encounter and negotiate these objects, which happen to be photographs. And that’s very much a thing that interests me in the way that I work. I feel sometimes that I only happen to make photographs myself and that it’s a means to an end… So there’s a sense in which I’m interested in these objects that happen to be photographs and the way that they inhabit the same space that our bodies inhabit. Everything comes to you through your whole body, not just through your eyes and ears – it’s a vast amount of information. Watching something get bigger as you draw closer to it, not just matters of proximity, but texture or the way objects sit in a space when they’re lit a certain way – all of this is very interesting to me, always has been.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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HINDERAKER_Fiona-Hall_WEB

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Mark Hinderaker (born United States of America 1946; arrived Australia 1970; died 2004)
Fiona Hall
1984
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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LLINDSAY_Norman-and-Rose-WEB

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Lionel Lindsay (Australia 1874–1961)
Norman Lindsay and Rose Soady, Bond Street studio
c. 1909
Gelatin silver print, printed 2000
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Katherine Littlewood 2000

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STRIZIC_BHP_WEB

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Mark Strizic (born Germany 1928; arrived Australia 1950; died 2012)
BHP steel mill, Port Kembla, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print, printed 1999
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by the Bowness Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008

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

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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26
Feb
14

Film: ‘All This Can Happen’

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“The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…”

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Dislocation
Displacement
Discontinuity
Death
Dance
Despair
Documentary

Scene
Seen
Single
Multiple
Surreal
Mundane
Storyline

Sound
Subject
Space

Encounters
Engagements
Negotiations

Time
Memory
Location
Voice
Touch

Walking
Flaneur

Body
Soul

Life itself!

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Marcus

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Created by Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton in 2012, All This Can Happen is a film constructed entirely from archive photographs and footage from the earliest days of cinema.

Based on Robert Walser’s novella The Walk (1917), the film follows the footsteps of the protagonist as series of small adventures and chance encounters take the walker from idiosyncratic observations of ordinary events towards a deeper pondering on the comedy, heartbreak and ceaseless variety of life. A flickering dance of intriguing imagery brings to light the possibilities of ordinary movements from the everyday which appear, evolve and freeze before your eyes. Juxtapositions, different speeds and split frame techniques convey the walker’s state of mind as he encounters a world of hilarity, despair and ceaseless variety.

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“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness. The narrativity of this walking is belied by a simultaneity we know and yet cannot experience. As we turn a corner, our object disappears around the next corner. The sides of the street conspire against us; each attention suppresses a field of possibilities. The discourse of the city is a syncretic discourse, political in its untranslatability. Hence the language of the state elides. Unable to speak all the city’s languages, unable to speak all at once, the state’s language become momunental, the silence of headquarters, the silence of the bank. In this transcendent and anonymous silence is the miming of corporate relations. Between the night workers and the day workers lies the interface of light; in the rotating shift, the disembodiment of lived time. The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine. Hence the barbarism of police on horses, the sudden terror of the risen animal.”

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Stewart
, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 2. Prologue.

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Trailer from All This Can Happen
2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Alice in Wonderland' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Alice in Wonderland
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Leap Frog' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Leap Frog
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Cheshire Territorials' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Cheshire Territorials
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Otto the Giant' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Otto the Giant
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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“All This Can Happen, a 50-minute film by David Hinton and choreographer Siobhan Davies, opens with images of men who cannot walk. One lies immobile in a hospital bed, his head trembling, eyes vacant with torment. Another, also institutionalised, tries to walk but fails. He falls, scrambles and falls again, his whole body stiff with malfunction.

All this did happen. Every frame of this remarkable film comes from old, mostly black and white archive footage, complete with scratches and fingerprints. It is neither documentary nor constructed reality, but rather a wholly unexpected film adaptation of a short story by Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956), about a man going for a walk.

The story, to which those opening images serve as a prologue, recounts the sights, sounds, encounters and musings of a day’s meandering: children playing in a school, a visit to the tax office, a display of women’s hats, a stroll through a forest, an argument with a tailor. Lovingly voiced by John Heffernan, the narration treats each moment, each thought and perception, with equal consideration, whether it is a gripe about automobiles, a memory of unbearable anguish, the sound of sublime music, or a chat with a dog. “The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things,” he explains, “are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…

…the narration establishes a supple continuity, yet though the imagery follows the story devotedly, it has no contituity. It leaps between locations, splices scenes, switches subjects, and roams freely between poetic and literal modes, between the fantastic, the scientific, the surreal and the mundane. It seems able to let the whole world in, and still stay true to a singular storyline.

The imagery is discontinuous in other senses too. The screen is often split into multiple frames so that we notice how highly composed the film is. The frames themselves often freeze fleetingly, arresting the flow of time. Such stops literally give us pause; they let us take a moment. In fact, the whole film could be seen as the encounter between continuity – the story, the voice, time itself – and composition, or indeed choreography: the framing of action, the placement of sound, the arrangement of subjects and space.

But the reason to watch this film is not because it is artful and thoughtful, though it is that. It is because it restores us to our senses, because it touches – gently – both body and soul. To walk, it suggests, is to be in the world. A world that is physical, full of texture and sound and sensation; that is abstract, a matrix of space and time; that is imaginary, teeming with fantasies and terrors, desires, hopes and regrets; that is social, marked by encounters, engagements, negotiations; a world that is human. As a walk of life, All This Can Happen is, quite naturally, also shadowed by death, by not-walking, by not moving in space and time. “Where would I be,” asks the walker, “if I was not here? Here, I have everything. And elsewhere, I would have nothing.” All this it finds equally beloved, beautiful and valuable.

Sanjoy Roy. Excerpt of Review of All This Can Happen, by Siobhan Davies and David Hinton on the Aesthetica Magazine Blog website

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Miniature Writer' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Miniature Writer
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Hints and Hobbies' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Hints and Hobbies
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Ears' and 'Birth of a Flower' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Ears and Birth of a Flower
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London and AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Banff Scotland' and 'I Saw This' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Banff Scotland and I Saw This
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division and Yorkshire Film Archive

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Siobhan Davies Dance website

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23
Feb
14

Review: ‘Simon Harsent / Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 1st March 2014

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A solid exhibition by Simon Harsent to open the year at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne.

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Things I felt and observed

  • Harsent shows me sculptural photographs of icebergs as I have never seen them before
  • The photographs are well printed and framed, have great colour variation and work at both sizes the images are presented at
  • The horizon line of the sea rises and falls throughout the series, allowing the viewer to levitate and drop as you walk around the gallery
  • The ecological component of the exhibition, while inherent, is not overpowering. Which is a good thing
  • The non-chronological hang benefits the exhibition immensely. If the exhibition had been hung from large to small iceberg, the effect would have been too didactic
  • The Brancusi-esque forms held more interest for me, such as Melt #029, Melt #036 and Melt #039 (seen with a photograph of Brancusi’s The Newborn 1920, below), together with the intense, close-up abstract forms such as Melt #014 and Melt #023. These are superb!

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Things I wanted to feel and observe

  • When viewing the series I didn’t feel Harsent’s metaphorical reflection upon his own mortality. Only in two images, Melt #042 and Melt #09 (where the sunlight hits the top of the iceberg deliciously) did I feel an anthropomorphic link to humanity
  • I didn’t feel the grandeur of these icebergs. Perhaps just one image at the largest size possible would have shook me from my reverie
  • I didn’t feel the personality of each iceberg in its own journey. In the exhibition I never knew which large iceberg had metamorphosized into which smaller iceberg. Therefore I was unsure of each iceberg’s life-span and story. For that reason these are not ontological portraits concerned with the nature and relations (the relation of one photograph and the next) of being.
  • Finally, I wanted the images to push forward, to take me further on the journey. Taking the adage that two-thirds of the iceberg is always below water, I never really felt the psychological power of these objects, something dark that is hidden beneath the sea. All the icebergs are photographed in clear, calm weather. Some photographed in storms, in mist or fog, or at night would have added ineffably to the atmosphere

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These are not sublime photographs. I never got that feeling from viewing the work. They come nowhere close to Alain de Botton’s wonderful prose on the significance of sublime places:

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.” (de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, p. 178 – 179.)

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I never felt that the photographs transported the viewer on an emotional journey that furthers our understanding of the fragility of life both of the planet and of ourselves. And that is the one thing I wished they had of done.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #028a' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #028a
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #026' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #026
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #029' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #029
2008
Archival Pigment Print
110 x 160 cm
Edition of 10

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #039' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #039
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 10

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #036' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #036
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Constantin Brancusi. 'The Newborn'. Version I 1920 (close to the marble of 1915)

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Constantin Brancusi
The Newborn. Version I
1920 (close to the marble of 1915)
Bronze
14.6 cm x 21 cm x 14.6 cm
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss request
© 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Used under conditions of fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #037' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #037
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #042' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #042
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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“After successful exhibitions in Australia and abroad, Simon Harsent’s sublime photographic series Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg makes its Melbourne premiere at Edmund Pearce this February. The exhibition and accompanying monograph present portraits of icebergs as they travel Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord. The ecological story is self-evident; more sections are breaking away from the arctic ice cap and melting faster due to global warming. But the chronicle of the iceberg is, for the artist, a metaphorical reflection upon his own mortality.

Harsent states; “Seeing them first overpowering in grandeur and then, later, about to be absorbed back into the flux from which they came, is both beautiful and humbling: a metamorphosis that endows them with a life-span, each with its own personality, each with its own story.”

Born in England Simon Harsent studied photography at Watford College before moving to Australia in 1988 to establish himself as one of the country’s leading photographers. Currently based in New York, Harsent’s career has seen him win numerous national and international awards including, Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio, D&AD, and Australia’s first Cannes Grand Prix – making him one of the most awarded photographers in the world. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Queensland Art Gallery and The Powerhouse Museum. Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg was published in late 2009 to critical acclaim, reinforced by its inclusion in the prestigious D&AD and PDN Photo Annuals.”

Text from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #023' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #023
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #014' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #014
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #021' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #021
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #010' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #010
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #09' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #09
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #020' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #020
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #05' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #05
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #03' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #03
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #07' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #07
2008
Archival Pigment Print
110 x 160 cm
Edition of 10

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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16
Feb
14

Review / Text: ‘Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

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This is a sublime exhibition, teaming as it does fabulous frocks and beautiful, classical, evanescent photographs. The exhibition was in my top nine magnificent Melbourne exhibitions that featured on Art Blart last year. Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this exhibition has been a sure fire winner for the NGV. This review will concentrate on the photographs by Edward Steichen. See my previous posting on the exhibition including installation photographs.

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model-dinarzade-in-a-dress-by-poiret-edward-steichen

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret
1924
Gelatin silver photograph

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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steichen-clara-bow-WEB

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair
1928
Vintage silver gelatin print
Block Museum, Gift of the Hollander Family in Honor of Morton and Mimi Schapiro
Steichen / Condé Nast Archive; © Condé Nast

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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High Society

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a painter and champion of art photography who initially worked in the soft focus, Pictorialist style prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an artist who worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz on the influential quarterly art journal Camera Work, designing the cover and the Art Nouveau-style typeface especially for the internationally focused publication. Stieglitz, and by extension Camera Work, lived to promote photography as an art form and to challenge the norms of how art may be defined.1 In the early years Camera Work only published photography, but in later years the journal increasingly featured reproductions of and articles on modern painting, drawing and aesthetics.

“This change was brought about by a similar transformation at Stieglitz’s New York gallery, which had been known as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession until 1908. That year he changed the name of the gallery to “291”, and he began showing avant-garde modern artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse along with photographers. The positive responses he received at the gallery encouraged Stieglitz to broaden the scope of Camera Work as well, although he decided against any name change for the journal.”2

Steichen was heavily associated with Gallery 291 (291 Fifth Avenue, New York City) which ran from 1905 to 1917. The gallery exhibited European artists such as Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Brancussi, Cézanne and Rodin and soon to be famous American artists such as John MarinMax WeberArthur DoveMarsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe. Virtually no other gallery in the United States was showing modern art works with such abstract and dynamic content at this time.3 Both the gallery and the journal ran hand in hand; both closed in 1917. The journal closed due to a downturn in interest in Pictorial photography, a lack of subscribers, cultural changes and the economic effects of the First World War, which saw both the costs and even the availability of the paper on which it was printed become challenging.4 In the penultimate issue 48 (October 1916) Stieglitz,

” …introduced the work of a young photographer, Paul Strand, whose photographic vision was indicative of the aesthetic changes now at the heart of Camera Work’s demise. Strand shunned the soft focus and symbolic content of the Pictorialists and instead strived to create a new vision that found beauty in the clear lines and forms of ordinary objects. By publishing Strand’s work Stieglitz was hastening the end of the aesthetic vision he had championed for so long. Nine months later, in June 1917, what was to be the final issue of Camera Work appeared. It was devoted almost entirely to Strand’s photographs.”5

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Edward Steichen felt the change in the air. When he accepted the job as chief photographer for Condé Nast publications in 1923 his early fashion photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair were seen as innovative and ground breaking, even as his former art colleagues saw shooting fashion and celebrities was a way of selling-out. Steichen bought to fashion and portrait photography an aesthetic of clear lines and forms that simply had not been present before, coupled with a Pictorialist sensibility for light and the use of low depth of field. John McDonald in his excellent review of the exhibition observes, “Steichen has claims to having invented fashion photography with a series of pictures he took in Paris in 1911, for couturier, Paul Poiret; but the genre had found its first true professional in Baron Adolphe de Meyer, who left Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar, opening the door for Steichen’s appointment. De Meyer was an incurable mannerist who remained true to the Pictorialist aesthetic, but his successor would prove himself an innovator.”6

Steichen’s photographs from 1923-1924 are pared back, Modernist photographs that evidence the beginning of his later photographic style. Madame Nadine Vera wearing a crêpe evening gown by Chanel (1924) has a plain background of some wooden studio panels; Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret (1924, above) has fabric hanging behind while Crêpe de chine dress by Lanvin (1924) has three doors casually put together to form the backdrop to the model. All three photographs show beautiful tonality and lighting in the full length capture of the models with hints of browns and yellows in the prints. The figure is isolated in the studio space simply and elegantly. The model is being studied. Steichen’s models are immersed in suffused light but the form of the photograph is different from that of Pictorialism, for the models themselves are pin sharp, as though stepping out into the world. These early photographs are fascinating to study, for they lay the ground work for what is to follow. These three images inform the viewer as to the experimentation that Steichen was undertaking to get to a starting point for the complex and atmospheric studio lighting that he would later employ.

Gradually, Steichen’s images become more confident and assured and take on a patina of beauty, style and grace. In his close-up portraits there is an isolation of the face against out of focus backgrounds with the use of profiles, arms and elbows as framing devices, for example Actress Sylvia Sidney (1929) and Actress Clara Bow (1928, above). In his longer-length portraits there is an isolation of figures against a white or black ground, as in Marion Morehouse in a dress by Louise Boulanger (1929) and Actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge (1927). Males usually have a heavy darkness to them while the females are more luminously lit. In the male portraits the hands dominate. The hands in the male photographs belong to the male as part of the portrait whereas in the early photographs of women they are only models, there at his command, and the hands are almost invisible. Only in the later photographs of high society women are the hands of females fully represented. What can be observed is that the figure is usually isolated against an out of focus background, with deep, dark shadows and soft luxurious light, low depth of field and feminine profiles.

In commercial terms (and we must remember that this is how the artist made his living for these photographs were seen as his commercial work at the time), Steichen’s photographs fulfilled his brief: the portrayal of shimmer and sparkle, geometric Art Deco style, the drama and theatrical lighting of the talkies, and the spectacle of the liberated modern women. She in turn was influenced by the prevalent cultural conditions: smoking, jazz, prohibition, automobiles, trains, dancing, fast living, gold (King Tuts tomb was discovered in 1922) and African and Japanese art. Appealing to the new leisure classes, publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair offered a glimpse of a longed for paradise to the burgeoning middle-classes with their photographs of the rich and famous, the glamour and the costumes – the social groups that hold the most power actually exposing their own status on paper through these magazines.

As John McDonald notes, “Steichen uses every trick at his disposal to convey a particular kind of image,”7 an image that uses increasingly elaborate studio lighting and disparate indoor and outdoor locations. But by the early 1930s the work becomes quite formulaic with its use of low depth of field, profiles, angles of arms or chairs and geometric shapes. The figure is tightly controlled – either cropped close in or set amongst ambiguously filled sets and shaped backgrounds. There is a sameness and repetitiveness about the work as one image bleeds into another. In fact, after that early period of experimentation, there is basically no change to his mature style from the years 1925-1937 and this makes for a long twelve years for an artist of his talent. He found his mother load and he stuck to it.

Steichen’s photographs of the rich and famous are “pictures” taken by one who mingled with the elite, one who enjoyed the trappings of fame and high society. As Robert Nelson notes in his review of the exhibition, “Steichen’s talents were never incompatible with the conspicuous snobbery of his age, for which it would never have occurred to him to proffer an apology. Having arrived himself, he naturally admires gentry-by-ambition and crowns it with the smugness that it enjoys.”8 Ouch! Nelson goes on to observe, “Much of the work is statuesque and formidable in its composition, lighting and symbolic rigour,” while at the same time portraying a world that is completely artificial in which nothing is real and everything is a pose.9 And we, the viewer and reader, are voyeurs of this hedonistic world.

On close reading, the photographs flatten out into a studied set of stylistic maneuvers, a form where style stands in for a quality of visual perception.10 As Steichen seeks to “clinch the image” the syntax of his photographs (the system of organisation used in putting lines together to form pictures) becomes imitative. This leads to evanescent photographs, images that soon pass out of sight, memory, or existence; images that slip for the mind as quickly as one sees them. There is little sense of dislocation in the images, only “in his ability to distance himself from a subject, analysing his or her foibles with a cool, practiced eye,”11 and in the distance of the scene from the reality of everyday life. Each photograph becomes a microcosm of vanity, celebrity and fashion. Steichen ticks all the boxes (and he made all the boxes that he ticked) but the photographs usually don’t fulfil any new demands that the situation generates. He restricts his field of view to one that he creates and controls within certain narrowly defined boundaries, usually using passive people who are at his command. In his orientation to the world the photographs are not ‘things as they are’ but things as they are constructed to be (seen) – a form of social capital, social fascism, even.12

Only when Steichen is challenged by an active “personality” does he raise his game. This is when the modernist, emotive, visually rhapsodic AND MEMORABLE photographs take hold in this exhibition. The great breakthrough with Greta Garbo (1929, below), mass of black with face surmounting, hair pulled back by hands “the woman came out full beauty on her magnificent face” Steichen said; Actress Gloria Swanson (1924, below) like some prowling, wide-eyed animal hidden behind a black lace veil, “a predatory femme fatale concealing her ambitions behind a mask of beauty”13; Marlene Dietrich (1934, below) nestled into the glorious curve of an armchair, lace-covered hand open, inviting; and Actress Loretta Young (1931) active, not passive, in which Steichen humanises his sitter. For me, these are the glorious images – not the men, not the fashion photographs, but these strong, independent women.

“An interested image-maker takes available resources for meaning (visual grammars, fabrication techniques and focal points of attention), undertakes an act of designing (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.”14 Initially, in the early experimentation, this is what Steichen did; he achieves it again in the photographs of Garbo, Swanson, Dietrich and Young. As for the other photographs we feel an overall suffused glow of beauty and glamour – we admire their scale and intensity, the deep blacks and velvety whites, and wonder at the light and assemblage of elements – but they do not have the power and engagement of the best, most challenging work. In these photographs of vibrant women the viewer finally starts to feel the spirit of the face, the spirit of the person captured in an instant. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

Word count: 1,883

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Endnotes

1. Whelan, Richard. Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography. NY: Little, Brown, 1995, pp. 189-223
2. Anon. “Camera Work,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
3. Anon. “291,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
4. “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
5. Hoffman, Katherine. Stieglitz : A Beginning Light. New Haven: Yale University Press Studio, 2004,  pp. 213–222 cited in “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
6. McDonald, John. “Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion” on John McDonald website February 1, 2014 [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
7. Ibid.,
8. Nelson, Robert. “An age of elegance captured forever,” in The Age newspaper Wednesday November 6th, 2013, p. 54
9. Ibid.,
10. Rewording of a sentence by Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
11. McDonald, op. cit.,
12. “In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. Although different social sciences emphasise different aspects of social capital, they tend to share the core idea “that social networks have value”.”
Anon. “Social capital,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
“Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism.”
Anon. “Social fascism,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
13. McDonald, op. cit.,
14. Anon. “The Image of Transformation: Properties of Consequence,” on The Image website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014

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

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23  Actress 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Steichen’s portrait of Gloria Swanson has taken on iconic masterpiece status overtime. Created in 1924, just as the first feature-length sound movies were emerging – effectively truncating the actress’s brilliant silent-film career – this image caught the essential Gloria Swanson: haunting and inscrutable, forever veiled in the whisper of a distant era. Steichen’s photograph has elements of turn-of-the-century pictorialism (moody and delicate, the subject seeming to peer from the darkness, as if from jungle foliage), yet it also projects modernist boldness, with its pin-sharp precision and graphic severity. (Text from Iconic Photos website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Maurice Mouvet was one of the most famous and successful dance teams around the early 1910’s and lead the way for many performers that would follow… Maurice was born in New York but as a young lad moved to Paris with his father and knew he wanted to be a dancer as a young boy. He had his first professional dance at the Noveau Cirque in Paris, France at age 15. Mouvet’s best partners were Florence Walton and Leonora (Leona) Hughes.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Paula Negri' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Paula Negri
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec, January 3, 1897 – 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. She was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and become one of the most popular actresses in American silent film. She also started several important women’s fashion trends that are still staples of the women’s fashion industry. Her varied career included work as an actress in theater and vaudeville; as a singer and recording artist; as an author; and as a ballerina. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actor Gary Cooper' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actor Gary Cooper
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Marion Morehouse (1906-1969), was a fashion model who rose to prominance in the late 20s and early 30s, sitting for Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer Edward Steichen. The pair created some strikingly modernist photographs. According to Steichen Morehouse was:

“The greatest fashion model I ever photographed …. When she put on the clothes that were to be photographed, she transformed herself into a woman who really would wear that gown … whatever the outfit was.”

She was also a favorite of Cecil Beaton and French Vogue’s Baron George Hoyningen-Huene. Morehouse was of Choctaw Indian ancestry, with brown eyes and an angular frame. After her modeling career ended, she took up photography herself. Later she became the third wife of author and painter E.E Cummings. When Cummings met Marion Morehouse in 1932, he was in the middle of a painful split from his second wife, Anne Barton. Although it is not clear whether the two were ever formally married, Morehouse lived with Cummings in a common-law marriage until his death in 1962. Morehouse died on May 18, 1969. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Olympic diver Katherine Rawls' 1931

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Olympic diver Katherine Rawls
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Katherine Louise Rawls (June 14, 1917 – April 8, 1982) was a multiple United States national champion in swimming and diving in the 1930s.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Model 'Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès' 1926

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès
1926
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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France’s most popular milliner Madame Agnes was born in France in the late 1800’s, she retired in 1949, and died a short while later. She was famous for cutting the brims of her hats while they were worn by her customers. Madame Agnes styled hats which were both abstract and unique. An illustration from 1927 depicts Madame Agnes’ Congo inspired hats with a model wearing a slave collar. As the 20’s moved into the 30’s, the hats became smaller and away from the face. In December 1935 she introduced hats with large straw brims which were mounted on flowered madras handkerchiefs. Madame Agnes was inspired by a matador’s hat when she created a small dinner hat for Spring 1936. It was sewn of black maline with heavy white silk fringe. The fringe was mounted on each side of the hat’s top. In mid-1946 she created a soft beige beret of felt which featured a line that was broken just above the right eyebrow, where a soft quill was inserted. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'On George Baher's yacht' 1928

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
On George Baher’s yacht. June Cox wearing unidentified fashion; E. Vogt wearing fashion by Chanel and a hat by Reboux; Lee Miller wearing a dress by Mae and Hattie Green and a scarf by Chanel; Hanna-Lee Sherman wearing unidentified fashion
1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977) was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Greta Garbo' 1929

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Greta Garbo
1929
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Actress 'Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli' 1932

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli
1932
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.

Perhaps Schiaparelli’s most important legacy was in bringing to fashion the playfulness and sense of “anything goes” of the Dada and Surrealist movements. She loved to play with juxtapositions of colours, shapes and textures, and embraced the new technologies and materials of the time. With Charles Colcombet she experimented with acrylic, cellophane, a rayon jersey called “Jersela” and a rayon with metal threads called “Fildifer” – the first time synthetic materials were used in couture. Some of these innovations were not pursued further, like her 1934 “glass” cape made from Rhodophane, a transparent plastic related to cellophane. But there were more lasting innovations; Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses decades before Diane von Furstenberg and crumpled up rayon 50 years before Issey Miyake’s pleats and crinkles. In 1930 alone she created the first evening-dress with a jacket, and the first clothes with visible zippers. In fact fastenings were something of a speciality, from a jacket buttoned with silver tambourines to one with silk-covered carrots and cauliflowers. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'White (center Gwili André)' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
White (center Gwili André)
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Gwili Andre (4 February 1908 – 5 February 1959) was a Danish actress who had a brief career in Hollywood films. Andre came to Hollywood in the early 1930s with the intention of establishing herself as a film star. She appeared in the 1932 RKO Studio films Roar of the Dragon and Secrets of the French Police and began to attract attention for her striking good looks. These films provided her with starring roles playing against such established actors as Richard Dix, ZaSu Pitts and Frank Morgan, and RKO began using her glamorous looks to promote her.

A widespread publicity campaign ensured that her name and face became well known to the American public, but her next role in No Other Woman (1933), opposite Irene Dunne, was not the success the studio expected. Over the next few years she was relegated to supporting roles which included the Joan Crawford picture A Woman’s Face (1941). Her final role was a minor part in one of the popular Falcon series, The Falcon’s Brother in 1942. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Mary Heberden' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Mary Heberden
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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American actress Mary Heberden made her first New York stage appearance in 1925 and performed regulary on Broadway in the 1930s.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Charlie Chaplin' 1934

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Charlie Chaplin
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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03
Jan
14

Melbourne’s magnificent nine 2013

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Here’s my pick of the nine best local exhibitions which featured on the Art Blart blog in 2013 (plus a favourite of the year from Hobart). Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Review: Terraria by Darron Davies at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

This is the first “magical” exhibition of photography that I have seen in Melbourne this year. Comprising just seven moderately large Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag images mounted in white frames, this exhibition swept me off my feet. The photographs are beautiful, subtle, nuanced evocations to the fragility and enduring nature of life…

A sense of day/dreaming is possible when looking at these images. Interior/exterior, size/scale, ego/self are not fixed but fluid, like the condensation that runs down the inside of these environments (much like blood circulates our body). This allows the viewer’s mind to roam at will, to ponder the mysteries of our short, improbable, joyous life. The poetic titles add to this introspective reflection. I came away from viewing these magical, self sustaining vessels with an incredibly happy glow, more aware of my own body and its relationship to the world than before I had entered Darron Davies enveloping, terrarium world.

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Darron Davies. 'Encased' 2012

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Darron Davies
Encased 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Red Shard' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Red Shard 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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2/ Review: Confounding: Contemporary Photography at NGV International, Melbourne

Presently, contemporary photography is able to reveal intangible, constructed vistas that live outside the realm of the scientific. A photograph becomes a perspective on the world, an orientation to the world based on human agency. An image-maker takes resources for meaning (a visual language, how the image is made and what it is about), undertakes a design process (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.

These ideas are what a fascinating exhibition titled Confounding: Contemporary Photography, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne investigates. In the confounding of contemporary photography we are no longer witnessing a lived reality but a break down of binaries such as sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments as artists present their subjective visions of imagined, created worlds. Each image presents the viewer with a conundrum that investigates the relationship between photographs and the “real” world they supposedly record. How do these photographs make you feel about this constructed, confounding world? These fields of existence?

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Thomas Demand German born 1964 'Public housing' 2003

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Thomas Demand German born 1964
Public housing
2003
type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2010
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965 'The ancestors' 2004

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.4 x 72.9 cm (image), 105.4 x 82.9 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

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3/ Review: Louise Bourgeois: Late Works at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois 'Untitled' 2002

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Louise Bourgeois
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

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This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body…

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

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4/ Exhibition: Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie…

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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5/ Exhibition: Density by Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

I include this in my list of magnificent photographic exhibitions for the year not because I curated it, but because of the conceptualisation, the unique quality of the images and the tenacity of a visually impaired artist to produce such memorable work.

A wonderful exhibition by vision impaired photographer Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond. It has been a real pleasure to mentor Andrew over the past year and to see the fruits of our labour is incredibly satisfying. The images are strong, elemental, atmospheric, immersive. Due to the nature of Andrew’s tunnel vision there are hardly any traditional vanishing points within the images, instead the ‘plane of existence’ envelops you and draws you in.

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Density n.

The degree of optical opacity of a medium or material, as of a photographic negative;

Thickness of consistency;

Complexity of structure or content.

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Andrew Follows. 'Number 31, Eltham' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Number 31, Eltham
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Andrew Follows. 'Green, Montsalvat' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Green, Montsalvat
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Carol Jerrems. 'Mark and Flappers' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Mark and Flappers
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm' c. 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm
c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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6/ Review: Carol Jerrems: photographic artist at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

This is a fascinating National Gallery of Australia exhibition about the work of Australian photographer Carol Jerrems at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill – in part both memorable, intimate, informative, beautiful, uplifting and disappointing…

The pity is that she died so young for what this exhibition brought home to me was that here was an artist still defining, refining her subject matter. She never had to time to develop a mature style, a mature narrative as an artist (1975-1976 seems to be the high point as far as this exhibition goes). This is the great regret about the work of Carol Jerrems. Yes, there is some mediocre work in this exhibition, stuff that really doesn’t work at all (such as the brothel photographs), experimental work, individual and collective images that really don’t impinge on your consciousness. But there are also the miraculous photographs (and for a young photographer she had a lot of those), the ones that stay with you forever. The right up there, knock you out of the ball park photographs and those you cannot simply take away from the world. They live on in the world forever.

Does Jerrems deserve to be promoted as a legend, a ‘premier’ of Australian photography as some people are doing? Probably not on the evidence of this exhibition but my god, those top dozen or so images are something truly special to behold. Their ‘presence’ alone – their physicality in the world, their impact on you as you stand before them – guarantees that Jerrems will forever remain in the very top echelons of Australian photographers of all time not as a legend, but as a women of incredible strength, intelligence, passion, determination and vision.

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7/ Exhibition: Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International, Melbourne

What a gorgeous exhibition. It’s about time Melbourne had a bit of style put back into the National Gallery of Victoria, and this exhibition hits it out of the park. Not only are the photographs absolutely fabulous but the frocks are absolutely frocking as well. Well done to the NGV for teaming the photographs with the fashion and for a great install (makes a change to see 2D and 3D done so well together). Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this is a sure fire winner….

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Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion' at NGV International

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Installation photograph of the exhibition Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

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Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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8/ Exhibition: Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes.

“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

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Jeff Koons. 'Balloon dog (Red)' 1995 designed

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Jeff Koons
Balloon dog (Red)
1995 designed
Porcelain, ed. 1113/2300
11.3 x 26.3 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Andrew Liversidge. 'IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE' 2009

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney

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9/ Review: Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park (USA)' 1996

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Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world…

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience…

I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well.

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10/ Exhibition: Joan Ross: Touching Other People’s Shopping at Bett Gallery, Hobart

The claiming of things
The touching of things
The digging of land
The tagging of place
The taking over of the world

Tag and capture.
Tag and capture.
Shop, dig, spray, destroy.

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An ironic critique of the pastoral, neo/colonial world, tagged and captured in the 21st century.
Excellent work. The construction, sensibility and humour of the videos is outstanding. I also responded to the two works Tag and capture and Shopping for butterfly (both 2013, below).

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Joan Ross. 'Tag and capture' 2013

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Joan Ross
Tag and capture
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
50 x 47 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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Joan Ross. 'Shopping for butterfly' 2013

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Joan Ross
Shopping for butterfly
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
51.5 x 50 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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30
Dec
13

Review: ‘Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 19th January 2014

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“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree…

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
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Herman Hesse. Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and Poems) 1984

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This is the last review of 2013 and what a cracker of an exhibition to finish the year. Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world.

Briefly stated the bulk of the exhibition features small, square, tonally rich black and white medium format landscape images of unspoiled places from around the world taken between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s, images that possess a sense of the sublime and suggest a link to indigenous cultures. These images are hung in rows, sometimes double row grids, that flesh out the narrative that Terstappen seeks to establish. It is a beautiful, enlightening hang and whoever sequenced the work and hung the show should be congratulated for they understood the artist’s narrative and the tonal range of the printing.

In an excellent review in The Age newspaper (Wednesday December 18th 2013) the writer Robert Nelson suggests that these vistas depict something holy to an earlier or parallel civilisation. He observes that Terstappen’s images go beyond the mere picturesque because the artist applies a persistent inquiry to image making no matter where she is in the world, for “she always looks for properties that the environment shares with counterparts elsewhere.” He goes on to state that the photographs have three systematic demands that the artist places on her interpretation of the landscape: 1/ that they express something elemental (earth, air, water, fire); 2/ the scene has to sustain a dark print with a visual weight that is almost contrary to the nature of photography; and 3/the picture must reconcile the expansive and the intimate. In her world, everything must have presence, no matter how far away, and press up against the picture plane; everything must have a certain density, a thickness of being which is not about light but about the darkness of light.

“All photographs depend on light; but Terstappen’s sensibility errs to descriptions of the density of things, not their reception or reflection of sunshine or even moonlight. Her scenery is gravid with banks engorged by roots, the bulk of outcrops or the intricate tangle of overlapping forest, which is also what seems to activate the water within the air to express it heaviness… A part of the impetus behind Terstappen’s project is pictorial: how to make the most rigorous sense of multiplicity, to frame big things so that they harmonise with little things, so that everything has an equivalent weight, including the air.
The corollary of this consistent investigation is a poetic respect for the natural subject matter…”

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Through images of visual and conceptual beauty and complexity, Terstappen imparts a strange kind of temporality to the work. The artist layers shapes within the photographs and, befitting her training as a sculptor, pushes and pulls at the image plane like a malleable piece of clay, sometimes blocking vision at the surface of the print, sometimes allowing access to a partially accessible (psychological) interiority. For example, look at the last three images before the press release below: Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia) and Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia) (all 2002). In Cabbage trees the artist creates a visual pattern, like a fabric pattern, that holds the viewer at the surface of the image while still allowing glimpses of what lies beyond; in Curtain fig tree it is as if a curtain has literally descended blocking any access to the interior; while in Alligator nest there is a beautiful, open density to the work that invites contemplation and meditation upon the scene.

In Terstappen’s work, there is always a sense of space moving back, moving from the bottom up or top down and a conscious use of a restricted tonality (no bright whites or blackest blacks). The artist blocks movement, opens it up or swirls it around. Sometimes earth becomes sky as steam turns to cloud, or rock becomes water as the two meld at the base of a waterfall. In this multiplicity, each element is given equal weight within certain atmospheres and an equilibrium is formed, to live at the heart of these images. Each complex, thoughtful image becomes a living and breathing entity.

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience.

The only doubt I have about the exhibition is the ex post facto interpretation of the archive as picturing places that are threatened by social and ecological change. As the catalogue text states, “These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive, reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.” If they are only now forming part of an environmental archive, what memory of sacred place did they initially respond to?

While Terstappen’s work has always focused on a physical encounter with space and an imaging of places that have deep or hidden meanings and mythical/symbolic significance, when I look at this work I do not get a strong sense of these places being under threat. Only through written (not visual) language is this environmental threat enunciated. While archives are always fluid and will always gather new meaning (look at Atget’s “documents for artists”, images that are now acknowledged as some of the most artistic and influential in the whole canon of photography), we must also acknowledge that nothing in this world remains the same, that everything changes all the time, for better or worse. The landscapes that Terstappen photographs are no more “natural” then as they are now, due to the effects of bushfires, human cultivation, erosion, habitation, hunting, farming and natural disaster. Humans cannot appeal to some vision of a world, some garden of Eden, that exists pre humanity. Who is to stay that these places in the world are disappearing or appearing? By the very act of photographing these places, Terstappen labels them, names them as inconsolable places that should never change. This is not the mysterious way of the world. I prefer to look at these places and acknowledge that this is how they looked through the eyes of this artist at this point in time. They have full presence before me, in all their mystery and majesty.

Is this textual analysis necessary for the work to succeed? I do not believe it is, in fact I believe it lessens the inherent quality of these images. Use these images to help people understand what human beings are doing to the planet by all means, but please do not try to retrofit concepts of destruction onto the work.

This minor quibble aside, I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well. If you grant anything for your New Year’s wish you could do no better than to visit this magnificent exhibition and drink of its atmospheres.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Claudia Terstappen. 'After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Lost world 2002-
21 cm x 21 cm

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“Over the last thirty years Claudia Terstappen has taken photographs of places throughout the world that have spiritual resonance or associations. The basis of this exhibition is a selection of these landscapes, presented as gelatin silver prints printed by the artist between the 1980s – early 2000s.

The landscapes in this exhibition document places that have spiritual associations or significance for indigenous people, to make sense of their relationship to the land. But I now realise that the archive has taken on another set of meanings or intention. Today, these pictures form part of a vast archive of landscapes and places undergoing significant change. This archive of spiritual places has become an environmental archive.

Terstappen was born in Germany, and her landscapes are in many ways informed by her heritage. Like Australia, Germany has a particular tradition of landscape, where places of nature carry important associations for cultural understanding and a sense of belonging. Terstappen is herself part of a long tradition of German artists to explore this relationship.

Terstappen studied at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie, the training ground for many of Germany’s most important contemporary artists. Having been taught by the famous photographer Bernd Becher and then the architect and sculptor Erich Reusch, Terstappen has since exhibited widely throughout Europe, North America and Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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“Claudia Terstappen originally trained a a sculptor but for over three decades she has worked in the medium of photography. In some respects, her art practice has been developed between these two artistic disciplines. She retains a strong interest in the sculptural sensation of a physical encounter in space, but she uses the two-dimensional medium of photography to document and reiterate these experiences.

Terstappen’s interest in the interplay between depth and surface is also evident in the subjects that she explores. She often photographs places that have deep or hidden meanings. This includes sites of pilgrimage, shrines of worship and landscapes invested with mythic significance. These associations are not always apparent, and often subsist as a type of secret knowledge, but they can be given tangible form through processes of story-telling and ceremonial action. Terstappen engages with these locations in order to give them a tangible photographic form, elaborating a sense of symbolic power or sublime drama across the surface of her images.

This exhibition features 75 photographs depicting places that have been invested with spiritual resonances or mythical associations, from Iceland and southern Europe to the Americas and Australia. The starting point for this exhibition is a selection of gelatin silver prints that were hand-printed by the artist between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive; reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.”

Text from the exhibition pamphlet

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)
2002
from the series Vanishing landscapes 1987-
Gelatin silver print
120 x 120 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Namandi spirit [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Namandi spirit (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Full moon [France]' 1997

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Claudia Terstappen
Full moon (France)
1997
from the series I believe in miracles 1997-
Gelatin silver print
80.0 x 80.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Brazil]' 1991

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Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Brazil)
1991
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Las Palmas, Spain]' 1992

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Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Las Palmas, Spain)
1992
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
49.0 x 49.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park [USA]' 1996

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Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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In the shadow of change features almost 100 of Claudia Terstappen’s magnificent landscape photographs. Terstappen is a German-born photographer who studied at the famous Dusseldorf art academy and is now Professor of Photography at Monash University in Melbourne.

For over three decades, Terstappen has been photographing landscapes the world over. Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Japan, USA, Iceland and Spain have been destinations for the artist, who has travelled the world looking for landscapes which have particular spiritual or mythical meanings. This search brought Terstappen to Australia in 2002; the artist now lives in Melbourne as a permanent resident.

Terstappen’s vast archive of landscape photographs has taken on significant environmental associations. As debates about the politics and impact of land use and climate change continue, Terstappen’s landscapes – from intimately scaled views of forests and riverbeds to grand views of mountains and glaciers – present a truly beautiful account of landscape photography and its contemporary significance.

As Terstappen states: ‘There is a moral dimension to looking at and photographing landscape today. Landscape photography has tremendous currency. Many of the landscapes in my photographs will have either completely disappeared or drastically changed by now. I firmly believe we need to re-establish our relationship with nature and landscape and photography can help us to achieve this.’

MGA Director and curator of the exhibition Shaune Lakin states: ‘MGA is very proud to have developed this exhibition with Claudia, which will be accompanied by a beautifully illustrated book. We have timed the exhibition to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of one of the defining moments in Australian photography, when landscape photographs actually brought about significant social and political change. It is now 30 years since Peter Dombrovskis’s now-iconic photographs of the Gordon River helped prevent construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania, which to this day remains one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

‘With the election of a new government and promises of a new environmental agenda, it seems a perfect time for us to reconsider the power of landscape photography and the status of environmentalism in Australia today.'”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Bob Browns opening speech at artist Claudia Terstappen’s exhibition In the shadow of change at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) in Melbourne. Recorded on Saturday 9 November 2013.

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

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

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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