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Sep
13

Review: ‘Ian Strange: SUBURBAN’ at NGV Studio, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th July – 15th September 2013

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It is disappointing when you invite friends from Melbourne and interstate to an opening and one of them turns to you and says, “Well, what was all the fuss about?” The trick is to go with no expectation and you will never be disappointed and may even be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, not in this case.

Despite all the years, not to mention money, that have gone into the Crewdson-esque production of this small body of work, what emerges in my mind at least are three interesting and beautiful images (a ying / yang black circle / white circle and a red painted house) and not much else. The three images are outstanding in their psychological excoriation of suburban belonging. Through use of colour and form the images interrogate a sense of home, place, identity and ‘fitting in’ that suburbia promotes, though under the surface there bubbles away the heart of the malcontent (the film American Beauty is a perfect example of this paradigm). In their Zen-like intensity these are incisive, insightful images.

And that’s it. The rest of the exhibition is stocking-filled with a couple more images that don’t really work, a series of stills of a house being set on fire from a film of the same thing. The photos and film of the house being set on fire mean nothing, take me nowhere.* In a word this exhibition is ‘THIN’ to say the least.

While the NGV is to be congratulated for promoting contemporary art, including street art, there has to be at least some basis of depth to an artist’s work, not just the fact that they are “now a noted contemporary artist with a developing international standing.” This is not enough. When you really look at this work it is obvious it needs more matter, more substance. Like a house of cards its foundation is built on shifting sands, foundations that need time to develop and solidify, thoughts that needed greater time to be delineated and teased out. There is no rush with this kind of investigation and that’s what it feels like here – an interesting idea, painted over, over produced and not fully developed to the point where it becomes unmissable, unmistakable.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

* Look no further than Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled (House Fire) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’ (2004), for the use of a burning building to create an interesting narrative about hope and despair in suburbia.

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All the installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ian Strange. 'Corrine Terrace' 2011

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Ian Strange
Corrine Terrace
2011
Archival digital print
Collection of the artist, New York
© Ian Strange

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange 'Corrine Terrace' 2011 taken at the opening of the exhibition © Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange Corrine Terrace 2011 taken at the opening of the exhibition
© Marcus Bunyan

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Ian Strange. 'Lake Road' 2012

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Ian Strange
Lake Road
2012
Archival digital print
© Ian Strange 2013

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Ian Strange. 'Lake Road' (detail) 2012

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Ian Strange
Lake Road (detail)
2012
Archival digital print
© Ian Strange 2013

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“The remarkable work of New York-based Australian artist Ian Strange will take centre stage at NGV Studio from 27 July. Suburban is the culmination of Strange travelling for two and a half years through neighbourhoods in the US. Working on a massive scale across key cities, Strange painted directly on to the surfaces and facades of suburban homes, and in some cases burnt them to the ground, to create a moving statement around Western ideas of home.

These unique interventions staged across the cities of Ohio, Detroit, Alabama, New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire were documented with a film crew and volunteers and will be shared at NGV Studio as part of Strange’s multifaceted photographic, film and installation work.

Cinematic in both tone and scale, Suburban investigates the iconography surrounding the family home and its place in the current economic climate. Through the work, Strange articulates his own conflicted relationship with suburbia he experienced growing up in the Australian suburbs, juxtaposed with living in New York City and the United States. Strange’s exploration of suburban experience articulates a distinctively Australian sensibility to a global audience.

David Hurlston, Curator of Australian Art, NGV, said that Strange was fast becoming recognised, both locally and internationally, for his distinctive practice and, in particular, for this new and unique body of work.

“We are excited to be able to present this ground-breaking exhibition of work by Ian Strange. From his early work as a street artist in Australia he is now a noted contemporary artist with a developing international standing. Strange is one of the most exciting young artists to have emerged from the street art genre in recent times,” Mr Hurlston said.

Suburban considers the status of the family home in the United States and Australia through nine large-scale photographic works and a dramatic multi-channel, surround sound video installation. Carefully selected fragments of the original houses will also be on display in the exhibition as both sculptural objects and social artefacts. Exhibiting artist Ian Strange said that Suburban was a culmination of more than two years’ work.

“This project has been all consuming for the past two and a half years of my life. I wanted to create a body of work that reacted to the icon of the suburban home and to the suburbs as a whole. The suburbs have played an important role in shaping who I am as a person and an artist. The suburbs have always been home, but I have always found suburbia isolating. Suburban is my reaction to that,” Mr Strange said.

Strange’s early artistic career evolved as a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Perth. Here he took on the name Kid-Zoom and from the late 1990s played an active role in Australia’s street art movement. After relocating to New York in 2010 under the mentorship of Ron English, he participated in the now legendary underground exhibition The Underbelly Project, before his first solo exhibition and pop-up show in the Meatpacking district, This City Will Eat Me Alive, which generated critical acclaim and attention from the art world.  Now an internationally recognised artist living between the United States and Australia, Strange has more recently been exploring the notion of home and identity and exhibited in the inaugural Outpost Street Art Festival on Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island with his work Home, a full-scale replication of his childhood house installed in the Turbine Hall.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

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Ian Strange. 'Harvard St' 2012

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Ian Strange
Harvard St
2012
Archival digital print
Collection of the artist, New York
© Ian Strange

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Ian Strange. 'Harvard St' (detail) 2012

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Ian Strange
Harvard St (detail)
2012 
Archival digital print
Collection of the artist, New York
© Ian Strange

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange 'Harvard St' 2012 taken at the opening of the exhibition © Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange Harvard St 2012 taken at the opening of the exhibition
© Marcus Bunyan

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On location in Detroit, July 2012

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On location in Detroit, July 2012
Photo: Jedda Andrews

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Graffiti crosses the picket line

Dan Rule

“Indeed, the works that populate the exhibition hardly fit the stylised representational or textual archetypes that have come to typify graffiti and street art. In this series, average suburban homes are immersed in monochrome-painted gestures and motifs or, in one case, flames. But while they bear a resemblance to impulse vandalism, their effect is allegorical rather than literal. In one work, a home in a Detroit street bears a bold, blood-red ”X”, which could be read as a metaphor for the wave of loan foreclosures and socio-economic turmoil that has supplanted the city’s suburban dream. Another residence is coated in black paint but for an unpainted circular vacuum, a window into the psychological and emotional underpinnings behind the ideal of the weatherboard home on the spacious block.

And that’s precisely the level on which Strange sees the work operating. ”There are some very strong political implications for this work … and I definitely acknowledge that,” he says. ”But I was really careful not to make works that were just about these broken-down suburbs and this ‘ruin porn’ thing. I know that in Detroit they’re really sensitive about that kind of thing, and we were really aware of keeping this project focused on the idea of being a reaction to the icon of the house in the suburbs, rather than a reaction to some of those socio-economic factors.”

Excerpt from the article, July 20, 2013 on The Age website

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Ian Strange Film still from 'SUBURBAN'

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Ian Strange
Film still from SUBURBAN
© Ian Strange 2013

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange film still from 'SUBURBAN' © Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange film still from SUBURBAN
© Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange film stills from 'SUBURBAN' © Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photograph of Ian Strange film stills from SUBURBAN
© Marcus Bunyan

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NGV Studio
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 5 pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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