08
Feb
15

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

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

 

Definition

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

.
Félix Pyat (French, 1810-1889)

 

 

Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Bohemian culture in marvellous Melbourne

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

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

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

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' (detail) 1866

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

installation-k-WEB

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

(Label texts)

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Percy Grainger, c. 1955-56

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' 1954

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Making Your Own Fun in the 50s

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

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

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

 

Norman Ikin. 'Vali Myers' c. 1949

 

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

 

Mark Strizic. 'Barry Humphries in Melbourne' 1969

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ashley Mackevicius. 'Nick Cave' 1973

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mirka Mora in her studio' 1978

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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State Library 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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