Posts Tagged ‘Ian Potter Museum of Art

24
Feb
19

Review: ‘Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design’ at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2018 – 24th March 2019

Curators: Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver

 

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Reclining chair' 1953

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Reclining chair
1953
Steel, cotton cord, rubber
Private collection

 

 

I have always loved the ordered forms, the elegiac simplicity of Clement Meadmore’s designs. Therefore, I very much looked forward to seeing this exhibition. Unfortunately, the installation left me feeling a little alienated both towards the objects themselves but more importantly, the artist and designer.

Simply put, the installation of the works was too clinical and cold, the designs either raised on white boxes or enclosed in metal frames… or both. If their presentation was to engender the idea that this was “art” – the art of mid-century design – by placing them in a “white cube”, isolating them from their functional context (in modernist homes, cafés and restaurants), then I was not buying what the exhibition was selling. The metal frames reminded me of the frame that surrounds some of Francis Bacon’s painting series, Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1946-mid-1960s), making this viewer want to scream at the museum control evidenced here.

The use of black and white walls didn’t help. In a jazz age (Meadmore was the most ardent admirer of jazz music) of music, colour and movement, and when Meadmore painted one of the interiors of his café in bold primary colours, the use of such bland colours seemed puzzling. Both I and my esteemed friend Joyce Evans, who knew Meadmore in New York and often went to the jazz clubs with him there, felt that the exhibition failed to capture the spirit of the artist, his wonderful personality – or the spirit of the age. The closest that the exhibition comes to that spirit, that sense of joie de vivre after the privations of the Second World War, are not works by Meadmore at all, but paintings that appeared on the wall of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956 by Leonard French titled The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor (1956, below). Here is a cacophony of sound, colour and movement redolent of the era.

Other things rankle. The importance of his contribution to the changing nature of the Melbourne art scene, and the Australian art scene in general, cannot be underestimated. Joyce Evans said to me that, as director of Gallery A, Meadmore’s influence on the direction of contemporary art in Melbourne was incredible, his influence in this sphere much more important than any of the designs he ever made. Other than a brief paragraph of wall text (below), there is little investigation into this aspect of Meadmore’s career in Australia. This is not the thrust of this exhibition as shown by its title, but to ignore his curatorial influence on contemporary art in Melbourne is, I believe, a mistake.

Further, while his groundbreaking designs are now presented as “art” – the hypothesis for the exhibition – at the time Meadmore’s sculpture was his art, his passion; his furniture and lighting was his business. What he did to pay the bills. Two facts are pertinent here: the fact that Meadmore did move to New York in 1963 to achieve international prominence as a sculptor, and the fact that after he moved to America he never made another chair. It says a lot about where his passion really lay.

Looking beyond all of these comments, it was absolutely fantastic to see the ordered forms, the simple functionality and elegant design of Meadmore’s objects, with his use of basic, everyday materials such as steel rod and cord to make his now iconic designs. Two things stood out for me. The ingenious sculptural steel base that enables the Calyx lamps to rest in two positions; and the most beautiful and sophisticated design and construction of the structure under a coffee table. The exhibition is worth visiting just to see these two design elements alone. But the work that most captures the spirit of the man better than anything else in this exhibition, and not the “art” on a pedestal, is that of a small welded steel and brass sculpture called The Trumpeter from 1957 (below). This is the man, the artist, in all his effervescence and gregariousness. It’s a pity the exhibition didn’t capture this spirit.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Space should reveal itself to the wandering eye. Furniture should enhance a feeling of space by its non-obstructing presence.”

.
Clement Meadmore

 

 

GALLERY 1

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is the first major survey to focus on the industrial design practice of one of Australia’s most internationally successful artists. Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition charts the evolution of Clement Meadmore’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 60s, before he shifted his focus to sculpture, and highlights the role Meadmore played alongside Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers of the mid-century period.

The exhibition sheds light on a time when mid-century tastemakers sought to shape post-war Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city that, through the intersection of art, design and architecture, embodied the ideals and principles of the modernist aesthetic. Meadmore’s first furniture design, a steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951, became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd and receiving the Good Design Award from the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA). The chair would later form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as the Meadmore Originals.

For just over a decade, Meadmore produced a small range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture or lighting, often placed alongside pieces by Frances Burke, Grant Featherston, Fred Lowen and Douglas Snelling. Meadmore’s furniture and designs were regularly featured in journals such as Australian Home Beautiful and Architecture and Arts, and sold at Marion Hall Best’s showrooms in Sydney and Frances Burke’s New Design store in Melbourne.

In 1955, prior to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Meadmore was commissioned by Ion Nicolades to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse, both in Melbourne. Drawing upon international modernism and a new-found passion for Italian culture, the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar is arguably one of Meadmore’s greatest achievements and became a touchstone for many young creatives in 1950s Melbourne.

In the latter part of the 1950s, Meadmore’s attention increasingly shifted to his sculptural practice and the gallery scene, whilst maintaining his industrial design practice. He would also play a pivotal role in establishing and managing Max Hutchinson’s Gallery A. Known as the Little Bauhaus, the gallery championed non-figurative art and industrial design, with Meadmore responsible for designing the gallery’s line of contract furniture.

The result of 10 years research, Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design presents many pieces for the first time, alongside newly discovered Meadmore designs. The exhibition also presents a rare opportunity to see original furniture and lighting designed by Meadmore for the modernist interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse. The iconic designs in this exhibition – including chairs, tables, light fixtures, and graphics – are enlivened by archival images and documents, alongside interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s. Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design showcases Meadmore’s rich design practice and shines a light on the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne.

Text from the Ian Potter Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 10/02/2019

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Glass top coffee table' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Glass top coffee table
1952
Steel, glass, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Corded armchair' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Corded armchair
1952
Steel, cotton cord, hardwood, rubber
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 2

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Three-legged plywood chair' 1955

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Three-legged plywood chair
1955
Painted steel, plywood, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

On the wall at rear is Erica McGilchrist (1926-2014) Frigidity from the series Moods 1954 and Clement Meadmore’s custom made frame. Pen and ink on paper; steel rod and hardwood (frame) Heide Museum of Modern Art, gift of Erica McGilchrist

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Calyx Lighting

The Calyx lighting range takes design cues from Meadmore’s interest in international modernism, and represents an important shift in his practice. A distinctive feature of the Calyx range is the ingenious sculptural steel base, that enables the lamp to rest in two positions.

Using low-cost materials, readily available from local suppliers, the lamps required no welding and were designed to be easily manufactured and assembled in the workshop. Aluminium shades were hand-painted in a range of matt enamel colours, then baked in a beehive kiln in the backyard of Meadmore’s Burwood Road shop. All components were cut to size by Meadmore for quick assembly: the shade was easily fixed to the metal bracket using two metal pins and tap washers, then with the addition of a length of electrical flex, the finished product was ready or sale. The Calyx range was featured at the Anderson’s Furniture stand (also designed by Meadmore) at the Homes Exhibition in 1954.

Wall text

 

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx desk lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx desk lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium
Private collection

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx pendant lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx pendant lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium, steel
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

The work of Clement Meadmore (1929-2005), one of Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers from the mid-century period, will be on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art from 20 November. This will be the first major survey of the influential industrial design work Meadmore undertook in Australia, before he moved to New York in 1963 and achieved international prominence as a sculptor.

The exhibition focuses on the crossover of art, design and architecture, featuring Meadmore’s iconic designs including chairs, tables and light fixtures. Rare archival images and documents, and interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s will be on display alongside sculptures and structures.

Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition shines a light on Meadmore’s rich design practice and the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne. The display charts the evolution of the artist’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 1960s, cementing the role he played with the Australian design scene of this time.

Curator Dean Keep said, “The exhibition is an important retrospective showing a snapshot of time when mid-century tastemakers sought to turn Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city.”

It was in 1951 that Meadmore designed his first piece of furniture; a steel rod and corded dining chair which would form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as Meadmore Originals. This chair design became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd.

For the next ten years, Meadmore produced a range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture.

In the mid-1950s, Meadmore was commissioned to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar in Melbourne, opening for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Before shifting towards sculpture in the late 1950s, Meadmore’s designs were regularly featured in popular lifestyle magazines and sold in designer department stores in Sydney and Melbourne.

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is on at Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne from 20 November 2018 to 3 March 2019.

This project has been assisted by a State Library Victoria Creative Fellowship.

Press release from the Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

GALLERY 3

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Model for a six-hundered foot skyscraper
1978
Wood, gesso and paint
Collection of Rosalind Meadmore

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Hirst

The three tables presented here pose interesting questions about the business and design arrangements between Clement Meadmore and Michael Hirst, and ambiguous boundaries between authorship and attribution in some of the Hirst manufactured furniture.

The two tiled occasional tables, traditionally attributed to Hirst, were both made by Clement Meadmore and were presented by he designer as gifts to the Dallwitz family in Adelaide. Meadmore considered the tables as prototypes for a new design, sharing with the Dallwitz family his process of making them: first, the glass tiles were laid out to form a pattern, then affixed to adhesive paper and turned upside down. A square structure could then be built around them to hold the wet plaster or cement until it had set hard.

The Dining Table (c. 1959) manufactured by Hirst, was originally owned by the Rippin family, friends of both Hirst and Meadmore. Ailsa Rippin maintained throughout her life that the table was designed by Meadmore, an assertion supported by the aesthetic and structural similarities it shares with a coffee table Meadmore designed for Violet Dulieu and with one of his earliest welded sculptures (c. 1954).

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 3 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 4

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

At left: Clement Meadmore. Door handle (from Thomas’ music store) c. 1959 welded steel Collection of Ken Neale
At right: Clement Meadmore. Untitled c. 1962 welded steel Private collection, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
The Trumpeter
1957
Welded steel, brass
Private collection, Canberra

 

Installation views of Gallery 4 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 5

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Photograph at rear is of the Teahouse interior c. 1958

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Artefacts relating to the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar including building application (1955), menu book and cups and saucers

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Photograph at rear is of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956, 239 Bourke Street, Melbourne Victoria, with Leonard French’s painting The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
(1956, below) on the wall behind the counter. Courtesy of I. A. Nicolades and L. French. Credit: Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis. In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians; and chair for Legend Expresso and Milk Bar c. 1956, steel, brass, Collection of Mr John and Ms Dora Dallwitz

 

 

Café culture: the Legend and the Tea House

A time of great cultural shifts, the 1950s saw Melbourne evolve into a multi-cultural city enriched by the contributions of post-war migrants. The introduction of European café culture at this time had an enduring influence on the character of the city, as did the preparations for the 1956 Olympic Games, which prompted a major program of rebuilding and revitalisation, providing Clement Meadmore with the opportunity to create two of the most imaginative and original interiors in Melbourne.

Ion Nicolades was one of many business owners to remodel their premises in anticipation of the number of visitors soon to descend upon the city. Owner of the Anglo-American Café, a Melbourne institution which had operated on the same site since 1904, Nicolades approached Meadmore with the idea of transforming his business into a contemporary café, renamed the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar. Located in the heart of the city on Bourke Street, the space was divided by an internal wall, with the café to the left, and milk bar to the right – and ideal mix that would capitalise on its proximity to nearby offices and cinemas.

Noted on the plans as the ‘superintending architect’, Meadmore designed every aspect of the Legend, from structural elements through to interior design. From the stools, tables and steel rod chairs, through to the black metal pendant lights. Meadmore crafted an interior that embodied a playful mix of European modernism and contemporary styling. The refurbished Legend quickly became a hub for the young art and design crowd.

Nicolades soon commissioned Meadmore for a second project, the Tea House (also known as the T House). In contrast to the Italophile interiors of the Legend, this project blended British culture and Asian aesthetics with motifs from the botanical world. Meadmore’s subtle inclusion of visual metaphors can be seen in the shape of the chair backs, which reference tea leaves, and in the shape of his lighting: an allusion to the hats worn by plantation workers who picked the tea [see last installation photograph below]. Meadmore’s passion for geometry informed both the design and spatial arrangement of the interior and furnishings, creating a striking display of ordered forms. The rows of simple steel rod tables and chairs, enveloped by curtained walls that draw the eye deep into the room, demonstrate his ability to minimise visual weight and create a sense of light and space.

Wal text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Leonard French (Australian, 1928-2017)
The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
1956
Duco and enamel on board
La Trobe University Art Collection
Donated under the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Ion Nicolades 1999

 

 

Gallery A

Gallery A was an art gallery in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane, established in 1959 by Max Hutchinson and Clement Meadmore, who took the role of gallery director. The inaugural exhibition included work b the Italian abstract expressionist Franco Meneguzzo (Italian, b. 1924), who Meadmore had met in Milan six years earlier, alongside a group of Australia abstract painters, such as Meadmore’s housemate Peter Upward (Australian, 1932-1983). In a climate of conservatism within the Australian art scene, Gallery A was unapologetically progressive, showcasing non-figurative and abstract art alongside design. An exhibition featuring the work of Ludwig Hirschfield-Mack (1893-1965, German 1893-1939, arrived Australia 1940) in 1961 helped earn Gallery A the title of ‘Little Bauhaus’. In keeping with the Bauhaus principle of bridging the gap between art and industry, Gallery A’s activities extended beyond the exhibition of art and design to the production of a range of furniture, designed by Meadmore and manufactured by Hutchison’s company Adroit Manufacturing. Described as ‘contract furniture’, these designs were intended for commercial projects and were advertised in the gallery’s brochures.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 5 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

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

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

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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07
Dec
14

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

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

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

Curator: Joanna Bosse

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

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

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

 

 

Martin Thompson. 'Untitled' 2014

 

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

 

Andrew Blythe. 'Untitled' 2012

 

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

 

Terry William. 'Stereo' 2011

 

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

 

Terry Williams. 'Telephone' 2011

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Julian Martin. 'Untitled' 2011

 

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

 

Kelly Greaves. 'My little Japan' 2010

 

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

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

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

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

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

 

Lisa Reid. 'Queen of hearts' 2010

 

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

 

 

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

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

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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18
Jan
09

Review: ‘Framing Conflict – Iraq and Afghanistan’ exhibition by Lyndell Brown and Charles Green at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th Nov 2008 – 1st Feb 2009

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'Afghan traders with soldiers, market, Tarin Kowt base, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.' 2007-08

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Afghan traders with soldiers, market, Tarin Kowt base, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
2007-08
From The approaching storm series 2007-09
Digital colour inkjet photograph
155 × 107.5 cm

 

 

Despite one brilliant photograph and some interesting small painted canvases this exhibition is a disappointment. No use beating around the figurative bush in the landscape so to speak, talking plainly will suffice. Firstly, let’s examine the photographs. Thirteen large format colour photographs are presented in the exhibition out of an archive of “thousands of photographs Brown and Green created on tour”1 from which the paintings are derived.

Most of the photographs are inconsequential and need not have been taken. Relying on the usual trope of painters who take photographs they are shot at night, dusk or dawn when the shadows are long, the colours lush supposedly adding ‘mystique’ to the scene being portrayed. In some cases they are more like paintings than the paintings themselves. Perhaps this was the artist’s plan, the reverse marriage of photography and painting where one becomes the other, but this does little to advance photography as art. There is nothing new or interesting here: sure, some of the photographs are beautiful in the formal representation of a vast and fractured landscape but the pre-visualisation is weak: bland responses to the machines, industry, people and places of the conflict. Go look at the Andreas Gursky photographs at the National Gallery of Victoria to see world-class photography taking reality to the limit, head on.

Too often in these thirteen images the same image is repeated with variants – three images of the an aircraft having it’s propeller changed show a lack of ideas or artefacts to photograph – presented out of the thousands taken seems incongruous. The fact that only one photograph is reproduced in the catalogue is also instructive.

Some images are just unsuccessful. For example the photograph Dusk, ship’s bridge with two sailors, northern Gulf is of a formulaic geometry that neither holds the viewers attention nor gives a deeper insight into their lives aboard ship and begs the question why was the photograph taken in the first place? The dark space has little physical or metaphysical illumination and seems purely to be an exercise in formalism. The photograph Dusk, ships’ bridge with sailor, northern Gulf is more successful in the use of light and shade as they play across the form of a sailor, his head resting pensively in his hand, red life vests adding a splash of colour to the bottom right of the photograph.

The brilliant photograph of the group is View from Chinook, Helmand province, Afghanistan. This really is a monstrous photograph. With the large black mass of the helicopter in the foreground of the image containing little detail, the eye is drawn upwards to the windscreen through which a mountain range rises, with spines like the back of a Stegosaurus. To the right a road, guarded by a desolate looking pillbox and yellow barrier, meanders into the distance. Dead flies on the windscreen look like small bullet holes until you realise what they are. This is the image that finally evidences a disquieting beauty present in the vast and ancient landscape.

Turning to the paintings we can say that some of the small 31cm x 31cm paintings work well. From an ‘original’ photograph the artist selects and crops a final image that they work up into a highly detailed oil painting. Distilled (as the artist’s like to put it) from the ‘original’ photographs, the paintings become a “merging of a contemporary sense of composition – borrowed from photography, film and video – with the textures and processes of traditional oil painting.”2

“These works were developed by the artists to be something akin to “Hitchcockian clues” which create the sense of looking out at a scene but being distanced from the action. To some degree the entire suite of small pictures participate in developing this intrigue, by showing an array of ambiguous scenes in which direct action is never present, or is obscured by limited perspectives … The artists noted that the war zones they witnessed were low in action but high in tension”3

To an extent this tension builds in some of the small paintings: the small size lends an intimate, intense quality and forces the viewer to engage with highly detailed renditions of textures of clothing, material, skin and hair and the distorted scale of the ships and aeroplanes portrayed. In these intense visions the painting seems less like a photograph and more like a new way of seeing. However, this occurs only occasionally within the group of small paintings.

If we think of a photograph in the traditional sense as a portrayal of reality, then a distillation of that photograph (the removal of impurities from, an increase in the concentration of) must mean that these paintings are a double truth, a concentrated essence of the ‘original’ photograph that changes that essence into something new. Unfortunately most of these small canvases show limited viewpoints of distilled landscapes that do not lead to ambiguous enigmas, but to the screen of the camera overlaid by a skein of paint, a patina of posing.

This feeling is only amplified in the three large ‘History’ paintings. The three paintings seem static, lifeless, over fussy and lacking insight into the condition of the ‘machine’ that they are attempting to portray. It’s a bit like the ‘Emperors New Clothes’, the lack of substance in the paintings overlaid with the semantics of History painting (“a traditional genre that focused on mythological, biblical, historical and military subjects”) used to confirm their existence and supposed insight into the doubled, framed reality. As Robert Nelson noted in his review of 2008 art in Melbourne in The Age newspaper it would seem that painting is sliding into terminal decline. These paintings only seem to confirm that view.

Here was a golden opportunity to try something fresh in terms of war as conflict – both in photography and painting – to frame the discourse in an eloquent, innovative manner. Most of this work is not interesting because it does not seem to be showing, or being discursive about anything beyond a personal whim. Because an artist can talk about some things, doesn’t mean that he can make comments about other things that have any value. Although the artist was looking to portray landscapes of globalisation and entropy, there are more interesting ways of doing this, rather than the nature of the transcription used here.

Here was a golden opportunity to try something fresh in terms of war as conflict – both in photography and painting – to frame the discourse in an eloquent, innovative manner. Most of this work is not interesting because it does not seem to be showing, or being discursive about anything beyond a personal whim. Because an artist can talk about some things, doesn’t mean that he can make comments about other things that have any value. Although the artist was looking to portray landscapes of globalisation and entropy, there are more interesting ways of doing this, rather than the nature of the transcription used here.

“It is very good to copy what one sees: it is much better to draw what you can’t see any more but in your memory. It is a transformation in which imagination and memory work together. You only reproduce what struck you, that is to say, the necessary. That way your memory and your fantasy are freed from the tyranny of nature.”4

No thinking but the putting away of intellect and the reliance on memory and imagination, memory and fantasy to ‘distil’ the essence. This is what needed to happen both in the photographs and paintings – leaving posturing aside (perhaps an ‘unofficial war artist’ would have had more success!) to uncover the transformation of landscape that the theatre of this environment richly deserves.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

References

1. Heywood, Warwick. Framing Conflict: Iraq and Afghanistan exhibition catalogue. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2008, p. 6
2. Heywood, Warwick. Framing Conflict: Iraq and Afghanistan exhibition catalogue. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2008, p. 6
3. Heywood, Warwick. Framing Conflict: Iraq and Afghanistan exhibition catalogue. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2008, p. 11
4. Degas, Edgar quoted in Halligan, Marion. “Between the brushstrokes,” in A2 section, The Saturday Age newspaper, January 17th 2008, p. 18

 

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'Afghan National Army perimeter post with chair, Tarin Kowt base, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan' 2007-08

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Afghan National Army perimeter post with chair, Tarin Kowt base, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
2007-08
From The approaching storm series 2007-09
Digital colour inkjet photograph
111.5 × 151.5 cm

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'Dusk, ship's bridge with two sailors, northern Gulf' 2007-08

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Dusk, ship’s bridge with two sailors, northern Gulf
2007-08
Digital colour inkjet photograph

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. "Late afternoon, flight line, military installation, Middle East" 2007

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Late afternoon, flight line, military installation, Middle East
2007
Oil on linen

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. "Market, Camp Holland, Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan." 2007

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Market, Camp Holland, Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
2007
Oil on linen

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'View from Chinook, Helmand province, Afghanistan' 2007-08

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
View from Chinook, Helmand province, Afghanistan
2007-08
From The approaching storm series 2007-09
Digital colour inkjet photograph
111.5 × 151.5 cm

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'View from Chinook, Helmand province, Afghanistan' 2007

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
View from Chinook, Helmand province, Afghanistan
2007
Oil on linen

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'Trolley, propeller change, on flightline at night, military installation, Gulf' 2007-2008

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Trolley, propeller change, on flightline at night, military installation, Gulf
2007-2008
From The approaching storm series 2007-09
Digital colour inkjet photograph
87.0 × 87.4 cm

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. 'History painting: market, Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan' 2007

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
History painting: market, Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
2007
Oil on linen

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. Installation view of photographs from the exhibition 'Framing Conflict' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Installation view of photographs from the exhibition Framing Conflict at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne
2009

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green. Installation view of paintings from the exhibition 'Framing Conflict' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne 2009

 

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green
Installation view of paintings from the exhibition Framing Conflict at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne
2009

 

 

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

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

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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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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