Posts Tagged ‘Robert Nelson

23
Feb
13

Review: ‘Confounding: Contemporary Photography’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2012 – 3rd March 2013

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964) 'Public housing' 2003

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964)
Public housing
2003
Type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0cm (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

 

 

Thinking contemporary photography

At its birth in the 19th century, photography was seen as the ultimate tool for the representation and classification of the visual world.1 Photography recorded reality; a photograph was seen as a visual and literal truth of something that existed in the world. It re-presented the world to the viewer, telling something of the world, reflecting the world. A photograph provided a freeze frame – the snap of the shutter – of one point in time and space. People were astounded that their likeness and that of the world around them could be captured for all to see.

Technological advancements in the early twentieth century, such as faster exposure times and more portable cameras, transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.2 The photograph began to reveal the personal dimensions of reality. It began to explore the intangible spaces that define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. “Photographers and artists attempted to depict via photographic means that which is not so easily photographed: dreams, ghosts, god, thought, time” (Jeffrey Fraenkel The Unphotographable Fraenkel Gallery Books 2013). With the advent of modernism, they sought to capture fragments, details and blurred boundaries of personal experience.3 The indexical link photograph and referent, between the camera, the object being photographed and the photograph itself was being stretched to breaking point.

Think of it like this. Think of a photograph of an apple that a camera has taken. There is a link between the photograph and its referent, the photograph of the apple and the object itself (in reality, in the lived world). As a viewer of the photograph of the apple we are secondary witness to the fact that, at some point in time, someone took a photograph of this apple in real life. We bear witness to the eyewitness. Now what if I rip up the photograph of the apple and reassemble it in a different order? Is this still not an apple, only my subjective interpretation of how I see an apple existing in the world? Is it no less valid than the “real” photograph of the apple? What kinds of visual “truth” can exist in images?

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?

Thomas Demand’s Public Housing (2003, above) plays with the real and the fictional, presenting the viewer with an idealised vision of a public housing complex illustrated on a Singapore $10 note. Demand makes large models out of paper and cardboard in his studio and then photographs the result before destroying the basis of his performance, the model, leaving only the photograph as evidence of their existence, an existence that emanated from the imagination of the artist. This particular Demand is unusual in that it depicts the totality of an outdoor structure, for the artist usually focuses on details of buildings, plants and environments in mid to close up view. The flattened perspective, limited colour palette and absence of detail adds to the utopian nature of the work (almost like a photographic Jeffrey Smart), aping the aesthetic and social ideals of Le Courbusier. As John Meades notes, “From early in its history, photography was adopted by architects as a means of idealising their buildings. As beautiful and heroic, as tokens of their ingenuity and mankind’s progress, etc. This debased tradition continues to thrive. At its core lies the imperative to show the building out of context, as a monument, separate from streetscape, from awkward neighbours, from untidiness.”4

In Roger Ballen’s photograph Terminus (2004, below), one the more moody works in the exhibition, a heavy wooden board with a deflated leather bladder on top presses down on a human face. Although it is not a human face (it confounds!), it is the painted face of a mannequin which the viewer can only acknowledge after a jolt of recognition. There is a feeling of entombment, a palpable feeling of claustrophobia, as the meta / physical “weight” of the bladder (like the weight of a heavy meteorite) presses down on the half obscured, thin lipped, black eyed face. Similarly confounding are the two photographs by Eliza Hutchison called The ancestors (2004, below). Shot from the waist up, these photographs remind you of those old black and white Photo Booth snapshots that you used to get for passports (there are still two of those machines outside the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street railway station, standing there like forlorn sentinels of a by gone age), complete with nondescript curtain that you used to pull behind you. There is something “not quite right” about the people in the photographs but you can’t put your finger on it until the text panel, a little gleefully, informs you that the portraits had been shot upside down. Now you realise what is out of kilter: more cheek and jowl rather than cheek by jowl.

The exhibition makes a powerful point as Robert Nelson in his review of the exhibition in The Age newspaper observes: photography doesn’t necessarily have to be confounding to be art, to become enduring, it just has to have a decent idea behind it.

“I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”5

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The idea has always been the issue. Collectively, it is the ideas contained within the images in this exhibition that unsettle the relationship between the photograph and the world in the mind of the viewer, not their confounding. I don’t find any of these images contain much emotion (except possibly the Ballen) but the images are transformational because they fire up our imagination. Images speak not just of the world, but to the world; they challenge our beliefs, our politics and our daily practices. The camera’s single viewpoint, our single viewpoint, our field of existence has changed. People find themselves somehow, somewhere, not in a lived reality but in an imagined one.

Much is staged, scaled and variations in perspective are paramount. This affects the relationship between the viewer and the viewed for we can no longer take anything at face value. In a media saturated world full of images we begin to question every image that we see: has it been digitally manipulated, does it, did it actually exist in the world? These days “truth” in photography is an elusive notion and that might not be such a bad thing as people question the nature of images that surround them, their authenticity and their aura. In a media saturated world, in a world no longer of our making, seeing is no longer believing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  • 1. Anon. “Flatlands: photography and everyday space,” press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website posted on Art Blart [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 2. Ibid.,
  • 3. Ibid.,
  • 4. Meades, Jonathan. “Architects are the last people who should shape our cities,” on The Guardian website, Tuesday 18 September 2012 [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 5. “First, do all confounded photographic images qualify as art? Or does a photograph have to be founding in a special way? And second, can a photograph be art without being confounding?Bundling these questions together, I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”Nelson, Robert. “Getting the picture can be confounding,” in The Age newspaper, Wednesday January 2nd, 2013, p. 11.

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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.

 

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018) 'Home' 1991

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018)
Home
1991
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 53.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Peter Peryer

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969) 'The drummer' 2004

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969)
The drummer
2004
Cibachrome photograph
45.0 x 37.7cm (image) 56.0 x 49.0cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Foundation, 2006
© Loretta Lux/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

On 5 October, the National Gallery of Victoria will present Confounding: Contemporary Photography, an exploration of the uncanny worlds created by human imagination, dreams and memories.

Drawn from the NGV’s collection, the fourteen works on display transform the strange, uncomfortable and awkward into plausible realities. Visitors will discover the gaze of unnerving children in the hyper-real work of Loretta Lux; be jolted upon realising the hidden reality of Wang Qingsong’s monumental tableaux; and wonder at the strange beauty in the carefully constructed cardboard world of Thomas Demand.

Susan van Wyk, Curator, Photography, NGV, said: “Like the recollection of a dream, the photographs displayed in Confounding seem to make sense, but do not sit comfortably in the world. There are subtle, slightly sinister elements within the images that suggest a mystifying alternative reality… Through a selection of works by Australian and international artists, including two new acquisitions by Thomas Demand and Roger Ballen, Confounding explores the unexpected with images that bridge the divide between real and fictional.”

Confounding will present works by contemporary photographers including Roger Ballen, Pat Brassington, Thomas Demand, Eliza Hutchison, Rosemary Laing, Loretta Lux, Patricia Piccinini, Peter Peryer, Wang Qingsong and Ronnie van Hout.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Roger Ballen. 'Terminus' 2004

 

Roger Ballen (American 1950-, worked in South Africa 1982- )
Terminus
2004
Carbon print
45.2 x 44.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Bill Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012
© courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait' 1997

 

Patricia Piccinini (b. Sierra Leone 1965, lived in Italy 1968-72, arrived Australia 1972)
Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait
1997
From the Protein lattice series 1997
Type C photograph
80.5 x 80.3cm irreg. (image); 90.0 x 126.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Optus Communications Pty Limited, Member, 1998
© Patricia Piccinini

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962) 'Mephitis' 1995

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962)
Mephitis
1995
Gelatin silver photograph
47.2 x 32.6cm (image), 50.5 x 40.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

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

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965)
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.3 x 73.0cm (image),105.3 x 83.0cm (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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21
Sep
11

Exhibition: ‘Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield

Exhibition dates: 4th August – 1st October 2011

 

Juan Davila. 'Wilderness' 2010

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
Wilderness
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

 

“The ‘Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ exhibition is a tour of the various approaches to the landscape: ‘plein air’ painting, studio landscape work, sublime landscape, historical evocation of landscape, modernity and the landscape, natural disaster, childhood memory of a landscape, woman in the wilderness. The ‘After Image’ works seem to refer to fantasies, inner space, unnameable objects, microcosm and immense space. Within the representation of “the land” one easily forgets that we are dealing with complexity and a field of projections. The political, the sublime, the moral stance, corporate destruction and the future of our environment come to mind.”

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Juan Davila 1

 

“In a state of grace, one sometimes perceives the deep beauty, hitherto unattainable, of another person. And everything acquires a kind of halo which is not imaginary: it comes from the splendour of the almost mathematical light emanating from people and things. One starts to feel that everything in existence – whether people or things – breathes and exhales the subtle light of energy. The world’s truth is impalpable.”

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Clarice Lispector 2

 

 

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

Feminine jouissance is critical to an understanding of the work of Juan Davila (see quotation below). It is the jouissance of the Other: ineffable, incapable of being expressed, indescribable, unutterable. Also critical is an understanding of the meaning of ‘wilderness’ and ‘after image’.

Wilderness “is a relative term suggesting the perspective of a visitor or interloper for whom the landscape is wild and Other – for the landscape was neither wild nor foreign to its original inhabitants, at least not until its transformation through colonising, farming and displacement.”“An after image … is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”4

The most powerful works are the Wilderness and After Image paintings. Grouped together in a room at the far end of the gallery, the effect of these paintings is to be physically surrounded by the nebula of the unconscious mind. The feeling is not dissimilar to being consumed by the abstract, elemental quality of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at the Orangerie in Paris. Pair to more earthly landscapes (see images 2 and 3 below) the paintings are the closest experience in approaching the divine that I have felt in a long time. Their visual and noumenal ‘energy’ is superlative.

Robert Nelson observes that, “The after-image is a momentary body-memory – not intellectual but bizarrely willed – perhaps a bit like the recollection of a dream or the instant slip that uncannily reveals the unconscious. In monumentalising this trace, Davila delivers us to another ethereal zone: the breath of libido, buffeted by clouds of repression and misty internalised myths. As portraits of evanescent memory, they are wantonly memorable.”5

Indeed, they are memorable. I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualisable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you have the same experience.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version.

 

“The term jouissance, in French, denotes “pleasure” or “enjoyment.” The term has a sexual connotation (i.e., orgasm) lacking in the English word “enjoyment”, and is therefore left untranslated in English editions of the works of Jacques Lacan. In his Seminar “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” (1959-1960) Lacan develops his concept of the opposition of jouissance and pleasure. The pleasure principle, according to Lacan, functions as a limit to enjoyment: it is the law that commands the subject to ‘enjoy as little as possible’. At the same time the subject constantly attempts to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle. Yet the result of transgressing the pleasure principle, according to Lacan, is not more pleasure but pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. Beyond this limit, pleasure becomes pain, and this ‘painful principle’ is what Lacan calls jouissance.

In his Seminar “Encore” (1972-1973) Lacan states that jouissance is essentially phallic. That is, insofar as jouissance is sexual it is phallic, meaning that it does not relate to the Other as such. Lacan admits, however, that there is a specifically feminine jouissance, a supplementary jouissance, which is beyond the phallus, a jouissance of the Other. This feminine jouissance is ineffable, for both women and men may experience it but know nothing about it.”6

 

Footnotes

  1. Davila, Juan quoted in “After Image: A conversation between Juan Davila and Kate Briggs,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p. 53.
  2. Lispector, Clarice. Discovering the World. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992, p. 122 quoted in Briggs, Kate. “Painting, an act of faith: Moments in the work of Juan Davila,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p. 8.
  3. Delany, Max. Introductory speech for “Contemporary Visions & Critiques of the Landscape.” Video of session. The Festival of Ideas, The Pursuit of Identity: Landscape, History and Genetics. The University of Melbourne [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. No longer available online
  4. Anon. “Afterimage” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterimage
  5. Nelson, Robert. “Exhibition does not take air lightly,” in The Age newspaper. Wednesday, September 21st, 2011, p. 17.
  6. Anon. “Jouissance” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jouissance

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974) 'A Man is Born Without Fear' 2010

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
A Man is Born Without Fear
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

Juan Davila. 'After Image. A Man is Born Without Fear' 2010

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
After Image. A Man is Born Without Fear
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

Juan Davila. 'Churchill National Park' 2009

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
Churchill National Park
2009
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

 

“The Moral Meaning of Wilderness features recent work by Juan Davila, one of Australia’s most distinguished artists. The exhibition sees Davila turn to the genres of landscape and history painting, at a time when the environment is as much a political as a cultural consideration. With technical virtuosity, Davila’s striking representations of nature achieve monumental significance, depicting beauty and emotion while addressing modern society’s ambivalence to nature and increasing consumerism.

The Moral Meaning of Wilderness represents a radical shift in Davila’s practice, whilst continuing to explore art’s relationship to nature, politics, identity and subjectivity in our post-industrial age. Davila pursues his exploration of the role of art as a means of social, cultural and political analysis.

While many contemporary artists turned away from representation of the landscape, due to its perceived allegiance to outmoded forms of national identity and representation, Davila has recently sought to revisit and reconsider our surroundings au natural.

His paintings are, at first view, striking representations of nature. The paintings, created since 2003, are undertaken en plain air, a pre-modern technique based on speed of execution in situ, and the use of large scale canvases characteristic of history painting. He has also employed other techniques such as studio painting and representations of the landscape with reference to the sublime, the historical, memory and modernity.”

Text from the MUMA website

 

Juan Davila. 'The Painter's Studio' 2006

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
The Painter’s Studio
2006
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

Juan Davila. '761 Wattletree Road' 2008

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
761 Wattletree Road
2008
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

Juan Davila. 'What About my Desire?' 2009

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
What About my Desire?
2009
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

Juan Davila. 'Australia: Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground' 2007

 

Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
Australia: Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
2007
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
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Phone: 61 3 9905 4217

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15
Apr
11

Exhibition: ‘Albert Tucker: Images of Modern Evil’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art

Exhibition dates: 19th March – 26th June 2011

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999) 'Image of Modern Evil: Paris Night' 1948

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999)
Image of Modern Evil: Paris Night
1948
Oil on canvas on composition board
38.5 x 46.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1985
© Barbara Tucker

 

 

Everything that I have felt about Tucker’s work Images of Modern Evil was eloquently spelt out by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper on April 13th 2011 in a piece titled ‘Portrait of the artist as a hateful man’. Unfortunately, having searched The Age website, I cannot locate the online version of the writing. If anyone knows the link please email it to me!

Some of the best quotes from the piece are below:

 

“History is full of moralists who insulted people for their lack of virtue. A millennium, a century, a decade later, we read their invectives and cringe. The main cause of their distemper now seems little more than misanthropic jealousy, where the reasons for moral disapproval boil down to a hatred of other people having fun.”

“Women for Tucker are disembodied monsters. Their limbs are abbreviated so as to focus attention on their fleshy core. The implication of these aesthetic amputees is grim: through their moral destitution, the women have transformed themselves into pure carnality, promoting their organs to men as mere flesh and with nothing in the head but an imbecilic smile.”

“Critics at the time were disgusted, recognising that the images are hateful and rancorous. But because Australia was determined to have modernism, it felt for 50 years that it had to swallow Tucker’s bile and consider it exquisite – like poison in Baudelaire – and make up political justifications for an odious sentiment.”

“Strip Tucker of his metaphoric filibustering, and you’re left with less weight than the shrivelled skulls of his strumpets. If Tucker’s women are happy lasses seeking fun with men, then why is their alacrity demeaned and condemned as sinister and vile? And if they’re prostitutes, why pick on the most vulnerable in society and stigmatise them for functional signs of joy?”

“Though accepted as heroically avant-garde, Tucker’s genre is pictorial slander. Just as an unproven allegation is destined to reflect on the plaintiff, so the man who accuses women of rotten morals – when no substance backs it up – stands accused of depraved motives.”

 

And best of all…

 

“None of the wartime circumstances that writers adduce can explain Tucker’s misogyny. His ferocity comes from a declamatory soul, impatient to score points and assert superiority. The exhibition reveals talent for painting but none of the humility to apply it to people.”

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Nelson
, Robert. “Portrait of the artist as a hateful man,” in The Age newspaper. Wednesday, April 13th 2011.

 

Talent for painting but none of the humility to apply it to people. Very well said Robert Nelson.

Thank you for having the courage to enunciate what I, for one, have felt for a long time.

Go and visit the exhibition if you must, but if critics at the time found the work disgusting, hateful and rancorous viewing them from an historical perspective should not make them less so. These are works that lack the capacity to empathise with vulnerabilities of the human spirit and do not deserve the energy of an attentive audience to be spent upon them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999) 'Image of Modern Evil: Demon Dreamer' 1943

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999)
Image of Modern Evil: Demon Dreamer
1943
Oil on paper on cardboard
40.8 x 50.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1982
© Estate of Babara Tucker

 

 

In 1943 Albert Tucker began a new phase in his art. Recently discharged from the army and primed with a fresh vocabulary of imagery that drew upon his wartime experiences, he commenced a suite of paintings which is now seen as a turning point in the advancement of modernism within twentieth-century Australian culture. The Images of Modern Evil series, painted between 1943 and 1948, offers a probing and powerful insight into the schismatic socio-political climate of World War II and its aftermath. Though neither critically nor popularly successful at the time, the series proved formative in Tucker’s practice as a distillation of humanist, psychological and mythological ideas and as a vehicle for specific motifs and narratives that have endured within his art.

The series starts with pictures of predatory and lascivious behaviour in Melbourne’s streets at night that have a gritty, elemental edge. As it progresses there is a greater sense of story-telling, and by the series’ end the influence of the avant-garde art of Pablo Picasso – in both style and subject – is clearly in evidence. Picasso was, however, but one of a variety of literary and artistic sources that Tucker drew on to help shape the Images: others included the poetry of T.S. Eliot; the imaginative creativity of the surrealists; the roughened political sentiments and social commentary of the German expressionists; and, pervasively, Carl Jung’s psychological treatises on irrationality, myths and archetypes, and on the personal and collective unconscious.

Tucker kept the Images of Modern Evil together and in his possession for more than thirty years, before 28 of the 39 constituent works were acquired for the collection of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Accompanied by studies, related works on paper and archival material, this is the first time that all locatable works in the series have been displayed together.

Text from the Heide Museum website [Online] Cited 11/01/2020

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999) 'Image of Modern Evil' 1945

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-1999)
Image of Modern Evil
1945
Coloured pastel on brown paper
23.9 × 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1978
© Estate of Babara Tucker

 

 

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26
Oct
09

Review: ‘Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers’ at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th August – 21st February 2010

 

Max Pam. 'Road from Bamiyan' 1971

 

Max Pam (born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980-83)
Road from Bamiyan
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979

 

 

Long Distance Vision is a disappointingly wane exploration of travel photography at NGV Australia. With the exception of the work of Max Pam the exhibition lacks insight into the phenomena that the curators want the work to philosophically investigate: namely how photographs shape our expectations of a place (even before we arrive) and how photographs also serve to confirm our experience – the picture as powerful mnemonic tool.

Firstly a quick story: when travelling in America to study at the Kinsey Institute I boarded a train from Chicago to what I thought was Bloomington, Indiana only to arrive many hours later at Bloomington, Illinois. Unbeknownst to me this Bloomington also had a motel of the same name as I was staying at in Indiana! After much confusion I ended up at the local airport trying to catch a single seater aircraft to Bloomington, Indiana with no luck – at the end of my tether, fearful in a foreign country, in tears because I just had to be at this appointment the next morning. Riding to my rescue was a nineteen year old kid with no shoes, driving an ex-cop car, who drove me across the Mid-West states stopping at petrol stops in the dead of night. It was a surreal experience, one that I will never forget for the rest of my life … fear, apprehension, alienation, happiness, joy and the sublime all rolled into one.

I tell this story to illustrate a point about travel – that you never know what is going to happen, what experiences you will have, even your final destination. To me, photographs of these adventures not only document this dislocation but step beyond pure representation to become art that re-presents the nature of our existence.

 

Matthew Sleeth‘s street photographs could be taken almost anywhere in the world (if it were not for a building with German writing on it). His snapshot aesthetic of caught moments, blinded people and dissected bodies in the observed landscape are evinced (to show in a clear manner; to prove beyond any reasonable doubt; to manifest; to make evident; to bring to light; to evidence – yes to bring to light, to evidence as photography does!) in mundane, dull, almost lifeless prints – ‘heavy’ photographs with a lack of shadow detail combined with a shallow depth of field. His remains, the people walking down the street and their shadow, are odd but as as The Age art critic Robert Nelson succinctly notes in his review of this exhibition, “To become art, the odd cannot remain merely quaint but has to signify an existential anomaly by implication.”1

If we look at the seminal photographs from the book The Americans by Robert Frank we see in their dislocated view of America a foreigners view of the country the artist was travelling across – a subjective view of America that reveals as much about the state of mind of the artist as the country he was exposing. No such exposition happens in the works of Matthew Sleeth.

Christine Godden‘s photographs of family and friends have little to do with travel photography and I struggle to understand their inclusion in this exhibition. Though they are reasonable enough photographs in their own right – small black and white photographs of small intimacies (at the beach, in the garden, at the kitchen table, on the phone, on the porch, on the float, etc…) Godden’s anthropomorphist bodies have nothing to do with a vision of a new land as she had been living in San Francisco, New York and Rochester for six years over the period that these photographs were taken. Enough said.

The highlight of the exhibition is the work of Max Pam. I remember going the National Gallery of Victoria in the late 1980s to view this series of work in the collection – and what a revelation they were then and remain so today. The square formatted, dark sepia toned silver gelatin prints of the people and landscapes of Tibet are both monumental and personal at one and the same time. You are drawn into their intimacies: the punctum of a boys feet; the gathering of families; camels running before a windstorm; human beings as specks in a vast landscape.

“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.”2

The meditation on place and space that the artist has undertaken gives true insight into the connection of man and earth, coming closest to Alain de Botton’s understanding of the significance of sublime places. Through a vision of a distant land the photographs transport us in an emotional journey that furthers our understanding of the fragility of life both of the planet and of ourselves.

 

While the National Gallery of Victoria holds some excellent photography exhibitions (such as Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis for example) this was a missed opportunity. The interesting concept of the exhibition required a more rigorous investigation instead of such a cursory analysis (which can be evidenced by the catalogue ‘essay’: one page the size of a quarter of an A4 piece of paper that glosses over the whole history of travel photography in a few blithe sentences).

Inspiration could have easily been found in Alain de Botton’s excellent book The Art of Travel. Here we find chapters titled “On Anticipation”, “On Travelling Places”, “On the Exotic”, “On Curiosity”, “On the Country and the City” and “On the Sublime” to name but a few, with places and art work to illustrate the journey: what more is needed to excite the mind!

Take Charles Baudelaire for example. He travelled outside his native France only once and never ventured abroad again. Baudelaire still dreamt of going to Lisbon, or Java or to the Netherlands but “the destination was not really the point. The true desire was to get away, to go, as he concluded, ‘Anywhere! Anywhere! So long as it is out of the world!'”3

Heavens, we don’t even have to leave home to create travel photography that is out of the world! Our far-sighted vision (like that of photographer Gregory Crewdson) can create psychological narratives of imaginative journeys played out for the camera.

Perhaps what was needed was a longer gestation period, further research into the theoretical nuances of travel photography (one a little death, a remembrance; both a dislocation in the non-linearity of time and space), a gathering of photographs from collections around Australia to better evidence the conceptual basis for the exhibition and a greater understanding of the irregular possibilities of travel photography – so that the work and words could truly reflect the title of the exhibition Long Distance Vision.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

  1. Nelson, Robert. “In blurred focus: le freak c’est chic,” in The Age newspaper. Friday, October 23rd 2009, p. 18
  2. de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, p. 178-179
  3. Ibid., p. 34

 

Max Pam (born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980-83) 'My donkey, our valley, Sarchu' 1977

 

Max Pam (born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980-83)
My donkey, our valley, Sarchu
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

 

Max Pam (Australian, b. 1949) 'Sisters' 1977

 

Max Pam (born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980-83)
Sisters
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

 

Max Pam (Australian, b. 1949) 'Tibetan nomads' 1977

 

Max Pam (born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980-83)
Tibetan nomads
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

 

Christine Godden. 'Bobbie and Amitabha at the beach' (c. 1972)

 

Christine Godden (born Australia 1947)
Bobbie and Amitabha at the beach
c. 1972
Gelatin silver photograph
13.2 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

 

Christine Godden. 'Elliot holding a ring' 1973

 

Christine Godden (born Australia 1947)
Elliot holding a ring
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
15.0 x 22.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie at the kitchen table' 1973

 

Christine Godden (born Australia 1947)
Joanie at the kitchen table
1973, printed 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 30.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

 

Christine Godden. 'With Leigh on the porch' 1972

 

Christine Godden (born Australia 1947)
With Leigh on the porch
1972, printed 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
20.2 x 30.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

 

 

“The National Gallery of Victoria will celebrate the work of Christine Godden, Max Pam and Matthew Sleeth in a new exhibition, Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers opening 28 August.

Long Distance Vision will include over 60 photographs from the NGV Collection exploring the concept of the ‘tourist gaze’ and its relationship with the three artists.

Susan van Wyk, Curator Photography, NGV said the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the unusual perspective brought by the three photographers to their varied world travel destinations.

“There’s a sense in the works in the exhibition that the photographers are not from the places they choose to photograph, and that each is a visitor delighting in the scenes they encounter.

“What is notable about the photographs in ‘Long Distance Vision’ is that rather than focussing on the well known scenes that each artist encountered, they have turned their attention to the ‘little things’, the details of the everyday,” said Ms van Wyk.

From the nineteenth century, photography has been a means by which people could discover the world, initially through personal collection and albums, and later via postcards, magazines, books and the internet.

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said that both contemporary photographers and tourists use the camera as a means to explore and capture the world.

“Through their photographs, the three artists featured in ‘Long Distance Vision’ show us highly individual ways of seeing the world. This exhibition will surprise and delight visitors as our attention is drawn to not only what is different but what remains the same as we travel the world,” said Dr Vaughan.

 

Born in Melbourne in 1949, Max Pam began his career in various commercial photography studios in the 1960s. After responding to a university notice for assistance to drive a Volkswagen from Calcutta to London in 1969, Pam got his first taste of being a traveller. The body of Pam’s work in this exhibition is from the series The Himalayas, which was photographed over a number of early visits to India.

Christine Godden also travelled the popular overland route between Europe and India in the early 1970s, returning to Sydney in 1978. In 1972, after a period of travelling, Godden found her home in the US where she remained for six years. Godden’s photographs in this exhibition were taken between 1972 and 1974 during her stay in the US.

Born in Melbourne in 1972, Matthew Sleeth is another seasoned traveller. During the late 1990s, Sleeth settled in Opfikon, an outer suburb of Zurich, Switzerland. The series of photographs in Long Distance Vision were taken during this time, showing Sleeth’s interest not only in street photography, but also in the narrative possibilities in everyday scenes. Dotted with garishly coloured playhouses, naive sculptures and whimsical arrangements of garden gnomes Sleeth’s photographs go beyond the ‘picture-perfect’ scenes of typical tourist photography.

Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers is on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square from 28 August 2009 to 21 February 2010.”

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria press release

 

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

 

Matthew Sleeth (born Australia 1972)
Photographs from the series Opfikon
1997, printed 2004
Type C photograph
43.2 x 43.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Patrick Corrigan, Governor, 2005
© Matthew Sleeth courtesy of Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Every day 10 am – 5 pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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11
Jun
09

Exhibition photographs: ‘Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire’ Melbourne Winter Masterpieces at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 4th October 2009

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

Installation photographs from the latest Winter Masterpieces blockbuster Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire from the media preview on the day the exhibition opened at NGV International, Melbourne. Thank you to Jemma Altmeier, Media and Public Affairs Administrator at the NGV for the invitation. Photographs were taken using a digital camera, tripod and available light.

Fantastic to see my friend and curator of the exhibition, Dr Ted Gott, at the opening. Congratulations on a wonderful show!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

© All photographs copyright Dr Marcus Bunyan 2009 and the National Gallery of Victoria. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be reproduced without permission.

Photographs proceed from the beginning to the end of the exhibition in chronological order.

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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.

 

 

Entrance to the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Entrance to the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside around where Salvador Dali lived

 

3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside where Salvador Dali lived. 13 minutes duration

 

Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Early work from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

To the left View of the Cadaques from the Creus Tower 1923; to the right Table in front of the Sea. Homage to Eric Satie 1926 from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

In the centre The First Days of Spring 1929; to the right Surrealist composition 1928 from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí. 'The First Days of Spring' 1929

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
The First Days of Spring
1929
Oil on canvas
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

dali-installation-j

 

Installation view with The Age art critic Associate Professor Robert Nelson at centre right and The hand. The remorse of conscience 1930 at far right, from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí. 'Daddy Longlegs of the evening - Hope!' 1940

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
Daddy Longlegs of the evening – Hope!
1940
Oil on canvas
40.6 x 50.8 cm
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

Salvador Dalí. 'The disintegration of The persistence of memory' 1952-54

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
The disintegration of The persistence of memory
1952-54
Oil on canvas
25.4 x 33.0 cm
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009.
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

Salvador Dalí. 'Soft self-portrait with grilled bacon' 1941

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
Soft self-portrait with grilled bacon
1941
Oil on canvas
61.0 x 51.0 cm
Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres (0043)
© Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala- Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48) 'Memory of the child-woman' 1932

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
Memory of the child-woman
1932
Oil on canvas
99.1 x 120.0 cm
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

dali-installation-l

 

Installation view with Memory of the child-woman 1932 at right from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-89)
Lobster Telephone
1936

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Jewellery gallery at the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)Alemany and Ertman Incorporated (New York, manufacturer United States late 1940s) 'Bleeding world, pendant' 1953

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
Alemany and Ertman Incorporated (New York, manufacturer United States late 1940s)
Bleeding world, pendant
1953
Gold, rubies, pearls, diamonds
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

Television with film installation at 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Televisions with film installation from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48) Philippe Halsman (Latvian/American 1906-79, worked in France 1931-40) 'Dalí Atomicus' 1948, printed 1981

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish 1904-89, worked in United States 1940-48)
Philippe Halsman (Latvian/American 1906-79, worked in France 1931-40)
Dalí Atomicus
1948, printed 1981
Gelatin silver photograph
26.7 x 34.3 cm
Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2009
© Philippe Halsman / Magnum

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation of black and white photography with Dr Ted Gott, curator of the exhibition, with back to camera at centre

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Reproduction of Gala foot. Stereoscopic paintings 1975-76 in an installation using mirrors that would have been originally used to obtain the stereoscopic effect

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Final exhibition space from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Salvador Dalí. 'The Ecumenical Council' 1960

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-89)
The Ecumenical Council
1960
Oil on canvas
299.7 x 254.0 cm
The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida
Worldwide Rights: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VISCOPY, 2009
In the USA: © Salvador Dalí Museum Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2009

 

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Final gallery space from the Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne featuring The Ecumenical Council 1960

 

 

National Gallery of Victoria (International)
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Opening hours: Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire is open 7 days a week and until 9pm every Wednesday from 17 June

Tickets
Adult: $23
Concession: $18
Child: $11 (ages 5-15)
Family (2 adults + 3 children): $60
NGV Member Adult: $16
NGV Member Family: $40

Unlimited entry tickets
Adult: $55
Concession: $45
NGV Member Adult: $40

National Gallery of Victoria Dali website

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09
Jun
09

Review: ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 12th July 2009

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green' 1935

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green
1935
Oil and pencil on composition board
Private Collection

 

 

Despite some interesting highlight pieces this is a patchy, thin, incoherent exhibition assembled by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney now showing at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Featuring a hotchpotch of work ranging across fields such as drawing, architecture, photography, painting, film, graphic design, craft, advertising, Australiana and aboriginal works the exhibition attempts to tell the untold story of Modernism in Australia to little effect. Within the exhibition there is no attempt to define exactly what ‘Modernism’ is and therefore an investigation into Modernism in Australia is all the more confusing for the visitor as there seems to be no stable basis on which to build that investigation. Perhaps reading the catalogue would give a greater overview of the development of Modernism in Australia but for the average visitor to the exhibition there seems to be no holistic rationale for the inclusion of elements within the exhibition which, much like Modernism itself, seems eclectically gathered from all walks of life with little regard for narrative structure.

With work spanning five decades from 1917-1967 we are presented with, variously, Robert Klippel’s kitsch Boomerang table from 1955, Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ from 1949, Wolfgang Sievers ‘new objective’ photographs, Berlei’s scientific system for calculating beauty in woman in use till the 1960s, swimsuits from the 1920s-1940s, Featherston chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Expo, a recreation of Australian architect Harry Seidler’s office (the most interesting part of this being the books he had in his office library: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe and Concerning Town Planning by Le Corbusier) and the wind tunnel test model of the Sydney Opera House in wood from 1960. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera …

Highlight pieces include the above mentioned test model of the Sydney Opera House which is stunning in its scale and woodenness, in it’s simplicity of shape and form. Other highlight pieces are the colour music compositions of Roy de Maistre which were the tour de force of the show for me, true revelations in their rhythmic synchronic Moebius-like construction with layered planes of colour swirling in purples, greens and yellows. The large vintage photographic print of Sunbaker (1934) by Max Dupain was also a revelation with it’s earthy brown tones, the blending of the atmospheric out of focus foreground with the clouds behind, the architectural nature of the outline of the body almost like the outline of Uluru, the darkness of the head with the sensuality of the head and shoulders framed against the largeness of the hand resting on the sand. Lastly the two paintings and one rug by French artist Sonia Delaunay are a knockout. It says something about an exhibition when the best work in the show are two paintings by a French artist seemingly plucked at random to show external influences on Australian artists and designers.

While the exhibition does attempt to portray the breadth of the development of Modernism in Australia ultimately it falls well short in this endeavour. The most striking example of this shortcoming is the true star of the exhibition – the building that is Heide II itself. Commissioned by John and Sunday Reed and designed by the Victorian architect David McGlashan of the architectural firm McGlashan and Eversit in 1963 the building epitomises everything that is good about architectural Modernism and it’s form overshadows the exhibition itself. In this building we have beautiful spaces and volumes, an amazing staircase down into the lower area, suspended decking overlooking gardens, the blending of inside and outside areas, large expanses of glass to view the landscape, nooks and studies for privacy and the simplicity and eloquence of form that is Modernist design. With money one can indulge in the best of elitist Modernism. With position, position, position one can side steep the alienation of the city and the spread of surburbia where the dream of Australians owning a home of their own still continues in the vast, tasteless expanses of McMansion estates.

Robert Nelson in his review of this exhibition sees the car as creating the suburbs and Modernism as the emptying of the city after 6pm, the lessening of community and the devaluing of space he insists that there is little difference between a Californian bungalow in the suburbs and a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler because they were equally shackled to motor transport.1 This is to miss the point.

Although Modernism in its basic form influenced most walks of life in Australia from swimsuit design to milk bars, from cinema to naturism, from bodies to advertising the most effective expressions of Modernism are architectural (as evidenced by Heide II) and were only open to those with money, power and position. Although Le Corbusier’s concept of public housing was a space ‘for the people’ the most interesting of his houses were the private commissions for wealthy clients. And so it proves here. One can imagine the parties on the deck at Heide II in the 1960s with men in their tuxedo and bow ties and woman in their gowns, or the relaxation of the Reed’s sitting in front of their fire in the submerged lounge. For the ordinary working class person Modernism brought a sense of alienation from the aspirational things one cannot buy in the world, an alienation that continues to this day; for the privileged few Modernism offered the exclusivity of elitism (or is it the elitism of exclusivity!) and an aspirational alienation of a different kind – that of the separation from the masses.

Go to Heide for the glorious gardens, the wonders of Heide II but don’t go to this exhibition expecting grand insights into the basis of Australian Modernism for that story, as Robert Nelson rightly notes, remains as yet untold.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

An excellent review of the exhibition by Jill Julius Matthews, “Modern times: The untold story of modernism in Australia,” (reCollections Volume 4 number 1) can be found on the Journal of the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

  1. “Emanating from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Modern Times “explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967.” But something is missing. The overwhelming modern development in these 50 years was the proliferation of automotive transport, which redefined the layout and function of Australian cities.

    The cars created the suburbs; and as the individual bungalow drew out the vast dormitories of Sydney and Melbourne, the city centre was spiritually drained, dedicated to bureaucratic and commercial premises.

    The story at Heide emphasises the gradual triumph of the tall buildings of the CBD. It doesn’t really reflect how these abstract monuments didn’t contain a soul after 6pm.Although the project makes such a big deal of being interdisciplinary, the social history doesn’t have a robust geographical basis. And because of this, the exhibition and book fail to handle the new alienation that modernism brings: the evacuation of the city and the insularity of suburban people in bungalows with little street life and roads increasingly deemed unsafe for children.

    What does it really matter if a house looks like a Californian bungalow or a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler? In social terms, they’re structurally the same, equally retracting from a sense of community and equally shackled to motor transport. In this sense, the styles are immaterial, except that one of them gives you a feeling of intimacy while the other has a bit more light and is easily wiped with a sponge.

    At the end of the chosen period, the folly of the dominant suburban pattern came to be understood in its dire ecological consequences. Alas, it was too late. The modernist devaluation of space had already occurred, and our whole society had been reorganised around petrol.”

    Robert Nelson. The Age. Wednesday 6th May, 2009

 

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Arrested Movement from a Trio' 1934

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Arrested Movement from a Trio
1934
Oil and pencil on composition board
72.3 × 98.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor' 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor
1919
Oil on paperboard
85.3 x 115.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

 

In late 1918, Roy de Maistre collaborated with fellow artist Roland Wakelin in exploring the relationship between art and music. Their experiments produced Australia’s first abstract paintings, characterised by high-key colour, large areas of flat paint and simplified forms. The works received critical acclaim, but modernist developments were largely derided by the conservative establishment.

This painting exemplifies de Maistre’s theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. It is also aligned with de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning through abstraction, akin to other artists such as Kandinsky who were interested in the ideas of the theosophy and anthroposophy movements, spiritualism and the occult.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour chart' c. 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour chart
c. 1919
30.5 x 40.5 cm
Oil on cardboard
Gift of the executors of the artist’s estate 1968
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rhythm' 1938

 

Sonia Delaunay (Ukraine, b. 1885 moved Paris 1905-1979)
Rhythm
1938
Oil on canvas

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007) '"House of Tomorrow" exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne' 1949

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007)
“House of Tomorrow” exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne
1949
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994) 'Nymphex' 1966

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994)
Nymphex
1966
Gelatin silver photograph from electronic image
50.6 x 60.8 cm image/sheet
Gift of Dr George Berger 1978
Art Gallery of New South Wales
@ Estate of Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937) 'Decorative portrait - Len Lye' 1925

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937)
Decorative portrait – Len Lye
1925
Marble
30.5 x 22.5 x 16.5 cm
Purchased 1938
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1934 printed 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
1934 printed 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984) 'Rushing' c. 1922

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984)
Rushing
c. 1922
Oil on canvas on paperboard
65.6 x 91.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

Cossington Smith captures the drama of a crowd in Rushing, which depicts commuters clamouring down to the ferries of Circular Quay to get home after work. The flying scarf and fallen hat emphasise the speed at which the travellers are moving and the peril and claustrophobia of a, mostly faceless, city crowd. The steep gangplank and diagonal composition accentuates the dynamism of the painting.

A brilliant colourist, Cossington Smith’s work of the early 1920s adopts a darker palette than the vivid colours she is usually associated with. Inspired by a visit to Sydney in 1920 by the tonalist painter and teacher Max Meldrum, her paintings became studies in tone, rather than colour, a practice she had abandoned by 1925.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Robert Klippel 'Boomerang' coffee table 1955

 

Robert Klippel (Australian, 1920-2001)
Boomerang coffee table
1955

 

 

“The Powerhouse Museum travelling exhibition Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967, a period of great social, economic, political and technological change. From the ideals of abstraction and functionalism to the romance of high-rise cities, new leisure activities and the healthy body, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the twentieth century. This exhibition is the first interdisciplinary survey of the impact of modernism in Australia, spanning art, design, architecture, advertising, photography, film and fashion.

Modern times is presented at Heide across all four of the Museum’s gallery spaces. It unfolds in thematic sections highlighting key stories about international exchange, the modern body, modernist ‘primitivism’, the city, modern pools, and the Space Age. Comprising over 300 objects and artworks, it showcases works by major artists including Sidney Nolan, Margaret Preston, Albert Tucker, Grace Cossington Smith, Max Dupain, Wolfgang Sievers, and Clement Meadmore, key architects Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler, and designers Fred Ward and Grant and Mary Featherston. An installation, Cannibal Tours, by Madrid-based Australian artist Narelle Jubelin is a contemporary adjunct to the exhibition.

Inspired by the futurist visions of various European avant-gardes, modernist ideas were often controversial and shaped by many competing positions. Modern times reveals how these ideas were circulated and took hold in Australia, via émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions, films and publications. Australian contact with significant international modernist sources, such as the Bauhaus school in Germany, occurred through figures such as influential artist and teacher Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, who taught Bauhaus principles at Geelong Grammar, and renowned architect Harry Seidler, who played a central role in shaping the modern city in Australia. Hirschfeld-Mack’s extraordinary film Colour Light Play of 1923 is shown for the first time in Australia, and Seidler’s 1948 studio, designed on his arrival from New York, has been re-created for the exhibition.

While modernism was international in character, an ‘Australian modernism’ was first championed in the 1920s by artist Margaret Preston, whose promotion of Aboriginal forms and motifs was important to the understanding of their artistic value. Preston’s designs, Len Lye’s stunning animation Tusalava (1929), Robert Klippel’s boomerang table (c. 1955) and other works show the development of a vernacular modernism.

Other highlights of Modern times include works from the visionary experiment in colour theory by Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin in 1919, a model of Robin Boyd’s innovative House of Tomorrow (1949), the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo, and a large wooden model for Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.”

Text from the Heide Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 06/06/2009 no longer available online

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman's 'Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women' which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellerman's trademark.

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman’s Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellermans trademark
Gift of Dennis Wolanski Library, Sydney Opera House, 2000
Photo: Powerhouse Museum

 

'On hot summer days cool off with Tooth's KB Lager', advertising poster (about 1940).

 

On hot summer days cool off with Tooth’s KB Lager
About 1940
Advertising poster
Colour and process lithograph, artist name “Parker” in image lower right
100.4 x 75.4cm
Sydney Living Museums

 

Grant and Mary Featherston. 'Expo mark II sound chair' 1967

 

Grant Featherston (Australian, 1922-1995) and Mary Featherston (Australian, b. London 1943, migrated to Australia 1952)
Expo mark II sound chair
1967
Aristoc Industries
Polystyrene, polyurethane foam, Dunlopillo foam rubber, Pirelli webbing, fibreglass, hardwood, sound equipment, upholstery fabric
Powerhouse Collection

 

 

The Expo Mark II sound chair, adapted for the Australian domestic market after Expo 67 in Montreal.

A cloth-covered high back winged chair with a circular base. The chair has a circular orange cloth covered cushion in the base and an integral full-width headrest. Two 125mm diameter inserts are pressed into the top of the back of the chair where speakers are fitted inside it. There is a cylindrical knob on the side of the chair.

 

James Birrell. 'A modernist vision of Australia - The interior of the Australian Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal' 1967

 

National Archives of Australia
A modernist vision of Australia: Grant and Mary Featherston’s wing sound chairs were a feature of the Australian Pavilion, designed by architect James Maccormick with exhibits selected by Robin Boyd, at Expo 67 in Montreal, 1967
1967

 

 

In 1967 Australia participated in the International and Universal Exposition held in Montreal, Canada. Australia’s Expo ’67 theme was the ‘Spirit of Adventure’. In the 30,000 square feet glass-walled Australian Pavilion, developed by the Australian Government and designed by Robin Boyd, exhibits explored Australian science, arts, people and development. The pavilion was designed as a ‘haven’ of ‘space and tranquillity’ floating above an Australian bushland setting. Inside, 240 innovative sound chairs offered ‘foot-weary Expo visitors’ the chance to hear the voices of famous Australians describing the exhibits, in French as well as English. The Great Barrier Reef was re-created in a lagoon beneath the pavilion while wallabies and kangaroos could be viewed in a sunken enclosure.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

James Birrell. 'View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane' Nd

 

James Birrell (Australian, b. 1928)
View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane
Nd
Powerhouse Museum

 

 

“A major exhibition opening for Sydney Design 08 in August, Modern times looks closely at the transformation of modern city life. The advent of cars, freeways, skyscrapers and new entertainment such as cinemas, milk bars, swimming pools, cafes and pubs are all legacies of modernism as revealed through the exhibition. The exhibition spans five decades from 1917 to 1967 – a tumultuous period marked by global wars, economic depression, a technological revolution and major social changes – out of which a modern cosmopolitan culture was shaped.

“The modernist movement was inspired by various European avant-gardes that projected visions of a better future, shaped by many competing positions. It was through émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions and publications that modernism become known in Australia,” Ann Stephen said. Encompassing art, design and architecture, Modern times focuses on seven themes: 1. the human body, image and health; 2. international influences and exchanges; 3. Indigenous art and modernism; 4. Interdisciplinary projects with retailers; 5. city landscapes and urban life; 6. public pools and milk bars; and 7. the space age.

Several great modern public pools were designed in Australia initially as part of an international swimming boom in the 1930s and boosted by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. These will be shown on a large, immersive, panoramic audio visual screen celebrating the most Australian of past-times, being poolside. The earliest 1920s swimming costumes by silent film star Annette Kellerman, several decades of Australian icon ‘Speedo’ cossies and an early bikini will also be on display.

The much-loved corner milk bar from the 1930s will also be recreated in the exhibition for visitors to enter, complete with lolly jars, milkshakes and a juke box.

Other story highlights in the exhibition include Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ that featured at the 1949 Modern Home Exhibition in Melbourne; and Boyd’s memorable Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo that showcased Australian design including the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs and hostess uniforms designed by Zara Holt, wife of then prime minister Harold Holt.

Modernism also inspired new forms of public art and design like the abstract fountains by Tom Bass on Sydney’s former P&O building and Robert Woodward’s El Alamein Memorial Fountain, a popular tourist site in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Modernism shaped an exultant explosion of experiment as part of the Space Age informing such spectacular architectural feats as Roy Grounds’ dome for the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra and Jørn Utzon’s internationally-acclaimed Sydney Opera House, both featured in the exhibition.”

Text by Ruzan Haruriunyan, “Modern Times: Untold Story Of Modernism In Australia,” on the Huliq News website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

Heide II

Heide II

 

Hedie II photographs by Rory Hyde. More photos of Heide are on his Flickr photoset

 

 

Heide II – commissioned by John and Sunday Reed 1963, designed 1964, constructed 1964-67

Designed by Melbourne architect David McGlashan of McGlashan Everist, it was intended as “a gallery to be lived in” and served as the Reeds’ residence between 1967 and 1980. The building is considered one of the best examples of modernist architecture in Victoria and awarded the Royal Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) Bronze Medal – the highest award for residential architecture in the State – in 1968. It is currently used to display works from the Heide Collection and on occasion projects by contemporary artists.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Australia Square Tower' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Australia Square: a keyhole to the future [Australia Square Tower]
1968
Gelatin silver print
49.9 × 39.2 cm
Courtesy of Max Dupain and Associates

 

Jeff Carter. 'At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma' c.1957-59

 

Jeff Carter (Australian, 1928-2010)
At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma
c. 1957-59
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara, Powerhouse Publishing, 2008 (paperback).

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road,
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
Public holidays
10am – 5pm

Heide Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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