Good art, bad art: a redhead's guide to the gallery
by Deborah Turnbull on 09 NOV 2009
So it’s the day before my next show. We’re mid-install, it’s hot as summer outside, I’ve got a gallerist hanging off a ladder hiding wires with conduit, technologists working on the guts of a system that is 4 screens welded together and an install guy that knows how to do a fantastic grid hang, mount an LCD and put up a poster mounted on gator board without blinking an eye. It’s been a good day so far and I only got to the gallery at noon (was writing my opening speech, chasing the guest speakers, advertising, liaising with print services…OH! And I went to the gym…I officially rock!). The flyers AND posters are ready, so I am geared up to paper the city with announcements for my show. For anyone who knows anything about install week, I’m in the throws! So today…TODAY… is the day my boyfriend of 18 months tells me he wants to blow off work and go to the beach…I can’t believe it! For 18 months I have been trying to get him to go to the beach, and in those 18 months he’s been dragged along exactly twice and wouldn’t go in the water either time. He loves the mountains, what can I say?
Yea, so I wrote the above in an attempt to capture a snapshot of the stress we go through during install week. It was also an attempt to not shriek at poor Aram down the phone in front of the entire crew, a not so professional act that occurred once before when he was accidentally 2 hours late to an install (I know your internal clock is different than mine, honey, and that in share houses you do have to wait your turn for the shower, and god bless you for being so relaxed, but you know my motto during install week: DON’T MESS WITH ME!). So instead of using the F@&$ word again in front of two surprised artists that later praised the dickens out of Mr. Dulyan, this time I just said I was busy working and I hoped that he would enjoy the beach. He did, he sent me updates via text. Not that I don’t want to support my boyfriend’s ever evolving personality (go babes go!), I guess everyone can and does change…but, y’know, the timing couldn’t have been worse. It’s kind of how I feel about everything that’s going on in the art world lately. Juuuuuuust when I have the busiest schedule humanly possible, there’s all sorts of fabulous things going on, and quite a few not-so-fabulous ones as well!
Just prior to crunch time for getting Spring and Asura.02 – Disturbance up and running at Brendan Pentzer’s At the Vanishing Point, I was invited along to Conny Dietzschold’s 20th Anniversary show: When Ideas Become Form. As I used to be her Gallery Manager, used to work for one of the exhibiting artists (hi Ernest!), AND had just shown a slightly different version of said artist’s work in my UTS show, I wasn’t about to miss it. Plus, Aram really enjoys art openings, and can be unbelievably buoyant about getting difficult exhibitions up and running (and difficult curators for that matter <smile>), which he had done a few weeks prior for said artist, who is also his thesis advisor. Ah what a wonderful web we weave! It’s pretty cool, actually. But wait…I digress…
The CDG 20th Anniversary show was nothing short of amazing. Conny had recently converted her Multiple Box Studio, adjacent to the CDG Gallery, into an online gallery effectively doubling the size of her physical exhibition space. She now uses this space for invited curatorial projects (exciting!). At centre stage between the two galleries is an enormous Shard sculpture, and we were treated to an interpretive dance performance involving that very sculpture. All around us were some of the strongest works of some of her top artists: Chun, Kwang-Young; Daniele Buetti, Ernest Edmonds, Pollyxenia Joannou, David Thomas, Claudia Terstappen, Venske & Spaenle…and believe me, the list goes on! Of course, I was a huge fan of the only “interactive work” in the room and made sure to tell Ernest that in a room full of outstanding art, his certainly stood out; a compliment which he received very well actually. Aram was a huge fan of Chun, Kwang-Young and picked Aggregation07-D120, 2007 as his must have in the room. Too bad it’s $110K buddy, but if nothing else, my boyfriend has taste. It is absolutely stunning though, and is comprised of intricately folded Chinese paper. The result is a variant landscape of sometime colour that is surely heavier than its materials would suggest due to the sheer size of it. In close contest was the Anne-Karin Furunes portrait Eyes, 2004; and the entire Buetti wall comprised of 5 light boxes, the Joannou painting and chair installation, the Liz Day triptych, the Lisa Andrews sculpture, the Rosa M Hessling objects…I mean I really could go on and on. There are days when I sorely miss being surrounded by beautiful objects all day long, and today was one of them. Too bad I was crap at selling…I had this thing where I always wanted to talk about the art…funny that. Oh, and the subsequent celebration dinner following the launch at La Brasserie was also delicious, and we got to meet Lisa Andrews’ partner, Stephane Zerbib, Executive Producer at Wasabi Digital…my do we have plans for him!
I found myself back at Danks Street when doing my flyer drops the same day I wrote the above introduction. Conny showered us with VIP invites to the Affordable Art Fair, too bad they were launching on the same night as S&A-D. She apologised she wouldn’t make it along, but I said that’s ok, I wouldn’t be able to make it to her launch either. Besides it kind of clashed with my case of extreme poverty at the minute, so really it would just be torture. Sweet beautiful torture, but torture nonetheless, yes? A. and I also stopped in to visit Dominik Mersch and Gabriella Roy to see if they would like to come. Gabriella (director of the Aboriginal and Pacific Gallery) was happy to see us and wished us well with the launch, but wouldn’t be able to make it. There was something on at the Art Gallery she must attend. She was particularly happy to see Aram because he networks their computers and is generally lovely to them, so she was asking him a bunch of questions about her home computer and the new one she wanted to buy and how it would affect the gallery computers, and so on and so forth. As I caught site of Dominik’s gallery, I started to inch away from the computer talk and towards the clicking of a projector and the thickly layered oil paint on the canvases of Clemens Krauss.
I walked into the Dominik Mersch Gallery and my jaw dropped. Stunned and affected is a hard look to pull off when you’re in (what I call my Madonna addidas) trackies, hot and sweaty from install, wearing no make-up, and with your sunnies on your head. Not only was I entranced by the bird’s eye view portraiture of Krauss, which are extremely beautiful by the by, but I was completely blown away by the working installation. The portraiture is all the more stunning in their execution, their layered complexity, but it is more the removal of subject matter from its environment that immobilised me. The perspective of the painting is one of height and void and is completely and positively arresting. The film installation Wandlungen, meaning conversions or metamorphosis, is a new work this year and the first version (or might I say iteration?) of this piece. It took up the whole room (2 galleries, and so not a mean feat!), is comprised of 2 old-school projectors (like clickety-clack projectors from health class in grade school), 16 mm film strung all over the gallery by a (yes indeed ladies and gentleman) miniature pulley system, and finishes off with wickedly sensuous projections of nude flesh. Now I never saw a nipple or naughtier, but they were sensual enough that I likely don’t have to tell you where I found Aram once he was finished chatting with Gabriella.
Filled with buoyancy, I returned to the ATVP with more zest and made a vow to myself to visit the MCA on my next day off. Now that didn’t happen until 10 days later, but I can tell you what I found when I got there. I found Primavera and Making it New. Now I usually go on these excursions with my friend Michael (who consequently, is letting me fit out his new apartment with contemporary work IF he ever buys one…hi Michael!), but he’s been very busy lately, as have I. I also work on weekends (booooooooooo!) so we usually count on evening excursions. This trip to the MCA took place at a lunchtime after I saw my friend Gracie’s new engagement ring (boo-yaka The Boyfriend, is all I have to say!), and after crying and gushing over the beauty that is her newly adorned ring finger, I told her repeatedly that my ex-husband would rue the day he messed me about. I’m supposed to have forgiven him by now, I can tell from my girlfriends’ voices when we discuss him that this is so; nonetheless, I found the time to text the following to Gracie when she was in a life coach meeting: RUE! which MIGHT be the reason why I walked the wrong way to Circular Quay and wound up very close to the 6 lane entrance to the Harbour Bridge. Whoops!
I retraced my steps and found the MCA eventually. Quite smug (incorrectly enough), I entered the museum amidst fluttering jacaranda petals and a bustling harbour. What I found inside was not so fluttery. It’s my fault that I expected an exhibition called Making it New to be about new media, it’s just the way I think and I know it; but I was very disappointed regardless. After that let down (totally my own fault) everything was tainted, so the fact that I was met with a mixture of textually rendered politico banners, airplane mobiles, constructivist sculpture and paintings, and a VERY strange room comprised of blown glass chickens lost in shallow ponds didn’t thrill or captivate me. They made me kinda grumpy. I cheered up considerably after seeing the end result of that last room (which was a hiLARious stop motion animation by Tom Moore featuring a large pecking chicken). What I had seen was apparently the set for said hilarious stop motion animation, so I forgave it a little. It was still a bit kitchy for my taste, and had it not been for the projection by Khaled Sabsabi titled You, 2007, I might still have stormed out, just stopping along the way quickly first to see Primavera :D.
You, though, is amazing. One walks into a built room, and when you open the door, you are blinded by dual projections and deafened by the roar of incessant chanting. As you rub your eyes and wheel around, the wall, including the door you just came through, is covered in a checkerboard projection of the same image repeated on an alternating light and dark grid. Occasionally the face of the middle-eastern subject is illuminated out of focus (like how we Christians would recognise Jesus if he ever visited us…this one is for you, Aram: did you know that you can’t see His or any other angels faces, or yours will melt off in shock…apparently…), only to return in more stark contrast than previous. It turns out that the subject was Hassan Nasrallah, the now leader of a Lebanese paramilitary/social justice movement called Hezbollah. Turns out he was elected after the last leader was murdered by Israeli factions in the early 90s. It also turns out the chanting was compiled of crowds of people all saying ALLAH HO AKBAR! (God is great!) again and again and again, while Nasrallah smiles and is illuminated and contrasted, and smiles and is illuminated and contrasted. Turns out that along with running hospitals, Nasrallah’s pro’s list is pretty much topped with chasing Israel out of Southern Lebanon and brokering the freedom of a BUNCH of prisoners on both sides of that skirmish including getting his own son’s body back from Israel, so they pretty much love him there. Hero. As a Sydney audience member, I was edified, humbled, and blinded with my own advantage. WIN!
I’m a little more familiar with Primavera’s mandate, so I knew to expect installations and the glowly lights shaped like taxi cab signs that I’d seen in SPECTRUM the previous week. Where I didn’t really understand the pie/photograph OR circular chair installations that greeted me, I was completely lulled by Michaela Gleave’s Raining Room (seeing stars), 2009. I’m telling you I almost didn’t go in because of the raw exterior and obvious water pump recycling system. I thought, huh…weird sculpture and was about to carry on when I saw someone pop out the far side. As such, I went around and investigated further, finding to my delight, a darkened enclosure with a wall of illuminated rain falling just so. It was beautiful and meditative and natural as well as being built. I loved it, but didn’t know how it would fit in my apartment as it was the SIZE of my apartment. Still, I wondered about a model size…hmmmm. Other honourable mentions within Primavera include Roderick Sprigg’s Mechanical Nuisance, 08-09 which featured very ghostly and ethereal projections of farmers onto Perspex, and Ross Manning’s Sad Majick, 2009, which alluded to early projection tricks via shadow puppetry with stamped prisms and a pen light.
I would like to finish with a couple of other consolations within Making it New (Yeah!). Along with Sabsabi’s You, I also very much admired Alison Alder’s screen prints and Archie Moore’s Graphics Trompe L’oreille…Finally!, 2006; the former because of it’s repetitious colour and gridded order, and the latter because it was made of mirror paper and included the slogan I AM A BANKER! on the bottom. I’m not…so obviously it was hilarious!
Visit the CDG 20th Anniversary Show: When Ideas Become Form until today, Dominik Mersch Gallery’s Krauss exhibition In Situ until last Friday, 7 November 2009 (though I’m sure he’s still got a few around…I so LOVE the way he has a mini show after every exhibition of the works before he puts them away…it’s fabulous really) Making it New until the 11 November 2009, and Primavera until the 22 November 2009. Please note that Making it New is NOT A NEW MEDIA SHOW!