Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Conversation with Akira Isogawa

There's a new date for my conversation with the wonderful Akira Isogawa, it's now during MBFF. Take a look a and book now, seating is limited!

Fleet of foot

by Louise Martin-Chew

20 July 2010
Last night I watched a woman unmask in public. She swooned, swayed, danced, sang, hummed, bopped, stamped her (bare) foot, feigned, and looked alternately brooding, evil (aka the bad Big Baby in Toy Story 3), animalistic and ecstatic. Her demeanour was variously intense, casual, relaxed, engaged – as was the audience who went with her on this uncharted, uninhibited journey. However it wasn’t Pink or Lady Gaga or any other popular music luminary. Nor was this event at a mass entertainment venue. Instead the instrument was a violin and the place the Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. The Barefoot Fiddler (Australian Chamber Orchestra, Brisbane, 19 July 2010) was Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a 33 year old Moldovan violinist, who says, “I don’t feel the heavy weight of tradition; I’m not in a corset! I use the tradition to find the inspiration of creation. It’s not a cage.” (ACO 2010 Barefoot Fiddler program) http://www.aco.com.au/Default.aspx?url=/kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja

This was contemporary artistry in an environment more often served by convention: Kopatchinskaja handled her violin like a virtuoso, making sounds that Vivaldi may not have intended with her violin, yet they channeled the spirit of his music across the centuries. This artistry had exhilarating edginess, bearing an unexpected gift. From an experience like these passions are born, revisited, and bound into new fabric.

Three individuals with artistic passions that have been generously shared with a greater public were recognized at a function at the Gold Coast Arts Centre on July 17. Patrick and Barbara Corrigan and Mrs Win Schubert were honoured for their commitment to contemporary Australian visual art. The dinner with friends, a tribute film by Alex Chomicz, and their collecting legacies remain visible in the Gold Coast City Art Collection (and many others).

Alex Chomicz, Benefactors Dinner for Patrick and Barbara Corrigan and Mrs Win Schubert. Patrick Corrigan with Mrs Schubert

However this was not an ending to the rewarding partnerships – indeed Pat Corrigan has had more manifestations as a collector than most cats have had lives – but an acknowledgement that benefaction in Australia is precious, although as a phenomenon it is growing. The gifts from these three individuals to their local gallery have enriched the experience of the community and visitors. The Gold Coast City Art Collection punches above its weight. http://www.theartscentregc.com.au/pages/support-us.php

Alex Chomicz, Benefactors Dinner for Patrick and Barbara Corrigan and Mrs Win Schubert. 82 Friends and supporters

It’s notable though that in recent years individuals have not simply donated works to public institutions, with more private museums showing personal collections springing up around Australia. Since 2000 we have seen the uber-stylish Tarrawarra Museum of Art outside Melbourne, the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney and, due to open at the end of 2010, is the heavyweight of them all – the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. And there are others.

The reasons for opening the doors yourself to the public instead of passing the objects into the hands of Australia’s state and national institutions may relate more to changes in government policy (philanthropic measures announced in March 1999) than to burgeoning gallerists, although it is an adventure that may be difficult to resist. Impassioned collectors are completed by the sharing of them – with a discerning audience. And there are inspirational international precedents – my personal favourite is Peggy Guggenheim’s house museum in Venice. http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/default.html

Peggy Guggenheim

The size of the collection of European and American art is neatly accommodated within domestic scaled spaces, the quality is breathtaking, and the ability to spend time in Peggy’s favoured home (Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal), with her beloved dogs buried under tombstones in the garden, gives a real sense of her own life rhythms, and the passion that stalks humanity looking for something other.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Artful Politics

by Louise Martin-Chew

 Sidney Nolan's First Class Marksman,1946.

Dramatic events of the past month have culminated in Julia Gillard’s bid for election on 21 August 2010 as first female Prime Minister of Australia. But what of her agenda for the arts – given the disastrous impact of the initiatives of the Rudd government’s Prime Ministership? Sadly, the arts are far from the top ten agenda being discussed today, yet as a sector there are many now fighting for survival. For in recent weeks the Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Act 2009 (from 9 June 2010), which enshrines the droit de suite principle into Australian art markets, coupled with the spectre of the Cooper review into superannuation removing art from allowable assets for Self Managed Super Funds has the visual arts in Australia reeling. These are body blows to a sector already working hard to survive an economic downturn. Both of these changes come somewhere from the psyche of auctions as a spectator sport. 
It is awesome, watching small painted sections of canvas in frames sell for stratospheric prices. Witness the Sidney Nolan painting, Ned Kelly, First-Class Marksman, 1946, which sold on March 25, 2010 for $5.4 million – becoming the most expensive Australian artwork to date. Auctions are a spectacle, as realization of cultural capital is reflected in monetary terms. Those outside the industry may mutter, “That’s ridiculous” and, in a way, it is. Art is something in which most people have some emotional investment, and therefore an opinion. What is underappreciated is that, while we can all see the art, decoding the layers in images is a specialty like any other. And large sums of money for art are a simple enough byproduct of that appreciation.
However, recent initiatives from the federal government would suggest that some are uncomfortable about the success, in recent decades, of the visual arts industry, and with the sums of money on offer. Is the resale royalty legislation a systematic attempt to shred that success, with some sort of outdated attack on the commercial sector which is the backbone of the support structure for artists? For every government dollar invested in the arts, considerably more than that is generated from the commercial sector.
Like motherhood, it is difficult to argue with the sentiment behind the Resale Royalty scheme, which is to return money to artists - with a special emphasis from Arts Minister Garrett in selling the policy to bring monies back to indigenous artists in particular.
The trouble is that the legislation, like some other Rudd government initiatives, has been built and rolled out with haste, ignoring detail, and goes against the direct recommendation of the Senate Committee which enquired into this notion for Australia. The resale royalty administrative load has crippled galleries in the first two weeks. Essentially it will operate as an additional tax on art sales, with galleries likely to pay the 5% royalty on each and every sale themselves. This is particularly difficult for art centres in Indigenous situations, with artists no longer able to sell their work easily for a cash reward, with the necessity that they will instead be asked to consign it to galleries to be paid when sold. This is a dramatic change for this part of the sector, and one which will cripple the artists it purports to help the most.
Increasingly strident criticism has been compounded by what is seen as a worse handicap looming over the sector, and that is the removal of art from the allowable assets of self managed superannuation funds. It is another symptom of the removal of individual responsibility for asset management, with apron strings being administered by a government who wish to save us from possible mistakes. The central plank of this argument is that art is not necessarily a safe investment. What is a safe investment may be the subject of debate as the Global Financial Crisis continues to claim the solvency of some European countries - shares? banks? real estate? Like every industry, the more you know and the better your advice, the more you may profit. This particular recommendation from the Cooper review also suggests that all SMSF will need to divest themselves of art in the next five years, with the inevitable result a flooded market for art in Australia.
Galleries are fearful of the fallout, and it is possible to see this as a watershed moment, at which government intervention in the visual arts in Australia wantonly destroyed the vitality of our commercial sector. In the 1970s, with the John Maynard Keynes post war model of arts subsidy still operative in Australia, the government was seen as the agenda-free and benign profferer of funds to artists. In 2010, it is clear that there is nothing agenda-free about the government’s administration of funds and policy. The question is, are these new initiatives designed to cripple a commercial sector that provides essential support for artists? Or sheer incompetence - more policy on the run?
In terms of the resale royalty, the statistics of such schemes in other countries tell a salutary tale – with the vast majority of funds flowing to the big ticket estates (Picasso, Matisse – hardly support for the needy!). The administrative burden of managing such schemes internationally has seen them reduced in recent years, just in time for Australia to pick it up and demand that this burden be borne by the sector that does most to support and develop, in a hands-on way, individual artists.
We’ve had a strong ten years, and the prognosis for visual artists has been as good as ever in Australia. However, it is possible to predict that if the Cooper review is passed in the flurried way that the resale royalty was pushed through, without significant consultation and amendment, this will, suddenly, end. And the victims will be the artists that the resale royalty scheme purports to help.
Are governments seeking to remove independence and the ability of business to manage itself, in order to give back to artists through a more passive funding model? A vibrant commercial sector is more powerful than any government handout. The urgent issue for the arts this week/month/year/decade is the resale royalty/Cooper super review, and rushed government changes that threaten the commercial gallery sector. There is a sense of desperation in the galleries that support artists on a day to day level, and we might look back to this watershed moment.
Both of these initiatives have a sideways fix on those rare moments in the auction rooms – the resale royalty seeking, at the most basic level, to return some of these “spoils” to the artist, but at the same time doubting the inherent cultural value in those objects by removing them from the “allowable investment” category in the SMSF of individuals. It expresses confusion, a cynicism, distrust of individual responsibility – all of which I had hoped was long gone in the Labor Party. At best, this is ham-fisted and na├»ve ideology, at worst, a cynical decimation of the success of the commerce of art.

An economy of means

by Alison Kubler

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Labirinto e grande pozzo

As my recent blog will attest, I have not long returned from Hong Kong where I enjoyed something of a hedonistic week, as well as some decidedly hedonistic art viewing, of course. I imbibed, degustation-ed and shopped with an abandon bordering on ferocity, thus I returned home feeling a little sheepish. It is a GFC after all, and aren’t we all supposed to be doing our bit? On some level I was stimulating the economy, just not my own. Apparently those spending big in Hong Kong at the art fair were observing their own abstemious standards that must come with a caveat about ‘artworks purchased over $100,000 US are exempt from buyer’s remorse’. Anyway, in response to the excesses of Hong Kong, I have enacted tough personal austerity measures, a la Greece and Portugal. Budgets have been slashed and heads rolled – hang on that bit was Julia Gillard. Nevertheless, the new frugality is sort of fun, in a cruel way. I like to think I am mirroring a mood in contemporary art.

At the recent Basel Art Fair, which is Birkin bag territory to the power of 1000, and European royals at ten paces, the Zeitgeist moment was the number of dealers using iPads to spruik the work of their artists. Such was their ubiquity it may have been rebranded iBasel. While dealers and art collectors weren’t looking at art on small handheld screens instead of on the demountable walls behind them (oh the postmodern irony), they were talking up the success of Art Unlimited, Basel’s curated quotient. The Art Newspaper called the prevalence of larger scale, serious installations by artists such as the late Dan Flavin “big but not brash” (http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Art-Unlimited-opening-It-s-big-but-it-s-not-brash/21064).

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Labirinto e grande pozzo

The willingness of dealers to forgo sales in favour of showing serious, less saleable art was seen as a good sign that the art market is back on track. The installations may have been big but they were characterized by a pared down aesthetic and the use of cheap disposable materials as opposed to spectacle. This is the essence of arte povera, the 1960s Italian art movement associated with artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Merz and Greek artist Jannis Kounellis. This poverty of means, doing less with more, would arguably be well placed to make a return in contemporary art practice in a post GFC climate. Pistoletto’s Labirinto e grande pozzo, 1969 / 2010 (a cardboard roll maze, a big labyrinth of a lot - pozzo ) was priced at 650,000 Euro so it is not exactly a bargain - dealers need not panic just yet then - but it is a work that has stood the test of time, philosophically at least. 

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God

Arte povera’s spirit of the cheap and the free is a direct challenge for example to Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a diamond skull worth 50 million pounds. Hirst’s work is of course a witty retort – the ultimate vanitas, a double folly – life and death and diamonds all rolled into one. Pistoletto’s work describes a critical mass of nothing of value, it is a labyrinth that leads nowhere with no reward. Pistoletto’s maze is at once ephemeral and enduring. Hirst’s skull is death in all its weighty inevitability. It is solid, ancient and bling. The two works would seem to be in moral opposition and yet they describe the same truth – the fragility of life, and the assuredness of death. I like them both equally. They represent my own moral dilemma, more or less.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Installation Photo Diary

by Nadia Buick

Here's a bit of a sneak preview/behind-the-scenes look at the installation process for an exhibition I've just curated, called Material Memories: restaging the eCHO project. It's currently showing at the QUT Art Museum. I'll post some images of the completed exhibition in the coming week or so, but here's a look at the process of putting an exhibition together; so often we're just shown the finished, shiny product.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wardrobe Confessional

by Nadia Buick

My curated house - Rose the mannequin head and an Olivetti Valentine

I’m currently on the hunt for a new wardrobe; it seems that my current one just isn’t big enough anymore… I suppose when you have a collection of over 100 vintage dresses, this is inevitable. In fact, it speaks to my utter hopefulness that I’ve gone on this long with a single wardrobe. Most women would have had a storage crisis many times over by now. For those of you reading this who are lucky enough to have spacious walk-in wardrobes, or floor to ceiling built-ins that take up half a room, I think I should probably tell you upfront that I hate you just a little bit. Okay, so I rent a beautiful little workers’ cottage, which is certainly not to be sneezed at… except for its lack of storage space (read: wardrobe space). 

I’ve been very diligent over the years at pruning my clothing collection, sending discarded beauties off to op-shops for the next vintage girl to find and love. But it’s getting to the stage now where there’s no weak-links; nothing I could really let go of. I spend a good deal of my life on ebay, searching for the next treasure. In fact, I no longer shop in boutiques or department stores, and less and less in op-shops, previously my only supply. The bulk of my wardrobe comes from far-away lands (France, the UK and the US), probably from women like me who have made the tough call and sacrificed another dress in the hope of it a) going to a good home and b) making a bit more room for that other ebay dress you’re currently bidding on. 

I’m one of a long line of hoarders. On my mother’s side, my Nonna and Nonno have lived in the same big farmhouse for 50+ years and I cannot emphasise the amount of stuff they have hung on to… the place is practically a museum, which I love. My father’s father was the same. And my own childhood was spent loath-fully trudging from antique store to antique store as my mother oohed and ahhed over old washstands and china. And while I thought it was boring as a child, eventually all of that stuff starts to rub off. My house is full of objects; I have a penchant for fashion related things but I love old books, typewriters, postcards, mirrors… the list goes on. I’ve always liked mannequins, and recently I’ve started acquiring them. It began with Rose, the remaining head of a 1930s store mannequin with original glass eyes. I have a 1940s mannequin arm hanging from the ceiling in my front room. And Sophie, my 1960s full mannequin shares our bedroom, dressed to the nines in the corner. 

 The lovely Sophie

Did I mention I’m a curator? There’s something about selecting and arranging things that appeals to me at my very core. And while I do have a wide range of objects, I’ve never really thought of myself as a collector. I think my collection is part of an instinct I’ve always had towards beautiful things, and their display. And for me, curating is not something that just happens in a museum. In fact, the early origins of the museum was the wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities; objects, usually related to natural history, that were collected and arranged and kept in private, albeit upper class homes. Looking at wunderkammer, I love the artifice of the displayed objects and the cabinets that hold them. Their owners were generally men, and I consider them early curators. 

  Wunderkammer, from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Thinking about fashion curation, something I spend a lot of time doing… the wardrobe is one of the spaces in which a type of curating takes place in the privacy of our own homes. What our wardrobe contains, how we arrange our garments, shoes, accessories… for me, this is a kind of curation. While many people think of clothing as a practicality, my collection of clothing is something I have built over years of hunting and gathering.  And it is quite a specific collection. I have a love for vintage dresses, my favourite decades are the 1930s-1950s. 

I suspect most people arrange their wardrobes according to garment type—all the shirts together, then jackets, etc.—but when you have a wardrobe that really only contains dresses and skirts, things get a little more detailed. At one end I have my cocktail/special occasion dresses. These tend to be floor length 1930s gowns; bias cut, shoulder padded 1940s frocks and 1950s full skirted floral and lace beauties. In the middle is my day-to-day wearing wardrobe, the largest section; about 80 dresses ranging from the 50s to the 80s in a riot of prints (I hardly ever wear solid colours and I’ll often layer three or four different florals into a single outfit). Finally I have my skirts, a handful of 1950s circle skirts, 1970s maxi skirts, sheer 1980s secretary skirts… and then come the coats. But if I had a second wardrobe, all of these things would have a little more breathing space. As it is right now, the doors always sit a little open because all of the fabric in all the skirts of all the dresses struggle to stay in.  

All of this thinking about wardrobes; what they contain and represent, has given me an idea for an exhibition, but I’ll talk a bit more about that another day. The question is, where will the new wardrobe fit?

 My miniature wardrobe collection

I have a plan but it’s reliant on so many variables that it would take a miracle to find the one perfect wardrobe. It will require a trawl through all the antique stores and op-shops (probably with my mother, proof that the cycle continues), measuring and imaging where it will go… if I can magically conjure up some space in my constant re-juggling of the beloved objects. But after-all, that’s exactly what drives the collector; that one unattainable but wholly necessary object. And when I do finally find it, my dresses will surely thank me.