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TinCanvas requests you to consider voting for Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in our WA Senate Election.

The Greens have an excellent arts policy and a general commitment to increase funding for the arts.

Senator Ludlam is the most articulate and hard-hitting adversary for Tony Abbott that we could wish for.  If ever it was time IT’S NOW!

Click here for Senator Ludlam’s Famous recent speech. There are many more of his Senate speeches of this remarkable quality.

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Where have all the artists gone?

A much-extended version of my contribution to the discussion on the various roles of artist run organisations in Perth held at Paper Mountain on Thursday 20 February

The Kurb Gallery submission for the Run Artist Run show at Paper Mountain

The Kurb Gallery submission for the Run Artist Run show at Paper Mountain

Our submission was, of course, an altarpiece but not religious. Instead of a Madonna or Crucifixion, we chose a work from our past, a declaration, from Zizek, that there is nothing for which we are not responsible. The Kurb/Verge Inc has never advocated a particular practice. It therefore it seemed appropriate to begin with a battered but relevant philosophical statement scrawled on a blackboard that has appeared in three collaborative exhibitions over ten years. We have also selected performance photographs to replace the passion, the deeds of the saints and so on. Instead we have images of artists taking responsibility for everything.

The good news is that the recent events apropos the Sydney Biennale suggest that other artists have also begun to take responsibility for everything including the imprisonment and torture of refugees in their name. After twenty years of a hypocritical art world full of boring work, aimed at not frightening creepy corporate zombies and their loathsome lackeys we can see some light.

A) The Artists’ Lost Mojo.

There were a few surprises at the discussion about artists’ run spaces organised by Paper Mountain. For the first time in a while it struck me that there was a serious need amongst artists to participate in the evolution of an active and supportive creative community. The information that Free Range has never had a successful grant application in 14 years was pretty mind blowing. I was even more surprised by how little most participants understood about how Perth got to where it is now; so much bad stuff they took for granted. I found a few disturbing facts about this during my own preparation.

The most significant is that contrary to common belief the overall participation of visual artists in ‘art networks’ and the art community in Perth and WA has been dropping steadily since the early 1990s despite the apparent recent revival of artist run organisations and the grotesquely exploitative increase in the number of Fine Arts graduates. The shit hit the fan in the mid-nineties when most artists lost their confidence.

In 1996, The Verge Incorporated published Situation Vacant, a survey of artist run spaces in Perth. It indicated that there were more such spaces active and viable in the early nineties than there are now. Moreover far more artists were engaged in their development and management. Three years later most of them had vanished.

Also in the mid-nineties, under the direction of Sarah Miller, PICA abandoned any pretense of being an artist-based organisation. PICA had been proposed and created by a small group of senior artists, not art bureaucrats. It inherited an artist-based structure from its predecessor, PRAXIS, which gave up its considerable funding to facilitate PICA. Professor Noel Sheridan, the first director, also a distinguished international artist, maintained PICA as an artist/membership based organisation.

PICA on the Boil

PICA on the Boil

Miller, however, made it clear that she despised the members, alienated the artists, charged for performance art, instituted a pay bar at openings and moved PICA to absolute dependence on local corporate business figures. I remember her farcical performance at each opening night, standing in front of a panel with from 20 to 30 logos on it; she very slowly read out the name of each sponsor as artists walked out the door. PICA was no longer about them. As their role diminished its salary bill grew beyond all reason and has stayed far too large in relation to the benefits it offers to local artists and the community.

The loss of artists’ participation from PICA is the single most significant event in the decline of the role and effectiveness of artists and artist run organisations in Perth. It not only showed that the western suburbs establishment was returning to its habitual if fearful, contempt for art and artists, it denied artists any opportunity to participate and advocate in their own interests.

This set the pattern for the next twenty years.

Around this time the State Gallery ceased to invite artists to its openings; after all the western suburbs has always regarded the gallery as its exclusive party venue. At present there is not one single artist on the Board of the State Gallery and no one has noticed. This is a disgrace.

PICA itself has only two fairly obscure artists on its Board. They are hopelessly outnumbered by well-meaning, but less than well-informed, business people. One member of the Board is directly connected to the DCA. In my view and that of many artists 50% of the PICA board should be distinguished artists of various kinds so as to permit their voices to be clearly heard

In the last two decades, Western Australian artists have not only been marginalised, they have also been thoroughly and completely silenced. Not that long ago, a distinguished member of the Perth art world made an appointment with the Minister for the Arts to discuss the manifest (and continuing) failings of the State Gallery in regard to local art and artists. Surprisingly, the then Director of the State Gallery was present with the Minister; the Director administered what has been reported as a highly abusive dressing down to the artist. This disgraceful conduct would not have been possible or necessary if the community of Perth artists had been appropriately represented on the State Gallery Board.

The radical decline in Western Australian artists’ ability and willingness to participate in their own ‘industry’ developed from the mid 1990s. It was part of a national phenomena, as the distinguished Australian artist David Pledger observed in his remarkable 2013 paper Revaluing the Artist in the New World Order.

Our default setting switched from fun to fear: fear of difference, fear of change, fear of the shadows. Under Howard, Australians lost their mojo. And with that our embrace of risk, individuality and independence, critical values in the ecology of the arts and art-making. (8)

Pledger argues that in the 90s artists tried to resist this ‘ambient fear’ but were betrayed by arts institutions and their managers, much as Sarah Miller betrayed the artist members of PICA. This was not my experience. In Perth artists lined up to show their neo-liberal masters their bums, eager to be led to the corporate abattoir, for what Pledger calls ‘Death by Managerialism’.

Managerialism is an alternative ideology to democracy, capitalism, and communism. Twinned with neo-liberalism it is sometimes called New Managerialism…

In the arts sector, managerialism has bred toxic strains. Partly because it had to adapt to the nature of the arts’ core business, which is making art, an alchemical process which resists concretization. Managerialism sees itself as the antidote to chaos, irrationality, disorder, and incompleteness, essential elements in this alchemy. More like a gas than a mineral, art is hard to contain, process and control. As soon as you have a handle on it, it morphs into something else. So arts agencies mutated various versions of managerialism to inhibit the arts natural processes.(9-10)

By around 1998/9 nearly all the thriving artist run spaces chronicled in Situation Vacant had vanished. Individual artists began to compete for an ever-shrinking pool of funds. This made their neo-liberal managers very happy. Neo-managerialism is closely allied to the notion that a competitive market is the best way to run everything, even art.

PICA by Night

PICA by Night

PICA by Night (Detail)

PICA by Night (Detail)

Over the next two decades neo-managerialism made immense progress through Western Australian art institutions. Artists slowly gave up on their own ‘industry’. A few have now begun to work in self-managed groups once more, hence the exhibition/conference at Paper Mountain.

Sometime last year, the local ‘art managers’ finally noticed that their ‘creative workers’ were drifting out of control. They even commissioned a survey about it. The cynic in me believes that they suddenly realised, not only that without compliant artists, they have no reason to exist, but also, as in the recent case of Artsource, they would need the good opinion of artists if they were to organise successful crowd-funding. Not that they have changed that much. I have been told that that it was strongly suggested to Artsource employees that they should contribute to its recent funding efforts.

The crisis over the manifest failure of local artists to take any interest looks to be inducing something of a panic in the ‘industry’ — (remember we currently have an art industry with almost no artists).

I was recently asked to write a ‘provocation’ on the subject of Perth artists’ failure to ‘participate’. It gets worse. It seems that Artsource may have received money from the Lotteries Commission to hire a firm of management consultants to find out what kind of art events might succeed in Perth. What an admission of failure. If an artists’ based organisation is so out of touch with its members, and artists in general, that it has to pay consultants a stiff fee to ask other people what it should think, it should seriously consider going out of business. This is death by managerialism with a vengeance.

Only neo-managerialism could so blind an arts organisation to the obscenity of wasting money to save its fairly well paid managers a little thought, while its paying members earn an average of $14,600 a year after twenty years commitment to art. Why not just ask some of the artists what they think might be a good idea and pay them? Better still why not hand Artsource over to the artists to run.

There is a reason. If arts management uses paid, if ignorant, consultants, it is, perversely, confirming its own importance and, once again, disenfranchising and alienating real artists. If artists can do it, why do we need arts managers who earn 4-5 times the earnings of their members and have signally failed to improve their members’ income?

The current group of Perth artist run organisations face several difficult dilemmas about the range of responsibilities they should assume in relation to art and the community

The most important is whether to model themselves in relation to the current requirements of arts management and its networked institutions in the very faint hope of getting a grant. All the evidence suggests that this is unwise, a surrender to the second rate. It is far better to recognise that art has its own irreducible values, which ‘management‘ simply cannot manage.

Artists’ run organisations are always better off working as close to their love of art-making as they can.

A brief look at the origins and paradoxical status of contemporary artists’ run organisations might help explain this.

B) Artists are doing it (for themselves?)

Artists’ run organisations and cooperatives go back a long way. For the most part they are a nineteenth century invention, a response to the increasing role of capital in the successful commercial market for contemporary art from the 1840s onwards. Some may label that period one of ‘market failure’, since the fast developing European gallery system managed to miss most of the best artists in three generations.

I would not. Contrary to popular belief any efficient market will eliminate the innovative and unusual in favour of what it can sell quickly, for most money and least effort. Moreover, as our farmers know only too well, any capitalist market will try to shift all the risk to the primary producers and accrue all profit to itself. This is the fundamental reason that most artists make such a poor living

The current, limited regrowth of artists‘ organisations in Perth is also a response to the effect of a radical shift in the socio-economic status of art and artists, from the mid-1990s onwards. The most prominent commercial galleries in Perth, at present, Linton and Kaye, the Venn and Baratti are dead ringers for the Paris galleries that sold vast acres of Salon painting to fashionable punters in the later 1890s. It’s not that what they show is downright bad, just worthy, pompous, suburban, banal, unadventurous and boring. L and K, don’t forget, host that tedious festival of feeble imagination and financial ambition, the Black Swan Portrait Prize.

Not one of our high profile galleries advocates regularly for our finest artists. Meanwhile those artists have rediscovered their very own equivalent of the garret, pop up galleries, dirty, disused factory units, unlit workspaces at high rent and an average annual income of $14,600.00. As in the nineteenth century, our best artists barely participate in the art market.

They are seriously in need of a revitalised utopian art movement

When Van Gogh invited Gauguin to join him in the Yellow House in Arles he was not just being generous. He hoped to found an artists’ colony in the south, inspired by his reading about communal artists’ groups in Japan, which, he assumed, were responsible for the high quality and widespread appeal of Japanese Art. To join him in this venture he invited a former stockbroker who had abandoned his family in poverty, who was there for whatever he could get. This was not a recipe for success.

The tensions between Van Gogh, utopian, socialist, believer in art as a way of life, and Gauguin, a capitalist, self-reliant to the point of narcissism, a hippy who idolised Buffalo Bill and had worn out his welcome in Paris, provides the perfect trope for all later artists’ organisations.

Until the mid 1990s all artist run organisations were predominantly utopian, in one sense or another, even though they all contained the odd Gauguin.

Artists choose to work together because either:

a) By being together, working together, they could free themselves from the need to repress or postpone their creative work to attend to the demands of capital. Working together freed them from the immediate requirements of the art market, indeed any market.


b) They thought that art practice offered a better model for community life than working for the man (or woman). Over time they hoped to place the values and attitudes offered by art at the heart of all human activity.

These two versions of the artistic utopia, the utopia of the immediate creative moment and the teleological utopia of art as social destiny are not exclusive. Separating them, however, helps to explain why artists’ organisations were able to maintain their marginal status in relation to capital and the market. So long as artists kept their creative mojo working the crunch never came and no one paid any undue dues.

For example, legend has it that during the 1930s Herbert Read, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson chose to wait out most of the depression in a row of miners’ cottages in Yorkshire. This artists’ group was all about the freedom of the creative moment. Later   Moore and Read became dedicated advocates for a life centered on art.

Not far away in the 1970‘s, was Welfare State, an artists‘ commune led by my then colleague John Fox, Their ‘headquarters’ was the circle of caravans where many of them lived. They specialised in animating whole communities, entire towns, with myth, magic, music, art, performance and acting. Once they even co-opted a Royal Navy submarine for a grand finale. Welfare State wanted art everywhere, daily life as a magical mystery tour. The last time I saw them they were doing a benefit for the Yorkshire Miners’ Union.

This raises the role of politics as such in artist run organisations. By and large they have never been narrowly political. Their politics came from the belief that everyone was entitled to a decent life liberated from the pressing demands of capital. That belief came from their practice as artists and their conviction that all successful art was first and foremost an attempt towards a universal, absolute freedom.

This understanding of the primary purpose of art has a long pedigree. Though it has never been the dominant attitude, it was taken for granted in most artist run organizations; I discovered it in Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man, the writings of Baudelaire, and most of all in the work of the Frankfurt School social philosophers Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse.

The major problem with corporate sponsorship is that neither corporations nor their vocationally challenged apologists understand that art is at heart a libertarian enterprise; it is not a branch of show business or the media. They do not grasp that art and artists by their very vocation are responsible for everything. Recently on ABC’s Insiders programme ‘journalist’ Nikki Savvas suggested in terms reminiscent of the 1950s that the Sydney Biennale should not have surrendered to a few artist prima donnas having a ‘tanty’. The Board of the Biennale, several of whom are themselves philanthropists of some note, chose not to take money from Transfield because to do so would have compromised their entire cultural enterprise, not because a few artists were having a hissy fit. The neo-managerial attitude to art was bound to lead to this kind of thing one day.

As I outlined above, the emergence and acceptance of neo-managerialism and corporatism as the preferred way of managing art institutions in Perth alienated most significant artists. Only three or four artist groups survived into the early twenty first century. One of them was the space I help organise, The Verge Incorporated which runs the Kurb Gallery. My edited speaking notes about it form the conclusion to this piece.

Before that I will briefly consider the current situation of art in relation to artists and audiences in Perth and elsewhere.

The neo-managerialism of the 90s did not just affect artists. It wiped out almost all public dialogue, debate and criticism and replaced it with the lowest form of marketing. Artworks and exhibitions became commodities and spectacles. I recall the marketing of the Monet and Japan exhibition at the State Gallery — Can Can Girls and Wine Labels featured throughout. The Gallery, which had just abolished its excellent education department in favour of an enhanced marketing unit, made no attempt to provide even a single lecture for the curious public. It also failed to invite me to the opening, which was more than a little discourteous, given my role in the development of the show. My friend the distinguished craft curator Robert Bell was also not invited, despite his magnificent Japanese connections. There were no artists there either, but what can you expect from the western suburbs?

By then PICA had already long abandoned its role as a free venue for open public discussion. For Perth’s artists, now isolated and somewhat cynical, the end of any open public platform was another hint that as far as Perth was concerned they were surplus to requirements. The recent failure of the MOMA project demonstrated that, despite the marketing rhetoric the committed audience for serious art in Perth has contracted radically since the 1990s. What was once a fairly sophisticated, supportive art audience slowly collapsed into a self-regarding opinionated rabble that hasn’t a clue what it likes or why.

Serious support for ambitious contemporary art and artists has always been very thin in Perth. If contemporary art here is ever to recover it will only do so in the context of open debate and criticism. So far no artist run organisation has taken up this problem. The Paper Mountain event was something of a first step but only a first step towards this. We need a great deal more serious thought about the audiences for art, the possibilities for serious critique as opposed to gossipy journalistic ‘snippets’ and open public debate.

Martin Heine, Climate Change

Martin Heine, Climate Change at Paper Mountain

I have appended my notes about the Verge Inc as a coda to these arguments.

How we did it: The Verge Incorporated (1992-2014 )

I am going to indicate some aspects of the work of the Verge Inc and its current gallery The Kurb.

  • First of all the Verge is not an ARI because we do not wish to be one.
  • Neither are we in business, any kind of business, we do not wish to be in business.
  • Finally we are not part of any industry
  • The Verge is a voluntary, not for profit, no one gets paid. It runs an open art gallery and rents studios to the members of the cooperative for the cheapest possible rate.
  • The Verge, was officially founded in 1992, at a time before the internet and long before social media. This obviously affected its character and objectives, however it has performed very well for at least 24 years with same objectives and the same premises.
  • Its basic premise has been that all significant art is about the critical liberation of the person and the community in the broadest sense. As I have indicated I found it in the Frankfurt school writers, Adorno and Marcuse, but you can find it in your backyard if you look.
  • If you do not take this ruthless freedom-seeking position, as an artist, someone else will invent a brand for what you do and you will lose all creative freedom and become a mere creative worker struggling to fulfil orders.
  • You might be thinking this is just another version of the old fashioned ‘art is good for you’ argument, so here again is David Pledger in his 2013 paper, Revaluing The Artist in the New World Order, calling artists to action.

The twenty-first century is our time: when what we do, what we make, and how we work can have the greatest social benefit. We need to work through the ambient fear created by neo-liberalism, push back against the shadow values of managerialism and constitute ourselves as a sustained contradiction. To do this we must fight for fundamentals—industry representation, professional autonomy and financial security. From such a position we will be visible, capable and central to the key conversations about the arts in society, and help to create a society with the arts at its centre. (52, my emphasis)

The Verge has always done some of these things.

It has worked especially hard to remain a small but significant, sustained contradiction

The Verge does not however:

  • select artists for exhibition, anyone can have a show.
  • charge commission
  • network
  • model itself on a commercial or a public space.

Everything changed for artists’ organisations in Perth from the mid 90s. Effectively artists lost their courage and became far too dependent. It is simple to see how the trick was worked. First invent a non-existent arts industry, then add strange funding categories, like emerging artist and finally ARI’s, then cut funding in real terms by over a third and undertake a huge unnecessary increase in overheads.

The spurious and depressing claims of recycled postmodernist theory will carry you along. Finally the internet will help you out by turning artists into workers, by persuading them to think of themselves as employees in an industry. In his remarkable book, Uprising: The Internet’s Unintended Consequences, Marcus Breen calls this process the new proletarianisation.

Certainly Perth’s artists have recently suffered a major creative deskilling, a severe discounting of their unique vocation and their unique ability to inspire the lives of individuals and the community experiences. What kind of industry allows its primary producers to live below the poverty line?

These events really set the scene for the current very difficult situation in which all the arts, particularly the visual arts are over managed and hopelessly corporatised. This is something that all artists’ organisation should consider. ‘Artists now appear to be at the edge of everywhere and centre of nothing’. They should think a great deal more about their future in a highly contested social universe and a global landscape.

The Verge/Kurb survived through all this by sheer skepticism and indifference

The sheer number of our exhibitions and events (500 in ten years) is staggering, and about ten percent of them were a milestone in the artist’s development.

Our long-term survival has allowed many artists time to develop. We know that they can take a decade or more to develop confidence. We have been able to give about ten artists long term security to develop to the point where they all have or have had widespread international careers.

Some advice for artists’ organizations:

  1. Do not become a service organisation stick to art-making. (Abandon managerialism and managerial metaphors, avoid corporatism of all sorts).
  2. Campaign for representation of artists by artists on all arts institutions
  3. Advocate for a living wage — ‘art for the dole’. The current artists income is $14.700.00 pa. According to David Throsby and Peter Shergold, direct funding for the arts has fallen over a third since the 1990s. In real terms artists earn less from their practice than they did twenty years ago.
  4. Organise your own accommodation. Don’t let Artsource do it.
  5. Develop and campaign for a high level of criticism – organise writing classes
  6. Develop your own acute curatorial kills. You may need to ‘argue’ with a curator one day.
  7. Avoid people with arts management degrees, they do not have your best interests at heart.
  8. Organise an artists’ strike every year.
Martin Heine, Climate Change

Martin Heine, Climate Change at Paper Mountain

Photos (C) Pippa Tandy & David Bromfield

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Colour Prejudice

Two exhibitions at Melody Smith Gallery

For most artists colour was always a bit weird. It still is, especially if you are a painter. Some painters rejoice in the possibilities of colour, some, however, many find it a bit of an embarrassment. As it happens Melody Smith Gallery is having a bit each way with its two current exhibitions. The best of Matthew Jackson’s oil paintings are either grisaille or near monotone while Lauren McCartney’s Reflection Paintings are the latest in a thousand year long line of attempts by artists to separate colour from material substance, so as to get a firm grasp on the relation between paint and light.

They consist of large sheets of white paper with small openings cut into them in a grid pattern. A panel of paper tilts outward from each opening. The artist has painted the inside of each panel with a brightly coloured acrylic, which remains invisible to the viewer who can only see the reflection of the colour on the gallery wall behind the work. McCartney aims to ‘remediate’, (restore?) the material substance of paint to the ‘immaterial’ properties of colour.

This is bad metaphysics and worse science. These days, light and paint are equally material phenomena. Colour occurs only in the human brain. Western painters of all persuasions tend to find this difficult because of the Christian origins of everything they do in which light more or less equals God. Remember ‘Let there be light’ as the curtain up on creation. This set up the duality of light and material (paint). For the painter, paint itself acquired an ambivalent status. Just what was this stuff on the end of the brush?

One of the best demonstrations that colour occurs in the brain was provided by Edwin Land of Polaroid fame. Land photographed two transparencies of the same still life using highly precise yellow filters of differing wavelengths. He projected them precisely superimposed one over the other and produced a full colour image. This raises all sorts of problems, but makes it absolutely clear that colour is an artifact of perception.

There have been many attempts to work with coloured light independent of any reflection or material support. One of the most interesting was by the British abstract painter Brian Wynter. He spent three years 1963/65 making six electrically driven mobiles mounted before large concave mirrors in brightly lit cabinets. He called them IMOOS (Images Moving Out Onto Space). As the brightly painted panels of the mobiles rotated they produced large virtual images, panels of colour hanging in space before the viewer. Wynter’s primary interest was in abstraction. The mobiles were an experiment related to his interest in the role of colour in his painting.

The last successful formal expression of the metaphysical concept of colour was Goethe’s colour theory. It had considerable effect on the British romantics in a translation by Eastlake. In an endless series of brief watercolours, ‘colour beginnings’, Turner speculated on the origins of colour and substance of colour in relation to dawn and dusk and of course light, dark and the creation.

Later artworks that referenced the metaphysical notion of colour, such as those by the painter Kandinsky or the musician Scriabin, who used projected light with his symphonies, never found the same universal acceptance. Nowadays holography and various digital technologies make it possible to produce spheres, cones and any other shape in any size, any colour. Paradoxically perhaps, this material achievement has finally put an end to the metaphysical notion of colour. Colour may exist without a support but, as thousands of banal, self-deluded artists have demonstrated, it cannot exist without a shape or an outline.

Does all this history matter in relation to McCartney’s research project Reflection Paintings? Unfortunately it does. Her work has entertainment value. It is undoubtedly ingenious but there is no revelation, no thrill of discovery in it. The artist’s lack of awareness of the history of her subject has caused her to foreclose on curiosity and limit any opportunity to be original, to find something.

The painting of Matthew Jackson presents the other side of the colour coin. He has been a prolific and virtuosic painter, but in Unto each as unto an island he is looking for images of ‘the things that make us unremarkably human.‘  The best results from his search are undoubtedly the monochromes. The very best, beyond a doubt, are three grisailles, small symphonies in simple grey brushstrokes each featuring an image of femininity, icons of the obvious.

The absolute best, the surreal Spectre at the Feast shows a woman gazing at what appears to be a wooden carving of a bird, a toucan, laid sideways across the image. This is an ‘unremarkable’ image of mystery and sexual obsession, like an old-fashioned movie still, but ordinary life is just that like these days, after all. Sanguine and Enfolded extend the subject. Enfolded, is a neck to knees view of a woman wrapped in folds of what appears to be an old-fashioned sheath dress. Folded drapery has been a challenge to painters for a couple of thousand years. Jackson gives a good account of it in his broad, abbreviated brush marks. He is equally successful with the sun-filled clouds in Sanguine the semi naked woman standing on a balcony, hugging her dress like a misplaced martyr on the way to heaven.

When any painter chooses to work primarily with subject matter, rather than what is to be seen, colour becomes a separate, additional problem. It is always easier to narrow down the choices to make your point. Even Monet’s waterlily ponds are worked with a tight range of blues, greens and reds. The digital future might very well make it much harder to achieve this clarity of vision, especially if we forget the past.

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Have Art. Will Travel!

Martin Heine’s Function # 8 (Psychological Drama)
at Melody Smith Gallery, 19 February, 2014

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

Martin Heine has long maintained an uneasy standoff with paint, the strange ‘coloured mud’ that can simultaneously contain endless visions and versions of the human universe, in a single bucket of liquid. In many of his performances he has worked with this potential so as to bring the immediate, existential quality of paint as close as possible to the on-going business of being an artist. In his Reverse Paintings he also attempts to engage the immediate presence, the reality of paint with an ‘emerging’ image, from which he has taken extreme pains to distance himself. It is as if the artist looks to make the paint take all the blame for his art.

Something new, challenging, happened in Function # 8 (Psychological Drama). There is no easy way round it.  Heine has decided to ‘travel’ to find what it is to be an artist. The new work proposes a radically different role for paint from that in its closest predecessor Mediocre Shunga, Use Your Head (2004) where the goal was to make paint (and art history) do the existential heavy lifting.

Now paint has changed sides. In Function # 8, it was revealed as a harbinger of death and disaster, the interface where creative crack-ups happen and a far more convenient entry to the underworld, the creative hell of ‘no thing’, than Cocteau’s mirrors and mercury.

Paint can float one along on a metaphysical voyage between ‘being’ and ‘not being’ an artist. After the performance Heine indicated that his painterly odyssey was necessarily romantic, therefore struggle, death, disaster desire, eros remain at its centre.

It is important not to confuse Heine’s search for something, the ontology of creation, ‘being an artist’ perhaps even ’how to be an artist’, with the cliché ‘journey’ that so many of the local population of moronic, brain-dead zombies undertake to ‘find themselves’. Art, especially Heine’s art, exists as a reminder that there is no such thing as a pre-paid bourgeois self, waiting to be picked up like a parcel from life’s left luggage office.

Not all Heine’s earlier performances employed paint. In The Honey Pump is Kaputt (1999), he tipped a bucket of honey over his head to critique Joseph Beuys’ attempt to invoke a social metaphysic in Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz, (Kassell 1977). In Climate Change, Heine’s recent performance at Paper Mountain, he performed an assisted handstand, then struggled to stop his head from crashing down into a tub of water. Like honey, water carries a tremendous metaphysical charge. Function # 8 may be in part an attempt to return to the grounding mysteries of the relation between art, the natural and the social that Heine left behind fifteen years ago.

Martin Heine © 2003

Martin Heine © 2003

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014










All travellers need suitcases, especially artists; always on their way, born travelling men. Heine has taken André Breton’s advice to set out on his road. He used one suitcase in his recent work in Belgrade but two for Function # 8. The setting in the sunlit back carpark of the Melody Smith Gallery was familiar; a large tarpaulin bordered left and right with a row of buckets of brightly coloured paint. A large red rolling suitcase waited off to the left.  A single collapsible chair faced the audience, with a small green case with two large red plastic funnels to its right.

The artist appears, casually dressed, but with jacket and tie, flanked by his two assistants, Rizzy and Melody Smith, both in faded old white petticoats. They pose side by side for photographs. He explains that the performance is in three sections. First he will sing Schubert’s Die Forelle (The Trout) then a stressful section, finally a tense climax.

He warns the audience that the performance will be rhythmical, fast and slow.

It’s like the ocean, the waves come in and out;
you cannot surf all the time.

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

He puts the open green case over his head, wedges a red funnel into it and into his mouth and begins to sing. He becomes another creature, a singing suitcase, packed carefully with artistic desires, hopes and fears. At this moment Rizzy pushes the other funnel into the top of the case and the two assistants begin to pour yellow paint into it, as if attempting to stop him singing. When the paint is gone, the yellow faced artist removes the case, empties paint from his pockets, and announces ‘Movement no 2’.

023 L1141715

Now is the time to ask what is going on. Who are these two assistants, plainly not two of the three graces or any other variety of muse? If they are intent on silencing the artist then they are Maenads (or Bacchantes) and he is Orpheus, waiting for them to tear him to pieces, so that his head can float, still singing, all the way to Lesbos. On the other hand they could be magician’s assistants, the glamorous, grinning kind who assist at the ceremony of sawing a volunteer from the audience in half. In any case, the artful image-making that directs the work has begun well. Eros, death and desire overflow, everywhere.

027 L1141728

Movement 2 takes myth and music hall to ever-greater heights.

The artist tips over the chair, removes his paint soaked trousers, climbs into the red case with his arms, legs and head protruding at odd angles. The assistants tie the case around him with his trousers. They place the green case over his head. He becomes an animated grotesque, Caliban with a carapace. He bends over the chair frame, barely able to grunt out his monosyllables, bare legs pushing from behind. The assistants pour endless buckets of paint into the groaning sculpture.

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014










Muffled sounds – ‘Artist, Artist, Artist’ – escape from the chaotic pile as it struggles for clarity, an identity with an outline. The set of stochastic poses that follow occur at the borderline between random and coherent gestures that defines existence. The images they generate are at the core of the performance. All around the voracious audience records them on iPhones, pocket cameras…. The artist invited them to do this as an experiment with the false witness always given by social media, however viral its imagery. It is impossible to engage this work with an iPhone in front of your face.

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In any case, it is by no means immediately clear what is to be seen. Is this the artist in despair, at the end of his creative tether or a unique insight into the moment when it once again becomes possible to be an artist? In Function # 8 Heine gambled that he could achieve insight and he succeeded.

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Finally he leaves the chair, the green case falls from his head as he crawls across the grey rainbow lake of paint that floods from the tarpaulin to the bitumen and collapses lengthwise into it.

The shift of emphasis in Function # 8 to the problem of the artist rather than art appears to parallel a similar turn towards the problem of subject rather than process in his recent reverse paintings. In both, Heine has achieved a remarkable new coherence through his ability to travel to where it matters. At a time when art is falling apart all over the place he is slowly pulling it back together.

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All works unless otherwise identified:
Martin Heine (artwork) & Pippa Tandy (photo) © 2014

More images of the Function # 8 can be viewed here.

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Out of the Coffin Again

Painting is Dead, Long Live Painting
Melody Smith Gallery Oats Street, Carlisle
23 January – 22 February, 2014

Graffiti Paradise © Martin Heine 2014

From today painting is dead! (French painter, Paul Delaroche, 1839)

Reports of the ‘death of painting’ have been greatly exaggerated for at least 175 years. If indeed he did say this, which is not certain, Delaroche was likely to have been commenting on his first sight of the new-fangled ‘photographie’ – a means of drawing directly with light.  But what kind of death might he have had in mind? Given a moment’s thought, it becomes obvious that his concern was with the many thousands of hack journeyman and salon painters that were scraping a living doing portraits, landscapes, souvenirs and so on, for the newly emerging bourgeois. In other words he was worried about de-skilling and unemployment, the arse-end of the French art industry, not the demise of a thousand year old art practice and a clutch of vital ways of seeing.

Nonetheless, however mistaken, the idea that photography could somehow supplant painting has never gone away, despite all the evidence to the contrary. This is because, behind the bogus critical antagonism between painting and photography, there remains an ideological residue, a paranoid last stand amongst the third rate and hopeless, against the creative mechanical image. The best example in Australia is the ludicrous requirement that entries for the Archibald prize could not be based on photographs, however brilliant or revealing.

Hidden even further behind this bogus antagonism, is another self-interested intellectual and creative fraud, the idea that a particular ‘medium’ exactly correlates with an art practice, that it is, and will remain absolutely congruent with that practice. In this dinosaur state, students are still being offered courses in painting, sculpture, printmaking or whatever on the assumption that they cannot make art until they have mastered an arbitrary portfolio of skills. Even worse, galleries like L and K and the Venn are still working on the principle that a banal /fashionable display of your Skills Portfolio = ART, because unlike actual ART they know they can always sell banality to the western suburbs suits and their partners.

The disinterment of the notion of the death of painting at Melody Smith’s raises this and many other little local problems to new heights. Only in Perth, perhaps, could one still imagine painting triumphantly raised, Lazarus like, from the stinking dead, as a sufficient case for the glorious renewal of art and its supreme relevance.

Palette in Red II, © Cynthia Ellis 2014

Palette in Red II, © Cynthia Ellis 2014
















It is more than ironic that the artists whose practice stands head and shoulders above the rest of the show, Cynthia Ellis and Martin Heine, both rejected the common notion of painting, as an arbitrary bunch of skills and sentiments, many years ago. Indeed Heine’s ‘reverse paintings’ all depend on possibilities offered by contemporary digital imagery.  In consequence, their work has only received support from a miniscule group of dedicated patrons.

There are other more subtle reasons for concern about the death of painting to examine, before we review the causes of that bitter local irony.

Most revolve around the belief that painting has long lost any capacity to deal with the grand and powerful issues of contemporary life, if they still exist, and, that, even day-to-day experience is increasingly remote from all the visual arts. Francis Bacon thought that the most he could do with his painting was to play arbitrary games that revealed the isolation and loneliness of the human condition. Ron Kitaj wanted to recover the social vision of Dickens in his painting but regretted that his work could never achieve the instant visual engagement of pornography.

Most significant late twentieth and twenty first century painting, from Reinhardt to Richter has been an attempt to build an art practice as a means to escape what appears to be the inescapable law of diminishing returns clinging to painting as art. Unfortunately this is a bit too sophisticated for Perth. Here the rebirth of painting as the same old ‘King of the Castle’ is more likely to be a ploy to restore confidence in it as a consumer brand, an empty market category.

It is remarkable that serious artists still choose to work with coloured mud, smeared on cloth or boards, as a central part of their practice, despite the inevitable prospect of ever diminishing returns.

Palette in Red I, II & III © Cynthia Ellis 2014

Palette in Red I, II & III © Cynthia Ellis 2014

Surprisingly, they do so precisely because painting, in itself, is not an art practice and paint, in itself, is hardly a sophisticated medium compared to the apparent if illusory potential of digital processes.

Paint, however, resists the demands of the artist, any attempts towards new experience, revelation, new ideas, renewed freedom. In the frustrating engagement with the resistant materiality of paint, new imagery, new freedoms and even new realities may appear even without the artist’s consent.

In his reverse paintings, Heine’s engagement with paint and its relation to the mortal privations of the digital image, is enacted via a complex series of manual manipulations, which I discussed at length in my book Now the Hard Part (2011) and earlier in this column.

Graffiti Paradise © Martin Heine 2014

Graffiti Paradise © Martin Heine 2014

Heine’s Graffiti Paradise is a magnificent celebration of the triumph of these libertarian processes. The title is by no means insignificant. The work engages the crudely inscribed impulses of graffiti with the immensely sophisticated delay in paint that Heine’s practice is intended to create. As always the commonplace imagery is inextricably absorbed into the complex, sublime presence of Heine’s paint surface. This is one of the finest works that he has produced to date.

If Heine uses complexity and delay to recruit the undiluted ontological presence of paint to imagery, Ellis is bent on presenting that presence undiluted, tuned to the highest pitch with minimum manipulation. Her work is centred on the elaboration of the physical presence of oil paint, its densities of colour and substance, so as to amplify this presence for the viewer into a unique ‘aesthetic’ experience. She aims to achieve work that engages the viewer in a total act of ab(ad)sorption, a new version of the sublime. Although her work can be associated with non-figurative gestural abstraction, it is also closely related, through its version of ‘slowness’ to problems in rococco and early nineteenth century painting, frequently discussed by the critic Michael Fried. Ellis is also concerned with the simultaneous duality of material and metaphysical concerns that are best invoked by the raw presence of paint. This is most evident in the large oval Palette in Red II.

Palette in Red II (Detail) © Cynthia Ellis 2014

Palette in Red II (Detail) © Cynthia Ellis 2014


Palette in Red II (Detail) © Cynthia Ellis 2014

Both Ellis and Heine succeed brilliantly in rescuing paint and painting from the troubling coma, which is its normal condition in our dinosaur state. Sadly the remaining artists just don’t seem to be trying hard enough. Its not that their work is simply bad or incompetent, it’s that, for the most part they seem to be satisfied to paint their way into a happy western suburbs day dream.

Take David Ledger’s mix and match architectural interiors. At first their overloaded high key colours, especially in Sunset in Malibu suggest innovative ambition, but soon soft edges and shifty lack of confidence suggest that we are looking at a reworking of a Richard Hamilton interior produced by slow subtraction of every incisive detail from the original. Black Rock Late Night, suggests a longing for the sure fire fix of a nineteenth century romantic reference. This will not do.

For the rest no one wants to finish the job. Alex Maciver seems to have fallen asleep at the palette, just when things were getting interesting. Jurek Wybraniec appears to have had a good idea but done too much of it and never finished it off properly.  As with Ledger he makes a reductive reference, this time to Anish Kapoor.

Its time our local painters took their work far more seriously.

Coming soon, Melbourne Now, Perth – When?


Photo © Dan Moore



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What’s it all about?

Spare Us Spermoids…
Paul Moncrieff’s Amazing Bunbury Paintings

This and the other two short pieces (linked above) all revolve around the same theme – the unique problem of visual art and its audience in Western Australia, in particular the peculiar delayed reception of modernity, and of art as a whole here. It bears repeating that around the early 20th century the twin pillars of painting, and art in general, the Perth Technical College and the fledgling State Gallery were dominated by a robust, Ruskinian practical moral utility and the damnable cult of the ‘gentleman’ whose amateurism allowed the very few patrons in the western suburbs to forgive him for being an artist.

In Perth, to this day, even the bohemians turn out to be gentlemen (or ladies), with a nice house in Trigg, Fremantle, Cottesloe or at least Claremont. Way back then Linton Head of the Tech declared that it would only teach useful skills, and Woodward, the first Director of the Gallery, a fervent disciple of Ruskin, believed that art was first and foremost about self-improvement not delight. This was a perfect recipe for many decades of ignorant, indeed bigoted outdoor watercolourists and their supporters, who had never seen a Turner or Sandby. For all ‘artists’ who tried to live here there was the usual free offer of genteel but professional poverty.

Some readers may remember the late Ian Wroth, a highly sympathetic teacher, who encouraged several generations of tech students to innovate as much as possible. Ian was a highly talented watercolourist in the nineteenth century romantic tradition of Boudin and Bonington. I visited him at home in the hills to select work for the centenary exhibition of the Tech art department. To my surprise there were piles of highly accomplished abstract watercolours in every room. I asked why he had never shown them.

He answered with raised eyebrows and a sigh, “If I had shown these they would have sacked me.”

Ian was talking about the 1970s.

To his great credit the current director of AGWA has set about giving West Australians a chance to become familiar (not just acquainted) with some of the best work in the world, by presenting it over several months. The MOMA series was a magnificent success

There is more to the temporary postponement of his efforts than bums on seats statistics and a bogus sense of failure.

Goodbye To All That


I am going to miss the MOMA series, cut off halfway through by a slightly inadequate turn out and insurance costs.

I was there for the closing minutes of the exhibition, mainly saying farewell to the two Cézannes and the impeccable Bonnard. Suddenly Dr Carboni himself appeared, walking through the show, enjoying it and the audience. As a former gallery director, I know that feeling. Good art really matters, regardless, and he knew it.


I am going to miss Cézanne, most of all because I think I will never see another one in Perth. I have engaged with a lot of Cézanne’s work, from the Barnes Foundation to the Quai d’Orsay and at least two blockbusters, but my best experience was in London in the Courtauld Institute when it was still in Portman Square. The galleries with their art collection were free, open to the public and usually empty. There were good sofas. I spent happy afternoons there alone, with Cézanne and friends. The Bridgestone in Tokyo still offers a similar experience, but not the Courtauld collection which is now badly installed in Somerset House and crowded with school kids and their i-phones.


When one engages in depth with any art work, good or bad, the most significant part of the experience is patterning, the laying down of memories, the capacity to re-run the various moments of discovery and revelation that the work offers. The art experience is not a spectator sport, it requires active participation, the more moves and memories you know the more you can enjoy it.


This matters a great deal if you want to enjoy art, not just look at it. A visit to a major exhibition is not like a stroll round David Jones despite all the marketing that comes with both. When the Australian National Gallery, was first opened, the management estimated that the average tourist visitor would take only 25 minutes to view the entire collection. This argued that most visitors were ‘just looking’, not interested in engaging the works.

Before the current exhibitions, my last chance to see a Cézanne in Perth was in 1996 when the William S. Paley collection, also from MOMA, was on tour, curated by the remarkable William Rubin himself. This was 17 years ago; before that eight years earlier there was the Philips collection. Before that a few reproductions were shown at UWA in the 1930s. This is a long time between Cézannes. Unless you are privileged, like me, it is unlikely that you will learn to enjoy Cézanne, except as a vague memory, a long forgotten one-night stand. If you are young, you will have no context, no sense of delight to come, no education, so you are unlikely to visit the show. If you are an artist, you will find it hard to convince yourself that what people say about Cézanne is true.

There is a final barrier to the discovery and recovery of great art in Perth. It is the ghastly, semi-autonomous collusion between curatorial ambition, delusion and disingenuous corporate patronage. The finest recent example of this is “String Theory” at PICA, This exhibition was the latest in a series of duds at our Institute of Contemporary Art, curatorial overreach at its peak, applauded only by dubious corporate gatekeepers and those attempting to stake their claim in the newly emerging pecking order of WA art.

Its portentous title was matched by highly risible claims that a few variations on Wandjina Dolls and knotted shopping bags add up to a major event in Australian Contemporary Art no less, backed up, of course, by an unspoken prohibition against questioning the absolute value of anything labelled indigenous. Like others I know, I left the opening angry and wondering why.

The politics of ‘String Theory’ are beyond this article. My point is that this highly prevalent wilful, self-serving misrepresentation unhooks the contemporary experience of art and shuts down the open apparatus of delight, memory and reception essential if one is to  enjoy the MOMA exhibitions.

In all these circumstances, Art and the object and experience of Art disappear behind a network of social clichés, status and the bogus promises of consumer rhetoric.

A mysterious, totally invisible object is no reason to spend a day visiting a strange unpromising building, miles away from home, when you could stay indoors and watch a DVD or listen to Bach.

The successful museums of the world did not succeed by worrying about bums on seats or ‘place making’. They triumphed by persistence. They became comfortable familiar and habit forming, at times when this was possible. From the beginning AGWA has never persisted. It has very little in the way of a permanent collection, compared say to Hiroshima, which picked up a great European collection in the 40s and 50s, despite the recent atomic bomb event. Perth never even tried.

What is to be done?
First, Government should rethink its attitude to Art in Perth in the long term and work out a strategy that will enable the Gallery to persist until a genuine habitual audience and its social footprint grow to the point where they become self-sustaining and able to provide the benefits that other major museums deliver to the community

This must involve indemnities for exhibitions like the MOMA shows, especially for insurance which (normally) will never be called on.

The Gallery should not be afraid of public artistic elitism. Sport, the most successful cultural force in Australia is absolutely elitist.

As for bums on seats, it’s nice to have parties in the gallery whether for the young people or your friends from the western suburbs. But this is Perth not New York; parties are unlikely to have any permanent effect on the gallery audience. There is also the risk of alienating large section of the community, not least the art community. It might be cheaper to throw the art away and just have parties.

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Spare Us Spermoids and all other graphic non-entities

A couple of years ago I began to notice paintings with amorphous asexual figures, essentially graphic characters, with pseudopods and ‘sad’ expressive eyes, like Caspar the Ghost, all over William street, from Pop-Up Galleries to the Bird and other bars, and even, sometimes, at the Kurb.

I have since lost count of the number of ‘artists’ who have repeated the trick one way or another, recently adulterated with various references to tattoos and tattoo culture or with added overwhelming symmetry. None of them give any sign of noticing that they are all alike and that their work is supremely boring.

I called the originals spermoids because of their basic white droplet form. The first spermoid was probably the Schmoo, a publicity motif designed by the great critic Harold Rosenberg as part of the US public information effort during World War II. Obviously this form was good for generic messaging; the Schmoo might be anyone or anything.

Spermoids, and accompanying bad graphics, as Art, are a different matter.

They have many, many, over-determined origins.

Spermoid forms enable their creators to avoid any and every creative decision.

They are the ideal answer to all the negative and proscriptive nonsense that has accumulated since the halcyon days of feminism and post-modernity and their impositions’ vision of an incredibly shrinking creative universe.

For instance it now appears impossible to represent the nude as sensual in art without doing some kind of theoretical mea culpa. At least one art school has a policy of censoring any student who takes a critical interest in our vast varied popular culture of erotic imagery.

The rise and rise of the notion of the art industry has reconfigured artists as creative workers, destined to a lifetime in the assembly line of consumer and commodity ‘art’. Spermoids and their associated tattoo derivatives are the perfect product for artists who want to have a career now rather than work on their creative impulses. As Dave Graney said they ‘wanna get there but they don’t wanna travel’. (I know this one needs more work but I have no time to do the market theory – formal constraints on creativity and so on.)

The essential point is that even though they have no formal employment arrangement, with anyone, ‘emerging’ artists now construct their relation to art as that of an employee working for a small business, as though the art world was a big brother house for artists. They try to be productive and measure their production, often in spermoids per hour. They appear at openings looking around desperately for their fictive employer.

This disaster can only end in tears for artists and their audience.

Recently I saw a depressing demonstration of the power of this new consumer oriented art. This was Deanna Mosca’s show at Bunbury. A few years ago, Mosca experimented with a wide variety of visual conventions and was well on her way to an absolutely original idiom. In this exhibition her ambition has shrunk to a mixture of tattoo conventions and misunderstood quotations from the commercial elements of Art Nouveau. These forms are no more than another way to reconstruct the nude so as to avoid the specific demands of presence and the sensual. As these images show that these goals are held in common by every spermoid painter.


Any painter who has had the opportunity to study Cézanne, ‘in the flesh’, would know that a successful painting is always the result of a drama of style and presentation that takes place on the canvas.

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Paul Moncrieff’s Amazing Bunbury Paintings


This is the first time that I have seen the upstairs chapel at Bunbury working in a perfect relationship to an exhibition. Its gothic floor plan and the many irregularities left over from the original conversion often combine to ruin the plans of even the wiliest curator.

Paul Moncrieff planned his exhibition of new work at the Bunbury gallery well in advance.

In fact it is arguable that the challenge of this unique space was in part responsible for the artist’s major change of direction. Moncrieff began as a painter of semi-abstract landscapes; then came several shows of small-scale highly coloured abstractions, some with two of more units.

The new stuff is large, almost American-type large, but not for the same reasons. For the most part the scale of New York School canvases was metaphoric not absolute. They were originally expected to fill modest apartment and gallery walls, almost to the corners, with references to painterly, gestural pioneering across the infinite spaces of America.

Moncrieff’s work, on the other hand, is designed to resonate with its container at a specific scale. Each piece is made of a sequence of shaped, thin, plywood panels painted in flat, carefully balanced and uninflected industrial colours, almost straight off a Pantone chart. This, perhaps paradoxically, leads to work with an emphasis on form, not colour.

Take the most ‘difficult’ in the show, the ten oblong panels made into a rectangle of two rows of five and hung in the apsidal end of the space, between and below its rather weak gothic windows. They clearly form a colour chord, yellow above bright green to the left descending to deep rose madder above dark purple. It is, however, the ‘cutting’ of the corners of various panels at 45 degrees that makes possible the diversity and resonance which characterise this piece, Moncrieff has applied a simple formula from left to right. The first two panels are intact, then one, two, three and finally, on the right four corners have been removed and replaced with a lighter reveal colour.


This systematic shapeshifting characterises every piece in the show, but it is particularly effective in the apse with its subtle, perhaps unintended, references to the similar thinking to be found in Gothic architecture. Other works, hung along the wall opposite the gallery entrance present a series of geometric twists and turns arranged symmetrically around a large four piece doughnut form.


The uniform depth of each panel is indispensable to the role of form in Moncrieff’s work. Depth always equals presence, especially in monochrome panels. The 1.5 or so centimeters that separate each panel from the wall surface subtly forces the eye to allot each panel a distinct space, an event that enlivens the space of the whole gallery. The overlaps that feature in most works double down on these spaces, so that every unique presence becomes part of a negotiation of presences for artist and viewer.


As a whole the exhibition operates as a visual equivalent of the Venetian music of Vivaldi and Monteverdi, music tied to the dynamic spaces and places of architecture. Each work helps to weave a dramatic set of spatial relationships across the open spaces of the gallery.


Moncrieff’s work has been compared to Frank Stella. This could only refer to the later Stella of the 3D constructions. The Black Paintings were above all an attempt to constrain the space of the painting entirely within the picture plane, an attempt to avoid the metaphorical consequences and conundrums (and the politics) of Pollock or Rothko. With Stella what you see is all you are supposed to get. This not true of Moncrieff. His work is an invitation to play games, to rework the intensity of the gallery experience for your own desires.

So far as I can tell, this is by far the most interesting exhibition in Western Australia at the moment. It’s a shame Perth has to put up with a State Gallery shorn of the greatest project ever conceived for it, a piece of pretentious nonsense at Pica and a series of commercial spaces whose artistic and cultural ambition, with only one exception, is lower than a snake’s belly.

Perhaps PICA should offer Moncrieff a gig, and soon.


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She Stoops to Conquer

I will be putting up very occasional shots of my own work up on tincanvas and have included a special page for it, This one image is to draw you there.

© David Bromfield 2013

© David Bromfield 2013

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Pop Up

POP DOWN: why Pop Up anything at all is bad for art, artists and ultimately the public

It is easy to get the wrong impression about Pop Up if you usually encounter it along William Street. Pop Up, as advertised, is, supposedly, ambitious, entrepreneurial, young and above all arty. Pop Up is the very good idea of generous, practical, real estate agents, landlords and property owners.

How kind of them to help out when no one else can or will!

(C) Pippa Tandy 2013

(C) Pippa Tandy 2013

Pop Up pops up, pops down and is gone, before you can miss it, or whatever it was that was on sale there. The key phrase is ‘on sale’ and quickly too, because, after all, you must  move the goods fast, before you have to pop down for good. This may be a good thing for  purveyors of fly-by-night fashion labels and all kinds of over priced trivial modish junk, priced to feed the edgy lifestyle crowd that slowly bears it along the street like a rising tide bearing clumps of sewage.

In fact Pop Up has nothing at all to do with art or with generous patronage. It is a way to keep property values rising and commercial properties alive, when, for one reason or another, they cannot be sold or let successfully. It can be a way for capital to appropriate space that is nominally public. It is always another form of market failure.

(C) David Bromfield (2013)

(C) David Bromfield (2013)

(C) David Bromfield (2013)

(C) David Bromfield (2013)

Pop Up is always driven by the need to keep a public/private streetscape alive that would otherwise die the death. In other words it is a strategy to keep property prices and values up and overheads, including the potential rewards for most  ‘artists’, as low as possible.

Pop Up Bar

The sociologist of culture Bourdieu long ago demonstrated that the market for art, for cultural goods, is the mirror image of the consumer market. Artists of all kinds work (and starve!) for many years to establish a reputation for their work, so that it is sufficient to live on. Audiences take their time to engage with it. Writers can, more or less, survive this and grow in stature. Visual artists however require, spaces, stages, sustained critical advocacy and a stable, knowledgeable supporters’ club. Until recently these were often improvised by young ‘bohemian’ artists in abandoned or unused urban spaces where the focus was entirely on their art. Their later transition to the profitable art market was relatively easy.

Pop Up, however, is tied to a return on capital in a way that did not apply to the old fashioned bohemians. For artists there is no way up from Pop Up. It is yet another depressing feature of the consequences of the popular belief that Art is an industry rather than an endless adventure. Under capitalism, an industry needs predictable ‘workers’, not original or provocative thinkers. It looks to reward them as little as possible.

In his recent book Uprising, the rock journalist and professor, Marcus Breen has suggested that world culture faces a second wave of ‘proletarianisation’ largely brought on by the internet and social media. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries complex communities were reduced to ghettos of factory workers (proletarians) with little or no skill, by the requirements of industrial manufacturing.

Last Five Days!

The new proletarians now include most young ‘artists’. Those who might once have had subaltern roles in culture, as teachers for instance, which paid them enough to ‘defy’ the market by making ‘original’ art in their own time, now struggle to provide cultural goods that are quick, slick and forgettable enough to be sold in Pop Up venues. That is why most work to be seen there is cheap, unambitious or smartarse graphics, the same old, same old that says little and challenges nothing. Pop Up changes the rules of the art game forever. It is very difficult to believe that artists who have got themselves onto this particular treadmill will ever recover. In a Pop Up world there is simply no opportunity for original artistic ambition to grow, no space to become a candidate for the serious art market.

Meantime the Perth contemporary art scene as a whole is slowly losing the creative tension that alone makes for excitement in Art. The public will be left faced with a choice between a valueless, ‘play it again Sam‘, mandarin neo-avant-gardism to be seen at PICA and the ‘let’s have a quickie’ hopelessness of Pop Up.

The counter argument to my case is that good artists will always ‘make it’ whatever the circumstances, because this is the way it has always been and will always be. I doubt this. Given the rise and rise of Pop Up it is unlikely that those who ‘make it’ will be good artists.

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