‘Summing them up as morbid or deathly, but their very primitiveness, their sledge hammer effects, reinforce this mentally; naked extreme art’
Profoundly Art-Critic G.R.Lansell is describing Peter Booths early ‘Field’ work, a slate of black and grey on a minimalist canvas however he could have been describing his later dramatic figurative art.
Although the artist’s work morphed into an entirely different style, the essence of the artist’s style was conceived.
The Field exhibition launched Melbourne’s art scene in 1968 however it was not fully embraced by the locals.
The battle between Figurative Art that was the flagship of the Melbourne art tribes such as the Reed’s at Hiede and the Boyd’s at Murumbeena, had rallied against the American influence of the exhibition. At the time the exhibition was not organically Melbourne, nor was it entirely ‘International’.
The New York art critic Clement Greenberg criticised the first NGV Contemporary exhibition as ‘ second-rate.’
The exhibition aimed at awakening a sleepy town, after the failure of the 1956 Gallery of Contemporary Art. The new NGV curator John Stringer thrust his ideas forward and imposed his stipulations on the artists; they were happy to comply as careers and reputations were being made.
In today’s climate the work stands the test of time but to mark the journey of the Abstract Movement there is no greater example than Ron Robertson’s ‘Vault’.
The Vault was placed in the City Square in 1980, twelve years after the exhibition but the local reaction marks the cultural journey of Melbourne. The sculpture received such disfavour that it was nicknamed the ‘Yellow Peril’ by journalists and removed from its place due to public demand. It was a displaced work and was thrown into the shadows until 2002 when it found its home outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Dale Hickey Malvern 67
Dale Hickey 1967
The art of The Field exhibition sits comfortably within our minimalist technological community . The ideas that may have seemed cold, isolated and sterile during the ‘flower power’ period have a greater relevance in 2018, within a world disconnecting with nature and embracing the virtual.
The Field Exhibition was the first piece of the NGV journey that began in 1968 and was 50 years before its time.
GOU PEI, Chinese Fabric Artist engineers her Masterpieces, stitch by stitch, bead upon bead, golden thread and a mantle of dreams inspired by an ancient past with dresses that would inspire the Pope. Her exhibit arrived in Melbourne, as precious as the Emperors Palace treasures and is located in the eye of the TRIENNIAL storm at the NGV.
If Melbourne wanted to grab a snatch of the Artistic cyclic pie, they are heading in the right direction. This show stopping art storm is fixated on capturing the Melbourne imagination with no expense spared, and this year it is free.
The journey starts and ends in the Moroccan coffee house but our focus is on the second floor, up the Reko Rennie elevator. From the Australian Aboriginal world, without excess to the pre-communist decadance, up the spine into the heart and soul of the human mind.
Pei claims her work denies what it succumbs to, human vanity. Heart, soul and creativity, with a barrage of craftsmen on the floor, and this has happened before, in Dynasties past, a royal glass slipper for the ball. Rhianna , contemporary Diva, herald in the Artist at the Met Gala, formally the Costume Institute Gala, in New York.
The NGV hive, houses the Queen in an exhibition that begins in a blaze of glory.
Like Michelangelo, one can imagine that she is ripe for Vatican success.
The NGV has gone wild, Curated by Simon Maidment’s team, a wonderland passing from one installation to another, a mind altering experience of Art.
As art-life drifts out of the fringe into the mainstream an unholy alliance bridges the gap between today and tomorrow. The current stream sedating, a war brewing.
Guo Pei couture
It’s an epic bombardment, a Cultural revolution in it’s full thrust of life bordering on the ruin of decadance. Ron Mueck explores the human condition and its vulnerability in the wake of God-like delusions.
Artist, Mel O’Callaghan explores these questions through her dramatic Video Art currently on display at NGV Australia. Resistance and endurance is a rite of passage each of us will pass through eventually, a relative condition at every age.
Ensemble within the NGV space is cinematic, with life-size actors in a war-like water-battle. O’Callaghan uses the violence of the force to explore existence. It is when we let go , that life spirals and the body is swept away.
‘What a single body is capable of when enduring a voluntarily experience of duress is a powerful thing to behold’ Callaghan
Australian O’Callaghan lives in Paris and gave a live performance at the Serralves, taking it out of the dark theatre space and into the light of day.
O’Callaghan considers the body as a vehicle of ‘imposed labour’. The resistance of a ballet dancer perhaps or an underpaid worker forcing him/herself out of bed? Consider the Soldier preparing for death, or worse. Each day we battle, not to win, just to remain standing.
‘To fall, to begin again which is where the virtuous aspect comes into violence. It’s not being purely negative but rather a creative force’ O’Callaghan
Her work also relates to the Political and Economic climax point that is coming into focus.
‘…. those mounting feelings of deep despair that force acts of extremism’
Now showing within the perfect space, the deconstructive architectural venue at Fed. Square.
French designer Christian Dior craved an artistic life as the economic world collapsed under the weight of the war machine that had eaten into Europe. He fell into the company of artists, and sought the bohemian path in the aftermath of terror. They had new hope, a brighter path, where he could be an artist or an architect and became a Fashion Designer.
Dior learnt the sophistication of simplicity through his training with designer Robert Piguet from 1937, yet his spatial designs grew out of his visual comprehension of Architecture, creating elaborate folds and abundant material to create contrasts that would highlight a slim waistline through his A-line skirts that dropped just short of the floor to make the model appear taller.
“I drew flower ladies” Dior
This return to the former traditions and the excessive indulgence of fabric angered the post-war women that had achieved a degree of independence through taking on jobs during the war that required a higher hemline and sensible attire. Material was still rationed and his designs also mocked the practice accessibility of the ‘new look’.
“The women were very closely tailored and it wasn’t easy, there was no freedom, morally women were veering toward a freer , more equal way of being, of course 68′ proved this many years later. Dior was fastening them into inconvenience with skirts like the BON BON dress that must have used 30 meters of fabric. It was tailored to the waist……tight fitting shoulders..breasts lifted with bra and corset, the dress even had an inner frame”Pierre Cardin
Dior’s vision was a cog that sent women back to the home, as the men returned from war and re-entered the workforce. Fashion that ornamented womens figures, new kitchens and pushing prams was the road into the 1950’s. Celebrities, Royalty and Movie stars modelled his frocks and set the scene in womens magazines for women to admire and sew.
Dior designed all of the dresses worn by Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic ‘Stagefright’.
“So long as I have the dress I am the one who decides how long this show will run, .. and everything else ” (quote from movie Stagefright)
Dior did not enjoy the celebrity life, he preferred life outside of the spotlight of his Haute Couture kingdom, however his business acumen rarely failed him. Despite his success, he didn’t have a Fashion House until he was 42 years of age.
‘Australian women were among the first outside of Paris to witness, model and purchase original Dior designs. Less than a week after Dior’s dramatic debut of February 1947, articles celebrating his talent appeared in local newspapers.’ NGV
Up until the late 70’s most women could sew clothes for their families and magazines promoted dress patterns over shop purchases. Fashion designers had to be a step ahead of their acute audience and the dazzle of Dior’s complex silhouettes continued to challenge women who tried to make what few could afford. David Jones (Sydney) presented a Dior fashion parade in 1948.
The elegant French designs were tempered into frocks that marked ‘the look’ of the 50’s. As fashion relaxed in the 70’s, puffed up in the 80’s and went grunge in the 90’s, the Dior sophistication excites a retrospective desire for elegance.
During the week the NGV was wall to wall with women visiting the gallery, marking the Spring Carnival of fashion in Melbourne.
Christian Dior The Man behind the myth, Phillipe Lanfranch
“It’s always been about sharing stories, identity loss and grief, determination , imagination , self belief, cultural integrity, hope and justice, reliance , cultural pride, and more than anything it’s about my people’s survival of spirit.” Hill
Noongar woman, Sandra Hill was a stolen Aboriginal child that was forced into foster care at the age of seven by the Australian Government due to the Assimilation Policy that was still active in 1958. Four children were removed from their mother’s house, they included her self , her two sisters and a brother. They were the 3rd generation of children removed from this family line.
‘In 1994 Hill was employed as the Aboriginal Community Cultural Officer. During this period she applied for, and was awarded, a Creative Development Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. This afforded her the time to carry out research relating to her life experiences as a member of the Stolen Generations’ (extract from Design & Art Australia on-line)
Hill’s work is held in many private collections and is also represented in Major Art Galleries throughout Australia, currently her mixed media work “Beyond the Pale’ is on display at the NGV Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square in the Australian Art Exhibition. She explores domestic labor as part of the ‘Assimilation Project’.
In the past, Domestic colleges were set up to train poor white girls and ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal children to attend to the needs of the wealthy.
‘In the early issues of Home Beautiful there was a feeling of nostalgia for the passing of an age in which almost everyone in the middle and upper classes could afford to keep a live-in maid. Even at the turn of the century , architects and designers were discussing the ‘servant problem’ and trying to come up with ways to help women face a future without servants’The Australian Home Beautiful, from Hills Hoist to High Rise.
ref: page 73, Household Help: The Servant Problem. The Australian Home Beautiful from Hills Hoist to High Rise Hardie Grant Books Oliver J.
It’s fascinating to imagine that female convicts on ships to Australia, were sewing beautiful quilts. They were leaving heavily populated cobble streets and embarking on a tour into the wild unknown.It was a place where currency was rum, women were few and some unthinkable dark terrors took place.The unfree made free and the free made unfree.
This quilt was created by the women on board the Rajah in 1841, they were taught by Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker reformer.
‘The Australian quilting tradition developed in response to a unique set of factors that sets it apart from other quilting traditions internationally.’ NGV
There was the odd sailor that picked up a needle and thread and made his own quilt.
This example is a work of Art, an intricate geometric design, with a contemporary feel. The beauty of the quilt is that it is also functional. The time poured over the work creates a meditative element that transfers an emotional or spiritual quality to the work.
During WW1 and WW2, ‘quilts were a means of rallying support’.
To this day, some churches still create quilts to place over the unwell. The quilt can also serve as an historical piece, recording the members of a congregation, club or school.
Some stitched a bit of wisdom to guide the next generation.
The charming Westbury quilt was created by a Tasmanian family, it was intended to be a raffle prize. Its a mix of British domestic influence and Australiana.
Others competed to be the ‘craziest’ of the ‘crazy quilt’ fashion, that was the sewing movement at a time, when European Art was shaking off the shackles of the past. The British settlers had no cultural roots in Australia, they could push the boundaries of traditional Arts.
Some caught the eye of the galleries to be immortalised. Mothers often sewed quilts for their children or were given to them by a loving friend or family member. Mary Jane Hannford’s ‘Goodnight Quilt’ was made for her 11 year old grandson.
‘The subject matter of Hannafords quilt includes patriotism, religious faith, the love of Australian wildlife and the marking of key family events’
Some works were sewed roughly, not for beauty or art but for warmth. The gathering of discarded clothes, recycled into a rug. The perfect art for Depression and War when materials are few and patience is limited.
‘real rag bag waggas, hessian bags or patchwork-covered army blankets, but still rich in the memories embedded in their cloth.’ Annette Gero
It’s a pictoral exploration into our past, through fabric. Mostly, but not exclusively a womens history. Sewing groups were also social and community acts. It’s an engaging exhibition.
The terrors of recent France and the Edgar Degas exhibition in Melbourne, may seem to have nothing in common, but look again.
“Have we loss the supremacy on the field of Fine Arts as we have lost it on the field of battle? Are our Artists like our Generals the victims of a treacherous illusion of seeing themselves invincible?” Ross King
This was the general critical response to the 1872 Exhibition held at the Salon; the heartbeat that informed the public of what was regarded as Art.The committee that held tight to conservative principles had got it wrong. The times were changing.
The French had loss a war to the Germans and the terms of defeat were so disagreeable to the French that there was Civil war on the streets. Scorched buildings, street executions and dead bodies scarred the city. The public no longer wanted Art or Artists that celebrated Napoleon Wars.
Manet the mentor of the Impressionist who had been made ridiculous by the Salon, it’s critics and the public, for most of his career, was suddenly the ‘toast of the town’. The Socialists were imprisoned and shot after the riots at Montmarte, however the tide had turned. People wanted artists that told their stories, not those of the Ruling Class and its Generals.
“Suddenly , as if in reaction against the grim drabness and horrors of the Siege and the Commune, the Impressionists burst forth into a new,passionate, glorious blaze of colour, redolent with the love of simple, ordinary existence.”Alistair Horne
The Salon was losing its hold and the cafes where rogue artists congregated were taking hold as the places which informed Artists.It is in this environment that Degas and the Impressionists went forth and re-created new ‘ways of seeing’.
“Drawing is not what one sees but what others are made to see”Degas
Manets tireless battle with the Art Establishment that would have worn down most; forged a path for Modern Art.
“Of Manet’s circle the closest to him in age, intellect and temperament was Edgar Degas,whom Manet first met in 1853, the year of his first rejection from the Salon.” Denis Thomas
Degas purchased a camera on a trip to America and it informed his work, he chose to paint unconventional angles. The Modern Era needed a new voice.
During war years, the Melbourne art scene dragged itself away from the safe bush scenes and began making social comments through expressive art. Urban hardships were the realities of the day, and the war brought home Surreal experiences. The struggle for survival opened up a marginal void, that the new bohemia were ready to fill. Eccentric aristocrats were the lifeblood of Melbourne Artists during the new Modern Movement. There were two major camps that drew in the cream of new art. The Reeds established a shelter for artists at Heide, in Heidelberg and Meric Boyd’s ‘Open Country’, in Murrumbeena, challenged the status quo.
Both had an open door policy for emerging artists; Meric Boyd built a kiln on the property and encouraged his children to be active in the hub that gathered there. The kiln would eventually fire-up Arthur Boyd and John Perceval’s, emotive and provocative sculptures.
John Percival The Acrobat Angel
Perceval; The Acrobat Angel : Boyd; 30 Pieces of silver
Boyd’s style grew in Open Country but manifested in the South Melbourne paintings. During the dark war years, he suffered from a depression.Like Perceval he saw the depravity of urban life and drew upon motifs that would be symbols to became part of his pictorial dialogue.
‘the man in wheelchair, the cripple on crutches, the tormented naked lovers, the beast, the chimney stacks and the gargoyles.’ Sasha Grishin
Boyd, Percival and Tucker explored the moral decline brought on by the American troops stationed in Melbourne, the work is strong.
Albert Tucker Victory Girls 1943
The Reeds harboured Sidney Nolan as he avoided military duty and the Kelly series expressed his new outlaw status.Nolan was Sunday’s prize bull, she wanted Europe to embrace him, but the modern world rarely looked our way.
Joy Hester was coaxed and chastised by the wilful Sunday and she would occasionally slip over the river to the Boyd’s camp. Tucker would have a love/hate relationship with the Heide crew, as his personal involvement with Hester intensified.Their Love Child Sweeny, brought Mike Brown into the brood during the later years.
The Reeds were determined for Melbourne to be the capital of figurative art and hoped to expel the growing appeal of the American movement of Abstract Expressionism.The 1959, Antipodean Exhibition drew in artists from other camps who signed and battled over the direction of Melbourne Art. John Brack supported the figurative art stance but withdrew from the show due to the politics. He had avoided the ‘hot-bed of art groups and shared a studio with his life long friend, and fellow artist Fred Williams.
During the war years the Paris Art scene was kept in darkness. American Abstract Expressionists stole the limelight, it could have been the Australian figurative movement and for good or bad, it could have led world art into the heart of Melbourne. It was a radical and unique period in art history.
The other major art groups in early Melbourne were Dunmoochin which included Clifton Pugh and John Olsen. Montsalvat was set up by Justus Jorgensen and drew strongly from European influences, particularly in its architecture.The town was relatively young and most of the artists had studied and knew each other through the Gallery Art School.
Mirka Mora arrived in Melbourne, like many immigrants, her family was escaping the persecutions and atrocities of the war. Local artists frequented the Mirka coffee shop and Mora flirted between Heide and Open Country camps.She sewed a dress for Sunday and her children played amongst the Boyd’s kilns. She supported Joy Hester by exhibiting her on the café walls and as her families hospitality businesses grew, so did her presence as an Artist.
Mirka Cafe opening
Charles Blackman was a regular customer at Mora’s cafe, the family had a reputation for supporting and feeding local artists.Despite the energy and personal finances Art Patrons offered, the artists knew that they would have to leave Australia to further their careers. The public enjoyed modern housing,appliances and clothes but they were closed to new ideas and clung onto Colonial Art.
Open Country at Murrumbeena
‘In 1963 after having achieved a degree of recognition and financial security, Percival and his family joined the general exodus of artists and left Australia.’ Sasha Grishin
Boyd had already moved his family to England. Open Country was torn down, to make way for a block of flats.
Heide Museum of Modern art is revisiting its roots.
MAKING HISTORY: THE ANGRY PENGUINS
until Nov 6
ARTISTS AT LEISURE: ALBERT TUCKER PHOTOGRAPHS
until Aug 7
Banner Photo Athur Boyd butterfly Man 1943
John Brack NGV 2009; p156
Australian Surrealism and its Echoes NGV 2015; p70
The Heart Garden Sunday Reed and Heide Janine Burke Vintage 2004
Australian Art A History, Grishan S, The Miegunyah Press,2015; p333-347
200 years of Fashion at NGV Australia is a fashion warp of cultural remembering. It is commonly acknowledged that written history is told through the eyes of the ‘white man’, Aboriginal history through Art and Womens history through fashion.
‘…the Colonial taste (which might differ from Melbourne suburb to suburb) was capricious, so different as to be sometimes absurd.’ Margaret Maynard
‘Australian fashion from the early twentieth-century broadly emulated international trends and ideas of glamour inherited from Paris and Hollywood, but by the 1960’s, Australian designers were beginning to have there own impact on the world stage with work that no longer followed..’ Nadia Buick
Prue Actons ‘Youthquake’ reveals a sheer jumpsuit that sold for $60. David Jones marketed it to mainstream as sexy but for the Flower Power generation; ‘it was a symbol of passive resistance .. anti- war protests..its changed attitudes and allegiances’ NGV
Meet Mr. John
House of Merivale and Mr. John Sydney, introduce the corduroy belted suit for men in 1973.
‘The 1970’s trend towards unisex attire, which saw traditionally ascribed masculine and feminine codes of dress become more androgynous.’ NGV
As the 70’s seep into the 80’s, The Chai Jumpsuit 1978, reveals fashions ‘capacity as a medium for artistic expression’ Danielle Whitfield.
the PUNK period, was no longer passive resistance, it was anarchy. The Melbourne music culture embraced punk, Sex Pistol films were played at Uni. events and the alternative scene was self supporting.
‘As the band reappeared for an encore, Sid showed the audience an obscene gesture and Steve yelled, “You must be mad to want more of us’ Dangerous Minds, Gallagher.
Less is Best for NOW
Tina Salivas studied fashion at Adelaide’s Marston College her 2007 creation draws inspiration from European Artists.
‘the cloth contributes to the overall design of the garment..to fully realise their artistic visions …they must not only develop form, but the textile as well.’ Paola Di Trocchio
extracts from 200 years of Fashion NGV publication.
Top Photo: Kate Durham ‘Sentimenta romantica de l’amour et glamour: Wedding ensemble 1982’If this was the veil, imagine the reception.
David Shrigley’s drawings, sculpture, happenings and films follow the anti-art traditions of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. ‘This is not art, this is not important’. Then why did the NGV host his work and float his head-less toy swans in the moat.
The seduction of Art refusing to be Art is like a conquest behaving coy and disinterested. Its chic, its naughty but its mostly irreverent. It’s the cat and mouse game that the art world has been playing with itself since the 1880s when Modern Art decided to challenge the status quo of ‘what is Art?’
Shrigley has a mass appeal. Since 2005 he has produced a weekly cartoon for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Michael Leunig cartoons, that have appeared weekly in The Age draw similar references, however Shrigleys message, is less emotive and more ‘slap stick’.
The exhibition came wallpapered, with roughly drawn cartoons and captions such as;
“I don’t have a head but still I must go to work”
The exhibition housed an interactive life drawing class where the live model was replaced by a naked cartoon sculpture, like a garden cupid fountain, it too, relieved itself. A motorized head entertained visitors and there were ‘boring’ films. The film of a cartoon figure sleeping ‘A Napping Station’, is a parody to the Andy Warhol film, Sleep.
The NGV website noted a remark by the English art critic Adrian Searle.
‘Shrigley’s work is very wrong and very bad in all sorts of ways. It is also ubiquitous and compelling. There are lots of artists who, furrowing their brows and trying to convince us of their seriousness, aren’t half as profound or compelling.’
The most important thing to have when examining his work is your sense of humor.