The Linden Postcard Show is a Melbourne institution. This year over 1,000 artists from around Australia contributed a staggering 3,000 images, spilling out across roughly eight gallery spaces in a floor to ceiling salon hang on steroids with window alcoves converted to hanging spaces, as was the back hallway. Sculptures litter windowsills and Victorian mantelpieces. To date 97 images selected over the years have been reproduced as postcards, which in turn are popular collectors' items and an engaging way to promote contemporary art practice. Definition of artist, theme and media is entirely opt-in, with upper size limits being the only fixed criteria. Curation is by happenstance. The proud boast is that every submission is hung.
The cacophonous result is an outrageous and informative social coresampling. For all those from Pauline Hanson to Julian Burnside to Mark Latham to Steve Bracks who wonder why the Australian public does not follow them on their particular journey, answers could be partly found in this unmediated gathering. I stand firm in my belief that there is 'another' Australia beyond reach of the educated guardians of culture: curatorial selection, ABC programming or editorial policy at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are in stark contrast to this undisciplined, undirected sensibility with a vengeance at Linden.
Refractions of 20 years of art school curriculum together with social/cultural obsessions and pastiches abound, Destiny Deacon, Annette Bezor and Stelarc being typical local references. The default technical style haunts similarly open catchments as the Women's Art Register or cafe-gallery walls: a magic realism, representational art with a consciously faux naiveté and faint surrealist overtones blunting its edge. While rarely seen in cutting edge surveys in major state galleries, many artists work in this manner. The photographers are generally the most consistently competent, but also amongst the more stylistically conservative, whereas the sculptors frequently are the least competent and most clichéd. Many are locked in a figurative timewarp between Epstein and Moore, with homemade Louise Bourgeois and John Cornell thrown in. Louis Pratt (first prize winner) and the entries by John and Steve Construct (surely a Chapman brothers parody?) stand out.
Thematically the personal won out over the political by a large majority. Children, sex and personal references abounded. The sex was visible, raunchy and both hetero and queer, extending to the pornographic Hockneyesque drawing of a 50-something woman in high heels wrapped around a ten year old boy, which unflatteringly deconstructed the many obsessional images of artists' children and grandchildren. Snapshots of India and South East Asia were another large subgroup. Religious imagery both devotional and deconstructive/accusatory followed next, mostly Christian, but also Buddhist and Wiccan. Political art came fairly low in the scale, suggesting that the audience mandate is lower than the vocal advocates of a social commentary art acknowledge. The most common themes were feminist body image and critiques of consumerism. Postcolonial, indigenous and refugee issues were surprisingly infrequent, with occasional gems such as the Luna Park Gate with John Howard's face by Juliusz Baginski and Anne Algar's Indigenous Santa – in his best red, yellow and black suit. Nearby Tony Reddrop's images of rodeos set out surprisingly different arguments about the guardianship of Australia Conceptual art ran the gamut of informed to incompetent, with a number of pisstakes, themselves drawing upon the genealogy of the postcard show out of Dada and Fluxus.
Out of the 3,000 my personal favorites I agreed with the judges' selections such as the porcelain assemblage Murder on the Dance Floor and the acrobats in contemporary fashion. Aki Nishiumi's Geishas running wild in ocker Australia, Kerstin Cassar's off-duty sex dolls relaxing at the pub, Deborah White's parodies of sexual subcultures of the outer eastern suburbs and her transvestite besting a diminutive Spiderman, John & Steve Construct's sculptures all attracted my attention and it is to the Construct Brothers that I give the last word 'I'm a fucking artist, I deserve respect'.