Tim Flannery has said that Australia needs to be put on a war footing in order to survive what is waiting in the wings for the human race and civilisation as we know it. For artists, this means using recycled materials and no more travelling to art fairs, festivals or biennales, unless you go by sailing ship or bicycle. Will there be a resurgence of locally sourced content for local audiences? Spending more time on the internet? Living in our heads?
A new visual arts experience has been announced by a duo of well-known curators Hans Ulrich-Obrist and Philippe Parreno. They ask the question – 'what if having an exhibition is not a way to occupy space, but a way to occupy time...?' Time-based art has been around for a while but this is a new inflection – occupying the whole of the visual arts program for the inaugural Manchester International Festival. According to the organizers: 'Il Tempo del Postino – Group Show will showcase a group of the world's leading visual artists, comprising Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, Tacita Dean, Trisha Donnelly, Olafur Eliasson, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Holler, Pierre Huyghe, Koo Jeong-A, Anri Sala, Tino Sehgal and Rirkrit Tiravanija, who will create a major new experimental time-based group show at the Opera House, Manchester, with the stage assuming the role of the gallery space. With up to 15 minutes of 'exhibition time', each artist is creating their own distinctive part – inviting guest performing artists, specially commissioned music but none using film or video, to create this new form of group show.
By focusing on time-based work, this group show aims to redefine how visual arts can be experienced. Set in a theatre, it transforms the established gallery model into an exhilarating, shared audience experience.' It is on for three nights only at the Opera House in Manchester, UK, 12, 13, 14 July, 2007. Of course unless we live in Manchester we will not be able to see it. But what is stopping us all doing our own? www.manchesterinternationalfestival.com.
Rock art converted to gas
The Burrup Peninsula in the remote Northwest of WA is one of the richest prehistoric rock art sites in the world. Aboriginal petroglyphs are found across a very wide area and in great profusion in this rugged terrain. Also found have been all kinds of minerals and natural gas. Over the decades a total lack of care for history has resulted in untold damage and destruction to the rock galleries. The area is now on the World Monument Fund's list of the 100 most endangered sites. Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA) organised a series of 'Stand up For the Burrup' actions around Australia in February to highlight the significance of up to 300 rock engravings, some dating back to before the last Ice Age, currently threatened by the Pluto project. Australian company Woodside, with the support of the WA and Federal Governments, proposes to establish a liquid natural gas plant. Effective public action needs to happen fast. http://www.dampierrockart.net/Concerned.html
Where the bloody hell are you
It has been noticed. A senior Indonesian curator asked a senior Australian arts administrator last month 'how come you Aussies are not around any more in Asia?' Anecdotally, there seem to be far fewer Australians on the ground doing projects, researching, curating, attending conferences in Asian countries than ten or fifteen years ago. After an early strong engagement Australia has lost the running, and the advantage we had earlier. Australia Council policies may have something to do with this – the increased emphasis on marketing the arts tends to force activity towards Europe and America, where there is more likelihood of trading and economic returns. A case in point is the cutting of subsidies for literature programs into Asia, because the low price of books there militates against sales of Australian titles. But the price difference does not stop squads of European and American publishers and other organizations taking part in the Beijing Book Fair, where Australia was represented by one lone stallholder – Asialink.
Growing fat on art
In the seedy domain of the auction houses who sell 'top end'* art from one cashed-up owner to another, the 9-year old Deutscher-Menzies announced recently that two of its three key directors Chris Deutscher and Damian Hackett are pairing up to establish their own auction house and private gallery in Melbourne and Sydney. Deutscher and Rod Menzies were co-founders of D-M in 1998. It grew at a phenomenal rate to take top position, after taking Damian Hackett into the nest in 2001. In 2006 D-M made $26 million in Australian auction sales of non-indigenous art. Apparently the ex-partners parted on good terms. Over the summer the new unions of Deutscher and Hackett and Lawson Menzies were busy getting ready to invite the neighbours in. How the turf will be divided is anyone's guess, but it looks like there will be rich pickings for both companies. The grotesque spectacle of world-wide jacking up of prices for art does not stop auction houses having the temerity to argue that resale royalties (where a tiny percentage of the resale price goes to the artist) would ruin their businesses. In a tragic world where spin rules you can say anything and expect to be believed. Artists and organisations please note in this election year: keep up the pressure on your local pollies to legislate resale royalties for artists. Legislators, please try and get in line with the rest of the civilised world. Talking of elephant hide, it is fascinating to see that Mssrs Hackett and Menzies have invited a third party into the company as equal partner and Chairman, Mr Ian Hicks, 'art identity and businessman' who also just happens to be the Chair of the Foundation of the National Gallery of Victoria. And we thought the NGV might have been given pause after the courtroom scandal of senior curator Geoffrey Smith and art dealer Robert Gould. Sigh.
*('Top end' is the new word for blue chip, which now includes many living Australian artists.)
Awards and honours
" Alison Carroll is the recipient of the $10,000 Visual Arts Emeritus Medal of the Australia Council for 2006 for her work in establishing Asialink and building it into one of Australia's most important arts bodies over the past 20 years. " Thancoupie is the recipient of the $40,000 Emeritus Award for her work as a potter and for services to Indigenous art.
" Marily Cintra has been given the $50,000 2006 Ros Bower Award of the Australia Council for her life-long commitment to arts in health by which physical and mental health can be improved. She is the founder and director of Identity, Environment and Art - an arts organisation that promotes community participation in the design of public places.
" Monika Tichacek, whose video installation work The Shadowers was 'censored' while on public display in Melbourne, won the $25,000 Anne Landa Award 2006 for video and new media arts.
" Michael Keighery is the new Chair of Viscopy.
" Visual arts people receiving the Order of Australia 2007 were educator Elizabeth Ashburn, arts sponsor Guido Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, curator Tony Bond, Frankston administrator Vivian Goodwin Dorning, painter Denise Green, and artist/educator Peter Pinson.
" Inge King, sculptor, and John Gollings architectural photographer, have been appointed 2006 Heide Fellows, an honorary award given for an exceptional contribution to the development of Heide Museum of Modern Art.
" The Arts Foundation of New Zealand last year paid tribute to living artists by awarding the title of Icon to Len Castle, Pakariki Harrison, Ralph Hotere, Milan Mrkusich and Diggeress Te Kanawa for a lifetime of achievement and the title of Laureate to Phil Dadson, Neil Dawson, Warwick Freeman, Humphrey Ikin, Derek Lardelli, Julia Morison, Michael Parekowhai, Peter Peryer, John Pule, Ann Robinson, and Ronnie van Hout as prime movers in NZ art.
Upcoming events and news
The European summer of 2007 sees the alignment of three stellar art events Venice, Documenta and Munster&plus several art fairs and a general exodus of the art world to trek from one to the other. The 52nd Venice Biennale opens 10 June while Documenta 12 in Kassel and the Münster Sculpture Project both open 16 June in Germany.
Australia's official artists for the Venice Biennale 2007 are Daniel von Sturmer at the Australian Pavilion and Callum Morton and Susan Norrie at other sites. The Australia Council is again giving Venice the lion's share of its overseas visual arts promotional budget and sending a swag of curators, some to brush up their skills, others perhaps for the first time, plus a clutch of educators. Established curators are Wayne Tunnicliffe, Art Gallery of NSW, Craig Judd, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Jenepher Duncan, Art Gallery of WA, Kathryn Weir, Queensland Art Gallery, Russell Storer, MCA, Sydney, Naomi Cass, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. Emerging curators are Jane Messenger, Art Gallery of SA, Jane Devery, NGV, Anne O'Hehir, NGA, Canberra, Hannah Mathews, PICA, Perth and Reuben Keehan, Artspace, Sydney.
" Meanwhile in New Zealand, sculptor Brett Graham and digital artist Rachael Rakena have had their collaborative work Aniwaniwa accepted for the 'collateral events' section of the Venice Biennale, a special group of projects selected by the Artistic Director Robert Storr from hundreds of proposals. The arts community is working to raise funds to get the artists and their work to Venice, an expensive excursion. New Zealand is not an official participant this year, but will go again in 2009. Aniwaniwa is a sculptural and video installation exploring the idea of submersion as a metaphor for cultural loss. It tells the story of Horahora, a village on the Waikato River where Brett Graham's father was born, which was flooded to create a new dam at Lake Karapiro and relates very nicely to the sinking city of Venice.
" Visual Animals: cross-overs, evolution and a new aesthetics is the intriguing title of an open symposium curated by Ian North for the Contemporary Art Centre of SA. 17 – 18 April at the Art Gallery of SA, with speakers from New Zealand and around Australia. More info from Fulvia Mantelli (08) 8272 2682 / firstname.lastname@example.org
" Catalyst Arts in Belfast turned its premises into a fully functioning sauna for a month in an event called The Bath is Hot. Polish-Danish artist Joanna Karolini wanted to interest people who don't usually go to galleries, and exposed them not only to lots of lovely steamy heat but to art about saunas and hot baths. She says by participating they are creating an art event as well as making new friends. It makes PICA's bid by Rodney Glick to create a full sized swimming pool in its premises a bit too much like ordinary old art.. it was all done with canvas, paint and bits of wood.
" The Adelaide Film Festival commissioned two new films for the festival, Michael James Rowland's debut feature Lucky Miles and Rolf De Heer's newest feature film, Dr Plonk. They are part of a slate of twelve new Australian films which received funding from the Adelaide Film Festival Fund and premiered at the 2007 Festival, February 22 to March 4.
" 20 years after working as a carpenter on the construction of the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane photographer Peter Liddy returned to document its major redevelopment and the construction of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). His exhibition, New Ground: Construction Photographs by Peter Liddy is at the Library at South Bank, 10 March – 7 May 2007. " The Library has been digitising images of a selection of the artist books in its varied and interesting collections which are now available as Artists' books online at http://artistsbooks.slq.qld.gov.au
" A website is the home of an innovative visual artist network which will try to address the needs of the very large numbers of artists in the Northern Rivers area of NSW and help them make links with curators and gallerists, both commercial and non-profit, to get their work more widely seen within and outside of the region from the Tweed to Grafton which does not yet have enough exhibition venues. http://visualartsnetwork.net.au/
" Bundanon on the south coast of NSW, the former home of Arthur Boyd and his family, was set up as an artists' residency and education centre through a bequest of the Boyds. Now under the directorship of Deborah Ely, formerly manager of visual arts at the NSW Ministry for the Arts, it recently received a boost to its federal funding and goes from strength to strength. Ely is encouraging its use by a mix of visual artists, writers, musicians, dancers etc to create synergy across the disciplines. See www.bundanon.com.au or call 02 4422 2100 for info on how the residential system works.
Animals on our minds
There has been a stampede of visual arts events about animals in recent months. The whole of the visual arts program of the 2006 Melbourne Festival and the summer issue of Photofile were both themed on animals – art about werewolves, deer, birds, turtles, polar bears, pandas, roadkill, no stonefish was left unturned, reminding us how the forked creature has put them all – except for our darling pets - in jeopardy. Now the Murray Cod with its large mouth and reputation for being ancient and enduring is examined by curator John Kean for (yes) NETS Victoria through the eyes of 27 painters, photographers, sculptors, basketweavers, emu egg carvers, printmakers; Murray Cod: the biggest fish in the river will travel up and down the towns on the Murray, currently at Mildura and then Albury. And I thought the cod was more or less extinct. How art educates us all.
Sherman Galleries in Sydney, which last year celebrated its 20th year of successful commercial operation, is closing at the end 2007. It will morph into a philanthropic foundation for the promotion and development of contemporary art in Australia and the Asia-Pacific. This is a new challenge for high-achieving director Gene Sherman, her husband Brian and their daughter Ondine. Many top tier artists who were represented by Sherman will now be looking elsewhere for a dealer who will deliver the same international cachet. The foundation will put on several exhibitions per year, run artists' residencies and publish scholarly catalogues which makes it similar to a European Kunsthalle model. And although the Sherman millions will be the called upon to set it up, the not-for-profit structure will make it possible for Sherman's Equitilink company to write off the Foundation's ongoing expenses as a tax deduction. It also allows government and other partnerships to be brokered. The closing of the gallery will leave a gap in the commercial art world, but it may signal a new era of philanthropic trusts if other families or individuals can be persuaded to follow suit. A forthcoming publication edited by Terry Smith documents a meeting of a group of movers and shakers organised by Gene Sherman to brainstorm ways and means of creating a better climate for giving to the arts.
" Janet Holmes à Court received the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) on Australia Day 2007 in recognition of her work for the arts and encouraging philanthropy in Western Australia. She has recently committed to providing $75,000 over 5 years to the National Association for the Visual Arts for grants to artists.
" Since 1992 Molly Gowing has given 362 significant Indigenous works of art to the Art Gallery of NSW accounting for one third of their Indigenous holdings. The gallery put on a show last November titled Gifted to show some of these and to honour this quiet donor.
Funding for our sector
Three blissful years have passed since the recommendations of the Myer Report for increased support for a visual arts sector in crisis were finally implemented. The effect is now the stuff of legend – how managers in the sector receiving the funding (through the joint federal/state Visual Arts Craft Strategy or VACS) were transformed overnight from chronically harried, worried and stressed to relaxed and smiling (have you noticed?) But the foreheads are creasing up again as the date for renewal of these blessings approaches. Fortunately we are in an election year and it will be a closely fought one. The arts vote can no longer be ignored by the candidates. Perhaps we will even get someone to promise to restore the scuttled New Media and Community Arts Boards of the Australia Council.
" The long running battle to 'Save the National Art School' in Sydney has been halted by the NSW arts minister declaring that the NAS will not be merged with a university and she would establish a committee to look into its future.
" Aspiring curators can now do an MA in the theoretical and practical aspects of researching, designing and mounting exhibitions in museums and galleries. The degree, which is taught jointly by the Art Gallery of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and Artlab, requires students to do art history courses as well as curatorial studies. www.arthistory.adelaide.edu.au, ph 08 8303 3751.
Two countries in the Asia-Pacific
For the first time ever a raft of very senior visual arts people from Australia met their counterparts in Japan at a remarkable meeting to discuss ways of working together more often and more effectively. Spearheaded by Asialink Director Alison Carroll (whose extraordinary achievements in creating bridges between Australian art and the Asian region have finally been officially celebrated – see Awards above), the forum was held over two days in late September 2006 at the National Art Center, Tokyo, with 34 participants including directors of major museums in both countries, directors of special interest areas, including new media programs, residencies and alternative art spaces, curators, funding agencies and artists.
What was unique about this meeting was that people like the Director of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, the Senior Curator of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Director of the Arts Department of The Japan Foundation and their equivalents from Australia were able to hobnob and get to know each other and to talk frankly and seriously on all kinds of topics. What came out of all the cups of tea and simultaneous translations? Interestingly they decided that 'bodies, not boxes' was the most important principle, prioritising artist exchange and exchange of professional personnel both within and beyond the museum. Next in importance were training, exhibition exchange, more forums and a focus on our place in the Asia-Pacific region. A second forum in Australia in 2008 is planned. More info on www.asialink.unimelb.edu.au/our_work/arts/visual_artscrafts/australia_japan_exhibitions_program.
One for the CIA
Emerging Adelaide artist Adrian Caon has created an exhibition of drawings depicting each of the 50 stars of the American flag positioned with a war or a military intervention which occurred during the 230-year history of the USA. With a plethora of conflicts to choose from – wars, occupations, bombings, subversions, threatened armed intervention and blockades enforced by its war machines – there was no problem finding the material. The show Assign each Star to one of its Wars Series no.11 of the project 101 things to do with an American flag will be on at the Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide until 25 March 2007.
A lone swimmer in 1940s-style bathers poised to dive off a wooden platform is the proposal which sculptor WA Tony Jones and his son Ben have come up with for a memorial to the old Crawley Baths (demolished in 1964) where so many Perth youngsters learned to swim. Set in the sea on the Perth foreshore the piece will be bronze and lifesize and will be lit at night by solar panels.
" The new federal arts minister is George Brandis, Senator for Queensland replacing Rod Kemp who is retiring from Parliament.
" Ted Snell, Professor at Curtin University and Director of John Curtin Gallery, is the new Chair of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.
" Kathy Keele, previously CEO of the Australian Business Arts Foundation, is the new CEO of the Australia Council replacing Jennifer Bott.
" Thelma John has left her position of Exhibitions Manager at Fremantle Arts Centre after 10 action-packed years to become the Manager of the Central TAFE Art Gallery in Perth.
" A new gallery space comprising 3 illuminated lightboxes has been set up by SIAL at RMIT University, cnr Bowen and Franklin Streets, for on-site testing and display of design research projects. Info from email@example.com.
" Byron McMahon Gallery (previously Sandra Byron Gallery) has new premises at 88 George Street, Redfern in Sydney, an area which now has a good cluster of galleries.
" The Dowse Gallery in New Zealand has been closed for a total revamp and emerged in February as TheNewDowse, a museum designed with eco-friendly features and focusing on hands-on creativity, with 11 spaces for art works in all media, including new design, and a creative workshop. Lower Hutt, New Zealand. www.dowse.org.nz