Saturday, December 3, 2011

Things I Have Done

It appears to be December. How this has come to pass is beyond me. A year in which not a lot of making got done due to other revenue raising activities, but quite a lot of exhibition visiting has occurred, including a fair bit interstate.

The Secessionist exhib at NGV was fantastic. The paintings not so much but the objects - well. As much as anything the chance to see the things in the flesh, get down on hands and knees, peer underneath. There was a set of flatware that almost made me reconsider my atheist ways. And had just finished reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes which provided an unexpected narrative to the show.



And then MONA. In Hobart. This was a strange trip as I went to school there for some years, and then started off as an arts (humanities) undergrad at the venerable Univ of Tas. I hadn't visited since 1986; well not the southern half of the state at any rate. I was astonished at how little it had changed. Yes, whole hillsides have been devoured by subdivisions down at Kingston, and suburbia now snakes its way southerly on the Eastern shore; but change in the manner that Sydney so readily does? Changes that leave you struck by vertigo with whole streetscapes erased. No, Hobart hadn't indulged in architectural cleansing. There are a few atrocious bits and pieces but on the whole, the damage has been minimal.

There were some outward indications of more affluence in suburbs where you wouldn't have publicly whispered "cafe latte" in decades past. But I was struck by the number of homeless people on the streets of the city centre - Hobart is not a city you would want to sleep unhoused in, but rental prices are as elsewhere high, particularly given Tasmania's lower average wages than anywhere else in Australia. I would imagine the competition for affordable rental would be fierce. Or are support services lacking?

Needless to say, none of the homeless people were to be seen at MONA. Although I was highly amused by a moment when standing in the queue to enter. Tasmanians get free entry, the rest of us have to pay $20. But in something like a scene from our own carefully staged Chaucer play, a group of 5 young Chigwell residents, resplendent in uggs, tight jeans, even tighter t-shirts, flannies, spilt out into the daylight noisily fuck this fuck like brightly dyed sparrows, past the scandalised tourists and out to their hotted up Torana.

There is a very strong sense of Am I Bovvered about the whole exercise. It is a private collection. Housed in a huge purpose built space which allows the public to visit. The winery, brewery, an Antiquities Museum now subsumed and pavilions pre-date MONA, as Walsh bought a going concern about 15 years ago (I think) so there is evidence it is a serious financial endeavour. An enormous amount of money has been spent - on architecture, set up and works. It is within Australia an astonishing thing. Rich people usually buy art and hang it on the board room walls or in the weekender at Church Point. Public access? I think not.

It's also contemporary in focus. Yes yes old and new, but the old pieces became decorative, the new defined the word art, at least within range of the MONA ipods. Some pieces aren't too flash. There's a Damien Hirst with which I struggle to engage with his pomo irony, and found just plain crappy. But there are some standouts which will still work in 15 or 50 years. Even when they are no longer new.

Which is at the heart of the problem. New. New has a meaning = to be of the now, the present. As does old. I will be very curious as to how the museum shuffles its cards when the new starts to resemble an aging American.

The other point that intrigued me was Walsh's wee dalliance with class revenge. Yes the setting is by a river, in a city that is too pretty for its own good. And yes he bought it as a going winery probably well before the idea of a museum came up. If you owned that site already it makes sense. But rub rub rub, it's in Chigwell. Sorry - fucking Chigwell. OK Berriedale, but Chigwell sits behind it, leering down from its clusters of poorly built public housing. Upriver sits the Cadbury factory which is not some benign Willy Wonka Wonderland but a factory complex that glows, thumps, grinds and outgases with furious regularity. Downstream sits the old EZ smelter which no longer pumps heavy metals into the air and water, but makes fertilisers instead. Which is slightly less polluting. And on the northern side of the point that MONA is built upon sits a very large sewerage works. Discreetly behind tea trees hedges and fences, inaudible but olfactorily present when the wind blows right.

Bilbao and even Cockatoo Island have succeeded in assuring the middle classes that grimy industrial visages can be fun. But I suspect Walsh isn't about ironic intent - I think its a huge FUCK YOU flip of the bird. Working class antipathy to the middle and ruling classes in Tasmania is only matched by the near hysteria that pervades how thems that have view those that haven't. As someone who did time in the housing commission estates Walsh escaped, got educated and worse still made a hell of a lot of money. And then took to buying art; but not good art, oh no, not stolid Dutch masters or Papunya or Warhols by the roomful but modern art, contemporary art. Art so new the connoisseurs haven't worked out the con bit yet. What a dilemma. How or what are the chattering classes to think? And you have to go to him. All on his terms. Into a space that cuts you off from the day, plunges you into a high camp drama of dark corners, glimpsed illuminations, unlabelled works, disconnected walkways, illogical lifts, and a bar stocked with booze to lift the spirit or drown the sorrow, which ever may be your personal fancy. Like walking into the Hellfire Club for the first time really.

Should you visit it? Absolutely. If nothing else to dip your lid to a bloke who has done something none of the other monied types have done on such a scale. But it also points to the inadequacy of the contemporary art collections amongst our major collecting institutions.

Today I spent a half the day touring around with a co-Art School Survivor stickybeaking at the grad show at ANU as well as Craft ACT. Can't say this year's grad show is the best I've seen. Sculpture seemed to be the most interesting really which is always a worry, though the sausage sizzle installation was beyond reproach. Then off to Craft ACT which had an exhibition on called Elements. I'm not quite sure why of five pieces only 1 is a new work. Let's just say that Julie Ryder show, Companion Planting dealing with the work generated by her artist-in-residence at Hill End was just as wonderful and fab as her exhibitions always are. My colleague in art crime remarked that of all the craftspeople she has met or dealt with (and that's a lot) Julia is the epitome of professional, dedicated and with a constantly evolving practice. Go and see it. There were 3 pieces in the show that my response to was to do a little jig. You know that jig - the excited oh my god jig. And I still hadn't realised the show was Julie's at that point. So off you go.