Art Collector Issue 75 has hit the shelves. The 50 things collectors need to know in 2016 issue features profiles of standout shows and artists, trends and taste-makers. I’ve contributed pieces on up-and-coming photographer Ashleigh Garwood, and arts policy campaign #FreeTheArts. Get thee to a newsagent and get in on the action!
El Anatsui is making work about the primary concern of our age: the environmental catastrophe which has already begun to occur as a result of human impact on earth. His sourcing and handling of materials speaks to a resourcefulness humans have forgotten in a capitalist age of plenty, but sorely need in order to stave off impending doom. His gathering of materials and visual devices from his surroundings, and the subsequent giving-over of control of the display of his work to curatorial staff in each varied exhibition context, bring to mind a trust of local knowledge and ingenuity that perhaps is being eroded in the face of globalisation.
The mass movement of goods is of great interest to Ghanaian-born, Nigerian-based Anatsui, and the scale as well as minutiae of his work reflects this. His works incorporate quotidian objects and while some such as those adorning the bottle caps he favours will only be recognisable to those familiar with Anatsui’s home country, others such as the ubiquitous Milo logo transcend borders. Indeed, there are certainly map-like suggestions in Anatsui’s works. A topography emerges out of the many small objects he joins and presents en masse, and different techniques are sometimes used across the same piece, inhabiting their own nation-like states yet spilling into each other as the inhabitants of nation states tend to do.
At the media viewing at Carriageworks earlier this week, Anatsui said that when the work is finished on the studio floor, that’s not the end but rather the beginning of its life as a work of art. His studio is small relative to the spaces where his works are presented, enabling works to transform as they are spread out, wall-mounted and draped in ever-new ways (he doesn’t provide presentation instructions). He seemed genuinely pleased to see pieces from the last 50 years of his practice presented amongst the soaring industrial interior of Carriageworks, as well as the newly minted Schwartz Carriageworks gallery (the result of Anna Schwartz’s recent fiscal and spatial gift to the institution).
The bottle-cap works are inspired by the idea of textiles (a practice his own family is known for) and their flexibility seems a natural extension of this. However Anatsui’s approach more generally signifies a freedom he has sought from early in his career. While most artworks are fixed with the same image or posture for their lifetime, life itself is dynamic and Anatsui feels that art should have that property as well – to be able to adapt to its circumstances and suggest new things. He sees his work as creating data for others to use – a responsive approach perfectly suited to our current moment.
El Anatsui: Five Decades
Until 6 March 2016
Happy new year! The fuse for 2016 is well and truly lit, but before it rockets out of control I decided to crunch the numbers for 2015 and see how I fared in my second full year of freelance life. So here are the stats for the year that was:
49 interviews conducted
28 hours of audio transcribed
33,565 words published
60 articles & essays commissioned
1 exhibition curated
5 panel discussions facilitated
12 clients worked with
5 art fairs visited
2015 was also a year of firsts for me:
Facilitated a panel discussion – I threw myself in the deep end here, with the first of my Wandering Mind panel discussion series being included in the Vivid Ideas program and attracting an audience of 70 to Verge Gallery.
Wrote for an auction catalogue – I felt the pressure writing in this unfamiliar format but putting the works of formidable New Zealand painter Shane Cotton into context made it an enjoyable task.
Undertook a residency – I had a great time as Starving Curator in Residence at the Bearded Tit in Redfern, using the time to meet with artists and develop the exhibition ANIMAL/MINERAL/PHYSICAL/SPIRITUAL (and also drink wine and sample every cheese on the Tit’s excellent Jacuzzerie Boards).
Led an international tour group around Sydney galleries – I had a wonderful day with a group of arts lovers from New York’s Joyce Theatre visiting with Inzone Travel. The conversation ranged from contemporary art to Indigenous history to economic policy, and I’m proud to say I convinced a diehard Starbucks lover to enjoy a piccolo latte. (So hipster.)
Received a writing commission from overseas – I was commissioned to cover the Australian art market for Art Stage Singapore’s new publication Catalyst. I’m not great at goal-setting (those lessons in year 9 Personal Development class never really stuck) but being included in an international publication has long been an aspiration. Can’t wait for the finished product to be in the hands of fair-goers from across the Asia-Pacific!
My final commission for 2015 was another first, an interview with John Choi of architectural firm CHROFI for Vault Magazine. Choi and his colleague Tai Ropiha are the team behind the iconic TKTS red staircase at Times Square in Manhattan, and CHROFI recently co-designed Sydney’s Goods Line. I won’t lie; I was even more nervous than usual going into this interview. However our enjoyable and wide-ranging conversation confirmed for me that solid research and an open mind are key to understanding all manner of practices.
I covered such a range of contemporary culture and ideas in my work in 2015, and can’t wait to discover even more in 2016. I hope you’ve got an exciting year in store too!
Art Monthly produced a cracker summer feminism-themed issue, guest edited by Dr Susan Best and Louise Mayhew. The issue includes pieces on feminist curatorial practice, activist art and queer art, as well as a centrefold with a difference – Mayhew’s timeline of women’s art collectives in Australia.
Writing a feminism-focussed round-up of the year in Australian art gave me pause for thought about the nation’s attitude to women more generally, particularly in light of 2015’s political goings-on. While it was a relief to leave behind Tony Abbott, Minister for Women, Turnbull’s respect-for-women rhetoric seems at this point to be mostly just lip service to the issue.
Just as citizens have reclaimed phrases such as ‘Destroy the Joint‘ and ‘Binders full of Women‘ in recent times, Peter Dutton’s ‘Mad f***ing witch‘ comment has similarly energised people in 2016. It will be interesting to revisit this issue in 12 months’ time and see if and how we have evolved.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing the wonderful New Zealand-born, London-based artist Francis Upritchard for The Journal of Australian Ceramics. This issue, themed around colour, was guest-edited by Sydney artist Madeleine Preston.
It was great chatting with Francis and learning about the handmade pottery that surrounded her growing up, her accidental foray into a ceramics practice, and her current work breaking down boundaries between art, craft and design. Why are people unwilling to pay as much for a bowl as a painting?
The issue profiles many fantastic artists working in ceramics, including the excellent Apprentice Welder works by Yasmin Smith (written about by my Runway colleague Miriam Kelly). The cover stars are Lynda Draper and David Ray, whose works signify the playful, colourful tendencies in ceramics as it is currently being employed in contemporary art practice.
You can buy the issue in digital or hard copy, here.
Taking lyrics from the Joan Armatrading song Drop the pilot as a jumping-off point, ANIMAL/MINERAL/PHYSICAL/
The exhibition includes works on paper, sculpture, installation and video work by Rebecca Gallo, Sarah Goffman, Lisa Sammut, and Lotte Schwerdtfeger in collaboration with Louise Meuwissen.
I hope Sydneysiders and visitors are able to visit the exhibition either for this evening’s celebrations or at some point over the next six weeks.
The first regular writing gig I managed to wrangle once I’d made the leap into freelance life in late 2013, was with RAVEN Contemporary. I, along with a slew of great writers worked initially under Georgia Sholl and subsequent editor Rebecca Gallo to produce reviews, gallery guides and opinion pieces exploring the world of contemporary art in an accessible way.
RAVEN, published by 10 Group, was wound up at the end of June this year but has been archived so that its content can continue to be available for interested readers. If you haven’t explored it before (or even if you have), take the time to bookmark the new url and check out some of my recent highlights from some of RAVEN’s great writers:
I’ll miss writing for RAVEN, particularly the things I learned interviewing artists, researching galleries, and having the opportunity to cover Singapore Art Week. The experience had a profound impact on my development as an arts writer for which I’m very grateful.
The archive of the more than 20 pieces I wrote for RAVEN can be found here.
Hey, you. You’ve been to a few art galleries over the years. Some exhibitions you enjoyed, and some you didn’t. But they stayed with you, and made you think. Maybe it’s been a while and you’ve forgotten that buzz. You put exhibitions on your to-do list, only to have them slip by like the ghost of good time management past. Endless Instagram scrolling has made you forget what it’s like to experience art in the flesh. Well, it’s time to get back in the game. Here’s 10 reasons to visit an art gallery.
10. The best things in life are free
When the crumbs on your keyboard have been there so long they have become sentient and begun to develop social structures, it’s time to close the laptop and get out of the house. ‘But going outside is expensive,’ I hear you cry. Fear not, frugal friend. Life is not all pricey popcorn deals and nightmare half-yearly clearances. With the exception of the odd major blockbuster show at the big museums, looking at art is gloriously gratis.
9. You had me at hello, let’s check out an art show
Take the pressure off a first date by heading to an exhibition opening. You’ll be surrounded by other people, there is complementary alcohol on hand, and chatting about the art (whether it’s awesome or terrible) is a great icebreaker. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be more stimulating than shuffling along in front of the Mad Mex counter, or happy hour at your local.
8. Flying solo
No date? No plans? No worries. Get dressed up, get out of the house, and get thee to a gallery. If you’re feeling social, strike up a conversation with the person next to you about the art. It’s great networking practice for the introverted, and an ideal outlet for the chatty and opinionated.
7. Eight days of the week
At any given moment, somewhere in the world, someone is smashing a bag of ice on the floor, tipping it into a bucket of stubbies, and throwing open the doors to an exhibition opening. If you live within cooee of a metro area, this means unlimited mid-week evening entertainment options. Get on the mailing lists, get out there and leave the binge-watching behind.
6. Cool and the gang
At some point, you will need to find something to talk to your friends about other than Game of Thrones. Before you ask, Better Call Saul doesn’t count. Broaden your horizons, baby! Impress your pals with tales of the weird and wonderful art you’ve seen – and ask them to join you next time.
5. The slow gift movement
Thanks to mass production and online shopping, there are no original ideas in the gift-giving game anymore – except art. Everybody wins when you give art – the artist can keep working, the gallery can keep their doors open, your friend gets a truly original present, and you get a promotion in the friend stakes. Don’t stop there, turn the tables! Start dropping hints now in advance of your next birthday.
4. Open your mind
Artists are influenced by everything under the sun, from science to philosophy to sport to the internet. They find interesting, exciting and strange new ways of looking at and thinking about the world, and their work can cause you to do the same. If you’re experiencing a mental block, there’s no better way to shake things up than to check out some art.
3. In the flesh
Instagram is a great way to find out what’s going on, and gallery websites are fantastic resources to learn about artists, but it’s not how art is intended to be experienced. Scale, dimension, colour, light, sound, and movement can’t be replicated through a screen, or even a catalogue. Not to mention missing out on a discussion with your friend about the show, or that funny snippet of art-speak you overheard on the other side of the room.
2. Act local
Do you like your neighbourhood vibrant, with friendly residents and businesses that support each other? If you answered no to the above, then I believe the internet may be able to provide you with all you need in life. Otherwise, find out where your local galleries are, get on their mailing lists, drop in regularly, and tell your friends and neighbours. Community is organic, like those overpriced vegies that go off quickly.
1. Heal your soul [insert foot pun here]
Like a lot of people, I spend a fair amount of time staring at a computer screen, out a bus window, or at the footpath. Thanks to art, in just the past few weeks I’ve also seen huge welded steel sculptures made by a 99-year-old; painstaking Indian miniatures in a re-purposed suburban building; a metal box turned into an interactive sound generator with the use of magnets; drawings made with wire mesh; video works featuring clones; and deliciously gestural abstract paintings. Art surprises, confuses, delights, makes you think, makes you squirm, and asks questions that can’t be answered by googling Wikipedia. It makes the brain better and the soul bigger. I don’t know what I’d do without it, and that’s why I keep going to galleries. What about you?
This year I’m organising a series of panel discussions at the University of Sydney’s Verge Gallery. Under the umbrella title The Wandering Mind: Creativity and Lifelong Learning, I hope to interrogate some of this town’s best and brightest about their approaches to creative problem solving.
Things are kicking off on Wednesday 27 May at 6pm with The Structure of Creative Practice. I’ve always been intrigued by how all these talented people I know manage to do creative work without sending their creative instinct off the rails. Now, I get to put them on a stage and make them tell me!
I’ll be joined by writer & producer Kate Britton, and artists Emily Hunt and Garry Trinh. It should be a fantastic evening – if you’re in town, please come along and join the discussion. You can register here – it’s free (and part of Vivid Ideas, to boot)!
Today I found myself watching a replay on ABC News 24 of Simon Mordant’s National Press Club Address. Mordant was discussing the new Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the fundraising for which was spearheaded by Mordant and his wife Catriona.
‘I’d like to see Cate Blanchett & Fiona Hall given ticker-tape parades through the city, the way we do for sportspeople,’ he said. The audience laughed, a telling reaction – Mordant’s proposal seems logical yet profoundly unlikely.
At one point a journalist posed a question to Mordant about the declining media landscape in Australia, and the lack of coverage for the arts. In a profoundly ironic move, ABC News 24 chose the moment of Mordant’s answer to this question to cut into the replay in order to cross to a live press conference held by the National Rugby League, regarding hoon spectators throwing bottles during a football game the night before.
Unfortunately I’m not expecting to see Fiona Hall driven down George St in a cloud of confetti any time soon.