I was disappointed by the exhibition I’d been anticipating at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but I was delighted by the unexpected.
it is an impressive and unexpected statistic that art event attendance in Australia is higher that sporting event attendance. I have been told this statistic by two people and have decided not to investigate it as I like it. The Saturday ticketing queue for the Frida Kahlo/Diego Riviera exhibition and The Archibald Prize (the Australian equivalent of the UK’s BP Portrait Award, but without the controversial sponsor ). On the way to the counter, my friend and I occupied our time talking about death because there’s been a lot of it since we last saw each other.
Once in the Kahlo-Riviera exhibition, we shuffled along in a funereal conga with the snake of people stopping and staring at each image for long enough to justify their $19 entrance fee. Turning a corner, I expected to see a room full of paintings, as there had been few so far, but instead it was the sofas of finality that are found opposite a couple of screens showing short documentaries.
The exhibition was informative, but disappointingly slight when it came to artworks. I enjoyed finding out that Kahlo’s parents were shocked by her much older husband, considering him to be like Brueghel. (picture below is Brueghel the Elder, though they might have meant the younger)
“It was like a marriage between an elephant and a dove”
I also found out what chromophore and auxochrome mean.
Walking through the galleries of Australian art, I started working on my dissection of why the art that pleases me does that, but I am without the language to define it.
Why do I prefer Lloyd Rees’s The Road to Berry (below) to Margaret Preston’s Grey Day in the Ranges?
And why do I prefer Grey Day in The Ranges (below) to Lina Bryan’s End of the Road?
And how does it help me if I ever do work that out?
Down the escalator was where the real treats (subjective treats obviously) were projected or hung.
Tracey Moffatt’s Love (mentioned in my MCA post) was playing. As we sat and watched the skilfully edited arc of cinematic lust, love, betrayal and death, testing each other’s film buff memories, I wondered how these names hide in your head for so long, but can be ready when confronted with the right image. As her second montage piece, Other, began, a face came on the screen. It was Jeff Chandler (best remembered for 1950’s Broken Arrow). I am not sure I have ever said his name aloud before, but there it was. While I struggle to remember the names of people I know in a non-celluloid reality, leading to all manner of social bluffing, I am safe in the knowledge that should the ghost of the long-dead Jeff Chandler be at an event, my recall will be intact.
The walls all had Moffatt’s photographic work Laudanum 1-19.
The sequence is inspired by Losey’s The Servant and Nosferatu. The series either looks like a vision of reality observed by a ghost, or the observation of ghosts by someone quite alive. It also has that grainy black and white reminiscent of attempting to capture a dream. After watching The Elephant Man when I was 12, I woke up the next day uncertain of whether I had really seen it and whether I had made up further scenes when I was sleeping (I think Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is beginning to affect my mind).
John Carpenter’s dreams broadcast from an alien intelligence in Prince of Darkness achieves a similar sensation.
The standout of this trip was Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto, a collaboration with Cate Blanchett. This is a series of thirteen films, each one representing a collection of artists’ manifestos.
It starts with sparks and Marx, “all that is sold melts into air” and then each further screen reflects a story where the protagonist speaks the words of artists.
“this culture will not be dominated by the need to leave traces”
A whiskered hobo drags his trolley through the remains of a power station. (foolishly, i forgot to note down the manifesto title of this one)
For futurism the camera glides above row upon row of shoulder to shoulder stockbrokers watching the market with intent.
For Creationism (as in Creacionismo, not as in “god made the bats and beagles”), a drunken, tattooed rocker spouts – “to the electric chair with Chopin…who raised the question of sincerity”.
I was particularly taken by the well-stencilled tattoo of Peter Lorre on her upper arm.
“My madness has not been reckoned with”
Dadaism is a funeral eulogy with a cameo from an Afghan Hound.
“Logic is a complication. Logic is always wrong.”
Surrealism is in a room brimming with puppets of political leaders, thinkers and stars, their glass eyes beady and dead.
Pop Art is a family sunday roast with grace replaced by the words of Claes Oldenburg.
The funniest is Conceptual art presented by a glamorous new anchor in discussion with a reporter in the rain. Film, mxing manifestos of Von Trier, Jarmusch, Herzog and Stan Brakhage, has Blanchett as a teacher instructing a class of eight year olds on the necessities of cinema.
“I want you to remember what Jean Luc Godard said,’It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them too’”
Each one is beautifully shot. Blanchett is magnificent. The manifestos are forthright, intriguing, and at sometimes pompous. They often read like a drunk at his most confident, ready to take on the world before the hangover sets in. It can be the artist as ubermensch, spitting at the passers-by as he waves his brushes and best collage scissors. These are bravura performances.
I feel like writing a manifesto now, pass me a bottle of whiskey and a dictionary…
Book Shambles podcasts which include episodes with Mark Gatiss, Geoff Dyer, Sara Pascoe, Lisa Dwan and Brian Cox, are HERE
A new horror anthology with stories by Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Josie Long, me and many more is available now