Saturday, December 08, 2012

Vale Oscar Niemeyer

Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho 
December 15, 1907 – December 5, 2012)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Vale Harry Wedge

Harold James (HJ) Wedge

Photograph © Greg Weight, 1993
Courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Australian artnotes November/December 2012

David Corbet's Australian artnotes appear in edited form in Art Monthly Australia

Above: Tony Albert Pay Attention, 2012, exhibited at unDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial, NGA Canberra, courtesy the artist and NGA.

This last column for the year is a good time to look both back and forward, so here’s a personal take on 2012 and beyond. 2013 is an election year, and pessimists point to recent savage cuts to arts funding, by the incoming NSW and QLD governments, as a foretaste of the Federal Coalition approach, should they win national government. The record suggests this fear may be overstated – Australia enjoys a remarkable bipartisan consensus around arts funding and no sudden shocks are expected either way. The conventional wisdom is that Labour takes the Arts vote for granted, whereas the Opposition knows they have to court it assiduously but quietly. For arts administrators continuity, index linked, is the name of the game.

Bricks and mortar
In terms of new spaces, the big addition was the new-look MCA Australia, re-booted in April as a de facto national museum. This follows a strong run of building in recent years – Brisbane’s GoMA, the NGA Canberra’s new wing, Hobart’s MONA and the AGNSW’s new Kaldor galleries. MONA, designed by Nona Katsalidis, won the Australian Institute of Architects’ coveted Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture 2012. Due for completion in early-mid 2013 are UNSW’s new COFA galleries in Sydney, and stage 1 of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s redevelopment. In Sydney ground was broken on the Barangaroo precinct and the ‘hollow hill’ of the northern Headland Park will contain a massive (and so-far vaguely-defined) underground ‘cultural space’. This site has long been championed as an ideal one for a National Indigenous Museum or Cultural Centre, but its underground setting would send all the wrong signals. A stand-alone new building in Barangaroo central appears more likely, situated in a ‘living’ zone of apartments and businesses. This is closer to the National Trust’s alternative vision, which envisaged a cruise ship terminal and a Cultural Centre near the water. It would also be within shouting distance of James Packer’s new 6-star Crown hotel and high-roller casino, if he gets his way, which seems likely. Maybe the penny will drop and Packer, who has made much of his commitment to Indigenous employment, will realise that the way to sweeten the deal is to pay for a new Indigenous Cultural Centre – at say $60 million it would be just a fraction of the 1 billion plus cost of the new hotel. 2015-19 is the completion period for the precinct.

International blockbusters have had a robust year, particularly at State gallery level, with fierce competition between the capitals to secure the biggest crowd-pullers. The most popular offerings still tend to be pre-20th century, and there is a trend towards borrowing their contents while overseas museums are undergoing redevelopment. Following the runaway success of the 2010/11 Musée d’Orsay loan-show Masterpieces from Paris, the NGA followed up with Renaissance (from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo) and is now showing Toulouse-Lautrec (until 15 April 2013). The NGV International showed Napoleon: Revolution to Empire; The Mad Square; and currently Radiance: The Neo-Impressionists (until 17 March 2013), and has announced a mid-2013 blockbuster – Monet’s Garden: The Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris (10 May - 25 Aug). AGNSW’s big-ticket loan show in 2012 was Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris and currently Francis Bacon: Five Decades (until 24 Feb 2013). These expensive imports fall under a NSW state government initiative: the Sydney International Art Series (SIAS), and the MCA Australia hosts the other part of this: Anish Kapoor (until 1 April 2013). The MCA has already announced its next SIAS offering: War Is Over! (if you want it): Yoko Ono, curated by Rachel Kent (14 November 2013 – 23 February 2014). Other upcoming MCA highlights are: South of No North - Laurence Aberhart, William Eggleston, Noel McKenna (8 March – 5 May); Jeff Wall Photographs (1 May – 28 July); and Wangechi Mutu (23 May – 11 August). Perth’s AGWA secured a 6-exhibition partnership with New York’s MoMA until 2015, with the first instalment, Picasso to Warhol, on show until 3 December 2012. Next up in 2013 is Picturing New York (16 Jan – 12 May) followed by Van Gogh to Richter (22 June – 2 December). QAG/GoMA’s major 2012 import was Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado.

It has been a very big year for bi/triennials: AGSA’s Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art; the NGA’s undisclosed: National Indigenous Art Triennial; the Biennale of Sydney (BoS); the Tarrawarra Biennial and QAG/GoMA’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT, 8 Dec – 14 April 2013). In addition there was significant Australian participation in Germany’s Documenta and China’s Shanghai Biennale. Simryn Gill will represent Australia at the 2013 Venice Biennale, curated by Belgian Catherine de Zegher (co-curator of BoS 18), also curator of the 5th Moscow Biennale in 2013, which is expected to include a number of Australian artists. BoS 18 established a new attendance record for an Australian contemporary art exhibition, although APT figures may exceed these by April next year.

Urban Australians have other opportunities to see international contemporary art. Alongside the major National and State institutions, funded entities like ACCA (Melbourne), PICA (Perth), CACSA and AEAF (Adelaide), IMA (Brisbane) and the 4A Centre (Sydney) consistently present interestimg new work. The University galleries augment this, aided by some of the more adventurous Regional galleries. On the export side, apart from biennials, Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly is currently showing Aux Sources de la Peinture Aborigène (Central Desert), curated by Judith Ryan (NGV) and Philipp Batty (Melbourne Museum) until 20 January 2013. BALGO showed in Havana, Cuba and Message Stick: Indigenous Identity in Urban Australia, toured the Pacific and Africa. Lie of the Land: New Australian Landscapes was at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, and Healy and Cordeiro showed Are we there yet? at the city’s Corcoran Gallery. Two overseas institutions dedicated to Australian Indigenous art continue to present a varied program: The Kluge-Ruhe Collection in Charottesville, Virginia and the privately-benefacted Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art (AAMU) in Utrecht (Netherlands). There was increased participation by Australian commercial galleries at regional art fairs, with Art Hong Kong asserting itself as by far the most important fair in the Asia Pacific region. Michael Reid exhibited in Berlin and Janet Clayton in Beijing.

Private patronage
Along with MONA in Hobart, Sydney’s privately-funded White Rabbit and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) continued to present international contemporary art at the highest level. White Rabbit celebrated its third anniversary with Double Take, a ‘greatest hits’ show, and SCAF presented Janet Laurence After Eden; Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan In-Habit: Project Another Country; and Go Figure! Contemporary Chinese Portraiture (in conjunction with NPG Canberra). Australia’s longest-established independent art patron, Kaldor Public Art Projects, mounted Project 25: Thomas Demand (The Dailies, MLC Centre, Sydney); Project 26: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Stop, Repair, Prepare, State Library of Victoria); and announced Project 27 (13 Rooms, Walsh Bay, Sydney) for early 2013. Melbourne has a new ‘private presenter’ in the form of Matthias Arndt, who will present ‘museum-quality artists in unconventional settings outside the traditional white cube space’. While he continues to run his eponymous Berlin gallery, he is now based in Melbourne and his first show of over 90 works, titled Migration Melbourne, runs at Ormond Hall until 15 December.

The market
The best that can be said about the art market in 2012 is that very few dealers actually went to the wall. Despite some new records, auction results overall were lacklustre, and smaller commercial galleries continue to do it tough. Many will tell you that ‘quality works’ have no problem finding buyers, particularly at the premium end. It is the emergent and early career market (works under $5k) that is having the worst time of it, and this of course impacts on secondary sales. For a decade until 2008/9, young professionals with rapidly appreciating real estate drove this sector, and they just aren’t spending like they used to. The pressure on gallery prices is noticeable – art by early-career Australian artists remains very competitively priced by world standards, and shrewd buyers should do well when the resale market recovers, but don’t hold your breath. Pessimists blame two local factors for the ‘otherwise inexplicable’ doldrums – the Federal Resale Royalty Scheme, and the tightening of rules for self-managed superannuation funds, but there is little evidence to suggest these are significant factors. No-one really knows why people are being so tight-fisted, but the same trend is visible in retail markets generally – a new Zeitgeist of caution and paying down debt. It is fortunate that Australia offers relatively good support to young artists through a combination of city, state and Federal funding mechanisms, because the commercial market doesn’t look like making a strong comeback in 2013.

Arts policy
2012 has been something of a waiting game for policy wonks, with the outcomes of multiple reports and policy reviews still in the pipeline. The most-awaited of many is undoubtedly the Federal Government’s National Cultural Policy, mooted for 2012 but looking increasingly unlikely as the year ticks away. Harold Mitchell delivered some sensible, if hardly revolutionary, recommendations in his Review of Private Sector Support for the Arts. Gabrielle Trainor and Angus James’ Review of the Australia Council for the Arts proposed among 18 key recommendations that Ozco focus on nurturing ‘excellence’, and that arts programs that exist primarily to provide access should be managed and funded by the Federal Arts Department, separating ‘access from excellence’. Unexpectedly, Minister Crean responded by allocating responsibility for all Federal touring programs (Playing Australia, Visions of Australia, Festivals Australia, the Contemporary Music Touring Program, Contemporary Touring Initiative and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy) to Ozco, which will no doubt mean major staffing-up at Ozco’s Sydney HQ. The Federal Government’s Asian Century White Paper has been broadly welcomed, but deemed short on specifics. According to Ozco the paper ‘lays out a series of pathways for Australian arts, artists and cultural institutions to play a pivotal role in building our relationships and networks across our region’, an admirable sentiment, and about as vague as you can get. ACARA has competed the consultation period for the Draft Australian Curriculum: The Arts, with revisions expected in February 2013.

Monday, September 03, 2012

dOCUMENTA (13) Alter Bahnhof Video Walk

Jane Cardiff & George Bures Miller amazing work at Kassel’s central railway station, the Hauptbahnhof. Titled Alter Bahnhof Video Walk

Monday, August 06, 2012

Vale Gore Vidal

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal
October 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Australian artnotes: July

Above: Jeff Wall, Boxing, 2011, courtesy the artist and White Cube, London.
Midyear meditation
The solstice is a time to reflect, to come to rest after a peripatetic summer and autumn. Nationally, it has been a busy time across most visual arts genres, but especially for contemporary art. MONA (Hobart) celebrated its first anniversary in January, with the second edition of MONA FOMA, some new commissions, and an impressive Wim Delvoye survey packing in the crowds. Despite trouble with the tax office, David Walsh’s idiosyncratic private museum in June opened another excellent show: Theatre of the World (until 8 Apr 2013). Other cities have been jealously eyeing ‘Hobart’s Bridgeclimb’, but Adelaide in March took solace in an excellent Biennale of Australian Art, combined with a thought-provoking International, and Deadly at Tandanya, all part of Paul Grabowsky’s Adelaide Festival swan-song. Fremantle and Perth hosted the 5th biennial FotoFreo, followed-up by Jeff Wall Photographs (until 10 September), and AGWA announced a major 6-exhibition partnership with New York’s MoMA until 2015, with the first instalment, Picasso to Warhol, on show until 3 December 2012. Melbourne’s ACMI hosted the major William Kentridge survey Five Themes, and the NGA Canberra delivered a compact National Indigenous Art Triennial. The touring show Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route (jointly developed by NMA Canberra and Form WA) continued its tour with a popular run at the Australian Museum. In April Sydney suddenly woke to a redeveloped MCA Australia and they love it, extravagantly – visitor numbers for its inaugural exhibitions program surpassed all expectations. The MCA, AGNSW and Cockatoo Island are currently major venues for the 18th Biennale of Sydney (until 16 Sep), and the response is mainly positive – co-curators Gerald McMaster and Catherine de Zegher have successfully built on a strong run of Biennales to deliver a subtle and multi-layered event that repays thoughtful exploration. Still eagerly awaited is QAG/GoMA’s Asia Pacific Triennial in December. 

Musical chairs
A high-level institutional re-shuffle saw Michael Brand succeed Edmund Capon at AGNSW, QAG/GoMA’s Tony Ellwood replace Gerard Vaughan at NGV, and Vaughan’s predecessor Timothy Potts (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge UK) appointed director of the Getty Centre in Los Angles, a job once held by Brand. An announcement of Ellwood’s replacement in Brisbane is expected soon. Kevin Sumption replaced Mary-Louise Williams at the ANMM Sydney, and Christine Morrow took over from Domenico de Clario at Adelaide’s AEAF. At board level, Tim Fairfax stepped in as interim Chair of the NGA council, replacing Rupert Myer, a role that had been predicted to go to long-serving NGV council president Allan Myers, who was expected to make way for Naomi Milgrom (see Artnotes March). This didn’t happen – Myers stayed on, noses are out of joint, and the NGV board has closed ranks around the matter. Rupert Myer takes over from James Strong as Ozco chair, Robyn Archer is deputy chair, and Lee-Ann Buckskin is the new chair of Ozco’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board. 

Australia offshore
When it comes to major cultural exports it hasn’t been a headline year, however good things happen below the radar. It is Australian Indigenous art and culture that mainly excites the rest of the world, and Kevin Rudd as both PM and Foreign Minister initiated a program of cultural diplomacy aimed at previously neglected Latin America and African countries, in support of his campaign for a UN Security Council seat. In February the Australian Journey Festival travelled to Havana, Cuba, presenting BALGO: Contemporary Australian Art from the Balgo Hills, alongside exhibitions by Indigenous photographer Wayne Quilliam, and Victorian artist, Maree Clarke. Message Stick: Indigenous Identity in Urban Australia, developed by Artbank and DFAT, has toured the Pacific and is now making its way around Africa with appearances in Cape Town, The Seychelles, Port Louis, Harare, Nairobi and Abuja. The Australian Embassy in Washington DC presented Lie of the Land: New Australian Landscapes, and Healy and Cordeiro showed Are we there yet? at the city’s Corcoran Gallery of Art. Simryn Gill was announced as Australia’s representative for the 2013 Venice Biennale and a new pavilion, designed by Denton Corker Marshall, will be ready for the 2015 event. 8 Australian artists are included in this year’s Documenta in Germany. 

Ozco supports the participation of many individual artists at such international events, but our cultural attachés around the world frequently bemoan the dearth of DFAT resources to mount exhibitions at embassy spaces and other venues. Offshore private museums and well-endowed universities often take up the slack, and Indigenous artists are again the focus of international interest. In Utrecht, Netherlands, the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art (AAMU), founded by a group of benefactors including Hans Sondaal, a former Ambassador to Australia, has since 2001 presented an astonishing range of exhibitions covering many aspects of Australian Indigenous art. Currently showing (until 9 December) is Outsider / Insider: The art of Gordon Bennett. In the USA the University of Virginia’s Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection has an ambitious program of exhibitions and residencies. Currently on show is History in the Making: Aboriginal Art of the Twentieth Century, and Jason Wing’s People of Substance (until 26 August). At the UVa Art Museum are paintings by Ramingining artist Johnny Liwangu, and elsewhere at UVa are prints from the heron island suite series by Judy Watson, and textual works by Vernon Ah Kee. 

Australian commercial galleries continued their offshore offensive at the India Art Fair, Art Stage Singapore and Art Hong Kong but had a much lower profile at the prestige USA and European fairs, with Auckland’s Michael Lett gallery the only Antipodean participant at Art Basel 2012. Anna Schwartz and Auckland’s Starkwhite made the cut for New York’s Armory Show, but no-one from the region was selected for the inaugural Frieze NY (April), or the established Frieze London in October. Acceptance into next year’s re-branded Art Basel Hong Kong is expected to be very competitive in the face of heavyweight northern participation. The Melbourne Art Fair returns from August 1-5, and Sydney will get a new event, the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair in April 2013. 

From the capital
Following recent visits to Afghanistan by Shaun Gladwell and Ben Quilty, the Australian War Memorial in May commissioned Indigenous Queensland artist Tony Albert for a tour of duty with the North West Mobile Unit (NORFORCE) to observe and record its activities in Northern Australia. No exhibition details have been announced but the results are sure to be fascinating. 

The National Museum of Australia presents Menagerie: Contemporary Indigenous Sculpture in Australia (until 14 October) featuring over 30 established and emerging artists whose work depicts animals. The National Library of Australia presents Lewin: Wild Art, (until 28 October) featuring the work of John William Lewin (1770-1819), described as ‘the first free professional artist’ to settle in Australia. The National Portrait Gallery’s Elegance in exile: portrait drawings from colonial Australia, runs until 16 August, and several of its exhibitions are touring the country: The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is at Moree Plains Gallery (NSW) until 12 August; Beyond the Self: Contemporary Portraiture from Asia is at SAMSTAG (Adelaide) until 5 October; Skater:
Portraits by Nikki Toole is at Geelong Gallery (VIC) until 9 September. 

NAVA’s Federal campaign
NAVA has launched a new campaign to ask the Federal Government to mandate the payment of loan and commission fees for artists when their work is shown in publicly funded galleries or major public exhibitions or events. On behalf of the sector, NAVA is requesting that the payment level be required to accord with arts industry best practice standards as published in the Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts, Craft and Design Sector. You can sign a petition at:

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Australian Art Notes: June

 Pierre Huyghe at dOCUMENTA (13) - detail of installation in Karlsaue Park: "Live things and inanimate things, made and not made"

dOCUMENTA (13) update
Europe’s prestigious quinquennial contemporary art event is underway in Kassel, Germany (until 16 September). The final list of participants, kept under wraps until the press preview, includes a record 8 Australian artists: Gordon Bennett, Simryn Gill, Fiona Hall, Stuart Ringholt, the late Margaret Preston, the late Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Warwick Thornton, Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and Australia-based Hazara artist Khadim Ali. Indigenous curator Hetti Perkins worked closely with Artistic Director Christov-Bakargiev as part of a core group of international curators, and a several other Australian writers and thinkers are also featured (see Artnotes May). Australia is currently marking its 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Germany, however plans to create a significant celebratory event in Kassel seem to have fallen over for unexplained reasons. Instead, a pleasant, low-key gathering for participating artists and other luminaries was hosted by Sydney’s MCA Australia, and was attended by Australian Ambassador Peter Tesch and other diplomatic staff. The response from the many Australian collectors, curators, gallerists and non-participating artists gathered in Kassel, many residing and/or promoting Australian art in Europe, was a kind of resigned cynicism – the feeling was that Ozco/DFAT had squibbed a major networking and promotional opportunity. Perhaps the $143k that Ozco dispensed for the Australian participants was considered enough. Such gripes were soon forgotten however, with dOCUMENTA’s Australian-born Media Director, Terry Harding, welcoming one and all to a spectacular launch party held at Kassel’s railway station, into the small hours. The sprawling and atmospheric Hauptbanhof is also the site of some of dOCUMENTA’s most exciting installations (see full review in next issue).

Ozco review
Responses to the Australia Council Review Report have now closed, with final recommendations expected in coming months. Under the proposals, Ozco would have four redefined roles: to support work of excellence; to promote an arts sector that is distinctively Australian: to ensure that the work it supports has an audience or market, and to maximise the social and economic contribution made by the arts sector to Australia. The 18 key recommendations, by Gabrielle Trainor and Angus James, have a renewed focus on ‘excellence’, and significant implications for future allocation of Ozco funding. Major arts companies would also have to pass the excellence test, and community programs that exist primarily to provide access – i.e. many artist-in-residence, Indigenous and arts-health programs – would be managed and funded by the Federal Arts Department. Trainor told media “We have tried to provide a filter which separates access from excellence. The role of the Australia Council is to support work that is excellent, while other government departments support work that has primarily social outcomes”. The Review proposes an extra $21+ million annually for new models of funding, including $15 million of new funding for ‘unfunded excellence’, i.e. work the Council currently considers good enough to fund but does not have the money to support. This is really just another way of saying that Ozco is underfunded for the work is does.

Indigenous Arts Fellowship
Congratulations to ‘digital native’ Jenny Fraser, who has been awarded a fellowship worth $90k over two years. Fraser will use the funds to develop her cross-media project, Midden, which will ‘celebrate unsung heroes and previously unspoken events, incorporating installation, screen-based and performance elements to enhance, reframe and remix stories, creating new ways of engaging audiences’. 

MCA Australia attendance record
When the new-look MCA’s inaugural exhibitions (Marking Time, Christian Marclay: The Clock and Local Positioning Systems) closed in early June, a record-smashing 264,625 visitors had visited. The busiest day had  an extraordinary 8,233 visitors. Equally busy days are expected to continue, with the gallery now hosting a major part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney, running until 16 September.

NGA news
The National Gallery of Australia has announced its summer blockbuster: Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge (from 14 December), featuring over 120 paintings, posters and drawings. The NGA has secured loans from 35 international collections such as the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Courtauld and Tate (London) and El Museo de art Thyssen Bornemisza (Madrid). Works will also be drawn from the NGA’s own collection of Toulouse-Lautrec prints and posters, the most extensive in Australia, many of which will be shown for the first time. The exhibition, which will not travel elsewhere, is expected to boost NGA attendance figures for its crucial summer season, attracting significant interstate and international visitation. The Gallery will once again have timed ticketing, which proved very successful during the recent Renaissance exhibition. In other news Arts Minister Simon Crean announced the appointment of Catherine Harris to the NGA Council, and artist Callum Morton was reappointed for a second 3-year term.

Experimenta 2012
Experimenta has announced the participants for its 5th International Biennial of Media Art (14 September – 17 November, RMIT Gallery and other venues across Melbourne, then touring). Experimenta: Speak to Me will showcase emerging and experimental artworks by leading media artists from across the world. The line-up includes Ryoko Aoki & Zon Ito (Japan), Sylvie Blocher (France), Natalie Bookchin (USA), Johan Grimonprez (Belgium), Shih Chieh  Huang (Taiwan), Hiroshi  Ishiguro (Japan), Meiro  Koizumi (Japan),  Scenocosme (France), Nobuhiro Shimura (Japan), Kenji Suzuki (Japan), and Takayuki Yamamoto (Japan). Australian artists include Philip Brophy, Grant Stevens, Archie Moore, Kate Murphy, Charlie Sofo, Priscilla Bracks Tristan Jalleh, Dominic Redfern, Eugenia Lim, Soda_Jerk, Nina Ross and Gavin Sade. Experimenta will also present five newly commissioned artworks by Australian artists Christopher Fulham, Jess MacNeil, Wade Marynowsky, Katie Turnbull and Ian Burns. Also announced was a major commission in partnership with Federation Square, to present a large-scale work by renowned Seoul-based artists Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

NBN and the arts
A comprehensive report outlining how the NBN will affect the way the arts in Australia will be practised, delivered and consumed is available on artsHub. The report contains examples of early initiatives like Trove, the composite archive of Australia’s heritage from the National Library of Australia and more than 1,000 libraries and institutions all across the country.

The National Museum of Australia, Canberra, will host NAIDOC on the Peninsula (Sunday 1 July 2012, 10:30am – 3:30pm)  – an annual event presented as part of a week of celebrations across Australia. Join Museum curators and Indigenous hosts on highlight tours of the First Australians gallery. Enjoy music, dance, community stalls and food outside in the forecourt, as well as craft activities in the Hall.

Federal funds for Albury
The Federal Government has announced its will contribute $3.5 million towards the redevelopment of the Albury (NSW) Art Gallery. Mayor Alice Glachan sais the project involves a major refurbishment and expansion of the gallery ‘that will ensure it fulfils its role as the premier cultural centre for the region and a driver of economic growth’.

David Corbet's National Artnotes appear in edited form in Art Monthly Australia (

Friday, May 25, 2012

Letter from Hong Kong

Above: © Choi Jeong Hwa, site-specific installation, Art Hong Kong 2012, photo David Corbet

Next year The Hong Kong International Art Fair (ArtHK) will be re-branded Art Basel Hong Kong, and is widely judged to have hit the big time in 2012. With 266 exhibitors from 38 countries, this is now one of the world's largest fairs, and looks set to grow even larger. For major galleries worldwide it has already joined Art Basel (Basel and Miami), Frieze (London) and Armory week (NY) as an essential event. For the big players, not to exhibit at ArtHK will henceforth not be an option.

The prestige fairs are as much about networking as floor sales, and by any measure ArtHK12’s celebrity quotient was considerable. Coming between the inaugural Frieze NY (4-7 May) and the venerable Art Basel (14-17 June), some major gallerists evidently sent their B-teams to ArtHK, but increasingly celebrity artists are encouraged to attend these events. John Baldessari’s much-quoted comment that hanging around your gallerist’s booth is “like watching your parents having sex” may still hold true but, outside of the vernissage, the booths are not where the real action is. What matters are the numerous cocktail parties, lunches, dinners, after-after parties and harbour cruises laid on by galleries and wealthy individuals, and entrée to these is in high demand. At ArtHK12 the privileged could rub shoulders with Maurizio Cattelan, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Kosuth, Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami, Pipilotti Rist, Luc Tuymans and Jeff Wall, along with many lesser luminaries. The big fairs also attract influential museum directors and curators, and Australians Elizabeth Ann MacGregor (MCA Australia), Melissa Chiu (Asia Society NY) and Aaron Seeto (4A Centre Sydney) joined the likes of Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine London), Klaus Biesenbach (MoMA PS1 New York), Philippe Vergne (Dia NY) and Sam Keller (Fondation Beyeler Switzerland). Added to these were a host of private museum owners, a fast-growing phenomenon worldwide, but especially in Asia. These included Judith and Paris Neilson (White Rabbit Sydney) Guy Ullens (Ullens Centre Beijing) and François Pinault (Paris).

In a recent New Yorker piece, Peter Schjeldahl characterised the phenomenal rise of art fairs as the commercial dealers’ counter-offensive against the growing market share of the auction houses which, at around $30 billion, now accounts for half of all fine art sales worldwide. Less noted are the ways in which the quality fairs also challenge the role of contemporary art museums and biennales, commissioning ambitious site-specific works from renowned artists, usually in conjunction with major commercial galleries. ArtHK12 presented 10 such ‘Projects’ curated by Yuko Hasegawa (MCA Tokyo). These included major installations by Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei, Shen Shaomin, Yin Xiuzhen, Tatsuo Miyajama, Choi Jeong Hwa, Daniel Buren and José Patrício. These offerings were hugely popular with the throngs of fair-goers, and the dense crowds of ordinary HK families was a phenomenon in itself – testament to the growing ‘entertainment’ value of contemporary art. ArtHK12 drew an impressive 67,000 visitors over its four days, yielding a daily figure far exceeding the wildest dreams of the world’s most popular blockbusters. The large, mixed booths of the major galleries appeared less of a draw than the 49-strong Asia One section, where smaller and middleweight galleries each presented the work of a single artist. Australia had a strong presence here, including Damien Minton (showing Peter Gardiner), Nellie Castan (Bindi Cole), Ryan Renshaw (Martin Smith), Tolarno (Brendan Huntley), Tim Olsen (Sophie Cape), Sullivan & Strumpf (Alex Seton) and Tristan Koenig (Karen Black). The Futures section, featuring artists under the age of 35, was also very popular and included Anna Pappas Gallery (Sue Dodd and Michaela Gleave) and Neon Parc (Viv Miller and Katherine Huang). All reported brisk business.

From the exhibitors’ point of view the crowds, though gratifying, are more of an irritant than an advantage, requiring constant vigilance and distracting attention from potential buyers. The conventional wisdom with art fairs is that most business is done at the VIP/collector previews before the public opening, however ArtHK seems to be different, with many exhibitors reporting sustained buyer interest throughout the four days. All the booths featured a small storage room, which were firmly closed once the public surged in, but opened during VIP hours to reveal discreet arrays of massively valuable works – I saw many Picassos, numerous Warhols, a minor Léger and even a small Courbet landscape, some with asking prices in the high seven figures. The status of such historical works is unclear – whether owned by the exhibitors, or opportunistically shipped over on behalf of private sellers – it was certainly interesting to see so many significant Picassos still in private hands.

Many contemporary artists have multiple representation and some appeared ubiquitous. A good number of booths featured shiny Tony Cragg sculptures, and works by Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Louise Bourgeois and Damien Hirst were also a common sight. Many galleries simply ship over a selection from the stockroom, and in the main galleries section Roslyn Oxley9 and Barry Keldoulis showed a discerning pick from their stables. Anna Schwartz bucked this trend, presenting a technically demanding whole-booth neon installation by American Joseph Kosuth. The well-heeled Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich) had a booth designed by Zaha Hadid, and a museum-quality survey of paintings by the late, great Cuban cubist/surrealist Wilfredo Lam. Michael Werner (NY/Cologne) presented a survey (curated by Dimitri Ozerkov, Hermitage St Petersburg) of 20th century German modernism featuring key works from artists such as Ernst Wilhelm NayMarkus Lupertz, and Georg Baselitz. Galleria d’Arte Maggiore (Bologna) showed a superb collection of Morandi still lives. The fair saw several million dollar plus sales, and scores in the six figure zone, including work by Chuh Teh-Chun ($3m), Alighero Boetti ($1m), the late Robert Motherwell ($1m), George Baselitz ($700k) and Paul McCarthy ($450k). Alex Seton’s life-sized marble hoody-figure (Soloist, 2012) sold promptly to an Australian collector for around $110k – a snip I’d suggest. Heedless of Baldessari’s adage, Seton and other Australian artists made themselves cheerfully available to talk about their works.

It seems undeniable that HK has successfully re-asserted itself as the international gateway to the exponentially expanding Chinese contemporary market - for both international and Chinese buyers and sellers of many persuasions – a big change from a decade ago, when the city was perceived as something of a contemporary backwater. Although there has always been plenty of money, collectors were seen as more interested in traditional Chinese art and antiquities, French impressionists and perhaps, at the adventurous end, the odd Picasso or Warhol. The contemporary action was to be found in the dynamic art districts of mainland cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, where a new generation of artists was transforming the contemporary scene, often selling direct to local and international buyers, and giving rise to a new breed of dealer-gallerists.

HK now has its own emergent art districts, located in several grimy industrial locales on HK island and further afield. ARIs abound, and many new commercial operations have crowded in. Most telling of all is the recent and much-noted arrival of some of the world’s most prestigious commercial galleries. On a cramped street in the Central shopping and financial district lies the unremarkable entrance to the historic and famously expensive Pedder Building where, stacked floor-upon-floor, are the cool spaces of Gagosian, Simon Lee, Pearl Lam, Ben Brown and others. Even more impressive, indeed setting a new benchmark for the city, is the first White Cube gallery outside of the UK, not far away on Connaught Road. Having opened in April with Gilbert and George’s London Pictures, it was in May/June showing Anselm Kiefer’s Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom. Whether you love or loathe the work of the celebrated German, this exhibition of large paintings and sculptural installations was a statement of supreme confidence - mounted on two levels with production values befitting a major institution. A few blocks away, Sotheby’s in May launched their own dedicated gallery space, occupying a whole floor at 1 Pacific Place, Admiralty, with two large selling shows: Yayoi Kusama’s Hong Kong Blooms in My Mind and Modern Masters: Corot to Monet – French Landscape Paintings in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

It may take a while for the HK market to deliver a return on these outlays, but such multi-million dollar developments are not made lightly. One thing most people agree on is that ArtHK has been the significant, if not dominant, driving factor in all of this. While rival events such as Art Stage Singapore, the Korea International Art Fair and Australia’s Melbourne Art Fair all have good reputations, the rapid growth of ArtHK is nothing short of remarkable, the more so for having been achieved in just five years. Founder Tim Etchells is a savvy businessman whose global company Single Market Events (which owns Art Melbourne and the upcoming, in 2013, Sydney Contemporary Art Fair) has a successful track record with events from fashion to hospitality. However it is ArtHK Director Marcus Renfrew who is credited with steering the event to its current winning status, and he will stay on, at least for the time being, under Art Basel’s ownership.

Nothing succeeds like success, and the HK administration has clearly decided to build the city’s creative profile as rapidly as possible. Symptomatic of this was the opening, at the Heritage Museum and coincident with ArtHK, of the touring show Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, seen earlier this year at the AGNSW. And it likely that as an ‘art destination’ HK will only get better, for it is not just commercial operations investing in the city. New York’s Asia Society has just opened a spectacular new HK base, and across Victoria Harbour the $2.7 billion West Kowloon Cultural District will feature, along with theatres and concert venues, the new M+ museum. The future for contemporary art in HK looks dynamic indeed.

David Corbet's National Artnotes appear in edited form in Art Monthly Australia (

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Restless: The Adelaide International

David Corbet's review of Restless appears in edited form in the July 2012 Issue of Art Monthly Australia

Above: Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners II, 2008 (detail), Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (March 3-May 2, 2011), © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Victoria Lynn’s second Adelaide International, titled Restless, left some people feeling a little … well, restless. The disquiet focussed on venues and presentation – I heard it remarked that Restless struggled to achieve thematic ‘momentum’. Some suggested this wasn’t the best work from some very distinguished artists, for example a decade-old video work (Gringo, 2003) by celebrated Belgian/Mexican artist Francis Alÿs. Spread across four widespread venues, none of them ideal, this selection of eighteen international artists had none of the advantages of the Biennale at AGSA (see article), i.e. a contiguous, dedicated space and a generous production budget.

Do such second-hand gripes have a place in any serious critique of contemporary art? Probably not, but in any discussion of ‘critical culture’ the popular response has a place. Exhibitions once the preserve of scholarly journals are now regularly critiqued by the mainstream press – indeed it’s been decades since Carl André’s bricks (Tate Britain) made the front page of Britain’s Daily Mirror (‘Whaddaloadarubbish!’). Which isn’t to say that all contemporary art gets a bad press – British art thrives on a kind of tabloid notoriety (think Tracey Emin), and Australia is gradually getting the hang of it – you only had to witness seniors chortling over Wim Delvoye’s anal kisses at MONA to appreciate this. If once it was old masters or impressionists who could reliably drum up the crowds, we now live in the age of the contemporary crowd-pleaser, Christian Marclay’s hugely popular The Clock (MCA Sydney) being an excellent example. Attendance figures are pored over as never before, and state tourism bodies fall over each other to compete for contemporary kudos – I recently heard MONA described as ‘Hobart’s Bridgeclimb’. Viewed in these terms, it’s perhaps not surprising that the International’s quiet seriousness might fail to connect with the public taste for sensation and spectacle. But enough with the popular zeitgeist, let’s get to the art. And to the ideas – the Artist’s Week forums were an important part of the overall visual arts program, of which more below.

Samstag hosted the greater part of Restless, and the downstairs space featured the late Nancy Spero’s major opus Maypole/take no prisoners (2007), alongside N.S. Harsha’s Extraction (2012) and Lisa Reihana’s PELT (2010) series. This room was the closest thing to spectacle offered by Restless, and Harsha’s engaing whole-wall painting, of figures falling towards installed piles of stone, rope and sugarcane, was rendered in naïve style and bright, flat colours. The notion of extraction was most readily apparent in the juice leaking stickily from the crushed sugar cane, but the artist talks in more general terms about the human need to ‘extract meaning’. Spero’s majestic maypole, each strand culminating in a 2-D severed head cut from plate aluminium, dominated the room, but would have benefited from a dedicated space, and more dramatic lighting. The 200 heads, graphically rendered in paint and collage, represent the victims of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and are stylistically evocative of Goya’s Misfortunes of War etchings, and also of Dadang Christanto’s severed heads.

Lisa Reihana’s large photomedia works are described by the curator as “interpretations of imagined beings presented in digitally-rendered utopian landscapes” and the artist invokes the Maori concept of an ‘under/other’ world. The works, depicting alabaster-white women glamorously adorned with animal pelts, explore the vocabulary of idealised fashion images, but the titles (Aquila, Camarillo, Sabino, Pilosus) refer to horses, monkeys and eagles, all powerful totems in many Indigenous mythologies. Reihana is well known for her powerful depictions of Maori figures, and these works expand her themes into an interrogation of hybrid cultural identity. Greek/Cypriot Socratis Sacratous also uses photomedia in his series Architectural Strategy series (2011). These images initially read as abstractions and could, at first glance, have been computer rendered, but are in fact photographs of shards of metal and wood thrown into the air and frozen in time. For the Athens-based artist, these are evocations of social upheaval and civic disorder. They left me emotionally cold, but perhaps that is the point. I do get their liminal allure, and it’s interesting that a Socratous work was the key image for the International’s marketing.

Everything else at Samstag was video, and this may explain the lukewarm response. However it was here that I found the curatorial themes resonating most strongly, with three works of particular note: Anri Sala’s Answer me (2008), Danae Stratou’s The Globalising Wall (2011) and Saskia Olde Wolbers Pareidolia (2011). Albanian/German Sala’s claustrophobic and aurally unsettling piece was shot under an echoing (Bucky Fuller) dome, once a Soviet-era ‘listening station’ in Berlin. In his words “A woman tries to end a relationship, her companion refuses to listen and plays the drums fiercely to silence her. Next to her, the drumsticks resting on a vacant drum play to the echo of his drumming”. Stratou, an Athenian woman, has compiled a grimly compelling, rapid slideshow of stills taken in the shadows of walls in Berlin, Kosovo, Palestine, Kashmir, Korea, Northern Ireland, Mexico and California. Wolbers’ (Netherlands/UK) piece is truly strange in the best sense of the word. Computer-generated plant/bird-like forms are intercut with shots of Japanese interiors, but it is the soundtrack that equally beguiles, drawn from the book Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel. Alÿs’s work, referred to earlier, features a low-res re-enactment of a dog attack encountered on one of the artist’s marathon walks, in the Mexican province of Hidalgo. Alÿs has said how he “instinctively used the camera … as a shield to protect myself from the dogs’ aggression”. The work sat well within the International’s dystopian undercurrents, but nevertheless struggles in its own terms to be more than a record of a banal incident, quite possibly the artist’s intention.

At the Flinders University City Gallery, the Indigenous USA collective Postcommodity presented an excellent multi-channel work: With salvage and my knife tongue (2011-12), in which American and Australian Indigenous people speak direct and close-up to camera, their utterances digitally comingled and iterated into an absorbing meditation on global indigeneity. ACSA presented three artists: Chosil Kil (South Korea), Rabih Mroué (Lebanon) and Jinoos Taghizadeh (Iran), with selections evidently restricted by space limitations. Kil, a renowned large-scale installation artist, presented a series of smallish ‘three-dimensional’ geometric paintings. Mroué and Taghizadeh showed wall-hung works with strong stylistic similarities – both working in low-res graphic montage, around documentation of the missing and displaced.

Finally to AEAF, and Teresa Margolles – perhaps the component that exemplified the problems faced by a project like Restless. To a critic armed with a knowledge of Margolles’s ouevre, 127 cuerpos (127 bodies, 2006, installation with remnants of autopsy threads), it was a case of ‘De que otra podremos hablar?’ (What else can we talk about?, the title of her 2007 Venice Biennale installation). To the uninitiated it was a grubby string (actually 127 short pieces tied together) suspended across an otherwise empty gallery. Margolles’s refusal to engage in facile spectacle presents an age-old curatorial conundrum – how to present difficult but important conceptual art in an accessible way? A showman like Delvoye makes death kinda fun and shiny, but Margolles presents its aftermath, in an unadorned, if strangely elegiac style. Hers is the language is of the mortuary, and her long-term collective SEMEFO (Forensic Medical Service) implies a no-nonsense investigative role in her country’s frightening culture of narco-slaughter.

Many writers have discussed the apparent disconnect between the contemporary art of North and South, and the critical/curatorial discourses around it. For me this crystallised during Artist’s Week, in keynotes by two extraordinary thinker/curators –  Jan Verwoerd (Netherlands/Germany), and Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico) who curated Margolles’s Venice pavilion and is director of Manifesta (Genk, Belgium, from 2 June). Both delivered absorbing presentations, dense with critical allusion and cultural detail, but I had the sense they were speaking of, and from, different worlds. Verwoerd’s methodology of ‘radical empathy’ is a resonant one. In a tour-de-force that began with Adorno (on mimesis) and ended with a joke about a chicken and a frog borrowing library books, he spoke with originality and humour for an art that reconnects us with natural energies, with magic, with psychic wholeness (not his term). Co-convenor Nick Papastergiadis spoke of it as a kind of paean to ‘the sublime’. Medina took us in a different direction, on a journey into the art of ‘the New South’ – urgent, social, political; engaged with dislocation, murder and mayhem, blood and belonging. “Debates about art”, he said in response to a question from Verwoerd “are the business of the North”.

It seems evident that much of the art of the ‘old’ North is largely self-referential, suffering terminal mannerism and loss of relevance, and spends its time navel-gazing at its own decline. It is engaged in a kind of search for a lost authenticity, and looks for it increasingly in the work of Southern artists. The South just doesn’t get the agonizing. It has emerged, vigorous and vocal, from centuries of colonialism and cultural marginalisation, with its own language of global assertiveness. Straddling this cultural faultline, in the shadow of the wall if you will, is the problematic work presented in Restless. Australia may be miraculously immune, but out there much of the planet is in social turmoil. Like all evils, injustice and oppression have their banalities, and some of their more dispiriting cultural manifestations can feel like a blow upon a bruise. We may not be temperamentally inclined to confront Diaspora and despair as subjects for contemporary art, but in its quiet way Restless brought these things to us. It’s not a relaxed or comfortable feeling, and it’s not supposed to be.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Australian Art Notes: May

Left: JASON WING 'Blacktown Dreaming' 2012 (installation view, beds and hypodermic syringes). Part of the exhibition 'People of Substance' at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, Charlottesvile, Virginia USA.

NCP and The Budget
News of the postponement, in the face of budget pressure, of Simon Crean’s long-awaited National Cultural Policy (NCP) has been greeted with a combination of disquiet and cynicism. This follows a less-than-enthusiastic response to the NCP discussion paper released last year, with a diminution of engagement with Asia a sore point for some commentators. In Platform Papers, Finding a Place on the Asian Stage (Currency House), Asialink founder Alison Carroll and former diplomat Carrillo Gantner point out that OzCo’s Asian arts spending has fallen from 50%+ of international funding under the Keating government, to between 10–20% now. Ozco acknowledges this but says the dollar value has increased. The paper, perhaps surprisingly, praises the commitment of Alexander Downer and admonishes the Rudd/Gillard governments, and arts mandarins in general, for their tepid commitment to our region. There has been little media analysis of either the discussion paper or the many hundreds of submissions received, but Stephen Crittenden (The Global Mail, April) suggested that Australia's institutions, including the libraries and museums, feel “sidelined by a strong push to dislodge the arts from the centre, or to de-privilege the arts”. These concerns were perhaps alleviated by the announcement of $64m in new money for the arts over 4 years, $40m of it allocated to the major collecting institutions, in part to help them digitise their collections. $3.2m was allocated to the Australia Business Arts Foundation to promote arts sponsorship and philanthropy. Other noteworthy allocations are for a new Islamic Museum of Australia ($1.5m), the Antipodes Centre for Greek Culture, Heritage and Language ($2m), both in Melbourne.

Auction action
The autumn sales are upon us, and Menzies Art Brands achieved a total of $8.42m (including buyer’s premium) in March. Deutcher and Hackett had an encouraging result at their May auction with a 71% clearance rate and total of $6.5m. The record-breaking sale of Arthur Streeton’s Settler’s Camp (1888) for $2.52m set a new auction benchmark for the artist, eclipsing his previous record of $1.4m for Sunlight Sweet Coogee in 2005. Settler’s Camp joins the all-time top 10 in sixth place, coming in behind Sidney Nolan, Brett Whitely and John Brack, the latter two with 3 paintings each in the top 10. Sotheby’s May auction of 80 lots was solid if not spectacular, with a clearance rate of 81% and overall sales over $8m, including two $1.2m sales – Arthur Boyd’s Dry Creek Bed, Alice Springs (1954) and Frederick McCubbin’s Whispering in Wattle Boughs (1886). One noticeable pass-in was Fred Williams’ Summer Snow at Perisher (1976) which had $750-850k expectations. It must be a distracting time for Sotheby’s Chair Geoffrey Smith, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, with an unedifying legal stoush with (ex-partner) Melbourne dealer Robert Gould playing out in Victoria’s Supreme Court as AMA went to press. Putting all this into perspective, the only privately held version (there are 4) of  Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895) fetched $119.9m (IBP) at Sotheby’s New York, beating the previous record of $106.5m paid for Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932).

The $50k Head On Portrait Prize (HOPP) was awarded to 3 co-winners: Tracey Nearmy, Chris Budgeon and David Manley. The annual Head On Photo Festival, only in its third edition, has already grown to be Australia’s largest, with over 200 events and 100 venues across greater Sydney. The HOPP finalists are on show at the Australian Centre for Photography until 17 June, and Hijacked 3 opens on June 30, with Hijacked 2 on tour, currently in Mannheim, Germany. The Moran Prizes organisation has appointed Graham Howe judge for the $100k Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, to be announced on July 17, along with the $150k Portrait Prize (for a medium other than photography). After a decade at NSW’s State Library, the exhibitions will move to a new venue – the heritage-listed Moran House in Bridge St, Sydney. In Canberra the NPG ‘s 2012 National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition has closed, and will tour to Moree, Port Macquarie, Adelaide and Griffith over the next 12 months. Submissions for the NPG’s $10k I.D. Digital Portrait Award 2012, open to 18-30 year-olds, closes on 17 June and will be on display from 2 August. Across the Tasman the Auckland Festival of Photography kicks off on 21 June.

12 Australian participants are included in the quinquennial dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany from June 9, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who also curated the 2008 Biennale of Sydney. They include artists Khadim Ali, Gordon Bennett, Fiona Hall, Simryn Gill, the late Doreen Reid Nakamarra (1955-2009), Stuart Ringholt and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. Also participating are writer/curators Jill Bennett, Romaine Moreton, Stephen Muecke, Nikos Papastergiadis and Hetti Perkins. Gordon Bennett will also be the subject of a prestigious solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art (AAMU) in Utrecht (Netherlands) from mid June. Currently showing (until 10 June) at AAMU is Heart and Soul, drawn from the collection of Colin and Elizabeth Laverty.

Jason Wing at Kluge-Ruhe
Following last month’s item about Australian artists in the USA, Aboriginal/Chinese artist Jason Wing’s installation People of Substance is on show at the University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection. Curated by Liz Nowell, the work was previously shown at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Sydney. A previous Kluge-Ruhe exhibitor, Melbourne artist Reko Rennie, will collaborate with American Indigenous artist Frank Buffalo Hyde on a work for Hyde’s upcoming show at the Museum for Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico from 13 June.

NGA appointments 
Tim Fairfax has been appointed Interim Chair of the NGA Council, replacing Rupert Myer after 9 years. Mr Fairfax, who will serve until 31 December 2012, is President of the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation, Chair of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, the Salvation Army Brisbane Advisory Board, and a member of the Philanthropy Australia Council. Ron Radford was also re-appointed as NGA Director for a third term, until 30 September 2014. Also announced was a landmark partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts (London), to stage a significant survey exhibition of Australian in 2013.

NMA acquisitions
The National Museum of Australia has acquired two valuable pen and ink drawings by the Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae (c.1835 – 1901): Buckley’s Escape and Murray Tribal Warfare. The Museum paid $79k and $24k respectively at auction. Tommy McRae lived in the Upper Murray, Victoria, where he made and sold books of drawings, one of very few Aboriginal artists to depict life in 19th century Australia. Both drawings had been with the same NSW family since they were bought from the artist in the 1890s. They join another sketchbook by McRae acquired in 1986, as well as other works by 19th century Aboriginal artists including William Barak and the pen and ink drawings by the artist known as Oscar of Cooktown.

Federal PPSR
The Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR), created under the Commonwealth Personal Property Securities Act 2009 commenced on 30 January 2012. Artists and dealers who provide or accept art on consignment are affected by this new law. Information is also available about what the new law will mean for Indigenous artists and art centres.

David Corbet's National Artnotes appear in edited form in Art Monthly Australia (

Friday, April 20, 2012

Australian Art Notes: April 2012

Above: DCM's winning proposal for the new Australian pavilion in Venice's Giardini

2011 attendance survey – a global view
The Art Newspaper’s international attendance survey is always eagerly awaited, and the 2011 figures confirmed the NGV Melbourne as the top Australian institution, attracting 1.55 million visitors across its two sites, against 1.42 million for QAG/GoMA. Both Brisbane venues were closed for a month by the January floods, and it was dramatically down on its chart-topping 1.8million visitors in 2010. AGNSW achieved 1.27 million, Melbourne’s ACMI 895,410 and the NGA Canberra 723,625. The most popular museum in the world was, as always, the Louvre with 8.8 million visitors, followed by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (6 million) and the British Museum in London (5.8 million). Only two institutions outside of the USA, France and Britain made the top ten: The National Palace Museum, Taipei (3.8 million), and the National Museum Of Korea, Seoul (3.2 million).

The most attended Australian exhibition was Melbourne Museum’s ticketed show Tutankhamun (796,000) followed by QAG/GoMA’s free show 21st Century: Art in the First Decade (451,000 – the fifth most attended contemporary art show worldwide) and AGNSW’s ticketed The First Emperor: China’s Entombed Warriors  (305,611). Internationally, total exhibition attendance was led by Abstract Expressionist New York (MOMA NY: 1.16 million); Claude Monet (Grand Palais, Paris: 913,064); Landscape Reunited (National Palace Museum, Taipei: 847,509); and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (NY Met: 661,509). The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, had the world’s highest number of daily visitors (9677) for The Magical World of Escher (total 573,691) and had two other exhibitions in the top 20: Mariko Mori: Oneness (538,328) and Laurie Anderson (535,929).

Venice Pavilion update
Melbourne architects Denton Corker Marshall have won the design competition for the new $6 million Venice Pavilion, with a restrained, black granite-clad building designed to accommodate art, architecture, film and photography exhibitions. The venerable firm, whose projects include the Melbourne Museum, Museum of Sydney, Australian Embassies in Tokyo and Beijing, and the Stonehenge Visitor Centre in the UK, was unanimously selected from a shortlist of 6 local firms. Their submission states their aim “to make a form of the utmost simplicity; a white box contained within a black box. The pavilion is envisaged as an object rather than a building; a presence that is simultaneously powerful and discreet within the heavily wooded gardens”.
 The Biennale attracts over 250,000 visitors during its 5 months, and last year 192,000 visited the Australian Pavilion, featuring Hany Armonious. Australia has occupied the site in the Giardini since 1988 – one of only 29 countries to have a permanent national presence, and Phillip Cox designed the existing pavilion as a temporary structure for the Arthur Boyd exhibition of that year. Simryn Gill will represent Australia in 2013, the final artist to show in the old Pavilion. The new building is due for completion for the 56th Biennale in 2015. The project, managed by the Australia Council, will be largely funded by private donations, and is being led by Australian Commissioner, MCA chair and fundraiser extraordinaire Simon Mordant.

Fair games
Art Melbourne (subhead: Melbourne’s Affordable Art Fair) takes place again from May 24-27, produced by global company Single Market Events (SME). The biennial Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) returns in August (1-5), the first under new co-directors Emilly-Rose Davis and Laetitia Prunetti. Gallerists Vasili Kaliman and Gerrod Rawlins will simultaneously launch The New Fair at KalimanRawlins in South Yarra, featuring 6 Aus/NZ galleries. Their announcement proposes a “more measured approach to Australian art fairs, tailored to a knowledgeable audience as opposed to the conventional bulk approach … keeping it modest and boutique is the best way to focus on presenting the highest quality contemporary art”. With 3 fairs in Melbourne across 4 months, Sydney has nothing scheduled for 2012. SME’s Art Sydney (aka The Affordable Art Fair) was canned this year, but there has been consistent talk of a return in 2013, with a late March date to coincide with Art Month Sydney, a new name, and the expectation that it will be more selective than its hapless predecessor. 

There has always been speculation about a Sydney edition of MAF in alternating years, always accompanied by doubts that the prestige market can sustain an annual event.  However it has now been confirmed that  SME will launch a new fair, titled Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, at the Hordern Pavillion from 12 - 14 April, to be run by SME's local subsidiary, Art Fairs Australia (AFA). In addition to the new Sydney event, SME will manage MAF from 2014. The 2010 MAF had 80 exhibitors, attracted 30,000 visitors and generated $11 million in sales, 60% ($6.6 million) of which was returned to artists through their galleries. MAF’s non-profit parent is the the Melbourne Art Fair Foundation, and it is unclear exactly who will be responsible for what in the new management structure.

SME have plenty of experience running high-quality art fairs, having built the annual Art Hong Kong (AHK12: 17-20 May) into a hugely successful event, last year selling a controlling interest to Art Basel for an undisclosed sum. 

China markets
In the meantime AHK, which last year attracted 63,000 visitors, will in May boast an impressive 264 exhibitors, including 12 Australian galleries: Barry Keldoulis, Roslyn Oxley9, Anna Schwartz, Tolarno, Nellie Castan, Tristian Koenig, Damien Minton, Tim Olsen, Sullivan+Strumpf, Ryan Renshaw, Neon Parc and Anna Pappas. Australian contemporary art also has a high profile at Australian expat Amanda D’Abo’s Cat Street Gallery, which represents many established and mid-career artists. According to the European Art Foundation, China is now the world’s largest art market. Sotheby’s has announced the May launch of a new Hong Kong operation, situated in the Admirality business district, with setup costs of $7.2 million. Chinese law currently prevents foreign auction houses from selling on China’s mainland, so the move will allow Sotheby’s to hold art more auctions in the country. There is plenty of competition, notably from arch-rival Christie’s International, which opened its own HK operation two years ago. With soft markets in the USA and Europe, both companies hope to sell more Western art to cashed-up Chinese collectors, and both have created Asian advisory boards. Last year, scroll painter Zhang Daqian was the world’s top auction earner with an astonishing $506.7 million, dwarfing the $325 million paid for works by the late Andy Warhol. China accounted for a fifth of Christie's 2011 global sales, and Sotheby's Asian sales jumped 47%.

Beltway contemporary
Washington DC and environs have been enjoying a good run of Australian contemporary art of late. The Corcoran Gallery of Art featured Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’s Are We There Yet? (closed 11 March), the duo’s first solo museum exhibition in the USA, part of the gallery’s NOW series, showcasing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. Occupying two spaces at the Corcoran, Healy and Cordeiro’s project consisted of a site-specific installation and a number of wall works constructed from Lego that continue the series Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why (2010–11). Lie of the Land: New Australian Landscapes, curated by Alex J. Taylor, was presented at the Australian Embassy, closing 13 April. It featured over 60 works by twelve Australian artists: Sam Leach, Michael Lindeman, Archie Moore, Megan Cope, Tom Alberts, Gary Carsley, Dale Cox, Juan Ford, David Keeling, Sherry Paddon, Rebecca Ross and Jake Walker.

Ah Kee in Virginia
Across the Potomac in Charlottesville, Virginia, Vernon Ah Kee had an April residency at the University of Virginia (UVa). Ill-like, an exhibition of his drawings and textual works, is on view at the University’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection through May 10. More of Ah Kee’s works were shown at other UVa campus locations, and his residency included talks, guest lectures and an in situ artwork on Charlottesville’s community chalkboard on the Downtown Mall. The Kluge-Ruhe is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the study and interpretation of Australian Aboriginal art, with a stated mission “to advance knowledge and understanding of Australia’s Indigenous people and their art and culture worldwide. Working with living artists, international scholars and arts professionals, it provides a wide range of learning experiences to the University community and the public through exhibition, research and educational programs”.

Google Art Project
6 Australian galleries are among the first in the southern hemisphere to join the Google Art Project (GAP): NGA Canberra, AGNSW, MCA Australia, NGV, the Melbourne Museum and Griffith University’s Rock Art Research Centre. GAP provides high resolution images of artworks from across the world, so detailed that brushwork not visible to the naked eye can be analysed. AGNSW launched 415 key works across its collections. The Tate Modern in London was the first gallery to digitise its collection for GAP, and there are now 151 participating cultural institutions, featuring more than 30,000 images. Users have the ability to consult additional reading material or videos, and take a virtual tour through 46 galleries using Google’s Street View technology.

David Corbet's National Artnotes appear in edited form in Art Monthly Australia (