The Australians are here and boy do we know about it!
Australians, all from Sydney, have arrived en masse in Auckland
this month, taking up space in Artspace and Teststrip. It seems
to have started with a strange video positioned in true Teststrip
style on the floor of the main gallery. The video by Hany Armanious
featured the artist stuffing his blue jeans with pillows, then walking
into Sydney on the day of some sort of parade. The video followed
him, unnoticed by passers by, to the sound of what could be a great
track for a porno flick.
This exhibition was followed by the icing paintings of Mishka Borowski,
an artist who has used food in her art for some time. She has been
putting icing on walls (1) for a number of years
and used eggs (they hatched during the installation) in her work
for the inaugural exhibition at Pendulum. The one week show that
featured at Teststrip involved two drawings of naked women made
from white icing, one placed on the inside of the street window
and the other on the white walls of the main gallery.
The next one-week exhibition was by David Thomas who runs CBD gallery,
and opened on the 13th May. Between the two exhibitions Teststrip
held an "Artist Run Space Forum", on which Borowski and Thomas sat
as well as Daniel Malone from Teststrip and Robert Leonard from
Artspace. We were struck immediately by the fact that Artspace is
not an artist run space at all. Why did we find Robert Leonard on
the panel? This was a question which was unanswered. The forum was
chaired by Billy Apple who as chairperson led an extremely boring
and uninformative panel discussion. His questions were written on
a TELECOM bill return envelope. One wonders if it will pop up in
a gallery at a later date.
The discussion led by Apple asked each artist (including Robert
Leonard who runs Artspace and is not an artist), what the galleries
were and how they were run etc. The two Australians were clearly
uninterested in these questions and answered extremely briefly.
The two Aucklanders talked at length... Of course the audience knew
what was being said and I had the feeling they were talking to the
already initiated. We were sitting in Teststrip, we were informed
about the forum via the Teststrip mailing list. By the time Apple
opened the discussion to the floor I had a boredom headache and
even if any interesting discussion was to take place I could not
have taken it in. So this spectator along with a number of others
The other venues for the Australians are the two main galleries
at Artspace. The show entitled "Child Bride" was curated by Hany
Armanious and included himself, Tony Schwensen, Robert Pulie, Mary
Teague, John Spiteri and Adam Boyd. Armanious has the centre piece
of the show. It hangs from the ceiling of the main gallery, an oversized
mobile. The mobile is made up of two black cartoon figures each
with Armanious' signature traffic lights. It is suggested that this
work represents Armanious' position as director of the show, giving
the artists the stop and go, in what is perhaps a more immersed
role than that normally held by the curator who is not an artist
and who does not have 'work' in the show.
It has been said of the Sydney art community "...Sometimes
it seems as if the Australian contemporary art scene sprang fully
formed from the loins of a larrikin culture back in the early 80s."
(2) I get the feeling that this is a fact not lost on them.
The show at Artspace seems to sit uncomfortably with what we have
come to expect, being predominantly paintings, if not in a pure
form. This causes the gallery space to look flat and unengaged.
The works look as if they belong at an established dealer gallery
with price tags attached.
Also it seems as if some of the work is shoddy - shoddy even within
a movement comfortable with shoddiness. Tony Schwensen perhaps illustrates
this best with a work entitled "Australia A (Recent Australian Art)".
(Are these artists really Australia A, really the best team?) The
work by Schwensen consists of a number of cardboard rectangles screwed
to the wall, painted roughly with what might be house paint or the
like. Compared to other works by the artist these paintings seem
extremely thin and dull. The artist is known for using cheap mass-produced
toys and payless plastic equivalents to 'reanimate
otherwise Minimalist concerns' (3). Schwensen has in the past
exhibited cheap but colourful skateboards, hung on the gallery wall.
In a recent exhibition he showed blue plastic swimming pools on
castors along with pine logs elevated on axle jacks with the same
title "Australia A" (4). These works seem much
more elegant both visually and conceptually than the sloppy and
badly made (in the most uninteresting sense) paintings seen at Artspace.
The show has some moments, a gorgeous painting of a carnival with
a pink poodle in the middle by John Spiteri, and a row of 50's style
holiday snaps, one showing a man sitting over a woman with rock
in hand, by Mary Teague... Otherwise the show is uninteresting and
uninspiring. Is this really the best Sydney, and in particular these
artists, have to offer?
The final crash has come from David Thomas. His show at Teststrip
opened to loud and annoying noise. The window work seemed like it
might have been a bit more of jovial abstraction, Sydney-style.
Two diamonds made from masking tape, one on the window and one on
the rear wall. Quite nice. The show however was nothing like this.
It consisted of placards with throw away statements, two amps and
guitars and a beaten up drum kit. Those who wanted to make noise
on the instruments were welcome. Feedback. This was not a pretty
sound. The boys tried to do something with the instruments, tried
to make 'works'. Sounded horrible to say the least. When no one
in particular was using them there was something of a nice ambient
thing going. Someone would walk up to the drum kit and hit it and
walk away, someone would then strum a guitar. This was OK, kind
It does seem to make the point however.
THE AUSTRALIANS WERE HERE, THERE IS NO WAY YOU COULD NOT HAVE HEARD!
14 May 1997
1. Kit Messham-Muir "Mishka Borowski, Selenium,
Sydney", Art & Text, No. 49, 1994.
2. Jeff Gibson "Sydney: Theory or Therapy?", Flash Art, No.
3. Jeff Gibson "Beuys in the Hood", Art and Text, No. 48, 1994.
4. Melissa Chiu, Review of a show at the Art Gallery of NSW,
curated by David Thomas, World Art, No. 13, 1997.