Email Tessa two hilarious articles from yesterdays paper, both of which evoke shrieks of mirth from me. Firstly Barbara Cartland has floated away from us on a cloud of pink chiffon at the age of 96. But before leaving she announces "I do not have a single line on my body. I often think I should be photographed nude." Another is about the new Tate Gallery entitled "A Wee Art Statement" where two serial Chinese attention seekers have yet again been arrested - last year for a naked pillow fight, this time for taking the piss out off Marcel Duchamp's piss-take: both have a slash into his infamous 1917 work. "A crowd gathered and applauded thinking they were witnessing cutting-edge performance art." Sound like our kind of guys.
Email from Tessa requesting a Bienalle Report. Can I get to the party? Usually its not too hard to talk your way into anything. This may take careful arranging of words, and pulling the strings of connections, but I do feel Im up to the challenge.
6.31pm street corner
I am rearing in raspberry, a quilted satin scarf to be precise. I am not left long enough on the street corner to even begin to feel like a jazzy ho before a sleek silver car pulls up. A potential client perhaps? As a matter of fact, yes, but only for paintings. Michelle has just tossed in her job as a TV producer so she needs to print off some copies of her resume and this makes us late for drinks at Sherman Goodhope, the new and modern version of the two galleries.
7.05pm Sherman Goodhope
We pull up outside but the crowd is already washing out the door like dirty water flushing out of a drainpipe. Not that theyre filthy. Or even poor. It's just that they are on their way to the next venue where there is food, and you know how your second chard starts to get too much of an edge. We head off in the direction of the next gallery and are almost there when I pull a star turn (after all, its not my fault we have missed the boat) and insist we swivel around immediately and go back - I need to see the work for my report. All to no avail as we then get stuck in a mini traffic jam outside the gallery.
7.20 Sherman Hargreave
Even though we definitely qualify as best dressed, the assistant hands us wine with a look that's most disparaging, but no asparagus, white or otherwise. There is however warmish pastizzi, pâté, and some tired looking tapenade heaped in relief-size piles. The show entails John Youngs big framed paper cut-outs. As usual the art is conservative and kind of boring, and the preserving integrity of this stuff will be whether or not the artist made the various interesting papers themselves. It's gonna look great above some loaded geriatrics fireplace in Bellvue hill. Got it? Good.
7.55pm Ros Oxley
The last Dale Frank show I saw was bum prints, hilarious but let down by crappy black polythene stapled all over the shop. Tonight is his specialité grand-scale 70s inspired technicolour ready-to-roll riots, the enormous centrepiece is a giant Komodo Dragon-like lizard on a plinth, and it's obviously been lifted from out front of a tourist caravan park in Queensland where everything's overblown - bank accounts and especially egos. At least the crowd is a bit funky, and I take a peek into the back room to check if there are any art superstars lurking - but there's nothing but a baby. Yes, a real one. But is it ART?
8.03pm Dita Weiss
Well-known ex-CBD artist Robert Pewley says its a lecturers work. But I can only see a lecherer, a certain notorious serial monster from my days at art school who, in-between teaching, trolled the corridors for slim, blonde twenty-somethings, the irony being in the juxtaposition. However in Rosemary Langs work The flight research theory photographed brides float on, and soar through, cloudy skies like Boticelli's Venus. The point one presumes being that anyone would actually bother going to the effort of dropping one from the sky when it could be photo-shopped instead with much less effort. Michelle points out that it would have been superior if the brides had been on skateboards (next career: advertising executive) and I agree. The used and abused gown is tossed on the floor (the mind boggles), filthy hems and all, and it looks like it could have gone in for a bit of a dryclean before going on display.
We descend the staircase to the ground floor where cats have been flayed, tanned, like exotic rugs and are scattered across the floor by Koen Wastijn. They are dyed fluoro colours and remind me of Lil Kims obscene hot pink and bright aqua mink coats. I like this installation less for its commentary on inhumane fashions and more for the roadkills comically squished faces. I dont feel it was necessary, in fact to the works detriment, to include the extremely graphic video of the entire carcass preparation including disembowelment. So very Damien Hirst.
Still not a socialite in sight, perhaps they are saving themselves for tomorrow night I pray. I hear a whisper that the main party is on at the newly refurbished Customs House on the Quay - I hope so as I went to a Cartier launch there late last year and its a good venue for a knees-up.
8.47 Sherman Hargreave (again)
My socialite monitor is still not registering a bleep. I am hoping that I am not going to have to turn this evening's events from a sows ear to a silk purse. Sounds like a Yoko Ono (Oh no!) installation doesn't it? Well-known stylist Kathy Mckinnon arrives, so we chat about my upcoming show at the Kirketon Hotel. Ros Oxley has obviously become bored with her own opening (so to speak) and has flaming head tossed back, eyes half closed, drink in hand, expounding a slurred opinion to someone. The gallery is packed with locusts and the trestles are now bare. It's time to wrap this evening up like a Tiffany trinket. Some blonde dowager with bulging pop-eyes yells "Baby... Baby!" to someone as we leave. I announce that her baby must be a Pekinese, which gets a bit of evil cackling happening.
9.30 Arthurs Pizzeria, Paddington
Over dinner with a few art students I announce what a sorry state of affairs the art scene is and to my surprise these young Paddington funksters agree wholeheartedly. The conversation turns to fashion: what are the rules for wearing brown Prada boots? Everyone joins in so obviously its a more captivating and debateable issue than any of the art seen this evening.
John Nixon was opening at the new Sarah Cottier Space. I am annoyed I didn't know - it would have been good because, well, Sarah Cottier is still probably the only chic thing on the scene which is kind of unfortunate. I dont hate his ($25,000) work, I just cant believe he won a 30 grand grant with a 4m square canvas that he... painted plain orange! You have to admire the audacity of it. Last Bienalle I attended a party Sarah gave at her house strictly for the NZ contingent, to discover that she has a glass swimming pool fence. Hell on the maid.
8.46am Cafe Sophia
Yoko Ono (Oh No!) makey fronty pagey news today, because she has Edmund Capon (AGNSW Director) not literally but physically rearranging the 100 coffins that make up her Bienalle piece. The feng shui is all wrong apparently. Then she grouches at the Telegraph photographer: "Do not take picture close to me, I am not 18 any more!" However, bad feng shui or not, her "happening" has sold out on Friday night (I can almost hear the cash registers ringing) and is rumoured to involve "spontaneous elements of visual art and theatrics". Spontaneous combustion, hopefully.
I speak to the Bienalle publicist (my greeting was "make it quick"), and the answer is NO - there is a waiting list of more than 50 people. Im a bit over parties at the moment anyway, and besides, I feel a bit throaty from all that loud-mouthed, non-stop yapping last night.
I change my mind and send a last ditch email to Chris Snelling at the MCA to see if he can pull any strings. That publicist was such a rude bitch, I shoulda slapped the blonde outta her! Nobody has ever told me to "make it quick" because usually Im so fast they have trouble keeping up. Its slightly ruined my angle but Im sure I'll cope. Because, my darling, I always get the scoop. Even if its a scoop full of bullshit.
Chris Snelling was too busy to reply yesterday due to Yoyo Ohnos demands while attending the MCA media presentation "...So I hope you just turned up to Customs House... " Goddammit! However, he has invited me to the private viewing at the MCA. I don't know how he coped with Yoyo because she always looks like she's gonna pinch someone (to see if they are fat enough to pop in the oven). Yack with Jeneanne Bow at Akiras who tells me firstly that, during an interview today, Yoyo announces out of the two things she wishes to do in Sydney - one is to visit Akiras shop. I insist that she has a can of mace at the ready should this happen. Then she tells me that I could have just walked in to Customs House with any flimsy old story because thats exactly what they did... Shit! I dont want to hear this again today.
Spesh guests include art patrons Paul and Sandra Ferman and also social doyen Mary Shackman. The gossip I get on Yoyo from Chris Snelling is that she is VERY paranoid which I dont doubt as its well documented. But wouldnt you be if a lunatic shot your husband? Or maybe after Betty Boos Australian experience, shes worried shell drop her microphone during her performance tonight and everybody will find out her singing is dubbed. Quel horreur!
After a quick sparkling shiraz and a gossip on the terrace I am keen to check out some of this highly publicised work. Parked right in the entrance like a truck delivery of appliances is Lisa Reihanas TV installation, but my favourite is Fluffy Things - her parody of museums via a case full of craftwork specimens complete with engraved Latin nameplates.
We all adore Bill Hammonds work (but I may be biased as hes always been one of my favourites) in particular Hokey Pokey where the jointed panels resemble an Asian screen particularly in its use of random black and gold figures and objects in a slightly skewed perspective. One also recalls the religious mythology of medieval European paintings. Lovely stuff.
The Japanese contingent scooped the pool publicity-wise (especially Yoono Huhu). Firstly I nip in (excuse another pun) to the room housing Miuccia Pradas favourite artist, Mariko Mori. Mori features in, styles, and snaps these enormous photographs which Chris Snelling tells me weigh 9.5 tons. I gasp wondering what will happen when I step into the room, but I believe Chris and also when he tells me that her work is all self-funded - she is rumoured to be the heiress of the 12th wealthiest family in the world. (Theres that scoop again, only this time it's full of the yen I been yearnin for). No wonder in her hyper real, pastel scenarios Myth Moneybagth is quite often featured as a self-anointed Asian goddess.
The hit pick with the media has been Yayoi Kusamas polka dot blowups in Customs House. A big part is her carefully crafted zany image, like the fact she lives voluntarily in a psychiatric institution. Her bio is all just so publicity-friendly and digestible. I wouldnt trust her as far as I could throw her. Here in the MCA a 1965 installation has been faithfully recreated, revealing a woman who likes to visit her past. A small mirrored room with a walkway down the middle, the rest of the floor is crammed with sausage-shaped plush things anointed with red polka dots, reflected endlessly. The media would say Minnie Mouses shoe closet by Doctor Seuss (what a saccharine analogy). I would say not only a narcissist and an obsessive, but also even less sugary: spots of menstrual blood on the phallus, her sexual paranoia which is so well documented along with her affliction of visions of nets, flowers and spots. Here where the cocks are carefully contained in a shiny walk-in wardrobe, she can shut the door and pretend messy shaggin dont exist.
Less repressed, in fact in the opposite direction to the work of both Andrea Velejo and Chris Offili, Velejos work features deceiving walls of Antique Moroccan tiles, painted photorealist-style. They look utterly believable until you stand ten centimetres away and scrutinise. It is hard to say whether the tiles are representative of bathrooms or kitchens (two places within the house where we are most obsessed with hygiene), however one may associate as one pleases, for a large chunk of the paintings are ripped back like lino and underneath is revealed a mess of slimy entrails and giblets or an indeterminate shitty mess. The juxtaposition aesthetically between the pleasant porcelain and the affronting bubbling stew of slimy entrails is the hook here - its the "Shock of the Goo". One recalls scenes from horror movies like Poltergeist and House where evil lurks ugly and gory beneath the inanimate shiny surfaces of whitegoods. Its supposed to be scary and it works.
The supposedly controversial Chris Offili (being touted as the "Damien Hirst of his generation") will be familiar to you as the "Elephant Dung Guy" - it is he who caused the storm of furore with his Virgin Mary painted in excrement. The droppings used in his work are not as aesthetically unpleasant as you might think, and the work has a lot of energy which is always inspiring - The adoration of Captain Shit really just looks like Dale Frank (read: large, colourful psychedelic and graphic) with coconuts stuck on it. Shocking, really. It was more shocking later on when the eggplant pies that Mary and I were served for dinner at McLeay St Bistro looked exactly like abovementioned doo-doo. It must be a case of collective stinking.
Smack in the middle of the first floor entrance is Yoyo Ohnos super-hyped Ex It - fifty coffins (some baby size) with little trees growing out of them. Theoretically its not too nebulous; aesthetically its reasonably good-looking. The interesting thing about this work is that it has SUCH a sixties sensibility it makes you smirk; yet at the same time its also quite contemporary. Other than that its ostentatious in size and quite unremarkable, leaving you wondering exactly whether the piece deserves the fuss thats been made.
Tracey Moffat, who has now become one of the Australian artworlds most well known exports, has created a series of cibachrome anecdotes entitled Scarred for Life that has everyone cackling. Highly amusing, yet with a strong undercurrent of tragedy and humiliation, they make us laugh because if we didnt wed cry. For example, her piece PissBags, 1978 (all dates were fictional and the retro photos so well styled they looked authentic) reads "Locked in the van while their mothers continued their affair, the boys were forced to piss in their chip bags". She took the picture - you get the picture.
One-armed Art Bandit Mike Parr, an Australian who has an international reputation (as an artist, one hopes), has firstly fashioned himself in wax and then styled the cast in bridal drag, amputated limb and all. Is this an episode of "Beauty in the Beast"? This bride is laid out like a cadaver. I liked this piece but its really very disturbing how he feels towards the hallowed institution of marriage. Maybe he means hes married to himself - god knows it would be a smart move cos nobody else is gonna offer if his rouge is normally so badly applied.
The work of Xu Bing of China is a mock schoolroom with an instructional film showing where you sit and learn the art of Chinese calligraphy. As soon as you take your seat at the wooden desk you get kind of a sinking feeling. Then you remember its still playtime! As I grabbed the inky brush I confidently announced that I would be pretty damn good at this sort of thing, however it was a lot harder than it looked even with outlines on the schoolbook pages to follow.
The Auditorium is pretty full, and we are waiting for The Pacific Sisters to make an appearance. Theyre a little late and so far there are only two musicians on stage shuffling uncomfortably from foot to foot. One looks like a Southern-style Capote-Country bumpkin, the other is snoop daggy dag. Suddenly on they come jiggling their moneymakers, like randy raffia maids from the Palais Versailles backed by Sylvester. Next a poet has the audience giggling with her animated and lascivious performance. Then theres a number with some androgynous zombies in mourning - looking like Grace Jones after Jean-Paul Goude has had a go at her, and wailing like said singer after her coke dealer has stiffed her. The pace of this number changes back and forth dramatically and the zombies wiggle their bottoms at the audience like frisky baboons. The finale is a riot of colour and texture and cleverly combines elements of Island, Maori and Honky culture. In fact there's a lot of booty shaking throughout and the audience laps it up because The Pacific Sisters, refreshingly, seem to really be enjoying themselves. They're truly happy to be here, et je suis enchanté.
Clearly Artspace had the leftovers scraped into their bowl like the family mutt. This is a shame because the space is custom-built for installation work. Pretty much all the work is awful, the only redeeming piece being Martin Kippenbergers I am going into the birch forest as my pills will be taking effect soon with its large carved wooden pharmaceuticals.
The one work of the entire Bienalle which really shitted me is installed here - Paul McCarthys Painter Plus (even if it had been by Paul McCartney I would have enjoyed it more). This involves a whole lot of half-constructed timber shed, wooden crates, palettes and piles of wood that take up about a third of the entire gallery space. Many faxes and emails that are blown up to giant size involve lengthy correspondence regarding the damage of this artwork in transit from the US. I mean, who could tell? It looks like nothing more than a heap of crap from the local dump. In amongst all this flotsam a film plays of the artist wearing a bad wig and hospital scrubs, a gigantic bulbous nose the approximate size of a netball and strap-on blobs on his arms. He uses tubes of paint as big as himself to smear colours all over the walls of a room whilst making repetitive retarded noises - something like a Canadian moose giving birth to an idiot savant.
If that isnt enough, after a while he decides to spice things up - and straps a gigantic black vinyl conical point onto his crotch and does it all again while painting with this new accoutrement. It is style-less, pointless, irritating and also just plain stupid - to let down a cultural event as important as the Bienalle by including work like this and therefore validating it. What is really unbelievable is that it is actually part of a private collection: that of the Rubell Family in Miami. That says it all because Florida is nothing more than a plastic chandelier in the middle of a swamp. His press release states that he uses "American myths as the basis for his often brutal and irreverent satires". Its news to me. Strong words I know, but at least it aroused something in me rather than a yawn while I was in this venue.
In summary, after the much-touted financial strife the MCA has been through of late, sleeves were rolled up and with no competition it won best venue in my opinion. At some points I felt that certain works such as Paul McCarthy's had simply been included for no more reason than the art worlds pseudo-political string twanging. But over all, in comparison to 1998s, this Bienalle was clever, colourful, and most surprisingly had a big injection of much-needed humour.
Darian Zam is a writer living in Sydney. Her work? "The vacuous mantras of a Drag Queen who wants to be a Supermodel."