The Audience Problem

Posted by Andrew on the 1st of August, 2011

A few years ago I became a little bit fixated with the idea that I'd like to make a TV panel show. The show would take its inspiration from 'Beauty and the Beast', a popular Australian panel show of the late 1990s, which pitted middle aged, right-wing and self-confessed 'mamma's boy', Stan Zemanek, with a panel of generally middle aged, middle class, bleeding heart women. They would discuss 'issues', conflict occurred and people were entertained. I would have liked my show to be similar. A host, and his or her guests, speaking different languages and just not getting each other. The panel for my show would have featured prominent West Australian cultural figures and the host would have ideally been the tight fisted mining heiress Gina Reinhart, or maybe even Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest, the major shareholder of Fortescue Metals Group and at the time the richest individual in Australia. I imagined they would sit behind a desk which would somehow inflate and become unstable when the conversation got loud and heated. They would discuss the arts, the mining boom, money, public spending, welfare, patronage. Conflict would occur and people would be entertained.

Perth was at the peak of the mining boom when I first starting thinking of this. I was going through art school and was becoming distinctly aware that the things I was making, while they were well received in the art school context, were becoming increasingly incomprehensible to 'everyday people.' I was making floorwork tributes to Felix Gonzalez-Torres out of ham sandwiches wrapped in sparkly wrapping paper and computer programs which aggregated sunsets into modernist coloured grids. I was deconstructing and critiquing willy-nilly all over the place, going through the motions like a seventeen year old doing bog laps around South Terrace after just getting his P-plates. While I was encouraged at art school I had a really awkward time trying to convey what I did to everyone else. I began to become aware of the problem of two audiences.

Speaking of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and of audiences, someone once asked him in an interview, "who is your audience?" His reply, "Ross", his boyfriend who later died of AIDs. This relationship perhaps provided the genesis for the subdued and lingering melancholy in much of Gonzalez-Torres work. While Gonzalez-Torres was probably hamming things up for the press, I often wished I could come up with such a concrete and assured answer to the same question. At the time I felt that it was impossible to make contemporary work for a general audience in this city. With that being the case, I believed that the only way to maintain a relevant and interesting practice was to make work with a set of people I knew, mainly other local artists, in mind. A little secret society, a group I could count on my fingers.

Today, in only a few short years, I have fewer of these kinds of reservations about the audience for contemporary art in Perth, things seem to getting better. I am aware that Perth has a history of being a place where things 'are about to really start happening.' Maybe, if we enjoyed the gravitas provided by putting things in a historical context, we could trace this as being the hangover of a pre-gold rush settler mentality. It fits neatly, why not? At any rate, I really do feel like there could be a little Perth miracle. It's too early to be jumping to such conclusions, but I find the emergence of new contemporary art spaces in Perth - including the Museum of Natural Mystery, Venn Gallery, Anthony Riding, and the soon to be opened Galleria - very encouraging.

A recent case in point would have to be Tom Freeman's show '18th and 19th Century Prisoner Art' at the Museum of Natural Mystery. Like all TMNM (The Museum of Natural Mystery, not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) exhibitions, it was a one-night-only affair. The works were small scale, warm-fuzzy studies which intersected architectural model making, with automatic drawing and craft. Their complexity was disarmed by their small scale and rudimentary materials and construction processes. I'm not the best at reviewing work, so let's just say I liked it a lot. What did strike me though was the thought that there was perhaps nowhere else where such work could be exhibited in Perth. The work required the type of considered, yet ad hoc and small scale format that TMNM provides. I've always thought that one of the biggest problems Perth had was not the quality of the work it produced, but the complete lack of the number and diversity of exhibiting spaces in the city. New spaces such as TMNM seem to be addressing this. Let's hope these types of events go some way towards building the critical mass that I've always felt was just around the corner and just about to happen.

Young contemporary artists from Perth tend to move to Melbourne because they are sensible. There is a quote by George Bernard Shaw that I like that goes something like, "The rational man adapts himself to his environment. Therefore all change depends upon irrational men." Another quote I like is one by Sol LeWitt, who said, "An irrational idea must be taken to its logical conclusion." These two quotes go a long way to explaining why I gave up the idea of a panel show and got more interested in the idea of starting a gallery.

Tom Freeman, 18th and 19th Century Prisoner Art (image courtesy of The Museum of Natural Mystery)

Things We Saw While We Were Gone #1: De Appel, Amsterdam 'Genius Without Talent'.

Posted by Gemma on the 31st of July, 2011

De Appel is one of several large scale not-for-profit arts institutions located in central Amsterdam. It's been running since 1975, but has recently shifted locations to a building that was once a boy's school; it has echoes, in more ways than this one, of Perth's PICA, the difference being that it is one of many of these types of organizations running in the city. It will move again in 2012, presuming the current Dutch arts funding crisis (the Arts Minister recently allegedly declared that he was proud not to know anything about art because it was 'a left-wing hobby') doesn't burst the bubble.

De Appel began with a commitment to performance art, a discipline that, in the 1970s, was lacking in venues and support. Its program still reflects this allegiance, devoting itself to the exhibition of conceptual and ephemeral works, but also explicitly states that the art it shows should both 'appeal to the eye and work on the emotions and thoughts of its visitors. Attractive and surprising visual stimuli are combined with intellectual challenges.'

The institution also runs a prestigious Curatorial Training Programme, and has recently announced a similar school for emerging art dealers, as well as hosting lectures and publishing discourse. Its vibe, as reflected by the part of their extensive mission statement quoted above - and in their choice of an anonymously drawn children's book illustration for a logo - is smart and fun, with rigor and without gimmick.

The show that was on while we were there was 'Genius Without Talent', a cross section of contemporary and historical methodologies that privilege ideas over skill, extending from and overlapping often seemingly incompatible ideas of form and content particular to both 1960s Conceptual Art and the Art-Brut of the CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) movement of the late 1940s.

There's this new trend in curating that has become increasingly fashionable and visible lately, possibly due to 2007's Artempo at Fortuny in Venice, that delights in placing contemporary work next to its predecessors. I think this is a good development, personally. Instead of fetishizing the 'now' in art and falling back on all those avant gardist hangups we're still carrying from early modernism, it promotes a kind of 'bigger picture' idea of what art is, has been and can be, although it relies on curatorship that doesn't fall back on linear or pedagogical museum-style hanging, which would mean that the work could only illustrate its place in history - as an artifact rather than a living artwork.

Genius Without Talent did this new thing, and did it well. Helene Sommer's 'I was (t)here' - an encyclopedic volume of potentially fictitious 'factoids' (facts and tabloids) experienced by the artist s second and third hand information and Beatrice Gibson's 'if the route: The great learning of London- an amusing and eerie video-soundscape composed of a group London cabbies-in-training chanting 'The Knowledge' as verbal accompaniment to a discordant string orchestra - could act in constellation with spontaneous and 'primitive' paintings by Asger Jorn from 1949 and Suzy Lake's 1975 feminist critique of institutionalized art learning. Each of the 35 odd works, which came from a staggering range of contexts, perspectives and material engagements, was allowed to operate succinctly, as a single point in a refreshing un-didactic and intricate critique of art maker's and viewer's often contradictory ideas about amateurism and specialized knowledge. It snuck up behind you and caught you by surprise, and it left you with a series of half-formed ideas that kept smashing together to make new wholes long after you left the gallery.

I could honestly write about it forever. It was complex.

Visit De Appel's website for more extensive, official information.

De Appel Boy's School, Amsterdam
Jakup Ferri, from 'Pocket Drawing Series', 2009

In the beginning

Posted by Jamie on the 31st of July, 2011

‘The co-founder of the word OK’ Ger Van Elk (1971)

Desk Plans

Posted by Jamie on the 28th of July, 2011

The Donald Judd Nelson Mandela, 2011

Neil Aldum//New Work

Posted by Gemma on the 26th of July, 2011

Contemporary polymath Neil Aldum presents a new body of work at Gallery East this Friday, July 29th from 6pm.

Aldum's work engages labour and skill both literally and as a subject, combining architectural, sculptural and craft elements to form a symbolic system that acts as both critique and celebration. Aldum presented work at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in 2010 as part of Rounds and is currently also completing a degree in Sustainable Development

Gallery East is at 94 Stirling Highway, North Fremantle.

(Image Courtesy of Gallery East)

Neil Aldum, Growth, 2011

feedback etc...

Posted by Gemma on the 26th of July, 2011

Ben Forster got feedback etc... up and running in Perth earlier this year. Ben acts as the administrator of a loose 'club' that provides feedback on request for exhibitions/finished works.

feedback etc... runs on an interesting model generated originally by ClubsProjects inc, (ClubsFeedback), a Melbourne 'society' that operated the sessions out of their own project space. ClubsProjects/Feedback grew out of a group of artists looking to keep the intensity of artschool peer discussion running and to provide a support network for artists wishing to sustain their practices outside of the 'institution'. It worked for them: many of the Melbourne Clubs members are pretty successful, or at least prolific.

Ben moved to Perth from Canberra earlier this year, and found the art community fairly insular, one that didn't really talk much beyond its little groups. There's also a documented and regularly discussed lack of published criticism in Perth, and often exhibitions can slide on by without note or response. feedback etc... is a way of getting around this, a way of introducing people across generations and disciplines, and of generating discussion and response that an artist might otherwise miss. The formula it runs on tries to circumvent the responses of people who have either spent three to four years participating in the attack zone of university art reviews or have come to the work without any experience of contemporary art at all (feedback etc... is good like this: it encourages participation from everyone, anyone, etc).

The model runs like so:

1: There is a moderator that oversees the proceedings. The artist is present, but does not speak about the work.

2: Stage One is an exhaustive 'observational' session, where participants literally describe what is physically in the space without making judgement calls, without describing affect. Just what's there, extensively and in plain language. This goes on for a while, and it's surprisingly challenging to apply language to work without reverting to habitual art jargon.

3: The moderator then initiates Stage Two, which is a targeted 'responsive' discussion that unpacks some of the issues that come up in Stage One. This is where connotative meaning begins to be discussed and everyone works out what the actual work in the room is doing, rather than what it isn't doing, or what they'd prefer it to do.

4: Then, a series of questions are formulated from this discussion, and put to the artist who can then respond, or not respond if they don't care to.

Usually by this stage everyone is very tired, and needs to eat cake or chips or drink a coffee, and the discussion continues elsewhere, informally. Sessions tend to progress quite differently depending on the moderator and the group. Everything is generally negotiable as well - the artist decides on the location and size of group providing feedback and so on, and Ben will try to find a suitable moderator, a team of participants that will provide both variety and quality of response and also anyone who might be of use to the artist, the aim being ultimately the generation of useful networks.

There is a more detailed description of how feedback etc... operates at and sessions can be requested here as well.

The original Clubs Projects site is here.

(Image courtesy of

feedback forum for Jackson Eaton's The Third Wheel

Museum of Natural Mystery

Posted by Gemma on the 26th of July, 2011

The Museum of Natural Mystery opened roughly three months ago, quietly, in suburban North Perth. The Museum's ethos is simple - to present and support good creative work - but beyond that, it's an elegant, kinetic manifesto in Doing it Yourself.

The Museum is, on a basic level, a gallery in a garage. It's also a curated ARI that, due to its nature, is autonomous from many of of the factors that affect the programming and management of an ARI. This autonomy, however, is by no means used megalomaniacally. It's run by Pat Miller and David Egan, who presented the second show, their own - Magical Signs: Exchange and Utopia - as an explanation of the Museum's principles and philosophies.

I have to be honest, I missed this exhibition. I'd left the country, so it wasn't due to laziness. I did read the catalogue through, which dealt with the appearance of strange structures in the Perth outer-suburban everyday and the weird mania of the Esperance woman who is building her own stonehenge (both good analogies). I did catch both the first and third exhibitions, the former being Jason Hansma's Gentle Into That Good Night and the latter Tom Freeman's 18th and 19th Century Prisoner Art, which opened the Friday just gone (July 22nd), and which is already over. Hansma's show used sparse (but not coldly so) material arrangements to step softly around the problem of language in the face of uncertainty; cones and spheres and silk and resin and heat treated metal barely contained a symbolic universe of necessarily incomprehensible beauty. This sounds vaguely derogatory, but I mean it well. Ambiguity is necessary when approaching the unknown.

Tom presented a series of four drawings and a table of models (or dioramas) made after an Oxford Museum encounter with a similar form made by an 18th century French Prisoner of the Crown from bone and bricolage. These seven models struck a great balance between skilled, meticulous delicacy and haphazard, fantastical chaos. Evidently handcrafted ceramic forms were supported by painted balsa and ply, decorated with glitter, tissue paper and paint. There's a lot in there: the hand of the maker and the inevitable passage of time, the necessity of making your own world from the things around you, the fragility of each of these worlds, contained within each other like wooden dolls.

I've used the word necessary and its derivatives a lot in these last paragraphs - I think it's a pretty relevant word in terms of what Pat and Dave are doing. The Museum presents one show a month, and it produces a catalogue alongside the work, so ideally they won't just disappear as things like this often do. Shows are only open for a single night, but they're rich and magic in a really practical way.

The next one will be in August sometime. Visit for more information.

(Images courtesy of Dave Egan and Pat Miller)

Magical SIgns: Exchange and Utopia. Image courtesy
Magical SIgns: Exchange and Utopia. Image courtesy


Posted by Gemma on the 26th of July, 2011

A disclaimer, because it feels necessary to start from something like this:

This blog isn't necessarily about OK. It isn't even necessarily about Perth, although Perth is obviously of particular interest. It'll be used for a similar function to that of Andrew's Ongoing Art Concerns - a kind of catalogue of events and ideas that are of interest, or relevance, or etc.

Comments/suggestions to


Pierre Manzoni, The Base of the World, 1961