Last month I visited Melbourne and I set about trying to visit every goddamn gallery within walking distance of the CBD. The result: I needed a foot massage, bought a pair of sneakers, and saw more art than I thought was possible in just over a week. I keep threatening to write more on my binge session but I haven’t been able to bring myself to sort through the stack of exhibition catalogues and show texts sitting on my desk. Instead, I’ll start with just two.
For the exhibition Title is important, at BLINDSIDE, curator Laura Couttie invited seven artists to re-consider moments of failure, revision, and self-censorship from within their own practise. Taking inspiration from David Critchely’s 1979 video Pieces I Never Did, the artists remade or reworked ideas that, for a variety of reasons, had never quite made it. Having previously exhibited a list of ideas at another gallery earlier in the year, Sean Whittaker decided one of those worth realising: he installed a series of convex security mirrors in the corners of the room, exposing both the blindspots of the gallery as well as placing the viewer in a position of voyeuristic uncertainty. Catherine Clayton-Smith’s painting wow (2015) was endearingly underwhelming as the composition of a cursive ‘wow’ trailed across a purple background was a successful gesture, but the application of oil stick (a kind of fancy pastel) on oil paint had caused the surface of the work to crack. On an enlarged smartphone (rotated tv screen) Jarrah de Kuijer’s work, #ideas_never_made (2016), played. On the screen the artist’s Instagram account scrolled along, rolling past renders of possible works. This was more interesting as a commentary on the social currency of the app than as a double layered ideas-of-art-works-as-an-artwork. In an effort to expose the ironies of constructing a porn film with a narrative, David Attwood set about downloading the world’s biggest budget pornographic film, Pirates II, just so he could make a version without the sex scenes. During his research he discovered someone else has already made a clean version, only to later find that it had been retracted. In the gallery only the DVD case was presented. Whether he remade the edited version was never specified.
It could be argued that some of the work should never have left the studio, even for this exhibition. For every good idea an artist has, there are many more that are not; the reasoning being as intuitive and rational as they are economic and practical. Title is important laid bare this reasoning, exposing parts of artistic production usually reserved for notebooks and studios, for individual thoughts and tentative exploration. I wish I had a better metaphor here than to say it was like reading someone’s diary, but it felt invasive. Exhibitions are presumed to be a definitive, cumulative point of an artist’s practice, yet here I was looking behind the curtain—all while being stalked by security mirrors.
Across town at Westspace, Isabelle Sully’s project Guest Book addressed failure of a different kind. The exhibition brought together artworks that had previously received negative reviews in the mainstream press and included works by Martin Creed, Hany Armanious, and Juan Davila. Were these works truly radical, or, as the newspaper criticisms declared them, a waste of taxpayers money? In framing the newspaper review as a site of productive tension, Sully questioned the role of criticism, where it occurs, and the polarities between art and non-art audiences. Do works like Martin Creed’s Work No.312 (which is literally a lamp going on and off every second) offer a common ground of uncertainty or just further isolate a more general audience? Who has the authority to speak and who are we speaking to? If newspaper reviews are the most public forum of discussion, what then is the relationship between negative reviews, a lack of public faith in the arts, and decreases to arts funding? It’s a thin line between a terrible idea and a great artwork, and between good press and a bad review, but, as these two shows proved, there is productive ground to be found in the space between.
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The tech-savvy golden child of the art world is back and in our national museum. If you (obviously) missed it out on seeing it in Venice, Simon Denny’s Secret Power is now showing at Te Papa.