Sunday, September 09, 2007

Melbourne - Day One

I had to wake up so early to make my flight, that I was damn near up before I’d had a chance to go to bed. Ah well, there is a price to pay if you want to be in Melbourne before 8:30 in the morning. They said at the hotel that if I had not been leaving so early, they would have taken me their in the stretched limo: instead, I had to resort to a taxi.

Flying’s flying, the Pacific Blue flight got me there and the shuttle in to town. Funny how this sort of travel is now so common-place that one has nothing to say about it. You can’t even complain about the airline food these days, as you don’t get any.

I only had a day to spend in Melbourne, and I didn’t have much of a plan, but it turned out to be full of activity. After checking out the café scene near my backpackers, with a return to Journal, the Melbourne Library Café, for a memorial drink, I remembered that the Guggenheim exhibition was in town. After all, I’d flown all the way from P North to Dunedin to see it when it was there, so now that good fortune had placed me in the same place it was with time to spare, going to see it was an obligation, almost.

The audio-guide was useful in starting out with a statement about what the Guggenheim Collection was all about: it is interested in the artists who have moved on from the old notion that art simply reflects – God, reality, something other. These artists are into the self-reflective, psycho-analytic, non-objective and “raise real questions about what it means to be art”. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the abstract impressionistic works that feature strongly in this collection. I find a strange irony in the attempts of the artists to de-personalise their work, but for the work to only really have meaning if the artist’s intentions are made known, which requires someone to point that out. So, you see a sculpture with an exceedingly long nose,
you get the idea of Pinocchio, but without some idea of the provenance of Giacometti’s Nose, you don’t really have any idea that it is making a statement about war, and how the first casualty is the truth, or about existentialist anxiety. I also wonder about the work that is said to reflect the hidden unconscious of the artist – Pollock did this through the movement of the body, and certainly he produces an uncontrived look, as did Rothko (even if his work reminds me of infra-red imaging):

but other works said to “re-enact subconscious personal drama” looked very organized to me.

Then you have those who simply paint their canvas red: it is so completely abstract to suggest a lack of any sort of limits and erases the distinction between the subject and background. One artist whose work did catch my eye was Victor Vasarely – through the use of colour and shading, he creates an effective 3-D look:

There were a few examples of Pop Art: Warhol was there, of course, but it was his Death & Disorder sequence, which are images of the electric chair – it actually had a kind of resonance for me, in light of all the other images of his I am more familiar with. Then there were the works by Gilbert & George, which played with the idea of “pop” and celebrity by locating themselves within their own art. I’m not even sure why, but I liked Jeff Koons’ work so much I had to buy a poster of Easy Fun Ethereal – glorified images of food against a somewhat surreal background. Here is his Sandwiches:

In one room, I was completely flabbergasted: it was a room of installation art and included a corridor, half way along which the artist (Flavin) had put up several columns of fluorescent light tubes, to create a gold effect. So, when I saw a collection of slate pavers laid out on the floor of the gallery, I didn’t know if they were part of the gallery or an installation – since everyone was walking over them, including gallery security. I suspect not. But then the large packing crate at the end of the room turned out to be an installation called “suspended room” – if this is questioning the boundary between art and not-art, then I wish they’d use labels a bit more liberally.

Thomas Demand plays with the idea of photography representing reality, which gives the power of a photographer to manipulate reality. He had Leni Reifenstahl in mind when he made Archive – he mocks up her inventory in a sort of archive, then takes photographs:

This is a work by Gregory Crewdson - I don't know if the image reveals the facial expressions of the three siblings as they're dining, just before they're aware there's a naked older lady (their mother) just coming into the room:

The final exhibit, I’d have had no idea what it was if I hadn’t been told on the audio guide:
It is actually a pile of licorice lollies, with the artist’s idea that a particular number be counted into the space at the beginning of each day, but that viewers be free to take one, to let the art be free and go out into the community.

After spending a fair while there, I was taking a quick tram trip to check out some music shops, when there was a “hello, Barry” behind me. I don’t know how many times I have randomly run into her after an absence of two or more years: this is at least the third. Wellington and Palmerston North (which is where I met her), well it is kind of normal to run into people, but Melbourne? But then I remember the same thing happened last year as well. Anyway, she has a crew of ex-Massey people (including her ex fiancée as well as her present husband) and, curiously enough, seems to have been thinking of me a lot recently (more proof that events announce themselves? and not just to me?): we all met up for a drink at a café before heading off on our respective journeys. Blow me down if I didn’t then meet someone else, a Dunedin acquaintance.

After all these interruptions, I only had a short time to get up to Lygon Street, check out Readings and Borders, have dinner (Malaysian, not Italian) before my movie - it was Freaky Friday - Cult Movie Night at ACMI and they were showing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. This was a bit of a mad movie, with a small part played by Jeff Goldblum, larger parts by John Lithgoow (fantastic!) and Chris Lloyd but the central character was played by someone I have never heard of , Peter Weller (I have since learned he was Robocop).

The story smacked of Back to the Future a little, with Christopher Lloyd's involvement and more mad science - this time a car didn't need to hit a particular speed in order to travel to time, but to enter the 8th dimension. Unfortunately, there were aliens in that dimension (all called John, and they were working out how to get out. Their arrival on earth had an ingenious explanation: when Orson Welles' War of the World was being played on radio, people thought it was real, and that was because this was not a radio drama, it was reportage. The public were hoaxed when they were told it was just a radio show.

The movie shouldn't really be as much fun as it is - the story is mad, the f/x are budget, the jokes are often lame (calling someone John Smallberries or John Bignoote), it has weird interludes where the main guys adopt their other role of being travelling musicians - but I had a great time watching it, and the rest of the audience seemed very appreciative as well.

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