September 23, 2013

Yesterday, I gave a tour of the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair for a group of MCA Young Ambassadors. As I said as the group assembled in the VIP area, I could speak to some of the works on show with knowledge and confidence. To others, I had a much more intuitive reaction. I think both those approaches are legitimate, in fact important. The Young Ambassadors are between 20 and 40 years old, obviously interested in art – and many are beginning to assemble their own collections. What I try to do is open up layers of meaning in a work, be they aesthetic, historical, political, sociological or questions of technique. My goal is to get those light bulbs popping off over people’s heads. Suffice to say, at the Fair there was much food for thought. Here are three of my favourite things…

Brendan Van Hek at Anna Schwartz. If Bruce Nauman is the grand-daddy of neon art, Perth-born Brendan Van Hek is its Prodigal Son. But unlike Nauman, who put neon to work at the service of language in art of the late-1960/70s, Van Hek takes it on its own merit, as a legitimate medium in and of itself. This majestic piece, Colour Composition #3 is almost three metres long by some 1.5 high and composed of objets trouvés – disused and discarded neon tubing. The depth (some 40 centimetres) of the piece makes it a spectacular wall-mounted sculpture. Brought together, the disparate elements form a new visual language, a brightly-lit Babel that speaks volumes about beauty, compulsion and desire. Love it.

Nola Diamantopoulos at Artereal gallery. This ephemeral piece of performance art – called Quest – involved the artist and one or several visitors engaging in a silent, written dialogue over the space of ten minutes. The constraint, however, was that only questions could be asked; question followed by question responded to with question, and so on. In a sense it’s an almost pure exercise in Rhetoric, with undertones of Buddhist theology. The result of this pencil ping-pong – the different questions, with different handwriting, expressing different mind-sets – becomes an artefact, an accordion-pleated sheet of continuous vellum, a palimpsest of the performance itself. Elegant, intriguing.

Juan Davila at Kalli Rolfe gallery. Davila is perhaps the most politicised of Australian artists. Born in Chile, he moved to Melbourne in his late-20s, lived the immigrant experience first-hand and then, in the 1980s had to navigate the prejudice and terror of the AIDS crisis. His large-scale, lush paintings conflated homoerotics, European art history and the Australian colonial experience (his seminal Stupid As A Painter hangs in the permanent collection of the MCA). A surprise, then to come across this new series of pastel abstractions. The energy and symbolism of his earlier works may have softened into late-period comfort – what I jokingly refer to as ‘angry gay impressionism’ – but these works were an unmitigated success with Davila collectors, several of the larger canvases selling upon sight. (Traces of the political polemicist remain in the works on paper, which also sell at good entry-level prices.)


Author: Nick tobias