Postscript to Australia trip

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This is definitely a first for me – my own wine label! As part of the prize for being awarded runner up in the Australian Mortimore Prize for Realism 2013, I received a dozen bottles of a robust, full-bodied shiraz with my own label featuring my winning portrait!

Cheers, mate!

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Private art made public

Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne
Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne

Contemporary art is intriguing partly because it is often impossible to define, crossing boundaries and mixing mediums to create ever-changing hybrids. The works themselves are increasingly reliant on digital technology and seem to be growing exponentially in size. It is one thing to admire this new art in a public place and quite another to experience it within a home.

Before leaving Melbourne, I was fortunate to have visited the Lyon Housemuseum, at once a private house and a private art museum.

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The Lyon Housemuseum is modern, light-filled, and spacious, serving equally well as a family home and a repository for the Lyon collection of contemporary Australian art. It opens its doors to the public on designated visiting days when the lady of the house, Mrs. Yueji Lyon, graciously offers a glimpse into what it is like to live intimately with some monumental and complex artworks by artists such as Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinini, Kathy Temin and Linda Marrinon (whose work I saw at the National Gallery of Victoria the previous week).

Looking down into the white cube from the second floor
Looking down into the white cube from the second floor

Corbett Lyon’s vision integrates the art seamlessly with the architecture, making the most disconcerting works appear quite mundane as if, for example, there was nothing unusual about making sandwiches at the kitchen’s expansive marble counter while artist Piccinini’s streamlined, oversized pink and blue baby trucks squat a few meters away watching a bank of video screens in which teenage girls talk about the rules of the road in a foreign language.

Patricia Piccinini's (Tender) Creatures courtesy Artium Musuem, Spain
Patricia Piccinini’s (Tender) Creatures courtesy Artium Museum, Spain

The immense black cube at the other end of the house is for viewing videos projected to a height of 20 feet or more. The space also transforms into the family’s party room or private media center. I was particularly tickled by several series of works cleverly hidden behind wooden walls that revealed their treasures when swung open with the slightest touch of a hand. So elegant!

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It was a treat to see the way in which contemporary art can make itself right at home when given the correct environment.

Howard Arkley's interior panels line the dining room walls
Howard Arkley’s panels line the dining room walls, expanding the space further into a fictionalized interior

Throughout the house, the family’s own written histories and stories were subtly engraved in text art covering much of the ceiling, reminding visitors that at the end of the day, this was an intensely private collection. Both inside and out, the art made its presence felt – sometimes quietly and sometimes violently. I think it is both noble and generous to share with the public a private collection that has been acquired with such an obvious love for the art of the here and now.

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Images courtesy of the Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne, Australia.

Reporting from Down Under

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I arrived in Melbourne, Australia at the perfect time to get a snapshot of what’s going on in contemporary art in this bustling, cosmopolitan city. Two of Melbourne’s premier art institutions – the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Ian Potter Center were dedicated to the Melbourne Now exhibition “celebrating the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne.”

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A colored-mirror skyline fragment greeted visitors at the waterfall entrance to the NGV. Once inside, a cleverly designed igloo-like structure demonstrated what one could do with plastic planters filled with plants at different stages of growth (below).

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I followed the path of the exhibition into a very large video gallery where Aussie humor was on full display. Take George Egerton-Warburton’s video entitled Why are you wearing athletic gear if you’re not playing any sport today?  In a Calder-like mobile,  a screen displayed the artist’s feet in sneakers walking through the streets of Melbourne, while on the other end of the mobile, the artists suspended his sneakers by their shoelaces.

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I was also mesmerized by Charlie Sofo’s video ‘33 Objects that can fit through the hole in my pocket’. I watched as combs, lighters, pens, snakes, keys, notebooks, etc. slithered down the artist’s pant leg. I can’t explain it, but I really liked this work!

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There were several contemporary Aboriginal artists represented as well, and the shield as object was evident is several works. One of the Melbourne Now exhibition workshops offered to the public was a native demonstration of how to make a cloak out of possum skins!! You can hear possums scampering about on urban rooftops  ever since they were placed on the endangered species list several years ago.

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I enjoyed several interactive works such as a wall of  postcards printed with the public’s suggestions for how to develop Melbourne in the future, and another installation that comprised a circular wall  that from a distance looked like trees and nests and flocks of birds. On closer inspection the entire scene was created by tiny blackbird stickers that the public were encouraged to build upon. I even got to relive my youth with a fabulous remake of a disco-era dance party (see images of these installations below).

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Linda Marrinon’s plaster and cast figures referenced Hellenistic and Roman sculptural periods, but her individual figures were most decidedly anti-heroic Winter bride, Twins with skipping rope and Voltaire were some of the titled sculptures.

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There were few paintings on exhibit, Linda Forthun’s Bright Lights being among the few: A large canvas of Melbourne’s skyline painted in her signature style using stencils, and overlays.

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In case one starts getting too serious about the art, that Aussie humor will turn up again when least expected, like when I was looking for the Ladies room…

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