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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Contemporary Israeli art at AU Museum, DC

                                 Still from Sigalit Landau’s DeadSee

It’s been about eleven years now since I left Israel, yet my connection with the exhibition of Israeli artists at the American University Museum was immediate. Contemporary Israeli art is out-of-the-box, cutting edge, and in-your-face. Pretty representative of the country as a whole, I would say.

All the works belonged to the Donald Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Israeli Art, just gifted to the Museum. Many of Israel’s better known artists were represented – Moshe Kupferman, Yael Bartana, Tsibi Geva, Michal Rovner, Sigalit Landau and Moshe Gershuni  to name but a few of the heavy hitters. ( Click here to read my interview of the latter’s exceedingly talented son, Aram Gershuni).

                            A typical work by Moshe Kupferman

The themes expressed by the artists convey the preoccupations of the young nation – the Holocaust that hangs over it like an ominous shadow, the continuous wars, the soul-searching over the Palestinian issue. One gets a sense of a country that is by necessity closing in upon itself yet struggling to claw itself out of its predicament.

One of Tsibi Geva's works from the Kaffiyeh series One of Tsibi Geva’s works from the Kaffiyeh series

TWO MUST-SEE VIDEOS (One of these days I will figure out how to embed videos into the blog…) :

Israeli artists were amongst the first to embrace video as an art form. Two works that left a lasting impression on me were video works: The first was Tamy Ben Tor’s video trilogy of the artist in various disguises spewing verbal diarrhea that is really quite disturbing. Watch this one called Yid. The second is Dana Levy’s lyrically named video Departures/50 ways to leave your lover. Just LOVE this one and hope you do too. Shalom for now!

(PS. Back to the subject of portraits from previous blogs, obviously I am not the only artist fascinated/obsessed with portraits – here is Switzerland-based Chinese artist Qui Jie at his first major solo exhibition in Singapore. Does the grid look familiar…?)

VIDEO: Qiu Jie — Recluse from a Distant Land