David Jones, artist and poet (1895-1974) begins his PREFACE TO THE ANATHEMATA :

'I have made a heap of all that I could find.' (1) So wrote Nennius, or whoever composed the introductory matter to Historia Brittonum. He speaks of an 'inward wound' which was caused by the fear that certain things dear to him 'should be like smoke dissipated'. Further, he says, 'not trusting my own learning, which is none at all, but partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymous, Prosper, Eusebius and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons although our enemies . . . I have lispingly put together this . . . about past transactions, that [this material] might not be trodden under foot'. (2)

(1) The actual words are coacervavi omne quod inveni, and occur in Prologue 2 to the Historia.
(2) Quoted from the translation of Prologue 1. See The Works of Gildas and Nennius, J.A.Giles, London 1841.

24 September 2013

'AUSTRALIA' at the Royal Academy (2)

In 2008 Baz Luhman launched his "epic historical romantic drama film" AUSTRALIA. We haven't seen it, but we know that it was variously criticised. Literally, a projection for love(rs) and hate(rs).

The National Gallery of Australia has now joined with the Royal Academy of Arts, London, to produce another such projection AUSTRALIA.

"Marking the first major survey of Australian art in the UK for 50 years, this exhibition spans more than 200 years from 1800 to the present day and seeks to uncover the fascinating social and cultural evolution of a nation through its art."
Value added : well, this exhibition now showcases a lot more than its constructors would ever have anticipated...

If there are weaknesses from the curatorial side, as the initial reviews have suggested (here), there are now also some extraordinary, additional, associated exhibits to consider : displays of ignorance (particularly of Australian Indigenous art), insult and spleen.
This from Brian Sewell in 'The Standard'
19 September 2013
read full article here

Australia, Royal Academy - exhibition review
A vast survey is wasted on ‘cultural cringe’ that only goes to show what the ‘whitefella’ did to Australia and its art

"The exhibition is divided into five sections, of which the first is Aboriginal Art — but of the present, not the distant past, at last “recognised as art, not artefact”. By whom, I wonder? For these examples of contemporary aboriginal work are so obviously the stale rejiggings of a half-remembered heritage wrecked by the European alcohol, religion and servitude that have rendered purposeless all relics of their ancient and mysterious past. Swamped by Western influences, corrupted by a commercial art market as exploitative as any in Europe and America, all energy, purpose and authenticity lost, the modern Aboriginal Australian is not to be blamed for taking advantage of the white man now with imitative decoration and the souvenir. The black exploits the white’s obsession with conspicuous display and plays on the corporate guilt that he has now been taught to feel for the ethnic cleansing of the 19th century — a small revenge for the devastation of his culture — but the Aborigine offers only a reinvented past, his adoption of “whitefella” materials and, occasionally, “whitefella” ideas (Jackson Pollock must surely lie behind the longest of these canvases) undoing his “blackfella” integrity."

Sewell concludes :
What on earth does the National Gallery of Australia — provider of half the exhibits and almost all the catalogue text — hope to achieve with this inadequate exhibition? The English have no romantic engagement with Australia that justifies our having to inspect such consistently provincial trivia, and though we may be amused to see the Australian Cultural Cringe so compellingly demonstrated, the demonstration (as with Australian humour) wears thin with repetition. I can see the point of an exhibition of pre-colonial Aboriginal artefacts, for it might be as provocative and illuminating as the recent investigation of the Ice Age at the British Museum (how about a show comparing them with the survivals from the earliest sites of civilisation in the Americas, Africa and Asia?). I willingly argue that we need to be reminded of the few Australian painters who achieved international fame in the mid-20th century — Boyd, Tucker, Drysdale, Perceval and Nolan among them (though Nolan was as much English in later life and, in death, posthumously became an Irishman) — yet these are almost entirely neglected here. The Royal Academy’s exhibition, in the end, amounts to nothing but sad Reader’s Digest stuff."

'Cascade of diarrhoea' : 

UK critic savages Australian art exhibition

Nick Miller / Sydney Morning Herald
23 September 2013
read full article here

"Much of the so-called cream of Australian art is lightweight, provincial and dull, and some of it is reminiscent of liquid crap, says one of Britain's leading critics.

In a searing review of the Royal Academy's new 'Australia' exhibition which opened this weekend in London, the Sunday Times' Waldemar Januszczak describes indigenous art as “tourist tat”, Frederick McCubbin's famous The Pioneer as “poverty porn”, and Fred Williams' desert landscape as “thick cowpats of minimalism”."


A desert of new ideas
Waldemar Januszczak / The Sunday Times
22 September 2013
read full article here if you are prepared to pay

Some extracts :

"The bad news is the art itself, which isn'’t impressive enough, often enough, to warrant such a weighty inspection. Every now and then something interesting comes along, but as an overall national achievement, the contents of this display feel lightweight and provincial. Considering how much power there is in the land itself, —what a unique and fiery landscape we are dealing with here,— the response of Australia’s artists has a tinny tone to it, a lack of muscularity, that feels wrong. Here is a nation, I ended up musing, in which the wrong people became artists. The stockmen should have grabbed the brushes from the chaps who went to Paris, or those who came to London to join the Royal Academy."
"The German journeymen and the painting convicts were not, of course, the first artists in Australia. That sad honour goes to the indigenous Aboriginal peoples, who were shunted aside, murdered and betrayed. Their presence in this show continues to feel problematic and tokenistic. Having seen fragments of their ancient art in situ —carved onto rock faces, scratched into lofty overhangs — I know them to be the creators of a mighty artistic tradition that seems actually to be baked into this great land. Aborigine art, in situ, driven by the huge survivalist imperatives that created it, is an art of tremendous power and pertinence. Exactly what the show needs. Exactly what it doesn't get.

Instead, there are dull canvas approximations, knocked out in reduced dimensions, by a host of repetitive Aborigine artists making a buck. Out of a tremendous indigenous tradition, fired and inspired by an enormous natural landscape, the Australian art world has managed to create what amounts to a market in decorative rugs. Opening the show with a selection of these spotty meanderings, and discussing them in dramatically hallowed terms, cannot disguise the fact that in most cases the great art of the Aborigines has been turned into tourist tat. Only Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, in a dense and undulating landscape of cosmic dots called Warlugulong, successfully
evokes the vast rhythms of the outback."
and later Januszczak concludes :
"Fred Williams, a particularly mannered member of the less-is-more school, splatters the delicate emptiness of the desert with thick cowpats of minimalism. As the show grows ever browner and yellower, John Olsen’s Sydney Sun, a giant panel of art installed above your head, successfully evokes the sensation of standing under a cascade of diarrhoea. I think he was actually trying to record the harsh tangibility of the Australian sun.

The crassness that characterises these repetitive responses to the Australian landscape is also in evidence, alas, in the figure paintings of the times. I take the point that Albert Tucker was seeking to portray the sunbathers on an Australian beach in 1944 as lumps of sun-baked meat — no arms, no legs, no heads — for existential wartime reasons, but, jeez, what an ugly painting. And for a complete absence of grace or sensitivity, you would be hard pushed to find an image that could overtake Arthur Boyd’s horrible black studio scene in which a flaying figure with a paintbrush jack-knifes across the canvas like a man being thrown out of a bar.

It’s not until the show enters its final stretches, and we reach the contemporary world, that Australian art becomes properly varied again, and a whole new range of moods and tonalities pop up. In a set of exquisitely crafted sardine-tin sculptures by Fiona Hall, the tin has been cut and twisted into delicate examples of Australian flora on the outside, and energetic episodes of Australian porn on the inside. In a pictorial reprise of Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic feral world, Danie Mellor gives us an ancient Greek necropolis overrun by koalas, kangaroos and Aboriginals. The imported European civilisation is in black and white. The rightful inhabitants of Australia are in colour."

Q: Okay smart arse, what would you do?

As an exercise?  If for some reason an exhibition of/about Australia/land/landscape painthings had to go to the Royal Academy of Arts, London?

A start date somewhere around 1970.

Geoffrey Bardon stands in front of the mural on a school wall in Papunya, August 1971. Photo: Robert Bardon

Room 1 :
Show again the same Indigenous works already in this exhibition - look again, do some research! 
(And don't float Emily Kame Kngwarreye's Big Yam Dreaming (1995) so ridiculously high. Way above the yam giving earth? Over a doorway?)
Margo Neale, principal curator of Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Japanese media in front of Big Yam Dreaming 1995, at the the National Art Center, Tokyo from 28 May to 28 July 2008. Photo: Sonja Balaga - more here
Room 2:
Fred Williams : from the early links to London and via French and North American art, he develops a local view.

Room 3:
Ian Burn : as mentioned in the previous post (here), the 'Value added' meta-landscapes of his Collaborations exhibition, 1993.

Room 4:
Juan Davila : another insider/outsider re-imagines Project Australia : The Moral Meaning of Wilderness

Juan Davila, A Man is Born Without Fear (2010)            via Art Blart
 A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
 someone looks at something ...