Redefining preconceptions about art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas

In retrospect, it was public art. It had an energy to it. It brought life to the places around me. I thought I had an open mind when it came to art. It didn’t take long to realise my beliefs were outdated as I scrambled to adjust a decades old perception of public art.

The genre of public art for me had included sculpture, murals and I threw in street art, which I know is not strictly public art, but I was challenged to rethink my view-point recently when I hit the streets of Brisbane to follow a contemporary public art trail.

Armed with a downloaded PDF my partner in art and I headed off for a morning of joy and immersion in creativity. The very first piece we came across was not included on the list.  A week later I discovered it was the city’s newest piece of public art (below).  It was obviously art to me, as to the other pieces on the list, to be honest, we were stumped.  I had excepted the art to be easy to find and literally hit us in the face.  We stood on street corners searching.  We wandered up and down pavements looking.  Checking the ‘map’ and descriptions we soon discovered some of the art was what I might have mistaken for building decoration and architectural flourishes rather than commissioned work from the public purse.

Now I know all art does not appeal to all people – I get that. But I was perplexed by the painted ceilinged walkway, the coloured tiled wall and the barely perceptible swirls on the glass facade of a building.  Had I not been searching for these pieces they would have caught my eye and I would have admired the beauty, the departure from the norm in each of them.  On this occasion, I was expecting something different. Something more immediately recognisable. Something I could ‘label’ with an existing language to say – hey, that’s a piece of art.

I came away slightly disconcerted and just a little baffled but keen to redefine an obviously outdated and incorrect viewpoint.  What I have discovered, thanks to the Association of Public Art, is that “public art is not an art ‘form’.  Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

According to this comprehensive definition and with a new understanding, each piece of art I discovered was appropriately classified as public art and I am keen to discover more. Have you had a similar experience where you have had to adjust your thinking to align with  a more widely held view?

 

 

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Celebrating art

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It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. ~Kojiro Tomita

Art can be celebrated any day of the week but this year my home town of Brisbane is celebrating the 10th birthday of our very own Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art – GOMA with a summer long exhibition and series of activities. I popped along to join in the fun on another day of celebration, for some, – Australia Day. 

The 10th birthday celebrations feature a whopping 250 contemporary artworks that are a true feast for the senses. There are some newly commissioned works as well as a lovely smattering of old favourites.  The intention of the exhibition is to reflect our complex connections to the natural world through the senses. My senses were pleasantly engaged and enchanted by the multi dimensional and interactive landscape artfully curated for art lovers of all ages.

Visitors are greeted by two spiralling slides that rocket the brave and childlike from the top floor to the bottom. Around the corner vivid colour strikes the eye as a landscape of synthetic hair that appears to grow from the ground reaches toward the ceiling. A sudden change of sensory input occurs when you step from the bright, well light open space of the gallery into a softly dimmed cavern containing a Heard of sculptural horses that I believe can be brought to life by dancers.

I was pleasantly surprised and no less intrigued to see Ron Mueck’s massive and life-like sculpture In bed on display again. The detail and the intimacy of the work is mesmerizing. This is one work I long to reach out and touch.

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The hugely popular installation of thousands and thousands of white Lego pieces was back.  The joy of this piece is in watching young and old sit and build fantastic structures.  It was slightly disconcerting for me to have it placed in a different spot to the first time it appeared. It was deja vu gone wrong.

Pinaree Sanpitak’s Noon-nom installation drew me. I wanted to sink into it, lounge atop the soft sculptures and enjoy the view of the river.  Having commented to the gallery staffer that it was tempting to do just that, she informed me the work was designed for relaxing on. At first glance the installation appears to be a lovely compilation of multi coloured bean bags.  The many soft sculptures actually represent breast stupas; a lovely bringing together of the human form and the spiritual. I had to giggle at myself for lounging on large breasts but marvel too at the artist’s ingenuity in capturing the nurturing form so well.

So many of the exhibits and installations provoked a mindful consideration of our being and our interactions with others and the world. Standing beneath a gigantic aluminium snake skeleton that spirals 53 metres gave me pause to reflect on how tiny we humans are yet how bold our ideas, traditions and stories can be. Tomás Saraceno’s Biospheres bought to mind soap bubbles, jelly fish, a fragile globe all at once. Another delightful yet fragile landscape was constructed by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s in his musical installation of live finches. I felt a world away from the hustle and bustle and was lucky enough to be the sole visitor for a while in this soothing space. Lee Mingwei’s Writing the Unspoken was a change of pace. In an intimate room with subdued lighting three small asian inspired booths offer visitors the opportunity to exchange ideas, communicate gratitude, insights and forgiveness. Visitors can write unspoken messages to be sent by the gallery, if sealed and addressed or leave a message for others to read and enjoy.  I was moved by the strength and beauty of the words people chose to leave for strangers. 

Congratulations GOMA on your 10th birthday. Congratulations to the curators for bringing together seemingly disparate pieces and creating a world of joy, contemplation and reverence.  Well done. Thank you to artists everywhere who through great talent, sacrifice and struggle bring us these works that move us, shape us and create something that lingers long after we’ve taken in the work itself.

 

Outdoor gallery swells minds and hearts

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 He held her like a seashell, and listened to her heart.
And kissed her for eternity–nevermore apart.
Author unknown

Exposure to the elements, works of art, water and sand aren’t a typical combination. Except at Currumbin Beach. Each September the Swell Festival brings these elements together.  Lovers of  sculpture, the curious and the unsuspecting descend on the beach as the cold grip of winter gives way to the effervescence of spring. 

Many make the trip because of the sheer delight it brings to squelch through the sand from exhibit to exhibit, some come to the beach and are treated to a marvellous surprise and some, unfazed, go about the business of surfing, building sand castles or jogging along the shore, seemingly heedless of the display.  It all makes for a fascinating spectacle.  The human factor enhances the quirkiness of the art itself and the location.

This is a must see festival with works by both local and international artists. I have made the short drive the last two years to revel and delight in the extravaganza.  There is something very Daliesque about the beach being transformed by an  array of sculptures all  individually unique and interesting and collectively satisfying. The varied works appeal to my sense of play and fun.  What do you think?

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Room for art

Wandering around Venice and drinking in the art on display as part of the Art and Architecture Biennale I recalled my year 10 Art teacher telling us about concern, criticism and doubts that arose when the Guggenheim Museum was built. People did not understand how square and rectangular paintings could be hung and enjoyed on curved walls. I guess in the end the ingenuity and uniqueness of the space quelled any concerns.

During this biennale I have come to realise anew that the space in which an artwork is displayed can contribute as much to the enjoyment of the work as the actual piece itself. The Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery are beautiful spaces and magnificent works of art in themselves but I’ve marvelled at the unique selection of space by artists to display their work here in Venice. Part of the fun is also wandering the narrow laneways to find the various pavilions and exhibits.

Fun in the streets of Venice

Fun in the streets of Venice

One work in particular by Bill Culbert held me captive. Ordinarily this type of work would not interest me for long but the construction in the space were fascinating partners. Empty laundry bottles and bright fluorescent lights scattered on the floor were bought to life by the space in which they were displayed. The room, complete with brick arches, ancient stairwells and old wooden doors opening onto the canal married with the sound of water lapping on the outside of the building and the passing boats added tremendously to this work.

Space contributes to Art

Space contributes to Art

In another room, pieces of furniture with florescent lights attached were arranged in an oval formation. Viewed from one angle, looking into the room and the white space behind, the work was interesting if not a little peculiar but viewed from the other end of the room with the canal in the background seen through rotting doors and wood panelled windows, it was something else all together. The wooden furniture and the wooden door and window frames drew the eye and competed the work.

Similarly, there were equally magnificent pieces to view in the two main galleries the Guardini and Accademia. The Gallerie dell Accadamia held the most magnificent body of work by Pawel Althamer in what I can only imagine was a very purposefully selected room. The sculptures, of which there were close to a hundred, were themselves truly something to behold but the space selected also contributed to the eerieness of their form.

Creative work fulfilling space

Creative work fulfilling space

The mind of an artist is a place I’d like to go. Not only do they have the talent to create but the foresight to compose in and utilise the very space itself is a potent form of creation.

I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I am so fortunate to have witnessed this great event.