To me, a hotel lobby will always be a place of fantasy. Where, after all that planning and travel, you are finally standing in the lobby, bags packed away in your room, and ready to explore. Chance meetings with locals are only a whisper away, and a new city is just outside the door and you can barely control your excitement.Read More
Why we should have more little moments of cultural magic in our stations that throw us off the tracks of normalcy ...Read More
We’ve never been so uniquely positioned to get people involved in fantastic community art projects. But is it as easy as simply putting out a few sponsored posts, and letting the ‘community’ roll on through the door, brushes in hand? Probably not.Read More
“This festival will offer you the chance to get involved in your local creative community.”
How many times have you heard these enthusiastic words (or similar) from the latest culture festival? The words are true - a good festival offers “the uninitiated” an easy way into the art world. The supercillious gatekeepers - of being in the know and invited - melt into the shadows.
But is this message of welcome getting across? Sometimes, the buzzwords of ‘community’ seem so overused the sentiment behind it feels a little trite. Like any platitude worth its salt, simply telling us that it will benefit the community in some vague manner fails to remind potential festival goers why it is important to get involved in the first place.
Arts Festivals are about cutting through real and imagined social structures to bring everyone together to celebrate art. If we could get this message across meaningfully, can you imagine the results? Community engagement wouldn't just be a box on a form to tick, but a state of normalcy.
It’s hard to reach certain people when it comes to arts festivals.
‘But why?’ cries the overworked festival director, as they throw more money onto their increasingly boosted Facebook post.
Maybe they just need a bit of gentle coaxing. Art should be for everyone, but sometimes it’s easy to see why people might not feel welcome. For those “in the know” the reason behind going to all the events associated with arts festivals seems obvious. ‘Get involved, world!’ we yell over our shoulder, as we run off to another fantastic opening.
There’s the traditional argument that that museums - where art is traditional hosted - are elitist ‘private clubs’, or that only a certain ‘type’ of people go to art events. Or that even the structures (large, stonily imposing, heavy on the columns) are made to welcome some, and dissuade others. That money and class barriers are still an issue.
Musee D'Orsay, Paris and the Met Museum, New York, are two very traditional (and imposing) museum buildings
The more modern version of this argument might be that you have to wear, say or think a certain way to ‘fit in’ inside these establishments That you have to be an artist - or at least know the difference between oils and acrylics. The fear that, at any moment, you might be asked your thoughts on conceptual art, be exposed as the fraud you are; and consequently be chased out of the fashionable white cube gallery, by an edgily dressed mob, holding art-deco flaming torches.
To be fair, art festivals make an enormous effort to get new blood in (for example, Facebook events has been used to great success for reaching new crowds, and Sydney Contemporary shone focus on disenfranchised tenants at Waterloo, Sydney). And, once you’re there, you often find that the focus is usually more on the art, conversation and free nibbles than aggressively quizzing your neighbour on the pros and cons of a group show.
Yet, the feeling of exclusivity remains in the art world. It has gotten to the degree that some critics, such as Saksia Sassen, are arguing that art is increasingly being used as an "Art-washing" tool to gentrify and thereby increase rent in neighbourhoods.
Why is it important to keep trying to get everyone through the door? Well, firstly, an arts festival might find it hard to reflect society if all of society isn’t there, critiquing and examining. It’s sort of like Lisa Pryor’s recent complaint that an International Women’s Day Breakfast, populated by white, CBD nine-to-fiver females isn’t exactly in the spirit of the thing.
Secondly, it’s important to the economy of the artist to make people aware that supporting the arts in their community doesn’t always have to consist of buying that $30,000+ artwork. It can be as simple as turning up, and engaging with the work (although the odd bought painting would definitely not go amiss).
One way to engage midway is to get involved with artist workshops - and there’s always great ones around during festivals. From jewellery silversmithing, glass blowing and pottery making; to dominatrix life drawing, retro dancing workshops, and wine & watercolour evenings.
Not only is this beneficial for economic reasons (the artist gets a solid payment from all those taking part), but this active participation achieves what all festivals strive for - engagement with the community. People are interacting, getting to know their neighbours, all the while while learning about what is important to one of their local creatives.
For example, Sydney based collective Welcome Studio use their platform to introduce skilled artists (who are also asylum seekers) to the local Sydney community. 'Welcome' partner with the artists; empowering (and paying) refugee artists to run the workshops themselves.
One such artist, Alwy Fadhel, taught participants to paint with coffee, focusing on achieving different colour tones with the grains. This was something he’d been taught by a fellow artist while he was in an Australian Immigration Detention Centre.
The low barriers to this level of involvement between artist, individuals and art, is real community engagement; each party learning each other stories.
A workshop at internationally acclaimed Venice Biennale festival has taken a similar approach, when it hosted the Olafur Eliasson’s Green Light Workshop in it’s 57th year. The workshop invited refugees, asylum seekers and members of the public to take part in a program of creativity; making green light lamps, intervention performance art and screenings.
In order for festivals to reach their full potential, and reflect society, they need to shake things up by being as welcoming as possible. This could be as simple as making it more in the open - think the spectatorship of Vivid Sydney - or by reaching out into different communities.
So start small and see what’s around you. You might learn a bit more about the people out there than you think.
Read more from the Australian Art Curator Blog here
So, in the spirit of wishfully holding onto summer, I thought it would be timely to look into artists in residence programs.Read More
2018 is on the horizon, and in the tradition of the good old New Year’s resolution, I am suggesting you make a commitment: to participating in an art prize!
Involvement is not limited to artists, as any art enthusiast can enjoy the opinions of others on cutting edge and thought-provoking contemporary art.
For artists, whether you are well-established or rising through the circles, merely entering a competition can be hugely rewarding. There is also the potential for gaining the prize to look forward to.
Global art prizes create big business, in Australia specifically the industry is worth around AUD$4 million. As some in the field would be aware, there can often be some questionable bureaucracy within the funding and judging processes.
However, when regarding an artistic career through the lens of a business, which we cannot deny is an important aspect, the rewards can definitely outweigh the risks.
The more high-profile institutional prizes are often well recognised and garner great exposure for finalists and winner (the Archibald Prize immediately comes to mind).
The subject matter in the prize is full of famous faces, from portrait subjects to artists and even the judging panel. The Art Gallery of New South Wales stands by the 96 year old competition, although the quick judgment calls at the beginning of the process have come into question.
Not everyone is suited to these competitions, and if the big leagues aren’t your style, then there are plenty of small prizes to fill the gaps for a wide range of practices.
The Stencil Art Prize is an example of a small-scale award that seeks to recognise the exceptional works of artists working with stencils in their practice. It includes a major prize of $5000, which was presented this year to winners Jana & JS.
However, artists should not be scared off by the sheer size of the art prize industry. So here are a few benefits to help convince you of the merits of this New Year’s resolution.
Get involved in some healthy competition and back your skills and message. It may be daunting placing your work in an arena to be judged, but this is the same as any time a piece enters the public arena through an exhibition with anyone open to make similar judgements.
Exposure is everything
In order to make a living off your work, building a profile is essential. Art prizes are a way of self-curating your brand through entering yourself into particular circles that suit your message and practice.
Just think of it as another exhibition - finalists are often shown publicly and through the guise of an art prize.
Friends in high places
Judges can arrange an invested party with academic experts or a fellow artists and if your work is memorable or even one of the winners you can grow a very influential network. Even if you don’t win the award this time, your new-found network is sure to play a role for you in the future.
Did I mentioned the cash?
Aussies love competition so you can bet that the prize pool for a winner can often be a substantial amount of cash to give you a well-deserved boost. The romanticised idea of the struggling artist isn’t quite such a romantic reality, so the money can not only help your practice but support a full-time career.
Don’t change, don’t give up
The golden rule for these competitions is not to back down from what you know and what you want your work to represent. Many artists say there is pressure to change your work to suit the prize or its judges, but don’t compromise.
As I mentioned before, there are so many prizes out there so it is possible to find one that already subscribes to what you represent.
If all this has convinced you of the merits of art prizes, then the next step is finding one to get involved in. There are heaps of websites and apps such as Art Prizes that keep a very detailed system of both national and international prizes for you to engage with.
For emerging artists, the John Fries award is the perfect platform, with applications closing mid-January. A bigger option for 2018 is the National Works on Paper Prize, which closes in April and has a prize pool of $50,000 (an amount that’s hard to pass up).
So, make your new year’s resolution to enter the next step in your career through one of the hundreds of art prizes in our country.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to manage a collection of valuable, famous art works? Or about where famous works live if when they're not in a museum?
Last month, Art Pharmacy had the privilege of meeting up with James Birch - a well renowned English art dealer, curator and gallery owner, who is most known for his innovative support of British art. He is famous for exhibiting Francis Bacon in Moscow, in the then USSR, in 1988; Gilbert & George in Moscow in 1990, and Beijing and Shanghai in 1993. He studied Art History at the University of Aix-en-Provence, before training in the Old Master department of Christie's Fine Art in London where he later established the 1950s Rock & Roll department. In 1983 he opened his first gallery, James Birch Fine Art, on the King's Road, London and has since worked with impressive artists such as Grayson Perry and has collaborated on numerous projects with a host of other well-known artists.
Emilya Colliver paid a visit to James in London in October 2017, where she had a look at his collection. She was also lucky enough to have a chat to Mia Gubbay, who manages his art collection in London.
James Birch and Mia Gubbay in London
Tell us about yourself - how did you find yourself in this position of managing James Birch’s collection?
Istudied at Central Saint Martins' and at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. I've worked on independent arts projects, as an oral historian, and as an exhibitions officer for a public collection. For the past two years I've worked with James Birch's collection, and I've had the great experience of working on this recent exhibition of British Underground Press alongside both James and cultural historian Barry Miles.
Did you feel overwhelmed with the amount of art in the house when you started?
I did – but it was a good sort of overwhelmed because I think discovering how other people live is such a privilege. This discussion reminds me of the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit - which is about embracing the unknown. One amazing thing about this job is that it involves pausing to thoroughly examine everything around me
Do you ever pick up a piece and think ‘Oh My God it's a___’! Any specific occasions come to mind?
Once I had to transport a very long nail which was an artwork by Günther Uecker and a pink inflatable poodle by Jeff Koons to an auction house together - the realisation that one artwork could destroy the other was quite uncomfortable.
What’s your favourite piece of the collection?
There are so many. At the moment I find myself constantly turning back to a very simple looking poster - a 1980’s blue monoprint in support of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. Greenham common was an RAF site where cruise missiles were stored and which, through the actions of thousands of women, became a place to think about the future.
The second is actually a whole body of work by Eileen Agar, who James exhibited in the 1980s. Agar borrowed Surrealist methods, she used found objects to make sculptures and collage. Although she never fully committed to the Surrealist movement, she depicted the everyday, believed in imagination - and in the power of just letting herself make things – unedited.
What is the most unusual placement of a work in the house?
There are a lot of unusual placements. When I sit at my desk I am surrounded by photographs and drawings. There is one on my left by the Soviet poet Mayakovsky. It is a very delicate pencil drawing of a softly smiling face - with claws!
FFrom your experience with James, what do you think the secret to a good private art collection is?
I think art can answer something personal for people and there are no rules for that, but generally, examining the social contexts of works, where you acquire them, and your own social agency in relation to those things is important so I'll try to explore those things a bit.
Firstly, you might not be able to own some works - a lot of the art I admire the most is process based - like the work of Tania Bruguera for example, but you may be able to support the artist, or share their work in other ways. So really, finding out what you are moved by is the first step.
James' collection has come together over many years and partly as a result of his support for artists early on in their careers (he gave Grayson Perry his first exhibition for example) – this is undeniably connected to his love of going out, meeting artists, calling people up, seeing smaller exhibitions and developing a feel for it all. It's also about nurturing a space that responds to the visceral.
Another aspect of James Birch’s collecting habit relates to movements and individuals who or which have been historically overlooked. Part of the fun is still having much more to discover than has been documented. This process also works in symbiosis with institutions, as such works have the potential to add new voices to historical narratives.
To support related approaches to collecting we have tried to make sure works are publicly exhibited. This benefits the collector, the artist, institutions who have more of a capacity to evaluate their audiences and engage with contemporary critical debate and thus to request and contextualise works - and of course it makes them accessible.
What is the difference between managing a private collection and managing a collection in a gallery?
It’s really different! All collections are different and the way they are maintained will reflect that. Because of the smaller scale of this organisation, I deal with all the aspects of exhibition work - perhaps more than I have when working for larger institutions. Aside from research this involves corresponding with press, collections documentation and care, consignments, recruitment, acquisitions, insurance, auctions, assisting with articles and catalogues, accounts, artist liaison, correspondence and anything else that crops up. On Wednesday for example, we transported some rare books, showed a curator around the British Underground Press Exhibition, had coffee with Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols and then I finished the monthly accounts. It's incredibly varied!
It’s a fact of life that’s so obvious it sounds vaguely unhelpful: people avoid some places, but not others.
You’ll take the longer route through the sunny park where your friends hang out, rather than go the quicker way that would mean crossing two roads of busy traffic.
But have you ever asked yourself what is it within these spaces that give us these impulses?
Public placemaking asks these questions and attempts to heighten our positive associations with place. It’s is a fascinating practice that has in recent years taken the design world by storm. It can incorporate elements of design, architecture, artworks and events planning.
Celebrated by some as a creative way to reinvent and reconnect the community, and condemned by others as a method of gentrification, placemaking can be divisive.
But just what is placemaking?
Placemaking is an increasingly popular term for the holistic practice of designing and capitalizing on the character of public spaces in order to promote inter-connection, interaction, wellbeing and social identity.
It intrinsically relies on local identity and what is already there, and is a holistic practice. You must consider the space as a whole; not just focusing on one part.
Yes, you could plonk an art installation into the centre, but it needs to interact with the elements already in the space, particularly the community that is already there.
But it can be used to deter antisocial behaviour in certain spaces, like local hotspots known being a drug dealer hangout: an action that alienates others from the community from the space
One notable work that was undertaken to reduce crime rates was undertaken by Project for Public Space at Bryant Park, New York. A park once known as a drug dealer hang out became much more sociable after placemaking efforts. Taking a holistic approach, the space was opened up by removing hedges that were contributing to constricted viewpoints, while food kiosks were added to encourage socialising.
It’s this consideration of the dynamics of the space beforehand that is vital. Placemakers should ask themselves, what do people come to the space expecting, and should this be changed.
For example - does the space itself already feel safe? Are there an equal amount of women and men in the space? What are the interests of the demographics of the area? And perhaps most importantly: how can we address this in a sustainable and ethical manner?
Sometimes the best approach to placemaking is simplicity. Or at the least - the placemaking doesn’t have to be overly complicated.
While recently attending a Placemaking conference in Europe, I was walking down a quiet Utrecht street with some relatives, when we came upon a group of children going to town with utensils on some pots and pans. They had been hung up by in the square by an artist on a metallic structure as part of a community engagement project.
Provided with utensils, the kids had a freedom that terrifies me as a parent - to make as much noise as they could! The effect (besides an almighty din) was that children and by extension, their bemused parents, had a welcome opportunity to loiter in the sun.
While the swarming and excited children were distracted, parents were relaxing: talking to each other, and getting to know their community that little bit more.
Groups of people stopped and interacted within the space, rather than passing through it; providing a rare and unexpected opportunity for ‘play’ in a world that is all too serious.
The simple addition of the pots and pans made the street not a thoroughfare - but a destination!
Which leads me to my next point: placemaking doesn't have to be expensive. As The Project for Public Spaces points out, less costly options can make a placemaking project not only just as good, but better.
Less costly, temporary and/or smaller scale installations can act as community research; gaging what works for larger projects down the track.
This temporary work was not only sustainable in terms of recycling, but in terms of ensuring the vitality and effectiveness of placemaking attempts by allowing budget for future projects.
If done well placemaking has the power to bring once disconnected people together on common meeting ground in what is an increasingly disconnected world.
This could even be needed in spaces that already have a strong cultural heritage. For one placemaking project I worked on in Five Dock, Sydney, we drew heavily from the large Italian community already living in the space.
Alongside the artist Marta Ferracin, we decided to use the Italian oral storytelling tradition to highlight the heritage of the area.
Collecting local stories, the artist made recordings in Italian and English that were looped from speakers inside tall, coloured, clustered sculptures.
The setup was designed to encourage people to sit in, interact with, and take a moment of rest in Fred Kelly Place where the speakers stood. Here, strategic placemaking gave the community a rare moment of rest and reflection.
But like anything, placemaking has its critics. Some placemaking efforts have been likened to ‘Art-washing’, which suggests that that cultural development via activities such as public art projects leads to financial gains by developers through gentrification.
While to some, gentrification is welcomed as a ‘cleaning-up’ of suburbs, to other it is simply a sign that rent is about to go up and minority groups will be forced out by rising costs of living.
Clearly this is a complex issue, as encapsulated by urban critic Matt Yglesias in this ‘Project for Public Spaces’ article - “[While concerns about people being priced out are not] crazy, it is crazy that this is the kind of thing people need to worry about in urban politics. ‘Your policies will improve quality of life in my community’ should never be a complaint about a policy initiative.”
It leads to the question, just who does the public space belong to? As people move more and more from their roots, community lines can become more malleable; individuals more isolated in unknown environments.
I would argue that this should give greater incentive to strengthen community ties in the areas. Instead of always trying to create new culture, great placemaking projects are the ones that strengthen the existing culture as well as foster new ties and being socially inclusive.
As placemaker Cara Courage says, ‘Conversations happen in hyperlocal’. It is well thought out placemaking that has the power to trigger these conversations.
If you know anything about art you probably have some awareness of the great movements in the art world - Impressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Postmodernism … too many to name here! More recently, it's Post-Internet art and artists who have surfaced from ideas into the common consciousness.
Post-Internet Art has emerged from the awareness that we live in an image-saturated world, with methods of capturing, reproducing and editing developing more and more each day. The surveillance of our society is at an all-time high.
In this art movement, the artists reflect on the impact of the internet on our world, and the way we now live in it.
The term was coined in academia in 2008, and drew a clear line of difference from net-art of the 1990s.
Whereas Internet/Net Art from the late nineties and noughties consisted of digital art disseminated online, artists that work with Post-Internet concepts address the interesting and odd cultures that have sprung out of the internet’s complete infiltration of the human experience (think along the lines of Netflix’s speculative fiction series, Black Mirror).
Awareness of surveillance has led many artists addressing this theme. Canadian Jon Rafman’s ongoing 9 Eyes project takes advantage of already implemented surveillance infrastructure to curate hundreds of photos sourced from the internet.
He demonstrates how surveillance captures the entirety of contemporary human experiences - including the cute, the scary, and the downright odd.
Rafman scoured Google street view to present his audience with the most bizarre, fascinating and sometimes confronting scenes captured by the cars driving streets of the world with their nine lenses.
The images confront the viewer with small moments of human interaction and nature; the innocence of children skipping, a man holding a weapon in a rabbit mask, a near naked woman screaming at the Google car, a beautiful composition of sunlight streaming through a forest.
In a similar vein, artist Jenny Odell’s work also trawls through the “stifling sea of instantaneity” that she calls the internet. But while Rafman focuses in on the micro, Odell does the opposite.
Using images found through Google Satellite Images, the artist creates recognisable imagery from the alienating, sky-down perspective landscapes provided by the web. One such project, Burn, saw Odell collecting images of coal repositories across the world; using the internet to remind audiences of repetition of circumstance across the world.
Playfully creating social critique, Odell also took herself on a ‘virtual road trip’; in which she used Google Street View and other online sources to map a fake photoshopped journey across the country. Realistic to a T, Odell factored in elements such as petrol, food and distance.
Eventually published as a book, ‘Travel by Approximation: A Virtual Road Trip’, false photos of the artist in situ were accompanied by a narrative and references to places learned about through sites such as TripAdvisor.
While Odell said the final work emphasised, the ‘flatness and deficiency of my virtual experience’, to I think it also comments on the virtual vicariousness we experience today through social media.
We watch others on Instagram and other platforms travel through photoshopped and orchestrated images of happiness - but how accurately does that reflect reality?
Post-Internet art is still an evolving movement. It shines a mirror back on ourselves and our sometimes thoughtless participation in pervasive and invasive online environments.
To some, post-internet art may still seem like a vague term with dubious meanings and applications. But with critique and artist involvement growing almost as fast as our ways of interconnecting online, these ideas are not going anywhere in a hurry.
At this point, the digital age is unavoidable. Unless you choose to live out your days in total wilderness immersion sans GPS, chances are you probably use some digital technology in your everyday.
The art world has not been left behind; completely embracing the evolution of these technologies to the point where much of contemporary art could, in some way, be considered under the umbrella of digital art.
Oil paintings shown on Instagram, superimposing photoshop images for more accurate murals, sculptures that utilise 3D printing, getting Pinterest inspiration … endless options. With art these days, it's highly likely that at some point in the planning, production and presentation a digital technology often plays an essential role.
This leaves an overwhelmingly large platform for digital art; a medium with an intrinsic ability to be cross medium and disciplinary. I think this cross disciplinary aspect is the most exciting aspect for everyone involved; collaboration can create unrivalled aesthetic experiences.
The boom of digital art from the 1990s to now has a lot to do with the accessibility of high-quality hardware and software. The ability of artists to use off-the-shelf products has broadened the possibilities of individuals. Multi-disciplined work that makes use of artistic expertise has led to fascinating designs.
But what about the rules that apply to traditional art - its collectability and display approach? Art institutions are only just beginning to have the capabilities to display and then sell digital works.
For this reason, it is not always economically viable for all artists to work solo. Working with other artists and creative thinkers therefore becomes very appealing, with creative collaboration spaces popping up all over the world.
A fantastic example of collaborative digital art is the work of TeamLab; a collective of artists, programmers, animators, architects, engineers and much more whose members create large-scale immersive works, which are often interactive and not limited to traditional gallery space.
The exhibition Transcending Boundaries, held at PACE London early this year, created a beautifully delicate waterfall that responded to its audience by when the ‘water’ flowed around their feet. This meant that the elements - water, flowers and butterflies - continually evolved, never repeating a movement.
Watch - it is a complete immersion.
It’s not just with the typical creative crowd, either. Data visualisation has become a hot topic with artists working with analysts, mathematicians and scientists to present information dynamically. This is easily some of the most accessible art as you won’t need a degree to understand what is being portrayed in the presentation.
EXIT 2008-2015 is an exhibition that has been developed over seven years to show the flows of immigration, refugees, economics and the changes in native lands across the globe. It just finished up a showing at the University of Melbourne, and was a spectacular experience that tries to grow global citizen awareness.
Public engagement is a significant focus for digital artists and by placing their work in the public arena, thousands can interact with the production. Sydney’s Vivid shows just how expansive an outdoor digital exhibition can be.
Although, more subtle works can be intriguing and come in many forms. Public works are not only in an outdoor space but can also be a website or interactive app. SBS has created My Grandmother's Lingo as an interactive game animation to teach Indigenous Australian languages that are in danger of being forgotten. Combining audience participation with data visualisation and beautiful animations this work is well worth the 10-minutes click through.
Darling Harbour has seen many art installations, and a current presentation using a series of LED screens on the ICC has aroused significant attention. The audio-visual presentation scans the universe labelling the stars and progressing through the sky. The screen is a permanent part of the building, so will be an exciting space to watch if it is used in any new projects!
Digital technology has opened up so many avenues for artists and professionals of numerous disciplines. For audiences like us, it can be surprising how art forms that extended well past the boundaries of what was previously possible.
Of course, what I have mentioned here is a very brief introduction to digital art. Keep an eye open - online and around you! With so much technology around us you never know what exciting digital collaboration is around the corner.
We all love turning up to an exhibition and experiencing that buzz that tells you that this will be a good one. As you experience the exhibition, you absorb and reflect the emotions contained in the art and you are excited about what is around the corner or on the next wall. The carefully chosen moments interplay with your own values and memories to enrich your experience.
Anyone who has been to even a handful of art exhibitions is also familiar with that sense of disappointment and boredom that occurs when we turn up to a bad exhibition on opening night - guiltily downing your free wine and making a hasty retreat.
Putting on a good show may seem like an easy task but it is the product of an immense amount of work, knowledge and vision. Who is the person who does that work, contributes that knowledge, and provides that vision? The curator.
What is a curator? And what does a curator do? In light of Art Pharmacy’s upcoming exhibition ‘Desert Stars’ (an exhibition of stunning contemporary Aboriginal art, curated by Nichola Dare), it seems like a good time to try my hand at demystifying the role.
Firstly - and probably most importantly - why does a show even need a curator? Can’t the artist do it themselves? The simple answer: we need curators to give an exhibition direction and a sense of visual and conceptual coherency - to make a connection between the works. Yes, artists can be their own curator, but we need curators to add layers of coherency and connection between works when they are displayed together - whether they are all works by the same artist, or a collection of various artists or mediums.
The role of the curator is a considerably complex one, as they take on the job of balancing the many elements that go into an exhibition or collection - a great curator is great because they have honed this ability through years of experience.
Curatorship is not a new thing. The concept has roots in ancient history, but the connection to art and museums began more recently, in the eighteenth century. Modernism launched a wave of curators as the revolutionary art styles needed an equally exciting approach for their presentation.
Curators embraced the concept of the ‘white cube’ from the 1930s, turning the gallery space into an entirely white room, removing outside influences and showing the works on a clean slate. It was the perfect way to present the ideas of both curator and artist free of irrelevant context such as elaborate furnishings and staging. A white walled room places a viewer in a timeless void ready for a new experience.
In a similar vein, the fact that the work of the curator often goes without obvious attribution is not really a negative within an exhibition - the works, and their story told through thoughtful curation, is what should take centre-stage.
One of my favourite curators is Hans-Ulrich Obrist - I am a total fan. He is an incredible example of how great curatorship is not a vehicle for self promotion, but something that can support great art. He began his career at 23, curating a show of contemporary artists in his kitchen, of all places! His career developed rapidly, and he curated numerous exhibitions across Europe.
But what’s most striking about Obrist is that he has published extensive writings, most notably his interviews with artists, architects, curators and other creatives that span great lengths of time. These creatives not Obrist himself, are the focus of his practice.
“It was important to be close to artists and not subordinate their work to the curator's vision. I've realised that the curator's role is more that of enabler.” - Obrist
The steps involved in producing an art show followed by Obrist and other curators can vary but here are the basics:
The concept is an essential starting point. It is either decided by the curator or by a commissioning gallery.
Significant research is then conducted into relevant theories, historical precedent and previous exhibitions, which provides another layer of context to the selected works and give an idea of how the show will be received.
Art works are then sourced and acquired, often borrowed from collections, private collectors or the artists themselves. Their positioning, display method and lighting is then determined by curator to ensure both their ideas and the ideas of the artist is realised.
A single work of art can make me feel totally excited and can be so amazing in it’s own right, but I absolutely believe that a good curator can make you see art in a totally new and different way through their vision and expertise.
The hyper globalised time we are living in is full of fantastic opportunity. With the growth of technology and communication, possibilities are limitless in terms of all the products available to us.
Mass production in the 20th and 21st centuries has a lot to do with our ever-building consumer culture. So many goods available are cheap, of reasonable quality and ready for us to purchase in an instant.
The work of artists often lies well outside these conditions, meaning many perceive them as unattainable to the majority. It is not unusual for a snap taken by a celebrated photographer to go into the triple digits, or champagne to be as associated with artists as easels.
Retailers and producers understood this issue from early on and decided to employ techniques of mass production to create affordable works, of limited artistic merit, to brighten up any space quickly. From reproducing masters to ordering blown up prints of a family snap, art is now accessible to everyone. But what is the price of this for the arts as an industry?
Although many products you find in department stores and other retailers will say they are ‘hand painted’, it isn’t specified how many hands were used. For example, the city of Dafen in China is the leader in wholesale oil painting, with thousands of people employed in the trade.
Giant industrial buildings house all these workers and their reproductions. Set up in rows are hundreds of canvases, and the painters make their way down the lines adding one or two simple strokes that they repeat again and again. Eventually, a whole work is produced after thousands of workers have contributed their small part. The result often is a well-done reproduction of the classic masters.
Desirable for consumers - not so for the workers. Like fast fashion, fast art can have its negative consequences.
Retailers make use of cheaply made oil paintings and simpler designs appropriated from artistic movements that are easily reproduced in print form. Ikea has a whole section dedicated to rolled up art prints ready for purchase. The majority is photography but there were also more ‘creative’ prints, one being an undeniable op-art design reminiscent of Bridget Riley, with no mention of its inspiration.
There’s clearly a market for affordable art, and it's no secret that I run my online art gallery, Art Pharmacy as a way to fill this niche in the Australian market. I want people to easily buy from local artists, ensuring not only the purchase of an original high quality piece that supports creatives, but something that doesn’t rely on the sweat of others.
While no one can resist a bargain, searching past cheap mass-produced works can be a gratifying experience. Go and have a stroll through local markets (or a scroll through our online gallery) and see all the amazing and original works available. Don’t start your art collection with an unethical mindset.
As I walk through the suburbs of Sydney, leading my Culture Scout tours, I often reflect on how the value of street art has changed from its baby psychedelic steps in the sixties, to the F-Thatcher/Reagan man of the eighties, to the prized public aesthetic of today.
Street art as a movement was wholly a response to the socio-politics of its time. It was art as activism, social commentary, and freedom of speech. Illegally painted and plastered on bare city walls, it became synonymous with, and later symbolic of, degenerate and poorer areas of the city.
Over the last ten to fifteen years, as urban areas have sprawled, the gentrification of dilapidated suburbs has seen street art become valued for different reasons. Historical, aesthetic, community and cultural value, just to name a few.
Of course, when it comes to art, monetary value is hard to ignore. It’s difficult to put a price on ephemeral art, but this hasn't allowed artworks by famed street artist Banksy from escaping the dollar value of the art market.
There have been cases of the dismantling of walls where his work has been painted so that the work can be sold at auction. People have also fixed perspex to walls, to protect the work of street art. This suggests a rejection of the historic, and slightly romantic notion to street art: the work is visible only as long as the elements allow.
Needless to say, the linking of street art and graffiti to poverty to ensure its removal, has dramatically changed.
Local councils now realise the value that street art can add to communities, and create cultural policies to implement the commission of and protection of street art.
These policies include a Street Art Register, which serves to catalogue and monitor works of art in the community – attempting to stop the illegal removal of sanctioned works of art.
There is also the inclusion of local walking tours (if you’re in Sydney, check out the Inner West Open Studio Trail), which serve to engage and educate the public on street art.
What better way to communicate the issues of today than to have them in your face on the daily commute? Who wouldn’t want to be living in a city surrounded by beautiful colours and intriguing street art; works that may stop and make you think about the heritage of the land you are walking on?
While emerging Art Pharmacy artists such as Bafcat, Silly Pear, Akisiew, Aquaman,Jumbo and Skulk have been able to capitalise on this newfound popularity and acceptance of street art, there are plenty of unknown artists out there.
Creating works gives them the chance to have their work seen by thousands of people on a daily basis - giving them exposure unavailable in a traditional gallery.
So eyes off your iPhone and out the window! Who knows - you may spot the next Banksy.
Like some guidance? Book a Culture Scouts Street Art tour today
Sometimes art patrons can fall into the trap of thinking you buy the art and all the rest falls into place. Yes, finding something you love can feel like the hard part, but I find it's often also tricky to decide how you’re going to display it!Read More
As glorious Sydney weather turns almost inexplicably into starts to develop the kind of chill in the air that Melbournites would be proud of, we are once again reminded why many people feel it’s too much hassle to install outdoor art.Read More
As I‘ve mentioned before, one of the questions most frequently asked to me is, “What is your advice to people wanting to start their own art collection?”. And my advice is always follow your instincts, choose something you love, and more practically, set a budget.
If you’re nervous about starting, the first thing to remember is that anyone can start an art collection if they know where to look.Read More
Recently, Art Pharmacy has dipped its toes into the non-cyber art realm through the acquisition of a permanent, physical space in Redfern. In collaboration with VANDAL, we’ve launched this new gallery where we can display local artists.Read More
One of the more interesting facets of Art Pharmacy is our consulting side of the business, which has really taken off in the last twelve months, with a wide range of clients looking to invest in art for the home, office and public spaces. It’s so pleasing for me to be able to help people find works they can enjoy, and obviously I’m a huge proponent of people buying and commissioning artworks!
I see art consultancy as a way of connecting people with creatives and help them define their taste, I work with so many fantastic artists across a variety of styles and it’s great to help people navigate their way through the process of acquiring a piece.
But it isn’t as simple as it sounds, and there are some key differences with the range of clients we have at Art Pharmacy - this year alone we have seen large-scale installations in the iconic Queen Victoria Building, and Broadway Shopping Centre that have both utilised local artists to help with their celebration of the Chinese New Year. These are definitely on the larger scale of works that I have been involved in, my private clients will generally start off with a smaller piece!
One of the key factors that will often determine the type of work that is desired is the space you are looking to fill. With a wall it will generally be something two-dimensional that is hung, but if the space is more vast we have more flexibility to look at sculptures as well.
Like all consultants, clear communication is critical to success - you must find out the basic information to start the ball rolling - what their budget is, what the space is, and most importantly, what they’re looking for - I’ve got so many fantastic artists but the key to happiness for everyone is finding a great match in terms of style and also expectations.
For some of the larger projects I apply for - with councils or large companies - there is a key focus on community outcomes and ensuring that there a broader objective that is fulfilled so they’re able to provide quite detailed briefs that we work towards. With private clients it can often take a bit more teasing out to reach a consensus on what they would like to achieve.
I’ve met some amazing people who have come to me through Art Pharmacy, and one of the really great things is that they get to know the artists we have and will continue to come back and buy their pieces and follow their work.
It’s always a challenge for me not to impose my taste on my client - sometimes I’ve got a very clear idea of what I think would be appropriate (or fabulous!), but it’s important for the client to be sure of their vision so they will be happy with the end result. Because ultimately I’m here to help people find something beautiful that they can enjoy in their home for many years to come.
Learn more about Art Pharmacy Consulting here
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We talk a lot about art in terms of pieces that you can view in a gallery and collect for your own home, but it’s important to consider art as a broader idea and how we interact with art in public spaces.We talk a lot about art in terms of pieces that you can view in a gallery and collect for your own home, but it’s important to consider art as a broader idea and how we interact with art in public spaces.Read More