Visual / Irregulars
Three and a Half Galleries
or “I Don’t Understand Any of This But I’m Having a Marvellous Time”
Words by Angus White
Wednesday 15th May, 2019
Melbourne is a Cultural Hub. This is a fact of which all Melbournians are so firmly convinced that banging on about coffee and lining up for croissants have basically become sports around here. But café society alone can hardly justify referring to a city as ‘arty’ — it turns out that this all started because of people making actual art. And so living in a city full of people all working very hard to make beautiful things for me to look at, I’ve recently felt that the least I could do would be to pay some attention. Hence on a recent weekend, I visited a selection of local galleries to see what all the fuss was about.

The galleries I chose were utterly random, and any quality control was surrendered to the curators of these galleries. But since the job description of a curator is basically “having better taste in art than you”, I was reasonably confident that the art I was about to see would be good viz. aesthetically pleasing, mean something, and possibly make me feel things.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that I know nothing of The Fine Arts. To demonstrate, I have here attempted to render Toadfish Rebecchi, a popular character on the hit Australian television show Neighbours.

Angus White, Good Neighbours, Good Friends, 2019
You will note that this stands in contrast to the aforementioned properties viz. it is not aesthetically pleasing, means precisely nothing, and the only thing it makes me feel is disappointed in my artistic abilities.

So these visits were going to be uncharted territory — the cultural equivalent of the moon landings, and I was Neil Armstrong. With one small step, I entered the world of art appreciation.

Shifting Light — Lydia Wegner
Arc One — 45 Flinders La

Arc One shares a building with Cumulus Inc. which is a restaurant I can’t afford to eat in. This caused me a small amount of consternation, magnified by the fact that the first thing that greeted me on entrance to the gallery was a list of prices for the works on display. It turns out art is expensive; to the point that the gallery was advertising loans for making purchases. Which if you don’t have enough money to buy artwork, taking out a loan doesn’t seem like the most financially prudent course of action. But far be it from me to comment on your debt management strategies. The good thing is that even though art is expensive to purchase, these galleries have really shot their business model in the foot by hanging them up on display for free.

Lydia Wegner’s Shifting Light was the exhibition on display — a series of abstract photographs featuring large block colours. Apparently they were created with mirrors and sheets of coloured perspex, among other materials. The description provided by the gallery used the word ‘otherworldly’ and mentioned a resemblance to ‘candy or gems’. Candy I could definitely see.

The folks at Arc One weren’t keen on letting me use photos taken in their gallery, so here’s a royalty-free image of some gummy bears, which is kinda what the art looked like anyway.
The photos were without a doubt aesthetically pleasing. They looked like the sort of art you would see hanging on the walls of a trendy studio apartment, which is a pretty wild compliment if you ask me.

Whether or not the whole thing had some underlying message is up for debate. No political or philosophical statements were mentioned in the accompanying reading material, so I could only conclude that they were meant to just be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake. As I understand it, some art intends to make the viewer think or feel ‘things’, but I didn’t feel particularly sad or happy or angry or much of anything in that gallery space. I thought they looked nice. I enjoyed being there and looking at some beautiful images. But apart from that, all they did was kind of make me want to eat gummy bears.

I was alone almost the entire time I was there, with the momentary exception of two women who walked in, exclaimed “these are beautiful, aren’t they” and promptly walked out and into Cumulus. The gallery was sparsely furnished, which amplified the sense of loneliness I felt in there. It was a Saturday, and outside the door, Flinders Lane was bustling. But in Arc One Gallery — silence.

Again, I ought to stress that this is not actually what the gallery looked like, this is a metaphor.
Fresh! Graduate Showcase
Craft Victoria — Watson Pl off Flinders La

Further down the street is Craft Victoria, a gallery that describes itself as ‘showcasing and celebrating all craft disciplines and practitioners’. The first challenge of Craft Victoria proved to be finding the door. Craft is advertised as being on Watson Pl, an alley off Flinders Lane. I began this entire endeavour labouring under the assumption that art is to be enjoyed by all the masses, and yet, as I stood in that alley, searching hopelessly for the entrance to an art gallery, I don’t mind admitting to you, dear reader, my faith was shaken. “Is this a test of worthiness?” I asked myself. “If I am unable to discover the mysterious portal to Craft, am I unfit to sample the delights within?”

I did manage to locate the entrance, but not before wasting several minutes in an alley pretending to be a sinner locked out of the gates of heaven.

Craft proved to be a well-lit underground space dedicated primarily to ceramics and textiles. They had a scented humidifier going, and were playing some easy-listening music (imagine a Spotify playlist called “French Cafe” or something like that). What I’m trying to say here is that Craft was creating some serious ambience, and I loved it.

Everything in Craft had some sort of utility. I’m a big fan of art for art’s sake, but at the end of the day, people need mugs, and if those mugs look good, so much the better. I got down to the business of enjoying myself looking at luggage made of pure latex, and funky painted vases and pots made with unique clay-firing techniques. It was great. The Fresh! exhibit showcased the best of recent university grads, so you get a variety of artistic styles and media, and you can fantasize to yourself about one of them becoming famous and you’re able to say you were a fan of them from the start.

There were a pair of quilts hanging up on one wall, courtesy of one Aaron Billings, and I thought they were pretty cool and great.

Aaron Billings, Queer in a way that works for you and We pulled you out of the sea, 2018, Screen prints, embroidery on cotton, satin and felt, each 1320mm x 1630mm
The line drawings are a bit occult, which I am a total sucker for, and the mixture of drawing with textiles appealed to me. But on reading the accompanying plaque, I was forced to confront an uncomfortable thought. Because apparently, among other things, this piece “proposes that the political is not abstract, it is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives”. And if I’m told that fact, I can try really hard and think a lot, and perhaps begin to reconcile how those words and that image fit together, but the unfortunate truth is that I don’t have enough artistic background to come to that conclusion on my own.

Which raises the question: am I allowed to enjoy this art? In front of me was something made by someone clearly very talented, and was apparently deliberately designed to make a statement and evoke emotion — but if the only thing I can say is “the line drawings are a bit occult” am I missing the point?

Contraband — Taryn Simon
Anna Schwartz Gallery — 185 Flinders La

The Anna Schwartz Gallery is literally across the road from Craft. How about that for convenience? On entering, there was a desk to my left with two people sitting at computers. I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to go up to it and get like a visitor’s badge or something, but I slowly walked past and into the gallery proper, and they didn’t stop me, so I guess they’re just there to look at the people coming in and out.

Taryn Simon’s Contraband is a photographic exhibit featuring 1,075 images of objects seized by US customs across a 7-day period.

Fair enough they’re seizing this, season 4 was rubbish
There was something kind of funny about the whole thing. All the images of illicit drugs and guns interspersed with seemingly mundane objects like season 4 of Lost on DVD, a potato, and some foil-wrapped ham sandwiches. I really felt for whoever that ham sandwich belonged to. They probably just wanted something to eat on the plane.

Some pills branded as ‘Artillery King’ promised to ‘make the penis longer, thicker, harder and stronger’. Bags of marijuana, bongs, counterfeit Versace bags, a bottle of congealed fat (puzzling): this exhibit had it all. And while I was amused by all these images, something interesting happened.

I felt something. Guns, drugs and ham sandwiches were all good fun, but then I saw this bird, and it looked so small and in pain, and I couldn’t help but feel saddened to know that it had been presumably drugged and shoved into a suitcase to be transported somewhere else in the world. Perhaps the artist didn’t intend for the viewer to make this image the focus of the entire exhibit, in fact she almost certainly didn’t, but even after I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And so here’s the thing: maybe it doesn’t matter so much what the artist intended. A piece of art will mean different things to different people, and when an artist tells you the intention of a piece, they are telling you what that art means to them specifically. But if you like some artwork for reasons that are at odds to the artist’s intention — like feeling sorry for a bird, or just liking the look of it — surely they won’t begrudge you that.

Next door to the Anna Schwarz gallery is Hosier Lane, a famous Melbourne street art hot-spot. That afternoon, it was jam-packed with tourists and locals alike. None of the galleries I’d been to that afternoon contained more than 3 people other than myself.

Perhaps street art is just naturally a more accessible form of art, but I’m inclined to think otherwise. I understood precisely none of the works I saw that day, not properly, and it was great. No artwork is more approachable than any other, it’s all just art, and the person who did it would, above all else, like people to look. So why not look — you might just end up having a great time.
Angus White is a Melbournian who occasionally experiences compulsions to shit words out onto a page. He doesn't have a website or anything, but if you want more of the same, he can sometimes be found at The Moth in Melbourne.
You can relive this experience by visiting the following:
Arc One
Craft Victoria
Anna Schwartz Gallery