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Melbourne’s Mike Brown Tributes

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Like Mike at Sarah Scout Presents, 23 May - 22 June 
2013 Artists: Claire Lambe, Nell, Pat Larter, Richard Larter
 Like Mike at Sarah Scout Presents, 23 May - 22 June. 
2013 Artists: Claire Lambe, Nell, Pat Larter, Richard Larter Like Mike at Sarah Scout Presents, 23 May - 22 June. 
2013 Artists: Claire Lambe, Nell, Pat Larter, Richard Larter Like Mike at Neon Parc, 5 - 29 June 
2013. Artists: Elizabeth Newman, Noël Skrzypczak, Irene Hanenbergh, 
Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Cecily Brown, Viv Miller, 
Phyllida Barlow, Sister Corita Kent, Elizabeth Pulie

The strength of the show is that rather than celebrating an artist through another institutional survey, or academic text, Newton has shown that many of today's artists are living out Brown's legacy through their practice: whether in their approach to making work, the types or work that they are creating or, in Yore's case, their transgressions.

Assorted city sites

Sarah Scout Presents
23 May - 22 June
2013
Artists: Claire Lambe, Nell, Pat Larter, Richard Larter

Utopian Slumps
1- 22 June
2013
Artists: Bryan Spier, John Nixon, Eugene Carchesio, 
Trevor Vickers, Nathan Gray, Julia Gorman, 
Vivienne Binns, Starlie Geikie

Neon Parc
5 - 29 June 
2013
Artists: Elizabeth Newman, Noël Skrzypczak, Irene Hanenbergh, 
Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Cecily Brown, Viv Miller, 
Phyllida Barlow, Sister Corita Kent, Elizabeth Pulie

Charles Nodrum Gallery
6 - 23 June 2013
Artists: Alex Vivian, Guy Benfield, Matthys Gerber, Damiano Bertoli, Lisa Radford, Sam Martin, Vivienne Binns

Linden Contemporary Art Centre
18 May - 7 July 2013
Curated by Jan Duffy and Geoff Newton
Artists: Fergus Binns, Trevelyan Clay and Kate Smith, Jan Lucas, Simon Pericich, Alex Selenitsch and Nick Selenitsch, and Paul Yore

Like Mike
Curated by Geoff Newton

Like Mike spanned across five Melbourne galleries, and explored the legacy of the late Australian artist Mike Brown within the Melbourne art scene. Following several surveys, and the 2011 publication of Richard Haese’s Permanent Revolution: Mike Brown and the Australian Avant-Garde 1953-1997 Like Mike could be seen as part of a broader critical re-appraisal of Mike Brown’s work and occurred in parallel to the otherwise unrelated survey exhibition The Sometimes Chaotic World of Mike Brown at the Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Mike Brown was never a part of the Australian art establishment. His practice was broad and energetic, encompassing collage, assemblage, collaboration, abstraction, appropriation, graffiti and Dada; and frequently referenced contemporary politics, the art world, popular culture, Australian history and the Australian canon - long before this became commonplace. For this reason, it’s easy to imagine the potential genealogical links between Brown and his contemporaries. However, despite the recent resurgence of academic and institutional interest, Brown is still a largely unknown figure. The exhibition’s curator Geoff Newton readily pointed out that many of the artists included in the exhibition have probably, until now, never heard of Mike Brown. Indeed, until reading up on the show, my knowledge of Brown’s work was scant at best. Yet Like Mike was far from biographical. The five shows were less concerned with looking back at Mike Brown’s life, work and career, and more interested in examining how his legacy resonates with the current practice of contemporary Melbourne artists. In this way, Like Mike was more a sketch than a survey.

Charles Nodrum has shown Brown in the past, it was therefore fitting that his showing was a mix of old and new. The ground floor gallery space showcased works by Brown. These consisted mainly of a number of collage-based works drawn from pornographic magazines, and abstract or digital text-based works available cheaply as prints of unlimited edition. Brown’s interest in immediately accessible materials and effects, and his disdain for commercial taste was evident in the crude aesthetics of these works, with their clunky ‘90s pixelation, coloured card and crotches. You and Me was a large 1.5 x 5.5m wall banner featuring a repeated sequence of sexual acts, the confronting nature of which was extended by the work’s larger than life scale and interpellative title.

Upstairs were works by a number of younger artists. Lisa Radford’s paintings had an almost Nick Austin quality, while others were inspired by the graffiti-deterrent upholstery designs of metropolitan trains and buses. Alex Vivian exhibited assemblages of fabric, found objects and everyday detritus. These included a couple of small furry wall-based trays and on the floor in the centre of one room, a cartoon fish bathmat overlain with a Dan Arps-like metal grid.

The Sarah Scout Presents chapter dealt with ideas around sexuality and the body, and included a number of large Pop-ish collages and paintings by Brown contemporaries Richard and Pat Larter. These works shared a certain sense of rawness, in terms of finish and content, with the Browns on display at Charles Nodrum. The Sarah Scout exhibition also included a number of slightly surreal corporeal sculptures by Claire Lambe.

Utopian Slumps was billed as a response to Brown’s abstraction, and unsurprisingly consisted largely of abstract works. Compared to the other galleries this was a much sparer presentation, and perhaps lacked some of the vitality of Sarah Scout and Charles Nodrum. The most interesting works here were the assemblages by John Nixon, (recently discussed by Rex Butler, via Groys, as a Communist artist), consisting of hand tools and other items mounted on Nixon’s abstract paintings. Although Nixon’s serial monochromes and Suprematist paintings may initially appear to be the anti-thesis of Brown, his wider practice, as avant-garde musician, artist-run-gallerist, and publisher, etc, places him in many ways closer to Brown’s own tireless creativity.

Abstraction continued at Neon Parc, in the form of a salon hang of works by female artists, largely from the Neon Parc stable. Like the Utopian Slumps exhibition, this was also more commercial looking show. Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley’s Drawing for hate kill falsity dolls after Sturtevant’s HATE KILL FALSITY channeled Brown through political references and appropriation, and in doing so, took on Elaine Sturtevant at her own game.

Regrettably, I was unable to make it to the fifth show at Linden Centre for Contemporary Art in St Kilda. Readers may have heard of the controversy surrounding this show and its temporary closure due to complaints about artist Paul Yore’s work Everything’s F**ked, which allegedly “included a cardboard cut-out of a child with Justin Bieber’s head stuck on, urinating from a dildo into a sink.” The media attention and moral panic immediately brought to mind the 2008 Bill Henson affair, and recent events in Tauranga. Part of Yore’s work was seized by the Police and according to The Age Yore may face charges of up to “10 years in prison for possessing and producing child pornography.” Understandably there has been a backlash in the local arts media, and a protest outside Linden, partially in response to the lack of communication and consultation between the gallery and the other participating artists/curators. The exhibition has since re-opened and Yore’s work has officially been given an R rating, with the so-called offending elements yet to be returned. All of this seems ridiculous given that this kind of imagery has appeared in Yore’s work before. And if one was looking for an excuse to write letters, far more explicit works were shown at Charles Nodrum and Sarah Scout. It’s been said the complaints may have come from a failed local conservative politician.

Ironically, Mike Brown is known to be the only Australian artist charged with obscenity (though the judge reduced his penalty from hard labour to a $20 fine). This connection symbolises the strength of the show. Rather than celebrating an artist through another institutional survey, or academic text, Newton has shown that many of today’s artists are living out Brown’s legacy through their practice: whether in their approach to making work, the types or work that they are creating or, in Yore’s case, their transgressions. And this is probably the way Mike would have wanted it to be.

Andrea Bell

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