Things I learned from ‘The Diplomat, the Artist and the Suit’, a documentary about architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall


In the competitive field of architecture, three things are essential to success: The first is a level of diplomacy, required in the courtship and management of clients. The second is a high degree of artistry or design skill, indispensable for obvious reasons. The third is a suit. Many budding architects, in their hubris, neglect to acquire a suit. This is a mistake, for no level of artistic talent or interpersonal and management skills will compensate for deficiency of suit. The more ambitious will invest in a second suit, so as not to be without when the first is being dry-cleaned. However, when starting out, it isn’t necessary to purchase more than one suit. Seven is excessive. 


Barrie Marshall is the artist of the documentary’s title, a self-effacing, wiry-framed recluse with glassy brown eyes. I want to make love to him.


Marshall lives in a concrete bunker resembling the HQ of a horribly disfigured cartoon villain with chainsaws for hands, sunk into a dune on the rugged Phillip Island coast. Its entrance is marked with a galvanized metal screen, its interior ruthlessly austere and as cold as the Bass Strait winds. There is a large enclosed courtyard, covered in dune grass. There are no penguins.


In the history of vox pops (and probably since Neolithic times), no member of the pubic quizzed on the subject of new architecture in their city has had a single positive word to say.


I bet he goes walking alone on Woolamai Beach in the driving rain, his mind harboring melancholic designs and secrets and a longing for the freedom of a sea bird.


Jeff Kennett is the Lleyton Hewitt of Victorian public life. Now that our white-hot hatred has waned, the former premier’s/tennis champion’s comments are sought on the immaturity of community attitudes to public space development/Nick Kyrigos. Since retiring from office, Kennett may have done much to raise awareness of depression and anxiety but there is still  a cactus where his heart should be and he still thinks we’re a bunch of lowlifes.


Anyone who doesn’t like the DCM-designed cheese stick on Citylink is an idiot and should aspire to a higher level of architectural intelligence.


Anna Schwartz lives in a DCM-designed home in Carlton with her husband Morry and a world-class collection of contemporary trip hazards. Also, she has retired the reflective hat that made her look like a Parisian gumnut baby.


Across a range of factors—environmental sustainability, structural complexity, number and accessibility of public toilets—the DCM-designed Stonehenge visitor centre is, compared to the Stonehenge itself, the superior achievement.


I doubt I’d actually make love to him if given the chance. His bed is probably made of zinc. What would we talk about afterwards? I‘d have to pretend to like the cheese stick.

John Denton, Barrie Marshall and Bill Corker. Photo by John Gollings. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
John Denton, Barrie Marshall and Bill Corker. Photo: John Gollings. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Denton Corker Marshall, 'Phillip Island House'. Photo: Richard Powers
Denton Corker Marshall, ‘Phillip Island House’. Photo: Richard Powers

The Phillip Island House, by Denton Corker Marshall. Photo by Richard Powers
Denton Corker Marshall, ‘Phillip Island House’. Photo: Richard Powers

‘I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we don't really exist if you don't.’ Vladimir Nabokov
‘I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we don’t really exist if you don’t’. Vladimir Nabokov

Three thousand years of people being bastards to horses

MEDIA RELEASE: The National Gallery of Victoria is delighted to present the first exhibition on the relationship between man and horse. ‘People being bastards to horses’ assembles images of this magnificent animal put by man to work and war, and subjected to extreme exercise for his amusement. Panoramic in scope, the exhibition features works from classical antiquity, the 19th Century—The Golden Age of people being bastards to horses—right through to the contemporary. Please enjoy a selection of key works from this landmark exhibition.

Lucy Kemp-Welch, ‘Horses bathing in the sea’, 1890.
Lucy Kemp-Welch, ‘Horses bathing in the sea’, 1890

Nothing a horse appreciates more than being made to thrash about in the freezing cold English Channel of a morning.

Benjamin Robert Haydon, Marcus Curtius, 1842–43
Benjamin Robert Haydon, Marcus Curtius, 1842–43

Marcus Curtius: Self-sacrifice is a virtue that shall make Rome great. My horse! To that fire-eyed maiden war, and should the Gods desire it, to death.
Marcus Curtius’s horse: Um, can it wait? I’ve got physio at two for the gammy knee. You know how hard it is to get an appointment with this guy!

Gericault, The Flemish farrier, 1821
Gericault, The Flemish farrier, 1821

Child: Do all horses have red hot iron bars nailed into their feet?
Man: Only the lucky ones, kid.

Sydney Nolan, Kelly with horse, 1955
Sydney Nolan, Kelly with horse, 1955

Ned Kelly: I wish to acquaint you with the occurrences present, past and future …
Ned Kelly’s Horse: Sorry to interrupt your letter, mate, but something to drink would be awesome.
Ned Kelly: It will pay government to give those people who are suffering, innocence …
Ned Kelly’s Horse: Just a drop, mate, anything. I can’t feel my lips.
Ned Kelly: … justice and liberty
Ned Kelly’s Horse: My face feels like a roasted gumboot.

Schelte Bolswert, The lion hunt, c. 1628
Schelte Bolswert, The lion hunt, c. 1628

Soldier: Attack those lions at once! Attack! Attack!
Horse: I don’t mean to be a pain, but may I suggest the benefits of a qualitative risk assessment at this juncture?

Hugh Ramsay, An equestrian portrait, 1903
Hugh Ramsay, An equestrian portrait, 1903

Man: To aid its digestive health, one must lean on one’s horse as it eats.
Woman: Are you sure about that?
Man: Certain.
Woman: And what should horses feed on?
Man: Dirt, mainly.
Woman: That doesn’t sound exactly right.
Man: Dirt.

Emmannuel Frémiet, Saint George and the dragon, 1891
Emmannuel Frémiet, Saint George and the dragon, 1891

And St George did upon the ferocious Dragon look, and call out to it that he would strike it with a lance from high up on his steed. But to St George’s surprise, his steed did resist utterly the trampling of the Dragon, bucking and whinnying and saying ‘Not my problem’ and ‘Do it yourself, hotshot.’

H.K. Browne, plates 4 & 6 from How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds, 1863
H.K. Browne, plate 6 from ‘How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds’, 1863

H.K. Browne, plates 4 & 6 from How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds, 1863
H.K. Browne, plate 4 from ‘How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds’, 1863

Pippins: Come men, let’s enjoy a grand day on horseback, hunting furry animals and shooting them in the head.
Pippins’ horse: Wow let’s not instead.

Jenny Watson, Horse series No.8, grey with pink rug, 1974
Jenny Watson, Horse series No.8, grey with pink rug, 1974

Horse: How much longer?
Jenny Watson: 45 minutes max.
Horse: See you said that 45 minutes ago.
Jenny Watson: Well maybe if you didn’t move your mouth so much.

The Horse, NGV International, Melbourne, 14 August – 8 November 2015.

Art versus craft, the final word

Dear Stamm, 

I graduated from the VCA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2014 and I now work primarily in the field of ceramics. At the opening of my first group show, I was asked whether what I make is craft or art. I’m not sure I know what the difference is. Can you help? 



Dear Bethany,

Thanks for your enquiry.

Academics and curators agree that in this post-disciplinary age, with unprecedented lateral movement across all fields of creativity, the difference between art and craft is less clear than ever. They are, of course, wrong. The categories are distinct and immutable and determining which one your practice falls under is easy – just apply any of the following five tests.

Take your wedding ring off, tie it to a piece of string, and hang it over one of your works. If it swings in a circle, it is craft. If it swings back and forth, it’s art.

Did you draw on technical knowledge and a repertoire of skills to complete a work with a meticulous degree of aesthetic realisation? If you answered yes, you’re making craft. Or, does it resemble something on the reject pile at a Sophia Mundi humanities fundraiser? If so, it’s art.

To which of the following statements do you most relate?

a) I think people understand me most of the time.
b) I think people understand me some of the time.
c) Monkey monkey Paddledust is hiding in my scarves.

a or b = craftsperson
c = artist

In a reboot of the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, what would Viggo Mortensen do with one of your works if he found it in a shelter recently abandoned by cannibals?

a) Drink tea or cordial from it.
b) Burn it for fuel. There is literally no other purpose it would serve in an apocalypse.

a = craftsperson
b = artist

How do you feel after a session in your studio?

a) Happy.
b) As though I have unwittingly opened a wormhole to a universe of existential questioning. That flock of screaming lambs I wanted so much to leave behind stalk me at every turn. While I am heavy with the realisation that this path is a solitary one, I know it is the only one of any worth.

a = craftsperson
b = artist

There you go, Bethany, the difference between art and craft. Good luck with your career, whichever one it is.

Best wishes,

More love hours, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 21 July – 11 October 2015.

Rhys Lee, ‘Carpet clown’ 2014, glazed earthenware, 25 x 22 x 18 cm, © Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne
Rhys Lee, ‘Carpet clown’, 2014, glazed earthenware, 25 x 22 x 18 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne.

Hiromi Tango, Sea Tears (2014), mixed media, neon, Perspex, wool, donated fabric, paper, wire, Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
Hiromi Tango, ‘Sea Tears’, 2014, mixed media, neon, Perspex, wool, donated fabric, paper, wire. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.

If I was curator: An imagined conversation

Fiona Hall: Suzette.

Suzette: Ms Hall?

F: Sorry to call late.

S: What time is it?

F: It’s Wrong Way Time. Hahaha!

S: …

F: It’s 3am.

S: Jesus. Don’t you sleep?

F: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Hey. Just finished another sculpture for the Biennale. Shall I text you a pic?

S: Oh. Sure.

F: K. It’s called All the King’s men.

S: I just got it.

F: It articulates the inexorable currents of capitalism, neo-colonialism and civil war with reference to the concentration of media ownership, deforestation and corporate greed.

S: It’s a khaki skull with a glass eye and a bullock mandible for teeth.

F: Don’t you like it?

S: It’s very nightmares—I mean interesting. It’s very interesting.

F: Great. When the exhibition closes, I’d like you to keep it.

S: No no, that’s okay, I couldn’t possibly—

F: I insist.

S: Oh. Thanks. I’ll, um, put it in a prominent place and look at it often.

F: There are 20 more of them for the show.

S: 20?! There are 783 works already.

F: I know right. It will be as though Denton Corker Marshall and Kurtz from Apocalypse now opened a canal-front wunderkammer.

S: What’s that noise? Is that an electric knife?

F: I’m working on a new sculpture: A 1:30 scale replica of an AK-47. Guess what it’s made of.

S: Soap?

F: Cold.

S: Sardine tins?

F: Colder.

S: American currency?

F: Colder.

S: I feel like you’ve asked me to guess the medium as though it’s a normal medium when in fact it is really unconventional which no-one would ever guess—

F: Bread!

S: Okay.

F: I think I’ll make a baker’s dozen. What do you think?

S: I think that’s a lot.

F: Do you think any of the other pavilions will be doing bread?

S: I don’t know. Guns maybe, but probably not in wheat. I think the other pavilions are going paleo. And minimal.

F: You’re anxious about the quantity of works, Boss. I feel you. Relax. Every sculpture is an integral part of the glorious, nihilistic whole. Including each cuckoo clock.

S: Each what?

F: I’ve knocked up a few dozen grandfather and cuckoo clocks for the show.

S: A few dozen.

F: To balance out the 40-odd sculptures from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers collab.

S: I think I’ll start a new spread sheet.

F: Don’t forget to add the bank-note nests from GOMA—

S: Wow.

F: —a heap of new sardine tins, and a tapa cloth. Maybe two.

S: I’m going back to sleep. Can we talk about this tomorrow?

F: Tomorrow’s tight. I’m packing a shipping container of Whanganui River driftwood for freight to Venice.

S: Amazing.

F: Great. Nighty night.

S: Night.

Fiona Hall, Wrong Way Time, 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2015, Italy, 9 May – 22 November 2015.

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘All the King’s Men’, 2014–15 (detail), knitted military uniforms, wire, animal bone, horns and teeth, dice, glass, leather boxing gloves, pool ball, dimensions variable (20 parts), image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Like a prayer: Kate Murphy ‘Probable portraits’

Earlier this year, a gallery at Federation Square presented a large exhibition of work by a well-known international film artist. Throughout the week, school kids shoved and tumbled like wildebeest, iPhones flashed, gallery attendants stalked and on weekends mums steered prams into the legs of skinny, beardy dilettantes, young couples drifted, older ones concentrated, toddlers squealed. It was a blockbustery, people-pleaser of a show. Critics used the words  ‘clever’ and ‘inventive’ to describe the artist’s ‘astute investigations’ into identity, individuality, performance and stereotypes. Maybe clever editing and montage doesn’t get my blood pumping like it used to, because in the low-budget arts program in my mind, I gave the exhibition two (out of five) stars. I couldn’t shake a sense of the artist’s haughty attitude toward her subjects—the actors and interviewees upon whom she has relied for her own art-world celebrity.

Success in the arts is largely based on ambition. (You’ll be disappointed to learn I’m not presenting the keynote on ‘Success in the arts’ at the AAANZ conference next month. The interview was really hard and I flunked the part when they ask you to list a solitary creative achievement from that fellow with the wacky glasses on The X factor. Please write in if you know the answer.) This is not to say that careerism leads to great work, which often happens at the hands of people who are good at wasting huge amounts of time.

Probable portraits, an exhibition of six video works by Australian artist Kate Murphy is part of Shepparton Art Museum’s focused contemporary art program. The exhibition is in some ways a portrait of a serious and perceptive artist, exploring the capacity of documentary and video portraiture to reveal the latent parts of her subjects, her audience and herself.

Prayers of a mother (1999), and Yia Yia’s song (2010)—the exhibition’s earliest and most recent works, respectively—are multi-channel family portraits. Murphy brings her own immediate family together in Prayers of a mother, a piece that describes ideas no less grand than Catholic faith, doubt, and intergenerational dependency. Yia Yia’s song unites a family of first-generation Greek migrants in their heart-rending responses to the 1976 tape-recorded elegy of a mother left behind in Greece. The song itself, presented on loop in a spacious, darkened gallery at SAM, is stunning. The range of voices in this work, and the confluence of concentration, pathos, distress and amusement reflected in the faces of the participants, captures the effects of migration on individuals and communities.

Each of these two works uses the visual language of the YouTube selfie, or reality TV confessional, but, crucially, without the sense of voyeurism or imposition. In her investigations into family, God, trauma and truth, Kate Murphy deploys what I call the ‘David Attenborough approach’—one of humility and wonder.

Kate Murphy, Probable portraits, Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria, 13 September – 24 November 2013.

Kate Murphy with Basil Hagios, 'Yia Yia’s song' (still, detail), 2010, 8 channel HD video installation, Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
Kate Murphy with Basil Hagios, ‘Yia Yia’s song’ (still), 2010, 8-channel HD video installation. Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

Kate Murphy with Basil Hagios, 'Yia Yia’s song' (still, detail), 2010, 8 channel HD video installation, Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
Kate Murphy with Basil Hagios, ‘Yia Yia’s song’ (still), 2010, 8- channel HD video installation. Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

Kate Murphy, 'Prayers of a mother' (still, detail), 1999, 5 channel digital video installation, Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
Kate Murphy, ‘Prayers of a mother’ (still), 1999, 5-channel digital video installation. Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney

Kate Murphy, 'Prayers of a mother' (still, detail), 1999, 5 channel digital video installation, Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
Kate Murphy, ‘Prayers of a mother’ (still), 1999, 5-channel digital video installation. Courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney








Jan Verwoert’s Exhaustion and exuberance is one of the great pieces of writing on contemporary creative culture, and not only because it is the first to bring together the ideologies of the Sex Pistols, Edgar Allan Poe and Spongebob Squarepants. It is the love-child of critical theory and self-help, and this writer returned to it after a recent visit from her villainous inner critic.

Though Verwoert is writing for and about our high-performance culture, there’s plenty in there for those just doing their thing. There’s something for anyone whose ‘I can’t’ is louder than their ‘I can’, or anyone questioning the legitimacy and ethics of their writing/curating/sculpture/photography/performance/lack of performance/opinion/preferred brand of laundry detergent/collection of sunglasses/badminton swing.

These photos were taken this month on the single dirt road that connects the Aboriginal community of Peppimenarti in the Daly River region, and the Stuart Highway, in the Northern Territory.






5 wearne
















Arthur Boyd: An active witness

Lonsdale Street Roasters
Saturday 13 July, 11.05 am

Brother: What do you want to do after breakfast?

Sister: I’m happy. Whatevs.

B: Good, because I’ve prepared an itinerary.

S: Let’s have it.

B: We start with a midday tour of Old Parliament House.

S: Who are you? Clark Griswold?

B: Don’t be like that. This is your first trip to Canberra. You should take the opportunity to explore the nation’s political heritage, beginning with the architectural bedrock of power and—

S: No way, man. I didn’t drive eight hours from Melbourne to visit parliamentary Sovereign Hill.

B: OK. How about Capital Hill? The nerve centre, the heart and soul of current policy and debate. The seat of our thriving democracy. There’s an exhibition of touch-screen kiosks where you can interact with senators!

S: You’ll find more heart and soul in a Nauruan mine shaft. Best minimise my interaction with senators and their seats.

B: We could do the 16 km lap of Lake Burley Griffin.

S: Old Parliament House it is.

Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House
Saturday 13 July, 1.05 pm

Brother: Oi. You’ve been in Arthur Boyd over an hour. Don’t you want to see the Magna Carta? Or Malcolm Fraser’s favourite biro?

Sister: Not really. Listen, thanks for bringing me here. I really, really like this exhibition.

B: What’s so good about it?

S: Well. The curatorial premise is uncomplicated but engaging: ‘an active witness’. Boyd is an exemplar of the empathetic, affected artist. Dissatisfaction with the inhumanity of the world is common, sure, but how many of us possess the determination and fortitude to respond meaningfully to that frustration, to shine light in areas of darkness, throughout our entire lives.

B: How’s about that picture in the next room, the one of the guy with his dick out, pissing at the firing squad. Is that an empathetic response to the inhumanity of the world?

S: It’s satirical. It’s one illustration within the artist’s career-long commitment to exposing the debauchery and grotesqueness of war.

B: Hmmm.

S: See this work, Nebuchadnezzar being struck by lightning. Nebuchadnezzar is a figure from the Old Testament. Boyd frequently drew on myth for inspiration. But here, in this painting, the latent subject matter is grander even than the biblical content.

B: Do you think he’s pissing, or … you know … ejaculating?

S: Who?

B: The guy in the picture, in front of the firing squad.

S: Why would he be ejaculating?

B: Why would he be pissing?

S: War is absurd. There’s no place in it for your sophisticated brand of Socratic questioning. Now, pay attention. He painted the work in front of you after witnessing a Vietnam war protester set fire to himself in London.

B: Jesus.

S: This is Boyd’s timeless exploration of political and human folly. It is as powerful an evocation of hubris, anguish and guilt as you will see in a painting. Take another look, before we go.

B: The work is a powerful symbol of humanity’s vanity and failure during a time of crisis.

S: That’s very good!

B: I’m just reading from the brochure.

S: Right.

B: Says here that Bob Hawke chose Boyd’s Interior with an open door, Shoalhaven to decorate his office. He thought it was ‘well suited to moments of inner calculation’.

S: I bet an advisor chose the work, and wrote that response for him.

B: Would you take that gig? Senior Cabinet art consultant?

S: Sure. I know just the works I’d hang.

Arthur Boyd: An active witness, Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, 8 May – 29 September 2013.

Arthur Boyd, 'Nebuchadnezzar being struck by lightning', 1968-69, oil on canvas
Arthur Boyd, ‘Nebuchadnezzar being struck by lightning’, 1968-69, oil on canvas

Installation view of Arthur Boyd: An active witness, showing two illustrations from his series Spare the face, gentlemen, please, 1993.
Installation view of ‘Arthur Boyd: An active witness’, showing two illustrations from his series ‘Spare the face, gentlemen, please’, 1993

If you can’t say something nice

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’, said Edmund Burke. Recently it occurred to me that this famous aphorism might have come to Burke on a visit to an exhibition of particularly dreadful paintings. Perhaps he scrawled ‘bad art happens when good people don’t point out that it’s bad’ on the toilet door of an eighteenth-century ARI and the whole ‘triumph of evil’ thing developed from there. Perhaps.

In the current issue of Artlink, Vernon Ah Kee decries the supposed proliferation of mediocre art from Aboriginal remote communities, and addresses the paucity of criticism that enables and sustains it.

Erudite and acid-tongued, Ah Kee has made a career out of inflammatory statements. But there isn’t much controversy here. It’s widely agreed that there aren’t enough people making the call on Aboriginal art. Many recognise too, that acclaim is often ‘well-intentioned’, incommensurate with the complexity or quality of the artist’s work. And the critical vacuum is not exclusive to Aboriginal art produced in remote areas. Not listed under ‘favourites’ in Ah Kee’s iPhone are those who argue that urban-based Aboriginal artists are over-represented in major exhibitions, and public collections.

Frequently the meaning and significance of work from remote art centres exists in language that is foreign and inaccessible to curators, critics, and audiences. When the work penetrates, it penetrates on Eurocentric terms. For instance, I’m an obnoxious American collector lamenting that ‘one sometimes confuses one’s Rover with one’s Rothko’. Or, I’m director of the Musée du Quai Branly, writing to Warmun Arts requesting that Lena Nyadbi lend her aesthetically pleasing designs to the tiles of my magnificently positioned roof. I disagree with Ah Kee when he suggests that these kinds of things mitigate the agency of Rover Thomas and Lena Nyadbi, as artists and people. Ah Kee has said ‘the only authentic Aboriginal people in this country are the urban Aboriginal people. They’re the only ones that behave autonomously’.

It’s been around forty years since a group of desert men were introduced to the contemporary medium of acrylic painting, in the settlement of Papunya, west of Alice Springs. Thought-provoking, inventive and genuinely compelling art is today produced by urban-based Aboriginal artists, and by artists working at Aboriginal-owned and operated (actually, not just notionally) art centres in remote communities. There’s mounting frustration with the preciousness and culture of entitlement that stymies discourse on all sides. Provocative quips about authenticity are tedious and obstructive, whether they slip from backward minds, or whether espoused by proponents of change.

A photograph I found on the internet of someone staring at the gap between two Mark Rothko paintings

A photograph I found on the internet of an eye-catching silhouette inexplicably wielding two paint-brushes in front of a Rover Thomas painting

It’s not even a painting: ‘Like Mike’

Lob a rock into a well-attended contemporary art opening and you will not only become my hero instantly, you will hit at least one artist influenced by Mike Brown. Yet many have never heard of him and, of those who have, several would mistakenly consider him only a minor character in the narrative of twentieth-century Australian art.

Brown (1938–97) was Australia’s first major proponent of Dadaism and, later, graffiti art. He advocated spontaneous, collaborative art-making, long before it became a common part of so many artists’ lives. Ditto assemblage, appropriation and installation. Brown dragged modernism into the backyard of his Fitzroy terrace and thrashed it with a star picket, in the hope that no artist after him would have to question their right to make art. Outraged by the elite and commercialised art establishment, he was a man of absolute moral integrity, passionate about the accessibility of art and about creative freedom.

So what’s with the historical blind-spot? Richard Haese addresses this in his book Permanent revolution: Mike Brown and the Australian avant-garde 1953–97. After interviewing every Australian artist and art dealer born after 1920, all public gallery directors past and present, 218 curators, three-quarters of the living residents of Annandale and anyone who ever sold the artist pot, Haese concludes that Brown was an unwelcome guest at the dinner party of Antipodean art because of his indomitable rebelliousness against it. Had he made it past security, Brown would have spent the evening swearing at Nolan, Olsen, Drysdale and Whiteley, espousing the virtue of Dulux Quick Dry and ‘accidentally’ breaking Robert Hughes’s crystal ware.

What is remembered about Brown is that he is the only artist ever to have been successfully prosecuted for the crime of obscenity in Australia. In 1967, four years after Mary-Lou as Miss Universe was exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, he was convicted and sentenced to three months’ hard labour, which was eventually reduced to a $20 fine. Brown may have been unsurprised by the randomness and idiocy of the objection ‘on moral grounds’ that led to his conviction—‘It’s not even a painting!’ one AGNSW trustee is recorded to have said—but still, the response of his peers to the affair, and the coverage of the conservative press, damaged him irrevocably. He suffered a nervous breakdown, and never exhibited in a Sydney gallery again.

Like Mike is an adjunct curatorial project running in tandem with the current Mike Brown survey at Heide, and a playful intervention into the story of Australian art. While not suggesting that Brown was the messiah, curator Geoff Newton demonstrates that he was far more than just a very naughty boy. In this and other respects, Like Mike the project is like Mike the man—more significant than the farcical sideshow for which it will be remembered.

Like Mike, Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, Sarah Scout Presents, Utopian SlumpsNeon Parc and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, various dates between 18 May and 7 July 2013.

The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 4 May – 13 October 2013.

Newspaper clipping, ‘Sunday Mirror’, 1 December 1963, ‘The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown’

How to explain YouTube to a dead hare

You may not know this, but late in 2012, Anish Kapoor released a version of Psy’s ‘Gangnam style’ in support of the plight of Ai Weiwei. (Ai’s freedom from incarceration by the Chinese state is a pet crusade of click-happy slactivists the world over. You really must do your research before coming to my Stamm; I can’t spoon-feed you forever.) And not since 1984, when a Republican advisor said to Ronald Reagan, ‘Let’s put some heartland rock into this campaign—try talking about that patriotic Bruce Springsteen number with the cheerful birthplace affirmation’—has such embarrassment resulted from one man’s attempt to rouse the masses through song.

If a lesson can be drawn from these disparate musical forays, it is this: the appropriation of a pop culture phenomenon is fraught with risk, particularly for those who don’t know how to dance.

Joseph Beuys couldn’t dance but at least the man wrote his own material. In 1982, he produced ‘Sonne statt Reagan’, three minutes of anti-nuclear, anti-Reagan Euro pop featuring Jesus Christ on drums.

With little attention to the mainstream appeal of her work, Laurie Anderson has been exploring the relationship between technology and communication for over thirty years. An artist, musician and ceaseless innovator, her curriculum vitae reads like one written by an ambitious yet troubled adolescent avoiding their geography homework. To wit: Anderson invented a voice filter enabling her to speak in a masculine register; she invented a vegan fiddle bow; she was the first and only artist-in-residence at NASA; in 2007, she received an award for her ‘outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life’; and in 2010 she collaborated with husband Lou Reed to perform a concert at the Sydney Opera House—for dogs.

Anderson is a renowned raconteur. Fitting then, that the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art’s survey exhibition The language of the future was selective, intelligent, engrossing and affecting—testament to the power of expert storytelling. At the opening, Anderson spoke of the death of her grandmother while playing an altered violin and balancing in skates atop two blocks of melting ice. I’m told that she was reluctant to have the performance filmed, most likely to privilege the experience of her attentive audience. Or maybe she’s seen enough crappy video on the internet, and suspects that YouTube is where avant-gardism goes to die.

Laurie Anderson, The language of the future, the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 1 March – 19 April 2013.

Laurie Anderson, ‘A story about a story’, 2012, artist book, hard cover. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Laurie Anderson, ‘A story about a story’, 2012, artist book, hard cover. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Laurie Anderson, ‘From the air’, 2008, single-channel video projection, clay figure, dimensions variable. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Winners and grinners

It’s Archibald season, so if this issue lacks its usual rigour, be mindful of our distraction. Your Stammers have just emerged from two weeks huddled around a transistor radio, listening for any forecast of what excellence and sheer invention we might expect from the nation’s most prescient art prize, and awaiting the announcement of which artist is painting at the very vanguard of contemporary art. We took turns holding the aerial to the sky, and slept in shifts. The unbearable apprehension and hope of those days dissolved our differences and bonded us for life, in a way that recalled the lead-up to last year’s US presidential election—we prayed for reward of equivalent magnitude.

All right, yes, I’m joking. I’ll write nothing more on the reliably uninspiring Archibald because a) one should regard with suspicion those opinions one shares with Christopher Allen, and b) as a target for invective, it’s pretty low-hanging fruit.

When it comes to taking the piss out of the art world, no one boasts so comprehensive an arsenal as Richard Bell. Following are just three of his weapons, on show at MUMA’s Richard Bell: Lessons on etiquette and manners:

1. The cheap shot

Playing a Freudian therapist in Scratch an Aussie (2008), Bell is asked by his own therapist why he became a psychiatrist. His reply? To offset expenses he incurred producing work for the (notoriously mean) Biennale of Sydney.

2. The Louis Theroux

In Broken English (2009), Bell weaves through the crowd at a lavish GoMA opening wielding a microphone and all the propriety of an unhooked grenade. From the art world’s who’s who—happy to momentarily indulge a famous black artist—Bell solicits insights on the idea of an Aboriginal treaty. Stunned interviewees leak their inner dickheads.

3. The sting in the tail

Into the neat, accordion-style folder that I imagine he owned, Freud would have filed the ironic re-appropriation of Bell’s theorem (Trikky Dikky and friends) (2005) and the famously unsettling idiom ‘Aboriginal art—it’s a white thing’ of his Scientia e metaphysica (2003) under ‘tendentious humour’ for the weight and seriousness of their content. Bell’s acerbic, penetrating indictment of the categories which underpin Australian art production and reception is one of the great contributions to our nation’s critical discourse.

That Bell’s art is his passion, his medium for anarchic expression and his bread and butter adds a rich ambivalence to its humour. It was largely because he had been a finalist in several Australian art prizes that we were left aghast by the somewhat unorthodox method he employed to determine the winner of the Sulman—Archibald’s awkward cousin—two years ago. Suffice that Bell is as likely to be named on a future judging panel as Kanye West is to be encouraged to speak without autocue on a live-to-air telethon for survivors of a natural disaster. To his delight.

Richard Bell: Lessons on etiquette and manners, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 5 February – 13 April 2013.

Richard Bell, ‘Scratch an Aussie’, 2008, video

Richard Bell, ‘Scratch an Aussie’, 2008, video

Richard Bell, ‘Broken English’, 2009, video

Richard Bell, ‘Bell’s theorem (Trikky Dikky and friends)’, 2005, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 180 x 480 cm

Survival stories

Remote Aboriginal communities are sites of polarity. Yirritja and Dhuwa, Garth Brooks and Azealia Banks, boundless flood-plains and land permits, transcendent beauty and Third World squalor. Were you a privileged white girl with an art-history degree you might find a two-year stint at one of the epicentres of this opposition—a community art centre—divergently exhausting and exhilarating. You might feel your education building moment-to-moment, in tandem with new awareness of your ignorance. You might return to Melbourne feeling inadequate, barking at anyone who dares ask for your opinion on the intervention, thawing out in a puddle of tears.

Warwick Thornton’s 14-minute film installation, now showing at ACMI after premiering at dOCUMENTA, is based on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her children. Set against the carnage of the Thirty Years’ War (ask me why they call it that—it’s the only piece of war-related trivia I ever remember), the play follows a morally bankrupt canteen-lady whose decisions lead to the deaths of her three children. Brecht’s text illustrates the mercantile nature of war. It asks reader and audience to contemplate what price Mother Courage pays for her survival.

Believe it or not, Brecht’s apocalyptic, ideologically complex play is also seriously funny. After an attack leaves her daughter permanently disfigured, Mother Courage consoles her by pointing out that she won’t be the first girl raped by soldiers. Later, rumours of peace send Mother Courage into a funk, representing nothing more than her own financial ruin. Presumably Brecht was having too much fun writing the awfulness of the title character to provide a satisfactory explanation for his naming another one ‘Swiss Cheese’.

Thornton’s Mother Courage sits cross-legged on a mattress in the back of a dilapidated camper-van somewhere on the outskirts of Alice Springs, slowly filling a canvas on her lap with coloured dots. Her stoicism cuts against the fidgeting of her young grandson, squashed in beside her—polishing off Cheezles, drinking no-name cola, twiddling the volume knob of his ghetto blaster. A DJ dedicates his broadcast to Aboriginal prisoners.

Thornton sees his matriarch as ‘an empowered, resourceful sort who is reinventing herself and her culture’. I’m inclined to see her more as a victim of the worsening social reality of remote communities than an agent of cultural prosperity. In any case, Mother Courage captures the compromises made by those whose survival is at stake, and the disconnect between the conditions under which ‘tradition-based’ Aboriginal art is made, and the art market that consumes it. If none of that interests you, be seduced by one Central Desert boy’s aspirations to air guitar virtuosity.

Warwick Thornton, Mother Courage, ACMI, Melbourne, 5 February – 23 June 2013.

Warwick Thornton, ‘Mother Courage’, 2012, film installation

Warwick Thornton, ‘Mother Courage’, 2012, film installation

Warwick Thornton, ‘Mother Courage’, 2012, film installation

Warwick Thornton, ‘Mother Courage’, 2012, film installation