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February Issue 2008

A View from Down Under
on Summer Gold

by Judith McGrath

It's summertime Down Under with cyclone induced flooding up north, bush fires down south, and heat all over. We have thrown out the old and ushered in the new and although I'm talking about calendars, for all intents and purposes I could be discussing art practices, projects, exhibitions and competitions. When it comes to eras and art, 'New' doesn't always mean better.

The summer art scene is a mixed bag of tricks. It commences with the school term ending mid December and Art Colleges putting up graduate shows. These displays present a gaggle of unframed, half-finished works that induce either hope or fear for the future of the Visual Arts. Yes, there are some interesting exhibits but they are hard to find amid the 'stuff'. I'm beginning to seriously think that students who already know how to draw, sculpt or paint, should avoid going to art school. It will only serve to impede their creativity and dull their skills. Most art college displays confirm my opinion that good art practitioners often make bad art teachers.

Christmas Eve sees art galleries closing their doors for two months. In the heat of the post Christmas sale season, artists not aligned with commercial galleries hang their work in shopping centre malls or empty shop fronts at 'bargain prices' hoping to snag the 'shopoholic'. Here too the offerings include the good, the bad and the ugly.

Same can be said of Artist Collectives exhibitions. In January's heat, members cobble together the money needed to hire space in air conditioned foyers of city office buildings or local community halls to present a year's worth of effort. Their hope is that the local press, having no other holiday disaster to report, might write something about their work.

The art presented in summer shows is a mixed bag of styles and levels of talent but worth fossicking through as sometimes, like any prospector knows, you just might find a gold nugget.

February sees this city by the sea host its annual 'Arts Festival' which celebrates any form of art originating in any place other than here. I did marvel at the excellent exhibition of sculptural work by an artist who spends his creative time between New York and Sydney. Then I had to chuckle when I read how he was born and schooled in this city but had to go around the world before he was invited to show in his home town. And no, the gallery didn't have the foresight to acquire one of his works when they were affordable!

February is also the month for advertising public commissions and/or community art projects. Scale models are put on display for 'public comment' but we do wonder why. Everyone knows the winner is the least expensive rather then the most artful.

This summer my city by the sea reinstated its Open Drawing Award (one assumes it had been lost amid civic bureaucracy for over a decade). The catalogue informed us the 200 works on display were culled from over a thousand entries. If the exhibits hung were considered the 'best' they received, and the winner the best of that lot, please show me the rejects! My only hope is that the 'Salon des Refuses' is filled with real art as the show was completely devoid of talent.

Despite my groans and complaints about quantity usurping quality (I get cranky in the heat) there were sufficient happy finds that made my ventures out of a cool, air conditioned house worth the effort. Just last week we discovered a small craft shop that displays stunning glass objects by a young local artist (yes, we bought one) and a new gallery that opens its doors to emerging artists whose works and attitudes are honest.

These were the nuggets I needed to maintain hope. Happy New Year!

Judith McGrath lives in Kalamunda, Western Australia, 25 minutes east of Perth. She received a BA in Fine Art and History from the University of Western Australia. McGrath lectured in Art History and Visual Literacy at various colleges around the Perth area, and was an art reviewer for The Sunday Times and The Western Review both published in the Perth area. McGrath is currently a freelance writer and reviewer for various art magazines in Australia. She also co-ordinates the web site Art Seen in Western Australia found at (www.artseeninwa.com).

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