What a pisser! Lazy post. Sorry.

7 01 2013
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Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’. Image via tate.org.

More to come on more things. Soon. I promise. In the meantime, here’s a link to an article I wrote for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Expertise Goes Down the Drain’. Hope it’s good for what ails ye. Highlight for me? It gave the editors an excuse to publish a gigantic urinal across two pages in the Insight section of the paper.

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To save, or not to save? Major Melbourne work by Keith Haring at risk. Again.

21 02 2011

In today’s Age, Thomas Dixon, who now chairs the Victorian Public Art Committee of the National Trust, and was the Chief Conservator at the NGV until his retirement in 2006, writes an impassioned plea for the preservation of the fast-deteriorating mural painted by American street artist, Keith Haring, located on the building that used to house Collingwood TAFE (pictured at left). It’s an imposing work of art, made all the more significant by the fact that Haring, who was out painting the subway stations and laneways of Manhattan when Banksy was but a glint in his (or her?) mother’s eye, died tragically early and a great bulk of his major work was exposed to the elements and has since disappeared or been damaged beyond repair. In terms of his corpus, the TAFE mural, which he painted during a visit to Melbourne in 1984, is very important indeed. In the British magazine, The Art Newspaper, it was described as ‘the last in the world painted entirely by his hand’.

Elsewhere I’ve pondered the question of preserving and documenting street art, including the debate for and against intervention in the case of Keith Haring’s mural (here, and here). In summary, it comes down to deciding whether or not the integrity and preservation of the art object (the mural) should outweigh the value we place on defending the artist’s intention. Haring painted the mural outdoors, exposed to the elements, and did so because its impermanence/transience and eventual deterioration was an important part of the work itself. If the work is preserved or repainted, the argument goes, it undermines the artist’s message. Anyways, after a heated debate in the mid 1990s, it was decided that the best path was to treat the mural in order to halt any further deterioration. According to Dixon, the periodic maintenance that was required to extend the artwork’s life was not undertaken, resulting in further damage. It’s estimated that it will cost about $25,000 to stabilise the work, with about $1,000 annually to maintain its condition. A pittance, Mr. Baillieu, surely? How about making this your first order of business as Victoria’s new Arts Minister?

Politicians aside, fear not! Direct from its salvation of Egypt from the clutches of dictatorship, the social media revolution has joined the fight! Yes – there is a Facebook page, Save the Keith Haring Mural’ with 5,334 members. Join the fight now!

As an aside, everyone seems to forget the (admittedly far more modest) Angel that Haring painted on the wall of Geelong Grammar’s Toorak campus. It was originally on the external wall of one of the Victorian-era school buildings, but after the redevelopment of the site the mural was enclosed in a central classroom in the Early Learning Centre (kindergarten, for the uninitiated). Thank the heavens on high that whoever was overseeing the renovations took it upon themselves to ensure the mural survived the extensive remodelling of the building. It is now preserved under a sheet of perspex, and is loved by teachers and children alike; a benevolent and gentle presence in a space filled by little people… and, yes, another in my long line of terrible phone photos, showing said angel, and some contributions from the kinder kids – reflections on the angel in their midst.

The room is known as ‘The Angel Room’. Not ‘Keith Haring’s Angel Room’, or ‘The Haring Room’. Just ‘The Angel Room’. It may be far removed from the artist’s vision, but in this context the artwork has assumed a new life and relevance to the people who live with it every day. It will endure in the minds of hundreds of little people, who grow into bigger people – many of who most probably don’t even know who painted the angel, or why it’s there. Which probably doesn’t really matter, one way or another. The Angel really has assumed a life of its own. When I’m feeling particularly sentimental, to me this seems to be a very good argument in favour of preserving works of art like this one.

I could be very wrong, but I like to think that Keith Haring would have approved.

(images: Keith Haring ‘Angel’, by me; Keith Haring, ‘Collingwood TAFE mural’, via ‘Save the Keith Haring Mural’ Facebook page)






“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”: Oops! Glastonbury council destroys Banksy’s Paddington Bear.

1 05 2009

Uh oh. Seems some overly zealous council workers have painted over one of Banksy’s Paddington Bear stencils in Glastonbury during an anti-graffiti blitz.

This wouldn’t be the first time one of Banksy’s works met such a fate. In Melbourne, we had a little Banksy of our own, ‘Little Diver’. The owners of the building whose wall the artist tackled with his spray-can covered said stencil with a sheet of perspex to protect and preserve it. But, in a perverse twist of fate, another, rather more prosaic, practitioner of wall defacement poured silver paint behind the sheet of perspex and scribbled ‘Banksy Woz Ere’ across the face of it.Image from Web. Showing a Banksy artwork. 131208.

Could this be the inevitable fate of much stencil art? I mean, it’s a curator’s worst nightmare… an artwork, exposed in a public space, indistinguishable for all intents and purposes from the colourful tags that surround it. Besides which, given that street art began as what amounts to a guerrilla movement, disseminated under cover of dark and anonymity, should it be left to its fate? Purists would probably argue yes. But that’s unlikely once the market gets its hands on it. Once an example of street art has a tangible financial value placed upon it, there’s no way it will be left to deteriorate and succumb to destructive environmental elements. This is exactly what happened here in Melbourne, where a massive mural painted by Keith Haring on an exterior wall of the Collingwood Technical School in 1984 has been listed with Heritage Victoria to ensure its preservation, despite much debate about the artist’s intention. Painting it in such an exposed location, Haring would have known that it would deteriorate over the years. Was that as important a facet of the artwork as its actual execution? Or would he have wished to see it restored and preserved? Impossible to say – Haring died in 1990.

Interesting conundrum, though. 

Image: Banksy ‘Little Diver’, before and after: ‘The Age’