The Legacy of European Aspirations.

Castlemaine in central Victoria was part of the great gold rush in the 1880’s. The legacy of that wealth and aspiration, is a bounty of surviving period buildings. The Castlemaine  Art Gallery stands apart from the Victorian architecture, it is an amazing Neo Classical building built in 1933, and although small in scale has a stateliness that would not feel out of place in Gotham city. It’s small collection of early Australian art has some real gems of great importance, that in their own right are beautiful depictions of early Melbourne, but also important lamp posts in in the desire to bring cultural modernity to the developing colony.

McCubbin’s View of a Paddock in Hawthorn in 1883 is reminiscent of a great Constable study. Broody and full of atmosphere, the work has a profound optimism in face of the isolation of the new and daunting land. Seen in context to his masterpiece Lost (1886), this small work is powerful and rewarding and a precursor to his more famous work three years later.

Golden Sunlight  painted by McCubbin 30 years later in 1914 was a gift of Dame Nellie Melba. It is a view across the Yarra River from South Yarra and strikes an air of greater confidence  and maturity in the newly federated country of Australia. It is a stately and powerful work, and has a dialogue with Streetons paintings of Sydney.

An impression of Collins Street painted by Shearsby in 1910 is a wonderful painting and reminiscent of Pissaro’s Boulevard Montmartre which was acaquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1905.  It is technically a beautifully executed work,  bouncing  with the vitality and vibrancy of the burgeoning city. It pulses with energy, and unlike Pisarros work which evokes the timeless grandeur of Paris, speaks to Melbourne’s place as capital of Australia. This painting alone is worth the trip to Castlemaine 

My favourite painting is Winter Calm by Penleigh Boyd in 1920. It is a view of Frankston; undeveloped, rural, calm and  majestic. The blue of the still waters of Port Phillip shimmer and float on the deep, grey and steely waters that lie below its surface. It is a calm that sits nonchalantly above the power and the potential of the winter waters. It is perhaps the landscape metaphor that McCubbin was chasing but never quite resolved with the quiet power of this work.

A view on Princess Bridge was painted by Wilson in 1935, and like Boyd’s work provides the viewer with a rather romantic historical perspective on the development of Melbourne. The painting could be a view of London or Paris;  it aggrandizes Melbourne’s provincial character but it’s foremost character is its depiction of an early winter morning.  Make the trip to Castlemaines Art Gallery, it is a worthwhile exercise for a winter weekend.

Berlin Art Scene

 Berlin is the epicenter of art in Europe. The art scene is so rich and dense, but what really strikes you is how Art plays a central role not only in Berlin’s psyche, but how the city conceptualises its self.  Berlin deliberately shies away from the monumentalism of the built form; art inhabits the tenor of the city, derelict building from WW2 are still art squats, still respected and still important in the collective urban scape.  In many ways Art has rebuilt Berlin

In a series of posts about Berlin, today  I am looking at the work of  Emilio Vidova housed at the Berlinische Galerie.  Vidova worked in Berlin in the winter of 1964 in the former studio of National Socialist scultor Arno Breker. Having received a Ford Foundation scholarship he made in this studio the “Absurdes Berliner Tagebuch 64” works(Pictured). 

Vidovas term for the works were “Plurimi” which were picture frames and panels shattered and joined by hinges to form 3rd objects. These objects release non representational, expressive painting from the conventional form of the panel picture. For Vidova the Plurimi capture “feelings that have hapened, that are happening… a city burdened by fears”. For me these works capture the action of historical legacy, they are cathartic and in many ways have set the tone, and substrate for the space that art occupies in Berlin. Vidova wanted to capture the legacy of the city, its struggles and the critical democratic spirit of Grosz, Dix Beckmannn and of Dada Berlin. I think he does this brilliantly, and nearly 50 years after he painted the “Plurimi” the antagonisms and conflicting movement of energies are still present in Berlin, still signposted in this great work. 

Re reading Clement Greenberg

It is a century since Picasso and Braque postured on who had first rights to collage, arguable the major turning point in the evolution of cubism and pivotal to the whole modernist art movement.  Clement Greenberg, Americas most influential art critic of the 20th century, wrote his pivotal and most famous essay, on Collage in 1959. It is a remarkable essay that contexturalises how Braque and Picasso changed painting, through a unique dilemma; they had to choose between illusion and representation as subject matter. For these great masters, it was a  fight born of the struggle to realise how  two- dimensional flatness of representation could substitute for the the illusion of space and three-dimension; while shaping the illusion of the viewer and maintaining the pictures internal frame of reference.  Click on the link ( )  to read the essay.