emaj issue five, 2010
Amelia Barikin, Katrina Grant, Ryan Johnston, Tim Ould, Mark Shepheard
REX BUTLER AND A.D.S. DONALDSON
In this essay, which is another instalment in the authors’ ongoing project of writing a history of ‘UnAustralian’ art in the 20th century, the period 1900 to 1930 is characterised in terms of three adjectives: ‘French’, ‘floral’ and ‘female’. ‘French’ because so much of Australian art history took place in France, or in relation to France, during the period. ‘Floral’ because so much of this history can be understood in terms of flower painting, often included in still lifes and interiors, as opposed to the prevailing ‘gum tree’ nationalism enshrined after the War. ‘Female’ because, extending the existing accounts by women art historians, the entire period can be understood as feminine in character. This ‘UnAustralian’ account breaks with the importance attributed both to Norah Simpson bringing back books on Cubism in 1913 and to Grace Cossington-Smith’s The Sock Knitter (1915) as the first signs of modernism in Australia, and to the War as an event that dramatically changed the course of Australian art history, either by sending Australian artists for the first time overseas or by explaining the prominence of women in Australian art after the War. To think Australian art 1900-1930 as ‘French, floral and female’ is to imagine a different account from the usual nationalist one, to reconceive a history that has remained fundamentally unaltered since William Moore’s The Story of Australian Art (1934).
How are we to understand the nexus of art, televisual imagery and the politics of democracy in the early twenty-first century, at a time when “democracy” has supposedly reached an apotheosis in global politics, and documentary imagery on television screens has returned as a core trope within contemporary art? And what role is art sometimes made to play in promoting certain political discourses within problematic contexts? In 2004, these questions emerged as central to the inauguration of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, Romania – a museum whose location and date of inauguration were dictated by Romania’s then-Social Democratic government, in the run-up to the country’s important 2004 elections and its accession to the European Union. Invited to participate in the museum’s inauguration, two Swiss-based artists, Christoph Buchel and Gianni Motti, devised an untitled installation that took “democracy” as its subject. A close examination of this work reveals a subtle critique of television’s place, and installation’s potential, within histories of postcommunist art and politics, as well as of the various presumptions made – of the artists, of television, and of encounters between “East” and “West” – in the name of “democracy”.
No More Provincialism: Art and Text
HEATHER BARKER AND CHARLES GREEN
This essay discusses the writing and personalities surrounding the 1981 establishment of the Australian art magazine, Art & Text, and traces its progression under Paul Taylor’s editorship up to his relocation to New York. During this period, Art & Text published Taylor’s own essays and, more importantly, those of other writers and artists — Meaghan Morris, Paul Foss, Philip Brophy, Imants Tillers, Rex Butler, Edward Colless — all articulating a consistent and complex postmodern position. The magazine’s founder and editor, Paul Taylor, personified the shattering impact of postmodernism upon the Australian art world as well as postmodernism’s limitations. Taylor facilitated a new theoretical framework for the discussion of Australian art, one that continues to dominate the internationalist aspirations of Australian art writers. He produced temporarily convincing solutions to problems that earlier critics had wrestled with unsuccessfully, in particular the twin problems of provincialism, and the relationship of Australian to international art.
Louise Bourgeois very consciously opened her oeuvre to biographical interpretation through comments in interviews, through her writings and, not least, through her art. It would appear to be an open and shut case, with everything neatly laid out for art historians. But is it really that simple? Taking a single work, Pillar (1949), as a starting point, this article illuminates Bourgeois’ relationship with the writing of art history. Rather than interpret the work by itself, this approach will make it possible to both reveal and explore the ways in which the artist changed, adapted and developed her strategies in order to influence the interpretation of individual works and of her oeuvre as a whole. Bourgeois was well aware of her influence, and she deliberately used the rules of the game to draw attention to recurring histories, thereby also dissuading other interpretations. But her construction of the oeuvre as a linear story without digressions is also hard to understand, since the control she gained also implies limitations.
Mary Cecil Allen (1893-1962) was an Australian artist and art educator who moved to New York in 1927, where she became a lecturer and exhibited in leading galleries and museums. Although a resident of the United States until her death, Allen returned to Melbourne in 1935-36, 1950 and 1959 – 1960, becoming an advocate of modern art and a symbol of modernity. On each occasion, she attracted large audiences to her lectures on modernism and controversially exhibited her latest work, thereby exerting a considerable influence on attitudes towards modern art in Melbourne. As a glamorous and confident ‘modern woman’, she came to represent the seductive vitality of American modernity and acted as a vehicle of Americanisation. This article examines these three visits, tracing Allen’s activities and reception, and situating them within a wider cultural context.
Garters and Petticoats: Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s 1843 Portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
What does official royal iconography tell us? What messages does it communicate about the sitters, and from the sitters? This paper deconstructs two official portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873) in 1843. It outlines the complex semantic layering within this pair of British royal portraits, and explores in particular the emphasis on Prince Albert’s newly-acquired ‘Englishness’ and the notion of an iconographic ‘gender reversal’ within the context of traditional marital pendants.
The Trouble with Twins: Image and Ritual of the Yoruba ère ìbejì
The Yoruba peoples of southwest Nigeria, West Africa – many of whom have linked the phenomenon of human twin birth with instability, disruption and the unnatural – see twins as a cause for both anxiety and celebration. Yoruba twin sculptures [ère ìbejì] are a sculptural and ritual form of ‘working’ on twins to manage the threat they pose to the everyday realm of the family and to the wider society. The rituals associated with twin sculptures are a means of incorporating the dangerous power of the twins into a meaningful sphere of human action in a way that celebrates and copes with their powerful presence. This essay looks at the ‘trouble’ of Yoruba twins by analysing the ritual, belief and image-making practices surrounding them, and, in a reading informed by René Girard’s 1977 text Violence and the Sacred, by showing how ère ìbejì touch on issues of social distinction and violence.