The adventure in three dimensions
Posted: 01 Sep 2011 | By: Patricia Anderson - Editor
The Australian sculpture scene is a lively and expanding arena, and in this issue we have focused on five practitioners: two Australians (Peter Vandermark and Richard Blackwell); the Japanese sculptor Kensuke Todo; the Englishman Phillip King; and an American, Bill Thompson.
We are also featuring sculpture’s miniaturised close relation — contemporary jewellery. In Great Britain, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this highly original expression enjoys the same prominence as other art forms; here in Australia it does not. While our best jewellers are known internationally (Catherine Truman recently showed at the Saatchi Gallery in London) and their works acquired by private collectors as well as institutions such as the Boston and Huston Museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, in Australia they are acquired by a small group of dedicated and discrete collectors only.
Thus, aAR has gone where our magazine cousins have not. In previous issues we have showcased the handful of studios, ateliers and galleries which deal exclusively in this subtle and distinctive art form and we have profiled a handful of highly original jewellers. In this issue we go further. There are essays on two of our most prominent and enduring practitioners: Margaret West, formerly a head of metalsmithing at Sydney College of the Arts, and Catherine Truman, a founder and partner in Adelaide’s Gray Street Workshop. Both have exhibited widely, here and in Europe, Japan and America, and both are represented in almost all of the Australian state collections.
Yet while the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Powerhouse in Sydney have excellent and extensive collections, they are rarely on display. And only recently has the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra created a desultory display of works by squeezing a number of fine pieces behind some glass panels along a wall in a fashion which looks like space-filler and an afterthought.
aAR is also profiling Griffith Regional Gallery in New South Wales, which in 1988 chose contemporary jewellery as the principal collecting arena for its permanent collection.
It holds works by some of our most established practitioners such as Sieglinde Karl, Viliama Grakalic, Bronwyn Goss, Marian Hosking, Rowena Gough, Christel Van der Laan and David Walker, and every second year it mounts a National Contemporary Jewellery Award.
In this so-called postmodern world, one of the clear streams of jewellery making — the one-off, considered, hand-fabricated piece — is being muddied, if this metaphor isn’t too extreme, by the voracious and novelty-seeking nature of the fashion world, and of the retail jewellery market. By the latter, I’m referring to the bland, anonymous, machine-assisted pieces which rely heavily for their appeal on the monetary value of their materials, that is to say, gold and gemstones. Even Tiffany & Co, Bulgari and Cartier, whose pedigrees are fairly long and distinguished, have succumbed to the blandness of the conveyor belt.
The situation for contemporary jewellers in Australia is not unlike that faced by painters and sculptors. Of the many who graduate, few will stay the course; not because they are not inventive, hard-working and committed, but because the marketplace will not sustain their more remarkable offerings. This in turn explains why so much of the jewellery for sale through craft shops and standard retail outlets has the unhappy appearance of the generic and the copy-cat.\
And to the question of aesthetics. Judgement about what is or what is not pleasing to the eye, regardless of its symbolic intent, is always a judgement made on shifting sands. Or is it? Some man-made offerings have an essential ‘rightness’ about them, which remains unchanged regardless of seismic shifts in taste. What is pleasing about an African mask, a Georgian jug or a Rothko canvas will still please 300 years from now. Art is supposed to exercise our eye before our language skills, not the other way round, as some postmodernists would have us believe. And sometimes art takes you where words can’t follow.
Finally, in this issue we have also introduced another occasional feature to our early pages called aARTwatch, where one or two artists working in a variety of media are singled out for special attention. In other words, we are encouraging you, the reader, and possibly you, the art collector, to keep an eye on them.