Peter Hill

I like a book jacket that tells you clearly, in words and images, what it is about. Australian Artists in the Contemporary Museum does just that: ‘The authors’ central argument is that artists’ engagement with the museum has shifted from politically motivated critique taking place in museums of fine art, towards interventions taking place in non-art mus ...

It was the great American Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt who organised Melbourne artist Robert Jacks’s first show in Manhattan. This was held at the New York Cultural Centre in 1971, part of a program where each exhibited artist nominated his successor. Jacks had been enjoying a stellar rise since his début solo exhibition at Gallery A in Melbourne in 1966, when he was twenty-three years old. All twenty-five abstract paintings in that show sold. Each one had a title referencing James Joyce’s Ulysses, such as Mr Bloom with his stick gently vexed (1965). The largest, Timbrel and harp soothe (1965), was bought by the National Gallery of Victoria even before the show opened.

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He painted Kate Moss naked. The Kray twins threatened to cut off his painting hand over bad gambling debts. He was officially recognised as father to fourteen children by numerous partners, but the unofficial tally could be as high as forty (three were born to different mothers within a few months). He is Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, born in Berlin on 8 ...

In August 1999 the Melbourne art collective DAMP staged an argument that turned into a glass-smashing fight at an exhibition opening of its work at 200 Gertrude Street. Peter Timms, writing in The Age, described this event, which in former times might have been called a ‘Happening’ and today would be recognised as a ‘Pop-up project’:

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On the evening of 24 May 2004, fire destroyed hundreds of works of art stored in Momart’s warehouse in Leyton, East London. (An arsonist was reputedly to blame.) Among those lost were Tracey Emin’s notorious tent, entitled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell, and Chris Ofili’s Afrobluff. Valued at around $100 million, whole collections, including Charles Saatchi’s, were destroyed.

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This fascinating book tells of the friendship between two Chinese artists: the traditional brush painter Huang Binhong (1865–1955) and the Chinese writer, critic, and translator Fou Lei (1908–66). While the long tail of Modernism swept through the twentieth century, decelerating only during the two world wars, and following reductive tendencies based on the early work of either Picasso or Duchamp, cultural workers in China had to deal with the end of the old imperial order, foreign invasion, the rise of communism, and the imposition of socialist realism, quickly followed by the decade-long Cultural Revolution. Then came Tiananmen Square and its twenty-year aftermath of commercial openness and democratic closure. These were dangerous times, and just as Walter Benjamin in the West committed suicide in the shadow of the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, so too did Fou Lei in 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

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The Revolutionary Century by Alison Carroll & Every 23 Days by Sarah Bond, Alison Carroll and Claire Watson

by
November 2010, no. 326

If you were to tell me that a book had been written that covered a century of art in Asia, from 1900 to 2000, and that its geographic range moved from Japan to Pakistan and Indonesia, to Nepal, the Australian outback, and Cambodia, I would initially ask how many volumes it contained. That such a book exists, in a fairly slim volume, is tribute to the skills of its author, Alison Carroll. How has she done it?

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