New visibility

By Rhonda Dredge

When Amelia Johannes first approached room 207 in the Nicholas Building the door was ajar. She could see a painting through the gap and knew that a curator was getting work ready for a show.

She took a photograph, butting up the rich dark hue of the door against a hazy view of a painting in the distance. The floral pattern of a Japanese fabric insert on the outside of the door was more dominant than the work inside.

Her response to the room could be viewed as a wary commentary on the way visitors now approach galleries. Preconceptions may be just as significant as claims by curators or artists inside.

Yet a site has its own truth in terms of uses, architecture, history and position. A site-specific response such as the door photograph allows the space to dictate the work.

“My work’s about highlighting small details people mightn’t see in a room,” says Johannes. “I like to highlight everyday thinking.”

She was one of four artists invited to respond to room 207 and the graphics, cartoons and paintings from the 60s that have been stored within it over the past 12 months. Her “peep” was printed up and mounted on one of the windows towards the lane.

Other artists recorded bird calls and the sounds of nearby rubbish trucks, cleaned and decorated the tiled floor and sketched internal views.

Although the show Strange Brew is being promoted as an exhibition about John Vickery, an Australian artist known for his 1960s op art and earlier more expressive Cruciform paintings, it really is about the room.

Visitors might feel as if they are walking into the salon of a collector who displays works to express his taste and complements them with contemporary nuances, such as jazz of the period playing via a Bluetooth device hidden beneath a period record player.

Curator Toby Miller, who gave up his summer holidays from the NGVA to set up the exhibition, said that museums tended to neutralise a space then insert their versions of history within it.

“What gets left out?” he asks. “This room is like a sedimentary rock. There are layers of history in it. Things persist.”

In the corner is a 60s sink and a sample of tiles above it, still on the original backing board. Faux timber panelling abuts the sink.

A piece of melamine on black tubular legs passes as a bench. Old heating ducts hang uselessly in the corner.

Miller has a fresh take on the way these carved-out spaces of the city can be used to engage with historical material. Though not obviously about the artist’s life and work, he says, this is an exhibition about the life of work.

The exhibition does its most interesting thinking, according to Miller, around this idea. It explains how Vickery’s works are now discoverable, now visible, and of how a group of artists has come to terms with this new visibility.

Galleries seeking a review in the CBD News are welcome to contact Rhonda Dredge on rhonda@cbdnews.com.au

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