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contemporary art | John McDonald

contemporary art

Art Basel 2017 & Documenta 14

June 22, 2017
The title of Art Basel's special installations section said it all...

Contemporary art can be a punishing obsession for its true believers but rarely do the art die-hards get the chance to attend four major events during a single visit to Europe. The Venice Biennale, which has been running since the second week in May, has now been joined by a uniquely bifurcated version of Documenta, … More


Eurovisions

June 14, 2017
Urs Fischer, 'Al Dente' (2016)

This year’s Financial Review Rich List reveals that Australia today has no fewer than 60 billionaires. For an economy in perpetual crisis, demanding sacrifices from the lowest wage earners, things are obviously working well for some people. Looking at this list it’s remarkable how few of our billionaires do anything at all for the arts. … More


Venice Biennale 2017 – Viva Arte Viva

May 19, 2017
Damien Hirst played the role of Godzilla in this year's Biennale

Ask people to name the most romantic city in the world, and Venice is usually at the top of the list – but there are dissenters. D.H. Lawrence said Venice was green, slippery and abhorrent, and he didn’t even have to contend with the crowds in the Giardini and Arsenale during the opening days of … More


Magic Mike: Michael Zavros

May 5, 2017
Michael Zavros, Phoebe is dead/McQueen (2010),

Any artist who paints with the quasi-photographic precision of Michael Zavros will always find admirers. After being subjected to more than a century of Modernist de-skilling the public is still turned to putty by virtuoso displays of technique, preferring the artist who can “really paint” to the one whose genius has to be explained by … More


Danny Goldberg …or the perils of philanthropy

May 5, 2017
Picture by Nic Walker

Danny Goldberg is the only Australian to appear in Artnews’s annual list of the world’s top 200 collectors of contemporary art. His modern harbourside home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is crowded with works by figures such as David Hammons, Rudolf Stingel, Urs Fischer, Danh Vo, and other high-priced superstars you’ve probably never heard of. The … More


White Rabbit: The Dark Matters

April 29, 2017
Tang Nannan, Billenium Waves (2015)

Contemporary culture puts a premium on instant gratification but ancient Chinese thinkers found the greatest value in the contemplation of eternal things. This was brought home to me by Tang Nannan’s Dao-inspired, wide-screen video, Billenium Waves (2015) at the White Rabbit Gallery. It’s nothing more than a four-minute close-up of waves lapping under a dark … More


The National

April 8, 2017
Khadim Ali's The Arrival of Demons at the MCA

One wonders if The National: New Australian Art is intended as a subtle riposte to the National Gallery of Victoria’s Melbourne Now of 2013-14. “No navel gazing here in Sydney – we’re bringing you art from all over the country.” The NGV’s bright idea may have been predicated on Melburnian self-esteem but final attendances topped … More


John Olsen: The You Beaut Country

October 7, 2016
John Olsen, 'Where the bee sucks, there suck I' (1984-86)

John Olsen has always been larger-than-life – a quality that has fostered both adulation and irritation. In the 1950s when he was still searching for a direction, Olsen did some thinking about the nature of art. “If it’s not a game there’s something wrong,” he concluded. According to his biographer, Darleen Bungey, this would become … More


John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea

October 6, 2016
A still showing the beauty of John Akomfrah's Vertigo Sea. Photo: John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea is the flagship piece in a suite of exhibitions at the UNSW Galleries called Troubled Waters. The entire ensemble includes a 26-minute, 5-channel installation by Georgia Wallace-Crabbe called The Earth and the Elements; and a multimedia exhibition called River Journey, featuring work by Janet Laurence, Andrew Belletty, Nici Cumpston, Bonita Ely … More


Telling Tales

July 1, 2016
Shirley Purdie, Daaloony (Green Plum Buchanania Obovata) from the series Goowoolem Gijam – Gija plants, 2013-16, ochre on canvas, 72 parts: 45 × 45 cm each, image courtesy the artist and Warmun Art Centre © the artist/Licensed by Viscopy 2016, photograph: Jessica Maurer

At the 1986 Adelaide Festival I attended a couple of evenings with American actor, Spalding Gray, who sat on a bare stage and delivered monologues. It sounds like a recipe for boredom but Gray’s performances were spell-binding – a revelation as to the power of simple, unadulterated story-telling. In tribal cultures the role of story-telling … More