We Woz Robbed: Gertrude Street is Dirty and Thirty
At Gertrude Streets 30th birthday party and annual fundraiser on Friday night, I met Sarah Ritson. Sarah is my facebook friend. Sarah had a studio at Gerty back in ‘88, and said there were no oysters being served at fundraisers back then. When she moved into her studio, abandoned Howard Arkley paintings were stacked up along the hall. Howard’s practice wasn’t run like a tight ship, it was a more chaotic work method. It’s ironic that Howard’s most lionized paintings depict suburban houses. Houses that so few of us can now afford. Gentrification has been swift and merciless around Gertrude Street. The only interesting thing left is the ethnic diversity at the housing commission flats. The real money to be made from art is to follow artists round and buy up all the real estate you can afford wherever we’re living. Or making art. Or drinking. Whenever an organic wine merchant arrives in your neighbourhood there’s about to be a rent hike, that’s the rule.
I’m therefore proud to announce the launch of an exciting new platform for nattysolo.com: the nattysolo.com Property Consultation arm, advising canny investors on how to best monetize their interest in the arts, through property. Simply make an appointment, we meet at the pub, you buy the drinks and I tell you where artists are being pushed out to. And that’s where the next party will be, in financial terms. Then I invoice you. Consultancy is my dream job.
Smith Street and Gertrude Street used to be so rough, that when my Mum came to visit, by the time we got to Melissa’s for spanokopita, she was asking who Jason was. I said: “Mum, the junkies are asking if you’re chasin’, not Jason. Chasing the Dragon Mum? Oh don’t worry about it!”
Now Gertrude has to move too (in possibly the worst kept secret in recent memory). They’re moving in next to Circus Oz and CCP. Near the Keith Haring mural down at the old abandoned TAFE College on Johnston Street. Gertrude Contemporary is one of the vulnerable medium sized organisations that the government is still deciding whether or not to gut. CAOS in chaos. The financial security is so bad, that Director Emma Crimmings has received a fellowship to fund a tour of the world to study strategies for begging rich people to cough up more cash. I hope someone somewhere has cracked that nut open. I think the answer involves a perfect blend of canapés, champagne served by very good-looking young people and floral arrangements. Then you talk about classy European patronage models and how we need them here.
All this talk of money and security and the future is making me nervous. It’s putting me off my job. My job being to make art. You know, occasionally I attempt making art that isn’t just a trinket for rich people to buy. Here in Australia, that’s a tough gig to sustain, I’ll tell you that much for free. It’s closer to a lark really but it ages very well. The anti-hero ages better than the hero. The fragile poetics get stronger with time.
My first dealings with Gertrude Street or Gertrude Contemporary (or whatever the hell they’re branded as now) resulted in a terrific spontaneous work of art. Unfortunately, that art no longer exists except as a pictorial representation, or documentation of the artistic intervention. The Dictator (I mean Director) of the Institution at the time, invited nat&ali, to apply for an art show. We were on fire back then, but had missed the deadline for applications. Anyways, we rushed some words together (something along the lines of: ‘give us a show and we’ll make good art and show it in your gallery’) and then got a very formal rejection letter! All the very best for your future career, whay whay yours sincerely. We’d wrongly assumed we’d already gotten the show, since we were invited to submit our ideas at Yelza, the pub across the street. And everyone knows the pub is where the deals are done and the false promises are made.
We weren’t happy to have had our time and our vibe wasted and I hadn’t yet realized the master/slave dynamic was so par for the course in art galleries. We decided to express our dissatisfaction with this blatant confidence trickery, by graffiti stencilling the door. The door to the gallery. nat&ali say we woz robbed declared our door proudly in red automotive paint. It had never looked better. We felt great, getting that off our chests. I mean heaving bosoms. Luckily we got a photo before it was censored. Destroyed for all time. Later we were told off for wasting the Institutions resources, so that added another performative dimension to the work too. A good scolding can make you feel so alive. For someone suffering from Oppositional Defiance Disorder, this was sweet music to the ears.
Such was the power and impact of the nat&ali say we woz robbed commentary, the door should have been taken off its hinges and preserved for all time. Later sold at Sotheby’s, like they do the Banksy’s. This work had far more value than a Banksy, because it’s so dangerous for women to even be out late at night. Let along tagging doors to art galleries. The lack of women in the street art category of the mighty art machine is no accident. It’s an insightful portrait of the times in which we live.
If you take out the specifics of the tag, the nat&ali say bit, and stick with the universal We woz robbed bit, then they’re good words to have written. Words for an entire generation. We woz robbed. 99% of us have been robbed blind. And in art, we’re increasingly dependent on the charity of the 1% who have been doing the robbing.
“Hi Gina Rinehart, do you want to make a tax deductible charitable contribution to this struggling arts organisation? We’re supporting young and exciting artists with so much potential to change the world!”
Gerty censored more nat&ali art ideas for its 20th Birthday book. Ali and I were asked to contribute some pages that focused on the social side of the arts. We’d been mapping the sex lives of Melbourne based artists for some time, who’d shagged who, and thought what’s more social than sex? There were unusual and unexpected shapes and patterns emerging within the map. I recall the triangle was having a good time. We’d gone intergenerational on our research too, asking old artists about the interactions during the much lauded Store 5 days. There were only 6 practising artists working in Melbourne back then, all showing at Store 5, and well, without giving too much away, I’ll just say the name Callum was cropping up with a heady consistency.
We pitched the Sex Tree idea, adding colour coding for easier interpretation of the assembled data, using only Christian names, no surnames. When it became obvious that the idea wasn’t going to fly, we went into full defence mode: ‘What? Don’t you like sex? Come on, EVERYONE likes sex!’
More prescient words from nat&ali, since this was well before MONA sexed the hell out of the tired and weary Australian art scene. And now, the years have passed and another generation of artists are happily married, waistlines expanding, libido’s flat-lining. The youthful exuberance of an active socio-sexual life of yesterday, should have been celebrated. Commemorated even, perhaps in a fold out centrefold type design. See, We woz robbed, again.
We were always deadly serious about our jokes. We saw the Gertrude Street book as an excellent opportunity to share the art networks sex forays with a (no doubt) quite interested readership. Give people what they want, it’s a great recipe for art and almost as good as give people what they don’t want.
Wittgenstein said: ‘But what really matters is what we can only be silent about.’
All healthy groups of people slip occasionally into the bedroom, or onto the couch in the studio if they be artists, to get to know each other a bit more intimately. It’s life. And unless someone is shooting video without the permission slip being signed, I don’t see the harm. I’m more interested in when you can talk about who’s done who. On the public record. Do you have to wait till everyone’s dead, or most people are dead, to talk about that? On the record? All the academics who’ve ever written a book about HEIDE for instance, get stuck right into the nitty-gritty of the sex, the back in the day sex. Sunday was forcing everyone to do her in her especially planted Heart Garden. The Garden of thorny roses. Everyone knows that. That’s the appealing bit that sells the books to all the Prue’s and Tru’s, bored out of their comfortable leafy Eastern suburban brains. Daydreaming of a less droll existence. One that includes a young gardener and maybe a pool boy. Anyway, our sex tree work (the one too hot to handle, the one Gertrude could have published but wouldn’t) will end up in the archive of the State Library of Victoria. And it will save a lot of future academics a lot of research time for their books. Artists, they give and give of themselves.
My favourite Star is Born story from Gertrude Street, (besides Max and Alexie) is the Christian Capurro story. Christian couldn’t get a gig at an artists run space, such was the local disconnect from his nuanced, now you see it, now you don’t practice. A practice that saw the death of a lot of rubbers, put to work rubbing out high end magazine pages. Hour upon hour of erasing images out of magazines, until nothing is left except a meditation on labour and time and worth. Anyway, somehow Christian was able to wrangle a meeting with the visiting Venice curator guy. He was passing through town sidestepping the local referees like a touch football star recruit, ducking and weaving round the usual tightly orchestrated dinners and meetings. He wasn’t interested in leading industry professionals, he was interested in artists. He was interested in Christian when no one here was. Christian got the gig, VENICE, then he got the dealer, he got in the collections, he got the whole shebang. There was a very swift re-assessment of his career potential back here and once it was green light from afar, it was game on. Personally, I’ll never forgive Christian for the time his art at the studio residence Christmas show, was whiting out the mirrors in the Gerty women’s toilets. I couldn’t check if I was still pretty (I was).
The best art to come out of Gerty in recent memory, is by Hamishi Farah. And it wasn’t even a painting. The text based work (like a lot of new great art), entered the public realm when it was posted on facebook. Dealing with art galleries can slow you down, the internet is more responsive. Hamishi’s work takes the form of a subtle and well mannered formal negotiation process between gallery and artist. He references the long established and proud tradition of an artist not being able to afford to pay their studio rent. Even cheap rent adds up, and Hamishi owed Gerty $1820.
By far the largest single contribution to the Arts sector is made by artists. Not by governments or arts institutions or Universities or funding bodies. It is by artists. We are the cherries on top of the pies, we are the basis of the entire sector. And occasionally we can’t pay the rent. Is it to end with an exciting new partnership being announced between Gertrude Contemporary and the Sherriff’s Department?
An emerging artist discussing a payment plan with a board member who has won awards for Private Banking and Wealth Management; it doubles as a working script for the Goon Show. The designated board member refers to signed contract obligations and protocols. She wants to work with Hamishi on a payment plan. He is overseas, exhibiting his art, a solo show, then Basel. This is his artistic response:
Nice to meet you! Yeah I know about the debt, happy to sort it out. I was out of sorts in Melbourne. I had lost track of a few things, so let’s get the ball rolling. I’ve been working ridiculous long days with a solo show opening on the 11th, but perhaps we can Skype on the 13th or 14th?
I’m glad I got you for this, (checked out your LinkedIn and saw your impressive job history). I’m not sure what Client Director of Personal Wealth Management means, but maybe you could give me some candid or ‘off the books’ (haha) advice for my developing my personal wealth? Of course I’m not looking for any answers like ‘be rich already, have rich parents, don’t be an artist, be white, haha.
Hmmm. I’ve got some work in Basel coming up during the big fair. I am not so comfortable talking to very wealthy people, perhaps you could give me some pointers on making them give me money? This may sound brash and I know these kinds of requests may not be a thing that you engage in, but even some engagement fundamentals would be great, especially if I’m going to get used to the class divide! If this sounds good to you maybe we could call it ‘coaching’?
I must say it is pretty bizarre the patronage culture seems to actually exist in Europe, everything feels like a cliché or rumour!
Anyway I feel like if we Skype and you give me some tips, I think this could probably be the payment plan. I’m feeling quite confident, failing that we can work something else out!
Looking forward to the negotiation, stories, and getting to know you!
PS: are you interested in supporting young contemporary art? (only joking)…… I do have one painting in my studio, do you want to buy it? Maybe I’m jumping the gun?
Issues surrounding art and culture and money have dominated the public discourse for 2015, so it’s great to see an artist have the balls to wager in on the debate, in real terms. Now that we are talking money, it could be time to ask what percentage of an Arts Institutions budget goes to artists. The large galleries, the medium sized galleries, the council galleries that support local art by charging artists exhibition fees. What are the budgets and what percentage of the incomings and outgoings go to artists? Local Artists. Not the exhibition design department for the David Bowie myth building project.
Have you heard about the dance troupe, let’s call it Chunky Move, because that’s its name. Very well funded they are. There are 8 full time employees in their offices. There are no full time dancers within the organisation. Administrating the dancing given a bigger slice of the pie than the organisations primary function. The dancing. The making up of new dances, with new lights and music and leotards. You could argue here, that the dancers chief role, (besides dancing) is to prop up the administration that is costing more of the funding than they are. We can’t afford to pay you for your dancing because our publicity department costs so much! Unless we tell people how great your dance is, this deck of cards is coming down fast! What type of lark is this?
I met a young artist recently and she was saying the more art shows I get curated into, the poorer I get. I tried to make her feel better and said: ‘have you ever read an obituary that goes into someone’s net worth, or how nice their house is?’ And we pissed ourselves laughing and smoked another cigarette and started talking about art again. How we try to add meaning to the futility of life, and how nobody wants to pay us for it. Or if we do get paid, it’s after the caterers. Everyone’s eating, but artists eat last.
It doesn’t matter how often you watch Hennessy videos, they stand up. He’s better than Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys or Jay Z. His contribution stands up.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6OV-ZwG6Z4 Hennessy Youngman, fine art of the Studio Visit
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcu60–J99w Hennessy Youngman Art Thoughtz comparing Joseph Beuys and Jay Z and the development of personal artistic mythology. Everyone likes stories says Hennessy, and it doesn’t matter if they are true.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5y_8DWg5W0w Hennessy Youngman Art Thoughtz about Damien Hirst. And money.
Happy Birthday Gerty. Party on