To access all our features please use the Goodpods app.

Open the app

headphones

Curator insights - Contemporary galleries

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Explore works from our contemporary collection. Click on the linked artwork to find out if it is currently on display in the Gallery.
 ...more

All episodes

Best episodes

Top 10 Curator insights - Contemporary galleries Episodes

Best episodes ranked by Goodpods Users most listened

The son of artists Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, Yves Klein was baptised a Catholic and dedicated to Saint Rita, patron saint of lost causes, in the same year that Kasimir Malevich wrote ‘The painter is no longer bound to canvas, but can transfer his composition to space’.1 These coincidences seem to set the scene for Klein’s heroic and sometimes tragicomic life and work. Malevich, who was one of the few art historical figures Klein profoundly admired, described himself as an aviator taking art to new heights (strangely similar to Klein’s claims). Klein did not study art but informally dedicated much of his time to the Rosicrucian teachings of Max Heindel and he was a keen Judo expert (the first European to secure a fourth Dan black belt in Japan). Throughout his short life he earned his living by teaching Judo at least as much as he did through his art. Klein paradoxically launched himself as an artist by self-publishing a retrospective catalogue of his monochrome paintings. The preface to this book is by Claude Pascal (the subject of our portrait relief) and consists only of rows of black lines. The reproductions are merely coloured paper tipped in; the dimensions are included without denominations of measurement. The coloured paper may suggest that these are fraudulent, that they are not reproductions, but at the same time they may be thought of as small monochromes in their own right. It was to be typical of Klein that he would make great claims for transcendental achievements and at the same time sow seeds of doubt on the authenticity of his claims. His defining project was the conquest of the void. Klein’s spiritual exercises and his Judo both played a part in this quest, and his monochrome paintings – most particularly the intense ultramarine that he copyrighted as International Klein Blue – aspired to provide a sensation of space and suggest the infinite void. This void for him is replete with spiritual energy. His most controversial act, a seminal example of performance art, was to leap ‘into the void’ from a second-storey window in Paris in 1960. In the photograph by Harry Shunk we see Klein leaping up into the sky not plummeting to earth. His face is yearning up and his arched body speaks of the deep desire for flight, and indeed of belief in its possibility. In 1962 Klein began a project to record himself and his circle of intimates in a quartet of body casts. ‘Portrait relief PR3 (portrait of Claude Pascal)’ belongs to this group, left incomplete at Klein’s death. The portrait is cast from the poet’s body and coloured in International Klein Blue pigment. Seeming to levitate in front of its golden field, the figure re-enacts Klein’s ‘Leap into the void’. Klein himself was to have been represented, conversely, in gold against blue but he died before making the cast. 1. Kasimir Malevich, ‘Suprematism’, www.artarchive.com © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
bookmark
share episode
Rebecca Horn was born in Germany in the last years of World War II. Like Kiefer she was influenced by Joseph Beuys but it is Marcel Duchamp who seems to be most present in her machines and fabulous erotic installations, even in her strange and magical feature-length films. It was Duchamp who once said it is better to invent machines and do things to them than to do them to people. He also invented that great erotic machine-like masterpiece ‘The large glass’, also known as ‘The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even’ of 1915–23. Many of Horn’s installations take the form of kinetic apparatus that somehow enact a sexual encounter. Some of Horn’s earliest performance works involved body extensions. In ‘Finger gloves’ 1972 she created preposterously extended fingers with which she tried to pick up some objects from the floor. In another work her extended fingers scratched the walls on either side of a room; yet another included pencils attached to a face mask which she used to draw an inchoate muddle of lines on paper. All of these body extension pieces seem to somehow struggle with the impossible; the extended fingers hopelessly search out spaces and objects but fail to control the unruly world. She has also built drawing machines where long, jointed spears mechanically jerk around creating scratchy arbitrary compositions on the floor or wall. In nearly all of her works there is an exacerbated kinaesthetic sensibility. We are made acutely aware of our own space and we can easily enough slide into her dreamlike world, where our grasp on things slips away. ‘Pendulum with emu egg’ consists of an emu egg that sits on a precarious, almost invisible, support near the floor. The egg is of course a very powerful symbol of femininity and procreation. Hanging above the egg is a long javelin attached to a mechanism at ceiling height. The point of the javelin at rest sits just above the egg, almost but not quite touching it. Suddenly the javelin swings back jerkily, driven by a timed mechanism aloft. It seems destined to smash the egg as it swings past but it slowly settles down into a gently declining arc till it almost seems to caress the egg with its tip. The piece is at once threatening, humorous and an intensely erotic evocation of feminine pleasure, beyond the blossoming of Duchamp’s bride stripped bare and tickled by the breeze that ruffles her lingering veils. ‘Love thermometer’ 1988 (AGNSW collection) on the other hand is an image of male pleasure. It is a functioning thermometer with a large globe filled with red-coloured alcohol. At room temperature the fluid stays in the globe but if the object is picked up and held it responds to the viewer’s body warmth and the fluid runs up the stem, visibly engorging the form of the instrument. The enormous globe and stem of the thermometer nestle in a beautifully constructed case, like that designed for a musical instrument, while the lining is padded silk, again reminding us of Duchamp’s love of the mould and its cast, positive and negative, and the inevitable sexual allusion to male and female genitalia. © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
bookmark
share episode
During the 1980s Anish Kapoor, along with his British counterparts Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg, Antony Gormley and others, significantly challenged prevailing sculptural practices. Referred to as New British Sculpture, their respective work (although largely unrelated) shifted away from the purely conceptual or minimal art that had dominated the previous decades to embrace lyricism and metaphor, and to reconfigure the relationship between subject, object and viewer. Kapoor was an influential figure in this development. From brightly coloured pigments spread over abstract bodily forms to concave mirror pieces and enormous sculptural installations, Kapoor’s sculpture is about sensory experiences. He makes sculptural forms which pervade or hold physical space and which deliberately explore metaphysical dualities such as light and darkness, earth and sky, mind and body. For Kapoor, space is not empty; rather it is full of meaning and potential, and it is this paradox that he explores in material and abstract terms. Since the 1990s Kapoor’s work has been concerned with the expression of negative space: openings and cavities which are often referred to as voids. While his earlier pigment works were shapes with luminously coloured surfaces, ‘Void field’, a sculptural installation of four craggy blocks of quarried Northumbrian sandstone, elaborates an internal space of darkness. At the centre of each stone is a deep velvety hole coated with black pigment, which figuratively signifies a threshold, a space that portends to infinity. Peering into the aperture of each stone, the space within appears beyond measure, revealing a balanced tension between the earthly weight of rock and the nothingness suggested by the dark opening, or void. Kapoor’s voids have been likened both to wombs and to contemporary notions of the sublime. About his understanding of a ‘modern sublime’ Kapoor has said: ‘I have always been drawn toward some notion of fear in a very visual space, towards sensations of falling, of being pulled inwards, of losing one’s sense of self’.1 The black holes at the centre of each stone in ‘Void field’ function in this way; their darkness is conspicuous and entrancing, denoting the amorphous margins between human perception and cognition. Similar sensations are invoked by Kapoor’s suite of prints ‘Blackness from her womb’ 2001 (AGNSW collection). Here, the void is literally associated with the womb, whose function is to harbour life. The yellows and reds that dominated Kapoor’s early work return, transformed more obviously into abstracted female sexual iconography. The aquatint bleeds into forms, dissolving and sometimes imploding their structure. In the unresolved play and metamorphosis between interior and exterior spaces and darkness and light, ‘Blackness from her womb’ is a graphic synthesis of Kapoor’s ideas. 1. Martin Caiger-Smith, ‘Anish Kapoor’, Hayward Gallery, London 1998, unpaginated © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
bookmark
share episode
When he arrived in New York in 1965, Joseph Kosuth was a 20-year-old recent graduate from art school, yet he quickly established himself as a founding member of the conceptual art movement in the United States. At this time Kosuth was inspired by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s investigations of language. Wittgenstein’s posthumously published book ‘Philosophical investigations’ was a radical departure from previous philosophical texts, presented as a series of aphorisms that proposed assumptions from the traditional Augustine view of language and then deconstructed them, exposing the impossibility of using any set of rules to explain how we learn and use language.1 In 1965 Kosuth conceived a number of works using words written in neon that conveyed nothing more than what they were: ‘Five words in red neon’, for example, consisted of the five words of the title written in red neon lights, while ‘One and eight – a description (pink)’ consisted of the words ‘Neon Electric Light English Glass Letters Pink Eight’ written in pink neon lights.2 The next year he started his ‘Art as idea as idea’ series, in which he printed enlarged dictionary definitions of words in negative (white text on black ground). He deliberately chose words that commonly appear within the lexicon of art writing, words such as ‘original’, ‘meaning’ and ‘material’. In the series ‘One and three’ Kosuth poses the question, ‘What do we mean by a specific word such as “table”?’ He placed a pre-existing object in a gallery space next to a photograph of that object taken in situ, and a dictionary definition of the word used to describe, generically, that object. The viewer is led to compare the levels of accuracy in communicating meaning through both visual and verbal means. The dictionary definition is more accurate as a generic description of a table, whereas the photograph is more accurate as a description of this specific table. Yet removed from its functional context and placed in a gallery, even the table itself is only a sign: a three-dimensional and generic ‘example’ of what might be meant by the word ‘table’. Displayed as a triptych, the three signs for ‘table’ are all ultimately unsatisfactory as signifiers of the word if shown to an individual who had never before come across the notion of ‘table’. By exposing the limitations of language in such seemingly simple and concrete words as ‘chair’, ‘table’ or ‘broom’, Kosuth questions the possibility of using any language, and specifically, the language of the visual arts, to convey the meaning of more abstract phenomena such as ‘love’, ‘spirituality’ or even the meaning of the word ‘art’ itself. 1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘Philosophical investigations’, GEM Anscombe (trans), Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1953 2. This work is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
bookmark
share episode
'Cash Crop' consists of a vitrine filled with little sculptures of fruit and vegetables carved from a variety of natural soaps. These pieces of 'fruit' are accompanied by labels and painted bank notes. The terms appearing on the labels are taken from the language of economic activity. The juxtapositions are both amusing and sharply critical: 'liquid asset' is a grape; 'share market float' is a lotus; 'tax return' is a peanut; 'global liquidity' is a cola nut. In 'Cash Crop', Fiona Hall explores the connections between trade, natural resources and botany. These concerns have been central to Hall's body of work since the 1970s. Soap is destroyed by water: it is ephemeral and changing. Commerce and trade, too, change with the slides in 'global liquidity'. Botany, like trade, is a system: of classification and collection. Botany is a science developed in order to 'collect' the world of nature. Cash Crop is about the exploitation of natural resources for commercial interests and the artifice of classification. Julie Ewington writes, "Sir Joseph Banks created elaborate cabinets for the exploration voyages of James Cook, in which numerous specimens of plants were taken back to England, studied, dissected, analysed and planted. Later, the economic uses of collected plants were investigated, for medicine, cosmetics, prophylactics and profit... Fiona Hall has selectively emphasised the tendency towards conjoined terms in systems of Western classification. This is not a merely whimsical rubbing together of similarities, differences, binaries: it is a purposeful play between different orders of things, set up to embrace, pull apart, to slip and to slide".
bookmark
share episode