Saturday, May 16, 2009

Andrew Frost, Vincent Fantauzzo, Brandon Walters, the Archibalds and a slush of sentimentality lost in the stars

(Above: Vincent Fantauzzo's portrait of Brandon Walters, winner of the people's choice prize at this year's Archibalds).

We don't often stray into the field of the y'arts, as loon pond is fiercely dedicated to politics (with a dash of climate change for spice).

But the temptation to induct Andrew Frost into the hall of loon pond fame is irresistible, if only for the way he dances on the head of a pin while discussing the people's choice prize in the Archibalds, given to Vincent Fantauzzo for his portrait of Brandon, star of Baz Lurhmann's film Australia. (Painting has all the hallmarks of a sure-fire hit).

Frost clearly doesn't like the work, but he doesn't know how to say it:

... trying to work out the reasons the public chooses one work over all the others is as perplexing as trying to understand why the gallery trustees choose another. As seasoned Archibald watchers understand, no one really knows. It is in the stars.

Could it be that pigs prefer swill? Well no, let's not go there. Let's dance around it a little more.

Perhaps Fantauzzo wanted to capture the same vote that landed Craig Ruddy the main prize and the people's choice for his portrait of David Gulpilil in 2004. Who knows, but such speculation is beside the point. The vote is a chance for the public to commune with widely held values such as pride of country and people, the victory of native innocence over worldly cynicism, a belief in dignity and self-determination. These are all fine and noble values and there is nothing wrong with restating basic principles through a popular vote. That is democracy. The problem is whether these values are really in the work.

Huh? Say what? Art by democracy? The hunt for fine and noble values in a work?

As a confluence of circumstances, Fantauzzo should receive a special award for a canny choice for his portrait. Say what he might about the boy's bubbly personality, or his skill as an actor, or director Baz Luhrmann's dubious claims to his otherworldly spirituality, you cannot knock a battler.

Well actually Andrew knocking a painting is not quite the same as knocking the subject, even a nice battler.

Go on Andrew, say it. Like Luhrmann's bloated, sentimental monstrosity, Fantauzzo's work is a bloated piece of seductive nonsense, a hideous photo realist exercise trading off on its subject matter, better suited to an advertising campaign for the film than an art gallery. It's painted in a style that was fashionable in the seventies, and then revived in the nineties, but now in this context has all the charm and relevance of either pissing on the canvas or  using an air brush. There is absolutely nothing beneath the surface of the work, as it delivers entirely on its chosen banal surface level of sentimentality, with an in your face, hammer-headed lack of subtlety and nuance. Even the delivery of the shadows is like a poorly placed cutter by a DOP dedicated to memories of film noir.

There now, doesn't that feel better? No need to rabbit on about it being replete with all the hallmarks that would make it a sure-fire hit with the public, or call it a demonstration of "a level of technical skill that most people associate with real art", or hinting it's not so bad because in an Archibald year dominated by ostentatiously big canvases "its scale seems almost modest by comparison."

Err Andrew, scale has got bugger all to do with it, at least if you want to discuss whether it works as a piece and whether or no it has a sentimental backstory courtesy of Brandon Walters' life story.

Funny how the young turks, when they get a taste for exposure on the ABC and a page 3 picture story in The Sydney Morning Herald, turn into Esteemed Critics, having spent their time out of the sun sending up rotten Esteemed Critics like John McDonald and Sebastian Smee. Just a pity, and something of an irony, that as esteemed critics they seem incapable of saying anything sensible, or short of that, at least saying what they think.

And next time Andrew Frost makes a set of superficial, derisory comments with all the punch and insight of a blanc mange, can he please ask the editor of the SMH not to label it as comment?

I've had more incisive comments from Aunt Mabel, who at least knows what she likes, and knows what she doesn't like, and isn't afraid to say it. And she doesn't need the stars or her star sign to work it out.

Okay, so it's put up or shut up time. You want to know a work I like? Well here, try this one, which you can in fact pick up on black velvet from better quality stores specializing in fine art merchandise:

I keed, I keed. But all that talk of pissing on the canvas suddenly reminded me of an old favorite, Eric Fischl. Below is a work called Sleepwalker, but you can catch a lot more at his site


Andrew Frost said...

Ouch! Michael that really hurt, especially being called an "esteemed critic". All jokes aside though, the brief from the SMH was to comment on the choice of winner, not the picture itself, and go easy on the subject [Brandon]. That's whathe comment was about. Incidentally, do still subscribe to the view that Modernism was the doing of the CIA? Back to politics sonny jim.

Andrew Frost said...

Ah, so you're somone other than Duffyu - that would certainly explain the use of the word "piss" - and the lack of understanding of the differences and requirements of blogging and op edding. Onya Dot.

dorothy parker said...

Well this is the home of a wannabe Dorothy Parker but really Michael Duffy is right - if that's what he said - about the CIA generating modernism - or at least that derelict form of art called abstract expressionism, and you need look no further than Marxism-Leninism Today for scathing evidence ( That's right, the left wing know how to recognize a right wing conspiracy way better than right wingers know how to produce one.

And we do understand the requirements of op edding versus the easy ways of loonish blogging. We just don't like it, if it involves soft peddling on art of dubious distinction. But hey Andrew now you can tell us what you really think of the picture! Warts and all no holds barred, two pins wins the match. (And I promise to check backlog comments, which are on moderated hold to keep out the spammers, sorry 'bout that).

Anonymous said...

I notice daddy dave has been defaming you again as a rabid, nasty left-wing blogger, a sort of self appointed one woman media watch.

And then Andrew Frost puts you in company with the commentariat. "The great fake out of people like Parker, Blair and Bolt ..."

Then he buckets Andrew Bolt for being a climate change denier while thanking climate change denier daddy dave for helping explain to him how to read a blog.

What gives?

dorothy parker said...

I think you've said it all. I don't think we'll ever see Andrew Frost around here explaining his views on Vincent Fantauzzo's work, which was the point of the remarks. Sly evasiveness can't hide the absence of balls ... or should I dress that up and say that in the post modernist paradigm it's inappropriate to refer to good and bad art, when ambiguity mocks certainty, and somehow writing an op ed means you're entitled to write mush about mush.

I looked up Frost and somehow he thinks it's to do with logic. Well yes, the logic of sounding tough and then sounding like a pussy when confronted with a truly dull piece of photography. Oh okay hyperrealism, photographing light with paint, what you will. Mush and muddy thinking.

And all that has got bugger all to do with politics apart from the subservience of the critic to the establishment, in this case in the form of Lurhmann's film and the NSW Art Gallery (though at last the gallery is getting a decent shake up and starting to address its extremely tired format).

Still if he got bruised, maybe he'll do better next time. Shoddy thinking and writing and subservience doesn't help art or artists. I mean when I wrote op ed pieces I readily admitted I was a slut.

Andrew Frost said...

Since you ask, I thought it was horrible [which I thought I alluded too in the SMH, perhaps too subtle]. And if you want me to comment directly in the future, just ask:

Let me also apologise for slating you as a "rabid lefty". It was all horribly embarrassing to mistake you for the Duffster, then get called on it by Blair, and then be beaten up by hundreds of abusive comments left by Balir's mob. It was all too quick and ridiculous [even it meant 6,000 hits in a few hours]. I took Daddy Dave's comment to be a sort of public service announcement, but I was mistaken. So sorry again.

Andrew Frost said...

And two other points while I think of them...

Why is this political? The culture wars are far from over, Dot, and the soldiers of the right - Bolt, Blair, Ackerman et al - continue to use contemporary art as the soft touch/easy kick for a slow news day. Well, excuse my French, but fuck them and the horses they rode in on. The whole reason for arguing the worth of contemporary art is that its value flies in the face of the right wing's self justfying claptrap and co-opting of liberal, Left tradition in the name of their "argument" [Bolt quoting Orwell, as a prime example]. This is a fight worth having.

And that thing about Pollock and the CIA? Well, again, it's bullshit. It may well be that the CIA and American government used contemporary art in the US and its attendant values of freedom, expression etc to contrast with the Soviet's art of social realism. But to then say that all of abstract expressionism was the creation of the CIA is nonsense. Maybe Jackson drank too much and drove his car into a tree because he couldn't live with being an Oswald style art patsy, but what about all the oethr hundreds of artists who were beatnik abstract expressionists?

dorothy parker said...

We really should stop meeting in the back pages. Sorry also I'm slow to moderate them.

We agree on the painting. And probably agree on many other things.

If nothing else the benefit of pissing into the fireplace of well heeled patrons.

And as a result of the assorted confusions created by the name of this blog, I've shifted over to a clean site, and sorry for any fuss it caused you. Being monstered by Blair trolls is a fate worse than death.

Daddy Dave trolled here for a time, but as a solitary scribbler in therapy I never pay any attention to the politics of these things, whereas they take it quite seriously.

And finally we don't have to argue about the value of contemporary or any other art. Though I reserve the right to say that the installation in the building site up the road - a battered portaloo, bricks and concrete - remains more potent than any Anselm Kiefer collection of concrete foisted on gallery visitors.

But you know even when doing an op ed it would be nice for the hint to be a little stronger on tripe, especially if you're going to slag off others for not being tough enough in their own positions.