For those of you who went to this year’s crop of early spring art fairs, you’d almost certainly be aware that something very exciting is happening in the Australian art world. For those who didn’t go, well, let me just say this: despite all the hype and hoopla that gets thrown around these days, this is something to get excited about, something that’ll capture your imagination.
Yes, there’s a new thing. And it’s pretty amazing.
But before we get on to it, let’s just stop for a moment to remember some of the recent old things and how we all got excited about them. Video art. That was awesome. Ten years ago video art was ‘hot’ – there were new art prizes launched and survey shows and acquisitions for the collections of art museums. The commercial sector, hesitant at first, got in on the act with collectors encouraged to take it seriously: it was something you could collect rather than just return to the video shop after three days. Buying video art might have been way more expensive than the late fees at Video Ezy but it was something to own and treasure. After about seven years the lustre went off video art and, as it faded into the background with installation and photography, people wondered why we’d all been so excited about a new thing that was 50 years old.
Then drawing was suddenly hot. I joked to whoever would listen that drawing was the new video art because it was a newly reheated old thing – maybe the oldest old thing – but to hell with that, drawing wasn’t just some obligatory first-year art school compulsory course artists had to take but suddenly an unembarrassed thing that people could go to galleries to see. You know, whole shows of the stuff. And it wasn’t just nudes and bowls of fruit either: it could be bowls of fruit and/or nudes drawn on Post-it Notes or some Twombly-esque scribbles or dots on a page or no page and no pencil at all but the tyres of a Cortina doing donuts on the concrete of a shopping centre car park or someone drawing the outline of a bird into the dust on the side of a delivery van. We sped through the newness of new drawing so fast that we burst out the other end into Post Drawing in about two years flat.
And we find ourselves living in the era of Post Painting and Post Internet art and wondering how a painting can be a painting without painting or how an emoticon floating on some hologram wrapping paper is basically the same as a painting. And did I mention feminism? That was new about 18 months ago and although the jury is out whether this is fourth or fifth wave feminism – and it’s not really my place to question but to stand proudly fist in the air in SOLIDARITY WITH THE SISTERHOOD all the while worrying someone is going to start counting how many female artists were in that show I curated – the newness of feminism has faded a little and I confess to a piquant disappointment. Janis Joplin– we remember you!
I seem to have digressed a little.
Let’s take things back to basics: artists make art, galleries exhibit it, collectors buy it, some of it’s important and some of it isn’t.
That’s the way things go and we’re all pretty okay with it. But after a while we start to get a bit bored with everything “being okay” and we long for a bit of excitement in art. That’s when old things come along again and look pretty fantastic.
The most interesting quality of old things is that they even appeared new. I think that’s because they were never wholly, truly new: they were mostly just reheated bits of even older stuff but given a makeover, like a plain person getting a new hairdo or losing some weight or buying a new pair of shoes, and everyone is entranced by how this once plain person suddenly looks kind of sexy and exciting. So in the art world we look back on old things and recognise that they were a new take on an old style or a genre or form or whatever and that new thing surely slips away and looks really very… ordinary. That haircut looks ridiculous after the first home wash, you chuck the weight back on and the new shoes get scuffed when you stumble over a gutter outside the bottleshop. So much for newness. Or so you might think.
We come to the latest new thing with a sense of inexhaustible optimism. This time it’s going to be different. So what’s the new thing? CERAMICS. That’s right. CERAMICS. If you thought that sculptors were the drummers of the art world and therefore anyone doing ceramics would be the equivalent of a trombone player in an oompah band, you’d be so, so wrong. It’s hot, exciting, different. And new.