Good art stands out

Good art stands out
Rhonda Dredge

Artists need to create their own street cred and that means taking a few risks so their work stands out.

Once you start looking, you can find stand-out artists all over the Arts Precinct.

They are not necessarily curated or in advertised exhibitions.

They might be in small student spaces, working by the river, or even in gift shops.

Southbank News went looking and it didn’t take long to discover artists who were on the rise or who had gone against the trend.

When Deborah Halpern first created Orphelia, a large organic, mosaic-tiled form in 1992, she said she was reacting to all of the metal sculptures in vogue.

At the time, Orphelia seemed cute and popular and, somehow, lightweight but now it appears prescient.

“I was grateful to be given the chance,” said Halpern, who is currently repairing the work, which has been moved along the riverbank.

But really, it was her alternative vision that probably got her the gig as the zeitgeist began moving in a more personal, popular culture kind of direction.

Similarly, in these relatively pallid conformist days, the ceramics of Theodosius Ng stand out at the National Gallery of Victoria gift shop as black, prickly, rather menacing vessels.


“I started out beige, minimal and speckled like everyone else,” Ng said, then he began pushing against this and “added fins and spikes to everything”.   


The NGV commissioned a series in response to the Alexander McQueen exhibition and all but two of the 40 pieces have now sold.

Ng’s brave move into a more Gothic style reflects the ceramicist’s own difficulties in coming out as queer but also acknowledges that your personal history counts for a lot.

“My mum went to art school in Singapore. She was an abstract expressionist and had lots of queer friends. That was radical in her day. I didn’t have to create an identity. I could just be authentic.”

Second generation artists can be bolder because they don’t have to actually fight the same battles as their artist parents. Those battles have already been won.

That’s why un-curated shows can seem fresher than those brought together to convince a sceptical public that a particular art form is worthy.

In the VCA Art Space students put on casual weekly exhibitions that aren’t afraid to be playful.

Kirra Niner’s Cosmic Play School has been assembled in a corner and it has the power of a painting that really pops.

It’s perfect for photographing because the actual spatial relations of the hanging objects mimic a painting that is trying to be 3D.

The gallery holds weekly openings at 5pm each Tuesday when the next generation of artists is present and the gallery is open during college hours.

Good art finds its own opening. Ng was working in the NGV art shop setting up displays for the Picasso exhibition when the director Tony Ellwood looked at images of his work and the rest is history.

VCA Art Space, Victorian College of the Arts, 5pm each Tuesday; Orpehelia, Deborah Halpern, Southbank Promenade; Theodosius Ng, National Gallery of Victoria gift shop. •

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