September 2007

Arts & Letters

‘Linda Marrinon: Let Her Try’ by Chris McAuliffe

By Justin Clemens

Chris McAuliffe’s governing image for Linda Marrinon’s career is that of Voltaire’s Candide, tending carefully to the garden despite the vicissitudes of the world. Beginning in the early 1980s with hilariously understated anti-aesthetic canvases such as Sorry! and I Sailed to Tahiti with an All-Girl Crew, Marrinon has - like so many contemporary artists - studiously avoided anything approaching a signature style, instead switching media, materials and techniques from show to show. The cartoonishly simple Linda’s World (1982) depicts a dark bottle pouring out an ever-swelling, impossibly large pyramid of brown muck, which has a predictable label written in large, clumsy capitals; Rock with Underpants (1992) is a lump of bluestone sporting red-and-white underpants; Boxer (2006) is a whimsically elegant figure made of bronze, plaster and muslin. Then there are the landscapes of the mid-’90s, bearing such amusing titles as Golf Course at Seddon and Oil Slick at Sorrento, which are pretty analyses of the limits of the picturesque tradition.

McAuliffe’s prose is punchy and unpretentious, retaining focus and clarity whether the topic is the late-’80s inner-Melbourne avant-garde, high-end theoretical concepts or simply the works themselves. Without unduly harping on profits and losses, McAuliffe delineates the changing institutions of Australian art over the past 25 years, from its old-school quasi-amateurish networks to the hyper-organised corporate machine of today. Whoever studies, makes, sees, shows, sells and buys art now doesn’t do so under the same conditions as in the ‘80s; and because McAuliffe, like Marrinon, grew up during this epochal shift in the milieu and the market, he’s well placed to document some of its peculiarities.

By far the best-edited book in Craftsman House’s New Art Series, Linda Marrinon: Let Her Try can still irritate the reader with such discrepancies as different spellings of the same word on the same page. But that’s a minor quibble in the circumstances, for the selection of images and the design are as illuminating as the text.

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens writes about contemporary Australian art and poetry. He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

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