June 2013

Arts & Letters

‘Mix Tape 1980s’ at the National Gallery of Victoria

By Ashley Crawford
Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne, until September 1, 2013

The National Gallery of Victoria’s new director, Tony Ellwood, appointed last March, has wasted little time making his mark on a lately moribund institution. As part of a broad effort to reinvigorate the NGV, Ellwood threw a curve ball to his new curator of contemporary art, Max Delany: come up with a blockbuster that summarises the culture of an entire decade. The unlikely result is that Delany succeeded. Unlikely because Delany was not only restricted to the NGV’s current collection, but also because the 1980s is almost impossible to articulate comprehensively.

Mix Tape 1980s: Appropriation, Subculture, Critical Style makes reference to key moments of cultural, subcultural and sociopolitical turmoil with flair and intelligence: AIDS rearing its gruesome head; mainstream Australia being confronted by gay and indigenous rights movements; French theory becoming de rigueur in academic circles while the music and fashion worlds played out the aftershocks of English punk.

The ’80s saw visitors to our shores such as Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, Malcolm McLaren and Keith Haring treated like rock stars. Independent galleries and cultural magazines emerged alongside numerous fashion and music labels. Fights, at times physical, broke out between the conceptualists and the expressionists, the new romantics and the punks. Even the usually staid architectural world joined the fray in response to the anarchic designs of the “young turks” such as Biltmoderne. Mix Tape manages to embrace almost every aspect of this mayhem, and much of the vibrancy and energy of the period remains intact.

It is obvious that previous curators such as Robert Lindsay and Jennifer Phipps, under the direction of Patrick McCaughey, had their finger firmly on the pulse of the ’80s, giving Delany a cornucopia of material to work with. Artworks by John Nixon, Jenny Watson, Juan Davila, Howard Arkley, Mike Parr, Bernhard Sachs, Maria Kozic, Tony Clark and Dale Frank, largely sombre and often monumental in scale, stand the test of time admirably. Delany’s inclusion of works by the Lajamanu women of the Northern Territory is a well-placed reminder of just how important indigenous art was to become on the cultural landscape.

All that is missing from Mix Tape is a serious and studious catalogue or accompanying book. Despite Delany’s inclusion of rock posters, music, video and his innovative “re-creation” of the nightclub aesthetic in one room, younger audiences may find the tsunami of styles and aesthetics bewildering. But this is a time capsule that captures a powerful period in Australian cultural history and exactly the kind of exhibition the NGV should be creating.

Ashley Crawford

Ashley Crawford is a Melbourne-based cultural critic and the author of Spray: The work of Howard Arkley and Wimmera: The work of Philip Hunter

June 2013

From the front page

Image of Minister for Skills Michaelia Cash

Cash-strapped

The looming training overhaul will need to be watched closely

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Child's illustration

The screens that ate school

What do we really know about the growing presence of Google, Apple, Microsoft and more in the education system?


In This Issue

Man united

Clive Palmer and his Palmer United Party

© David Moore / AAP

The cost of coal

The great Australian export is causing global damage

Dealing with online drug shopping

Travels on the internet’s Silk Road

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, December 2012 © Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Senator Assange?

How the WikiLeaks founder’s Senate bid would change Australian politics


More in Arts & Letters

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture

Photograph of Dua Lipa

Snap-back: Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’

The British singer’s serendipitous album delivers shining pop with a reigning attitude of fortitude

Still from ‘The Platform’

Consolations in isolation: ‘The Platform’ and ‘Free in Deed’

What is the future of cinema without cinemas?


More in Noted

Cover of ‘The Trials of Portnoy’

‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

Cover of ‘The End of October’

‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic

Cover of ‘Fathoms’

‘Fathoms: The World in the Whale’ by Rebecca Giggs

The Australian writer’s lyrical consideration of our relationship with whales is a new and ambitious kind of nature writing

Cover of ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’

‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ by Cho Nam-Joo (trans. Jamie Chang)

The coldly brilliant, bestselling South Korean novel describing the ambient harassment and discrimination experienced by women globally


Read on

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Image of Australians queuing at Centrelink in Brisbane.

Moral bankruptcy

Robodebt stemmed from the false ideological division between the deserving and undeserving poor, but the government still clings to moralistic language

Image of Gough Whitlam in October 1975

It’s about time

The High Court’s landmark ruling on the ‘Palace Papers’ is a win for Australian social democracy

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in


×
×