• The Shape of Things to Come
    Buxton Contemporary
    09 Mar –
    24 Jun 2018
    By Paris Lettau
    Avant-Garde & Mick
    31 Mar 2018

    'Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.'

    In 1885, some thirty-years after Marx wrote these well-known words, the first Buxton Art Gallery opened on Swanston Street as a centre of Melbourne's most self-conscious political and artistic avant-garde. The revolutionary ideas it fostered sought a sharp break from the public taste of the time. A young, dynamic generation of "native" born (as they called themselves) attacked the rearguard elite of British diaspora and their academic art, ensconced nearby in the National Gallery and its art school (then at the State Library up the road). The Australian Artists Association formed and first met in 1886 at the Buxton Art Gallery, as did the Australian Natives Association, who spearheaded federation and fought for the rights of the white native born against the cosmopolitan apparatchiks of Empire. Entries into the competition for the design of Australia's first national flag were even exhibited at Buxton Art Gallery, but the exhibition for which the gallery is most remembered is the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889. It shocked the good burghers of Melbourne's elite and, as The Argus art critic James Smith then complained, was cause for "one to despond with respect to the future of art."

    The shape of things to come, installation view. Image courtesy Christian Capurro.

    The second "Buxton" incarnation appeared in March this year as Buxton Contemporary. It is just down the road from the first one, but on Melbourne's south bank rather than in the city's centre. This time it is within the arts precinct; in fact, it is in the embrace of the National Gallery School, which is now called the VCA—and now grown up, sits just across the road from its parent the National Gallery of Victoria. It's too early to tell if Marx's curse will befall it, but the second Buxton is at odds with the first. Aspiring for "museum-quality" it has aligned and inserted itself into a well-established art world, even if this is one that's inherited the avant-gardism of the first Buxton.

    Like critic James Smith in 1889, the opening exhibition of the second Buxton, The shape of things to come, also reflects upon the future of art—and specifically the futurism of the artist "as visionary, storyteller, dissenter and alchemist." While Buxton Contemporary lacks the once described 'pitchy darkness' and 'artistic disorder' of the old Buxton, it still has an unassuming cavernousness that recedes far behind its modest entry to three main exhibition spaces, one of them on an upper level.

    The shape of things to come, installation view. Image courtesy Christian Capurro.

    The first painting you see, Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd, however, is an immediately familiar work—its photographic pointillist style even recalling impressionism. In the second main gallery space, Marco Fusinato's large aluminium printed image of a rock wielding masked protestor printed alongside black monochrome rectangular area, The infinitive 3 (2015), also has the familiar commanding and auratic presence of a cliché, even if its intention is to ironise the clichés of political pictorialism. Beside Fusinato is Helen Johnson's deconstructions of motifs of academic history painting—but in The shape of things to com there's an overall impression that is somehow all too familiar, triggering memories of shows like Melbourne Now at the NGV in 2014, where similar works were hung in a similar way amongst a similar terrain of art.

    The shape of things to come, installation view. Image courtesy Christian Capurro.

    Weirdly, the exhibition feels like a premonition of impressionism, as if Buxton Contemporary were foreseeing the shape of its own future. At every turn, critical and deconstructive artworks are undone by a general sense of creepy, unsettling familiarity—a monotony of discursive and presentational strategies. As with impressionism, this is not an individual monotony, as separately the works are generally strong examples of the artists who made them. It is rather a collective monotony—a familiar grouping of artists and artworks that have been found together so often in public collections and exhibitions over the previous 20 years.

    The shape of things to come, installation view. Image courtesy Christian Capurro.

    The old claim that public taste is corrupted by private taste (i.e. by the money of philanthropists and private collectors) therefore seems curiously reversed at Buxton Contemporary. One can't help but sense that the Buxton collection's ambition and criteria of success has not been the private taste of Michael Buxton, the collector, but that of the collection's curators, whose taste and values has also been shaping public museum collections around Melbourne. Perhaps it is for this reason that The shape of things to come displays none of the eccentric weirdness of exhibitions in private museums like David Walsh's Museum of Old and New Art.

    Destiny Deacon & Virginia Fraser, Forced into images, 2001 (still), Super 8 film transferred to video, DVD format, 9:00 minutes, silent, courtesy the artists and Roslyn Oxley9, Sydney.

    There are, however, moments of eccentricity, but as in state art collections it resides in individual works rather than a collective persona. Hany Armanious's Turns in Arabba (2005) played an eerily quiet original musical hit on 30 second loop, which, through tinny distorted speakers, haunted the large ground floor space. Upstairs, Destiny Deacon's and Virginia Fraser's video work Forced into images (2001) yields a similar disconnecting presence. The brief, personal and somewhat awkward inter-fading monologues of David Rosetsky's installation Custom made (2000) also had a refreshing datedness. The audio-visual presence and somewhat nostalgic distance of these works somehow offered a feeling of escapism from the open-spaced safety of the rest of the exhibition.

    The shape of things to come, installation view. Image courtesy Christian Capurro.

    This is surprising, given that Ted Colless writes in the catalogue essay about the need for "unsafe art", as if one were supposed to expect danger lurking in every direction. For Colless, the point de perfection of art is 'the unsafe x-factor in artists—that talent for contaminating the normative, not just eluding the conservative.' If that is the case, for the most part the exhibition lacks all Collessian perversion, distrust and polemic. Or rather, this lack is its perversion.

    Amazingly the original building that housed the old Buxton Art Gallery remains on Swanston Street, across the road from the Town Hall and swallowed up by the Manchester Building (built by "Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows"). However, the radical significance and oddness of the first Buxton has faded into oblivion, along with its political and artistic avant-gardism.

    Paris Lettau is a writer from Melbourne.

    Title image: Marco Fusinato, The Infinitive 3, 2015, white UV halftone ink on black aluminium, 250 x 625 cm, courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne.)


    2020 #13 Rex Butler Callum Morton, Monument #32: Helter Shelter Alfred Deakin Place Ballarat
    2020 #12 Amelia Winata Ari Tampubolon, Symposia: This show is dedicated to K-pop girl group, TWICE. I love you. SEVENTH Gallery
    2020 #11 Giles Fielke Warwick Baker, Hi-Vis Dreams Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2020 #10 Amelia Wallin Agatha Gothe-Snape, The Outcome is Certain Monash University Museum of Art
    2020 #09 Audrey Schmidt Alethea Everard, Art show Meow2
    2020 #08 Chelsea Hopper Elizabeth Gower, LOCATIONS Sutton Gallery, Sutton Projects
    2020 #07 Paris Lettau KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness NGV International
    2020 #06 Victoria Perin Assembled: The Art of Robert Klippel Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    2019 #51 Luke Smythe Colin McCahon: Letters and Numbers National Gallery of Victoria
    2019 #50 David Wlazlo 110%: Wet Nurse c3 Contemporary Art Space
    2019 #49 Helen O'Toole Luke Sands Guzzler
    2019 #48 David Homewood Robert Hunter Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
    2019 #47 Giles Fielke Kate Wallace, Views to Remember / Travis McDonald, Clock Face C3 Contemporary Art Space
    2019 #46 Audrey Schmidt In Costume Mejia
    2019 #45 Marnie Edmiston Collection leads: John Scurry—small paintings Geelong Gallery
    2019 #44 Rex Butler Collecting Comme National Gallery of Victoria
    2019 #43 Francis Plagne Elizabeth Newman Neon Parc City
    2019 #42 Amelia Winata Preparation Haydens
    2019 #41 Victoria Perin Never the same river Anna Schwartz Gallery
    2019 #40 Philip Brophy Haroon Mirza: The Construction of an Act Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
    2019 #39 Matthew Linde Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Bendigo Art Gallery
    2019 #38 Maddee Clark Fiona Foley: Who are these strangers and where are they going? Ballarat International Foto Biennale
    2019 #37 Giles Fielke Karrabing Film Collective: The Mermaids, or Aiden in Wonderland KINGS Artist Run
    2019 #36 Aneta Trajkoski SERIAL McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery
    2019 #34 Philip Brophy ...(illegible)... MADA Gallery
    2019 #32 Ella Cattach On Vulnerability and Doubt Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
    2019 #31 Helen O'Toole George Egerton-Warburton, also known as , Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2019 #30 Victoria Perin, Brendan Casey I will never run out of lies nor love Bus Projects
    2019 #29 Anna Parlane FEM-aFFINITY Arts Project Australia
    2019 #28 Jane Eckett Josef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski: Solid Light McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery
    2019 #27 Elyssia Bugg Prima Materia Bundoora Homestead
    2019 #26 Amelia Winata Angelica Mesiti: ASSEMBLY Venice Biennale
    2019 #25 Rex Butler Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
    2019 #24 Francis Plagne Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley: Temptation to Co-exist Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2019 #23 Audrey Schmidt Octopus 19: Ventriloquy Gertrude Contemporary
    2019 #22 Anna Parlane Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510/CS183 Monash University Museum of Art
    2019 #21 Sophie Knezic Arlo Mountford: Deep Revolt Shepparton Art Museum
    2019 #21 Philip Brophy Christian Thompson: Baya Gardiya Australian Centre for the Moving Image
    2019 #20 Victoria Perin Isabel Davies: Recent Geometric Constructions Stephen McLaughlan Gallery
    2019 #19 Chelsea Hopper Taryn Simon: Contraband Anna Schwartz Gallery
    2019 #18 Rex Butler Tracey Moffatt: Body Remembers Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    2019 #17 Stephen Palmer Amalia Lindo: Computer Shoulders Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2019 #16 Giles Fielke Carve A Future, Devour Everything, Become Something Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
    2019 #15 David Wlazlo Compromise Warrnambool Art Gallery
    2019 #14 Ella Cattach Emma Phillips: Too Much to Dream Reading Room
    2019 #13 Paris Lettau The Museological Consciousness Lyon Housemuseum Galleries, Meow
    2019 #13 The Editors Memo Review 01. Perimeter Books, World Food Books, Monash University Museum of Art
    2019 #12 Giles Fielke Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits Bendigo Art Gallery
    2019 #11 Sophie Knezic The Tennis Piece Gertrude Contemporary
    2019 #10 Victoria Perin Papermade / John Nixon: Screenprints, Woodblocks & Unique Relief Prints Negative Press, Australian Galleries
    2019 #09 Francis Plagne Visions of Paradise: Indian Court Paintings National Gallery of Victoria
    2019 #08 Amelia Winata Daniel von Sturmer Anna Schwartz Gallery
    2019 #07 Audrey Schmidt Carny Neon Parc
    2019 #06 Rex Butler Christian Marclay: The Clock Australian Centre for the Moving Image
    2019 #05 Anna Parlane Marlene Gilson Art Gallery of Ballarat
    2018 #52 Memo Review Thanks for reading in 2018
    2018 #51 Victoria Perin Sweeney Reed and Strines Gallery Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2018 #50 Paris Lettau Katie West: warna (ground) Caves
    2018 #49 Audrey Schmidt Aesthetics, Politics and Histories: The Social Context of Art AAANZ Conference 2018 - RMIT University
    2018 #49 The Editors Does the art exhibition have a future? AAANZ Conference 2018 - RMIT University
    2018 #48 Rex Butler Mira Gojak and Takehito Koganezawa: The Garden of Forking Paths Buxton Contemporary
    2018 #47 Jane Eckett Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2018 #46 Francis Plagne Spencer Lai: A smile forms into a grimace / Matilda Davis: Too Many Dinner Parties Bus Projects
    2018 #45 Anna Parlane Lili Reynaud-Dewar, TEETH, GUMS, MACHINES, FUTURE, SOCIETY / Alicia Frankovich, Exoplanets Monash University Museum of Art
    2018 #44 Amelia Winata Hito Steyerl: Factory of the Sun National Gallery of Victoria
    2018 #43 David Wlazlo Biennale of Australian Art Art Gallery of Ballarat
    2018 #42 Giles Fielke Anne Ferran: White Against Red Sutton Gallery
    2018 #41 Sophie Knezic Eavesdropping Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2018 #41 Benison Kilby State of the Union Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2018 #40 Tim Alves John Stezaker: Lost World Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2018 #39 Paris Lettau Brook Andrew: The Language of Skulls Ten Cubed
    2018 #38 Jane Eckett Design for Life: Grant and Mary Featherston Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2018 #37 Rex Butler Tom Roberts: Shearing the Rams National Gallery of Victoria
    2018 #36 Victoria Perin Baldessin / Whiteley: Parallel Visions National Gallery of Victoria
    2018 #35 Hester Lyon Architecture Makes Us: Cinematic Visions of Sonia Leber and David Chesworth Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2018 #34 Francis Plagne Robert Smithson: Time Crystals Monash University Museum of Art
    2018 #34 Philip Brophy Robert Smithson: Time Crystals Monash University Museum of Art
    2018 #33 Amelia Winata Nicholas Mangan, Termite Economies Sutton Gallery
    2018 #32 Giles Fielke Philadelphia Wireman World Food Books
    2018 #31 Victoria Perin, David Wlazlo, Amelia Winata Melbourne Art Fair & Spring 1883 Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Windsor Hotel
    2018 #30 Anna Parlane A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
    2018 #29 Giles Fielke, Amelia Winata, Tiarney Miekus Best and Overlooked of 2018 Recess, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Gertrude Contemporary
    2018 #28 Shelley McSpedden Auto Body Works Arts Project Australia
    2018 #27 Rex Butler Colony: Australia 1770–1861 / Frontier Wars National Gallery of Victoria
    2018 #26 Paris Lettau Andrew Browne: Spill Tolarno Galleries
    2018 #25 Jane Eckett The Sculpture Park Point Leo Estate
    2018 #24 Giles Fielke Lucina Lane and Nigel Lendon: Teach the Kids to Strike Neon Parc
    2018 #23 Tim Alves I hope you get this: Raquel Ormella Shepparton Art Museum
    2018 #22 Chelsea Hopper Diane Arbus: American Portraits Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2018 #21 Rex Butler The Field Revisited National Gallery of Victoria
    2018 #20 Anna Parlane Hard Feelings The Honeymoon Suite
    2018 #19 Francis Plagne Abstraction 17: A Field of Interest, c. 1968 Charles Nodrum Gallery
    2018 #18 Eva Birch Kieren Seymour: Blue Blindness Block Projects
    2018 #17 Amelia Winata Natalie Thomas and the Women's Art Register: Finding the Field True Estate Gallery
    2018 #16 David Wlazlo Troy Ramaekers: Double B-Sides Five Walls Projects
    2018 #15 Helen Hughes Vivienne Binns: It is what it is, what it is Sutton Gallery
    2018 #14 Kate Warren Soda_Jerk: TERROR NULLIUS Australian Centre for the Moving Image
    2018 #13 Paris Lettau The Shape of Things to Come Buxton Contemporary
    2018 #12 Victoria Perin Unfinished Business: Perspectives on Art and Feminism Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
    2018 #11 Giles Fielke Samraing Chea: Universal Drawings Reading Room
    2018 #10 Nicholas Tammens Mutlu Çerkez: 1988-2065 Monash University Museum of Art
    2018 #09 Tiarney Miekus Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Loyalty Does Not End With Death The SUBSTATION
    2018 #08 Anna Parlane Kirsten Lyttle: Digital Mana Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2018 #07 Francis Plagne Tony Clark: Chinoiserie Landscape 1987 - 2017 Murray White Room
    2018 #06 Rex Butler Richard Bell: Dredging up the Past Gertrude Contemporary
    2018 #05 Amelia Winata Kieran Butler and collaborators: Rainbow Bois and Magical Gurls Blindside
    2017 #52 Giles Fielke Triennial National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #51 Victoria Perin Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #50 Julia Lomas Angela Brennan: Forms of Life Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2017 #49 Kate Warren Cover Versions: Mimicry and Resistance Shepparton Art Museum
    2017 #48 Paris Lettau Our Knowing and Not Knowing: Helen Maudsley Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
    2017 #47 Francis Plagne Douglas Lance Gibson: What Was Once Yesterday Today & Tomorrow Tolarno Galleries
    2017 #46 Chelsea Hopper Jenny Watson: The Fabric of Fantasy Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2017 #45 Ian McLean Wayne Eager New Paintings Eastgate Gallery
    2017 #44 Anna Parlane Jason Phu: My Parents Met at the Fish Market Westspace
    2017 #43 Rex Butler Gareth Sansom: Transformer The Ian Potter Centre | NGV Australia
    2017 #42 David Wlazlo Joseph Kosuth: A Short History of My Thought Anna Schwartz Gallery
    2017 #41 Amelia Winata Darren Sylvester: Céline Bus Projects
    2017 #40 Helen Hughes Brent Harris: the small sword Tolarno Galleries
    2017 #39 Kate Warren The Score Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2017 #38 Paris Lettau Isadora Vaughan: Recalcitrant Bodies The Honeymoon Suite
    2017 #37 Francis Plagne Smallness: Trevelyan Clay & Kate Smith Neon Parc, Sutton Gallery
    2017 #36 Audrey Schmidt People Soup Suicidal Oil Piglet
    2017 #35 Anna Parlane Forever Transformed Gertrude Contemporary
    2017 #34 Jane Eckett Sidney Nolan and Elwyn Lynn: A Joint Centenary Charles Nodrum Gallery
    2017 #33 David Wlazlo Future Eaters Monash University Museum of Art
    2017 #32 Beth Kearney Fictitious Realities Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre
    2017 #31 Rex Butler Brave New World: Australia 1930s / Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art Heide Museum of Modern Art, Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
    2017 #30 Victoria Perin Discovering Dobell / Dobell’s Circle Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    2017 #29 Amelia Winata Spencer Lai: Contaminant, Figures Fort Delta
    2017 #28 Helen Hughes Liam Osborne: Hot Copy Punk Café
    2017 #27 Kylie King Dale Frank Neon Parc
    2017 #26 Francis Plagne Every Brilliant Eye National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #25 Rex Butler I can see Russia from here TCB art inc.
    2017 #24 Kate Warren Andrea Grützner: Tanztee and Erbgericht Centre for Contemporary Photography
    2017 #23 Giles Fielke On Campus Monash University
    2017 #22 David Wlazlo Restless Margaret Lawrence Gallery
    2017 #21 Anna Parlane Sky Country: Our Connection to the Cosmos Blak Dot Gallery
    2017 #20 Amelia Winata Unproductive Thinking Deakin University Art Gallery
    2017 #19 Anthony White Van Gogh and the Seasons National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #18 Victoria Perin Harold Freedman: Artist for the People Art Gallery of Ballarat
    2017 #17 Paris Lettau Raafat Ishak & Damiano Bertoli: Hebdomeros Sutton Gallery
    2017 #16 Beth Kearney Bill Henson National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #15 Helen Hughes James Tylor: un-resettling Vivien Anderson Gallery
    2017 #14 Rex Butler Louise Hearman Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    2017 #13 Julia Lomas Sally Smart: The Choreography of Cutting Sarah Scout Presents
    2017 #12 Giles Fielke Open Spatial Workshop: Converging in Time Monash University Museum of Art
    2017 #11 Kate Warren Daniel Crooks: Parabolic / Miyanaga Akira: REALTIME Anna Schwartz Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #10 Francis Plagne David Hockney: Current National Gallery of Victoria
    2017 #09 David Wlazlo Project 17: Radical Immanence Anna Pappas Gallery
    2017 #08 Anna Parlane Stuart Ringholt: Works on Paper Neon Parc
    2017 #07 Victoria Perin Don't be too Polite: Posters and Activism Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2017 #06 Amelia Winata O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington-Smith: Making Modernism Heide Museum of Modern Art
    2017 #05 Paris Lettau Sovereignty Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
    2017 #04 Beth Kearney Ramesh Nithiyendran: In the beginning Ian Potter Museum of Art
    2017 #03 Giles Fielke Lucina Lane: Range White Cuberd
    2017 #02 Helen Hughes The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    2017 #01 Rex Butler Suzanne Archer: Moving Forwards, Looking Back: A Survey 1969–2016 Nicholas Thompson Gallery
    Callum Morton, Monument #32: Helter Shelter
    Alfred Deakin Place Ballarat
    by Rex Butler
    Ari Tampubolon, Symposia: This show is dedicated to K-pop girl group, TWICE. I love you.
    SEVENTH Gallery
    by Amelia Winata
    Warwick Baker, Hi-Vis Dreams
    Centre for Contemporary Photography
    by Giles Fielke
    Agatha Gothe-Snape, The Outcome is Certain
    Monash University Museum of Art
    by Amelia Wallin
    Alethea Everard, Art show
    Meow2
    by Audrey Schmidt
    Elizabeth Gower, LOCATIONS
    Sutton Gallery, Sutton Projects
    by Chelsea Hopper
    KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness
    NGV International
    by Paris Lettau
    Assembled: The Art of Robert Klippel
    Tarrawarra Museum of Art
    by Victoria Perin
    Colin McCahon: Letters and Numbers
    National Gallery of Victoria
    by Luke Smythe
    110%: Wet Nurse
    c3 Contemporary Art Space
    by David Wlazlo

    The End.