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Austral Avenue: An experiment in living with art

Sheena Colquhoun

From 2005 – 2007, an art gallery operated out of a private home in inner city Melbourne. This new publication from Emblem Books documents its story.
Austral Avenue: An experiment in living with art
Austral Avenue: An experiment in living with art is the text documentation of an art gallery set up in the unconventional space of the home. Existing from 2005 – 2007 in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, the gallery – which featured works by artists such as Lisa Radford, Christopher Dean, Andreas Exner and Ry Haskings – became an exciting site for refined and engaging shows.

The space was operated by Jane O’Neill, the editor and main contributing author of this text, which is structured as a series of catalogue essays of the many shows that took place at the gallery over the period it was open to the general public.

Through reading the essays written by O’Neill, a strong thematic thread becomes apparent. An association with the expanded concepts of post-minimalist practise appears to inform many of the exhibitions, and through the writing and analysis that O’Neill constructs, we see the artwork positioned within the art-historical canon as such. Well researched and highly articulate essays help to expand upon the thematic constructions of the shows.

The process of thoroughly documenting every show that was on at the gallery is an invaluable archival practise for a small artist-run space, and it is clear that O’Neill has a love of art writing. Her affiliation with it as an informative and expansive practise that possesses the capacity to grow and change over the period of making, exhibiting and talking about art is important:

‘Layers of interpretation are [then] enhanced by responses from viewers as well as interactions with the artists during installation and de-installation. In this way, each exhibition becomes a story.’

Unfortunately the title of the book is somewhat misleading. One of the most interesting aspects of this gallery space is that it existed in a domestic setting. Not only a domestic setting, but in a suburb with a rich history and a culturally diverse community. The contextual implications of setting up a gallery in the home, of ‘an experiment in living with art’ are only mentioned briefly in the introduction among a descriptive history.

O’Neill states in her introduction that ‘The idea to operate a gallery from home (or to operate a home from a gallery) is not new’ but also notes that this style of gallery was ‘a way of exhibiting whereby the reception of art is immersed in domesticity and breeds the possibility of unexpected or incidental observations’.

This is really the first and last time acknowledgement of the exhibitions’ context is made, other than when it absolutely must be pointed out in the cases of a few site-specific shows. Even though the author is stating that the idea is ‘not new’ it is still unconventional, and obviously one of the most interesting aspects of the gallery. This for me is a particularly noteworthy point, in that the title of the book isn’t representative of the book’s content.

A compelling collection of articulate and engaging catalogue essays about lesser known emerging artists, it would be misleading to suggest this book is also a meditation on unconventional or experimental art spaces. Hence, despite being a generous and thoughtfully published document, it unfortunately misses a clear opportunity to critique and analyse the rich topic of context as a subject unto itself.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Austral Avenue: An experiment in living with art
Edited by Jane O’Neill
Artists featured include: Daniel Argyle, John Aslanidis, Jay Balbi & Elizabeth Pulie, Cathy Blanchflower, Mishka Borowski, Sadie Chandler, Catherine Clover, Peter Crocker, Julian Dashper, Nameer Davis & Barbara Penrose, Christopher Dean, Andreas Exner, Michael Graf, Ry Haskings, Andrew Hurle, Gerold Miller, Jane O’Neill, Lisa Radford, Bridget Ralph, Stephen Ralph and the Sydney Non Objective Group (SNO)
Softcover, 156 pp, RRP $35
Includes 66 colour images
ISBN: 9780980701807
Emblem Books

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sheena Colquhoun is a Melbourne based interdisciplinary artist and writer, currently undertaking a Bachelor of Visual Arts with a sculpture major.

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