Review: For Love or Money, Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery (VIC)

Artists explore the intersection of art, labour, and capitalism through works in various media.
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Make or Break perform Labour Talks at For Love or Money exhibition launch. Photo: ImagePlay.

Guest curator Sophia Cai has worked with a number of artists to put together a powerful and considered exhibition at the Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery. The exhibition explores artistic labour through a capitalist lens, as well as the economic and social difficulties that artists face within the industry, challenging the notion of worth and value in the arts.

The exhibition unfolds over three rooms. When entering the first space, Kay Abude’s hand-printed garments hang from suspended timber racks, with text that reads ‘Love Thy Labour’. Nearby, a pallet of gold blocks references factory work, manufacturing industries and employee exploitation.

In the same room, Steven Rhall presents a series of unsold art pieces in glass cabinets, similar to a museum display, thereby questioning how objects are valued.

Moving forward into the second space within the exhibition, the viewer becomes aware of a walled installation covered with images of bank notes and coins. This installation and video work, Valuation Reading by Make or Break (Rebecca Galls and Connie Anthes), was constructed with the assistance of gallery staff at the Hawthorn Arts Centre – all salaried employees who are paid for their time – hence drawing attention to the issue of remuneration for artistic labour. Shannon Lyons’s wall vinyl Doing Nearly Nothing Exhibition Proposal also gives insight into the process of creating work without financial compensation or implementation.

Abdullah M. I. Syed shares his experience working as a Pakistani artist in Australia in Currency of Love, which features leaves from a money plant painted in pure pigment on cotton rag. The damaged leaves have been mended using 24-karat gold leaf and banknotes. The money plant leaves are a way of acknowledging the sacrifices Syed’s mother made to support his profession as an artist.

The third space exhibits work from Nina Ross and Gabrielle de Vietri of Artist’s Subcommittee, as well as Elvis Richardson, Salote Tawale and James Nguyen.

At a plywood plinth, the Artist’s Subcommittee encourages artists and art makers to write about their experience working within the art sector. The time taken to write their story is entered into a timesheet and displayed on the wall, emphasising exploitation in the industry.

Richardson and Tawale explore the discrimination that artists face throughout their careers. While Richardson’s collage Men VS Women (Art and Australia) looks at gender inequality within the arts, Tawale’s work exposes her own experience working as an artist of colour.

The exhibition also features a video installation by Nguyen entitled Lifters and Leaners. Here Nguyen’s performance makes reference to ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ workers, and the way in which this influences migration into Australia.

The diversity of work exhibited within For Love or Money allows for a thoughtful exploration of artistic labour within the arts industry. It highlights the exploitation and discrimination that artists face, the lack of remuneration for their work, as well as the number of proposals and projects that never eventuate or remain unsold.  At a deeper level the exhibition looks at the way we use a capitalist construct to determine value and worth, and underscores love as the driving force behind artistic labour and pursuit. For Love or Money is certainly an exhibition worth visiting.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

For Love or Money
Curator: Sophia Cai
Artists: Kay Abude, Artist’s Subcommittee (Nina Ross and Gabrielle de Vietri), Shannon Lyons, Make or Break (Rebecca Galls and Connie Anthes), James Nguyen, Steven Rhall, Elvis Richardson, Abdullah M. I. Syed and Salote Tawale
6 July-25 August 2019

Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn VIC
Free admission

Gabrielle Bergman
About the Author
Gabrielle Bergman is studying a Bachelor of Arts (Art History) at the University of Melbourne, and works as a Gallery Assistant for a number of galleries around Melbourne. Prior to this she was an Interior Designer for Architecture and Interior Design firms, both in Melbourne and Brisbane. Gabrielle has a great interest in art and design with a particular focus on modern and contemporary art.
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