Opinion

A decade of design: Art

May 23, 2011

Art consultant Virginia Wilson on her role commissioning and curating art for architecture projects, and the problem with public sculpture.

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I started the Deutsche Bank art project in 2003 and that really got me started on the road to doing more commissioned work. Since then the collection has grown, with Caroline Rothwell installing a work in 2007 and Nell creating a commissioned tapestry with the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in 2008. We are now doing the Melbourne Office, which is quite a different project and evolving well. The direction of the bank (in regards to art) however, is increasingly moving towards video work, and they seem to be enjoying the results. This really excites me, as the bank often displays these works off premises during functions.

In general, I think there has been an increase in the demand for video art, which simply wasn’t there last century. Ten years ago photography was at peak in terms of demand, and people were saying stupid things like ‘painting is dead’, which is just ridiculous. I was sceptical of video art too, so I do understand, but now I own it and love it. And Australia has some really interesting video artists. Some, like Daniel Crooks, are really good because they utilise the medium. It is not just some crappie documentary, but in a way Crooks’ work can only exist in this form. I like Shaun Gladwell’s work as well, it’s filmic and all that, but entirely likeable. Sarah Smuts-Kennedy is interesting, again because she really responds to the medium. Tim Webster is doing some amazing multi- screened works, which I am desperate to use.

The architects are always keen to do it, but it is also a leap, and I do understand that need to hesitate when the budgets are big. I want to be the first one to do a whole foyer of floor to ceiling video. I tried to get one commissioned recently, but the client balked at it. They were scared of technological developments that might make it dated, so it’s understandable, but it will happen.

Photography, though not the king hitter it was 10 years ago, is still strong. The CCP [Centre for Contemporary Photography] is always my favourite stand at the Melbourne Art Fair and last year I found Christian Capurro, who I haven’t done anything with yet, but I thought his images were really beautiful.

Artists like to be asked to do larger works, but there is still a lot of crap being produced for public spaces. I want to change the attitude to public sculpture. I hate the aluminium forms that are dumped in public squares. They don’t have anything to do with anything. I am sure I am not the only one trying to change that. The architects I deal with are stepping up, but there are still a lot of architects out there doing the same thing.

I think the changes are more about response than anything as simple as ‘x’ is more or less popular than ‘y’. Site-specific work, whether video, painting or sculpture, is definitely where things are heading, and I think architects are becoming more aware of the benefits of art, feeling less need to be prescriptive.

In the realm of art consulting, I can attest to a clear and increasing movement towards responsive art. That is, art that responds to its environment. I sense this from both council and developers, as a greater engagement with the artist can often result in a more relevant commissioned work. In that respect, commissioning work is a growing sector in the art world – which I can certainly appreciate.

Now the reasons why I get involved with a certain project or another have everything to do with the architects, and the fact that they know I will purposefully ask an artist to engage with a building first, and perhaps more importantly, realise the ultimate purpose of the building. Hopefully this approach is being used more and more in the realm of commissioned art, but I can’t exactly make that judgment. Personally, I see that developers and owners are more interested in this sort of engagement, and genuinely want to commission an amazing piece of art for their building. After all, you can’t blame them for wanting art to make sense within their context. Can you?

Virginia Wilson is an art consultant working on various projects with architects and developers nationally. She is currently working on a commercial tower in Sydney with Bates Smart Architects, and will also play a major role in commissioning public art for the South Barangaroo development.
virginiawilsonart.com.au

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