Guest Column with Bala Starr

October 10 / 46

Bala Starr is Senior Curator at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. Her latest exhibition, There’s no time: John Spiteri, Mira Gojak, Bradd Westmoreland, Karl Wiebke, opens on 17 November. The exhibition introduces the work of Sydney artist John Spiteri alongside three Melbourne artists of different generations.

I was recently speaking with postgraduate visual art students at the VCA in a seminar about how best to approach and meet curators. One of the questions asked towards the end was, "What does it take for artists to maintain a career over many years?" My answer was something like, ‘It’s about time in the studio and psychological fortitude’. I’m interested in how particular artists create systems of independent knowledge. A special characteristic of art is that we expect it to be independent, that it has a certain autonomy. But independence also means the best artists can often be hidden, relying on others to seek them out.

In my first job at a gallery/studio complex for developing artists in Melbourne, I had the good fortune to work directly with artists close to their studios. Nearly two decades later I still enjoy working closely with artists and these can be the most revealing relationships. A curator of contemporary art isn’t reliant on a body of collected works, it is all about working within a wider environment, a wider community. The context for contemporary art includes an academic context. The art scene exists through a combination of types of patronage and our museum is one of these. What we can offer is a particular way of identifying qualities and putting them forward. We have to search out the particular languages and qualities that artists themselves are taken by.

John Spiteri is a great example of the sort of artist I find intriguing. Spiteri avoids thematics so deliberately that it’s hard to focus what his work is ‘about’. He uses titles like Paint a rumour and Those who are governed by gravity, and his works are neither fashionable nor didactic. Spiteri has great credentials, studying at Goldsmiths, London’s hottest art school, twice. His new work incorporates funny reminiscences, hand-carved elements, thin paint, glass, fragments of ornamentation and geometry, and coloured rocks. We’ve talked a few times about his family’s preoccupation with outdated calendars. They reuse old calendars around the house. A little while ago I asked him what was on display this year, and he said, ‘We’re using 1965 and 1971 calendars at the moment and another year up in the garage’. I’m very pleased to be working with John and the three other artists we’re showing at the same time and am interested to see how we’ll pull the threads of the exhibition together over the next few weeks.

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