We recently reported here on a major solo show for Danie Mellor “ Exotic Lies, Sacred Ties – touring from Brisbane to the TarraWarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley “ where it opens this weekend – and from there to the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT in late August.
But that’s only a part of the artist’s achievement this year “ with a strong showing by the Jan Manton Gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong from 13 to 15 May; and then the piece de resistance, a 7 week exhibition in Scotland as the only visual arts event in the Edinburgh Festival. This will be Aussie composer, Jonathan Mills (Sir Jonathan Mills, actually) last year of eight directing the world’s most famous multi-arts festival. And he’s pretty clear as to why he picked Mellor for this honour: I selected Danie because he’s talking about a range of things relating to Australia’s connections to the UK “ throwing back to Europe its own cliches from an Antipodean perspective.
Most famously, Danie Mellor has adopted the blue and white of Britain’s Spode china “ exotically appropriated from China itself in the 1780s, just as the UK was appropriating Australia itself. He’s juxtaposed Masonic rituals and Aboriginal ceremony, and he’s raised issues about the white ‘scientific’ abuse of the Aboriginal body and the Indigenous ease with wild Australia’s nature.
But in Edinburgh, at the National Museum of Scotland, Mellor will attempt to go beyond the political to reach the immaterial with works that are a massive 300 x 360 cms. His chromed bronze sculpture, Anima (now at TarraWarra) will also be there, representing the Primordial that is the show’s title. I’m interested in the Modernist engagement with primitivism, he explained somewhat surprisingly, given the ‘political incorrectness’ of that word. By that I mean the essence of rawness, the first stirrings of life “ as revealed still in the ancient growth rain-forests of Queensland. Such a gentle power there. Sadly, Scotland destroyed the primordial when they chopped down the Great Hibernian Forest.
But they did try to bring back the ‘primitive’ to their museums “ and Danie will be contextualising his works with Indigenous Australian objects from their collection.
Fortunately, Jonathan Mills is confident that Danie won’t be caught up in the fraught times in which his last Festival is being held “ the Referendum for the devolution of Scotland from the UK, which put Mills under pressure to be predominantly Scottish this year; the Commonwealth Games, which gave him the excuse to bring in Commonwealth art for this Festival; and the hang-over from last year’s big Australia show at the Royal Academy in London. It got a deservedly bad press, Mills believes, mostly for technical reasons and its over-eagerness. But the accusation that the art was derivative has a whiff of hypocrisy about it; so much of what is excellent in art is derivative, it just depends how the derivations are employed. Fourteen works by a single artist here are certainly going to be more effective than Australia’s scatter-gun approach, and Danie really speaks eloquently within the architecture of Edinburgh.
Michael Reid “ Mellor’s Sydney and Berlin dealer, and the negotiator with the Festival for this exhibition “ sees the 7-week event as both really important for Danie’s international reputation, and a reflection of big changes in the museum world. They’re no longer just keepers, but opening their collections to outside research, review and re-interpretation. And they expect a quarter of a million visitors.
Artist: Danie Mellor
Gallery: University of Queensland Art Museum ,