The emptiness of status

By Rhonda Dredge

Curators tend to look at the careers of artists, their exhibition history, critical assessment published in art magazines and updates of the artist’s website to provide an objective measure of their status. 

These are key signifiers of how much attention an artist pays to their followers and how much he/she might be getting in return.

Tony Garifalakis has certainly gained the critical recognition of the art establishment.

He has had recent major exhibitions at Gertrude Contemporary and the State Gallery of NSW and was part of the Melbourne Now show at the National Gallery of Victoria.

But a swift search suggests that there have not been many reviews of his work.

Some artists prefer to drive their own narratives. Garifalakis claims to have been kicked out of churches in Italy and a recent show depicting the faces of the royal family painted over in black might have also lost him a few followers.

Similarly, who could forget his exhibit at a gritty little corner shop made up of the letters P and G, which only became meaningful when the viewer lined up a candle as the middle letter to spell out … ?

Garifalakis is the kind of teacher who turns up with a pig’s head in a bag as a model for life-drawing class and uses objects in semiotic games to trick the viewer.

In other words, he’s refreshingly dark, Gothic-ally adept and is an artist who doesn’t necessarily like to be pinned down. If you haven’t engraved his email address into your heart already, he’s not likely to give it to you now.

How do curators handle artists who project an anti-establishment persona? Will such artists always be trying to have a laugh at the expense of others instead of getting down to the serious business of selling work?

Three rooms plus a preamble are dedicated to this question in a show of digital prints Information Discharge Systems at Sarah Scout in Collins St.

The work is not overtly political. One room is devoted to romance, another to a Mannerist pastiche of mid-century consumer objects mostly connected to the car and a third to the paradox of future histories.

Garifalakis told CBD News that he scanned magazine pages and worked with them digitally. He invites speculation about his material choices but gives little else away.

One suite of works is mounted on cork with natural timber frames. Are the works archival? Yes, the artistry also occurs in the backing. Other prints are face-mounted onto acrylic and presented in colourful anodised metal, or at least simulations of these popular 70s icons.

Sandra Bruce, assistant director of the LaTrobe Art Institute, offered to help decipher the exhibition. She says the works suit a gallery at the Paris-end of Collins St and that the current exhibition is far removed from the artist’s Mob Rule parody of royalty and authority.

“In the Romance series he has reducted stuff,” she says. “There are references to archaic cultures, remnants from the classical period, architectural abstractions and beautifully-made frames. They look like they have been pulled out of a drawer and you are looking at an archive.”

Ms Bruce lives in the CBD and follows the art scene. She is a level-headed commentator, perhaps more so than a fan who might fall for the artist’s audacity and tendency to making political comments about the emptiness of power.

Ms Bruce suggests that Garifalakis hasn’t given up playing with the viewer. Words embedded in the suite Conosci Il Tuo Prodotto (know your product) suggest that he is acutely aware of his setting and the love of certain historical artifacts in a locale known for its high-level consumerism.

A swift search for the word Indianapolis featured in this room reveals that Donald Trump was invited to drive in the race of this name and what can you say about his status?

Tony Garifalakis, Information Discharge Systems, Sarah Scout, Collins St, until March 3.

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