sELL OUT / Worthwhile risk - APRIL 2015

ARTIST - Kate Kurucz / Kate Beckingham

AUTHOR - Stan  Mahoney

Here comes a sweeping statement about about what art is. I'm not even sorry either. I'm thirty-two years old, my shoulders are knotted, I sleep on a single mattress, I don't care for most people's company, my mind is weary and my heart is calloused over. I don't have the time nor the energy to criticise art in any meaningful way, other than to find what it is about the work that is, for want of a better word, unexpected.

Any art, anything artful within anything – any aspect of any event or object or action or document or function or joke or gesture – that anyone claims to be art, is always down to some form of discovery. An artist, by way of a process, can set up the conditions for these discoveries, but they are always discoveries, and always subject to chance. By chance or otherwise (we'll see that it doesn't really matter), Kate Kurucz's show in the front room of FELTspace is proof positive.

Kurucz is a competent painter, properly trained at the Adelaide Central School. Her formal craft (the kind that used to be considered passe by her contemporaries at SASA) is happily augmented by pop references and a self-effacing sense of kitsch. Magnum bottles of passion pop, pearl necklaces, cocktail glasses, white boys in their underpants draped over lush piles of cellophane. SASA graduate Mark Siebert, now based in London, cracked similar gags rendering veritas still lifes of empty beer bottles and spent needles. 

But sometimes an artist, mounting her first solo show at a reputable ARI, decides that painting well isn't enough, suitably kitsch-punctured though it might be. What's needed is that element of discovery – the art in the work isn't always obvious on opening night. Kurucz seems to know this intuitively, and her solution is more or less perfect: a raffle, complete with tickets and a cage full of tumbling balls. Buy a ticket, win a painting at random. Judge my craft, pious curmudgeon, sayeth Kurucz's gambit. Here's your precious element of discovery, codified in so many tumbling balls. Forty bucks each, thanks.

On the surface, Sell Out is a critique of a post-capitalist gallery system based on commissions and red dots and the whims of a certified critical elite. Kurucz subverts all this by assigning every piece an even forty bucks – from a lush figurative piece on a vast stretched canvas to clusters of small mixed-media abstracts and meme-based gags. Each piece less than a pineapple, just over the cost of a fancy dinner. Everything sells, everyone has a good time, and Kurucz likely pockets more than she would had she priced each piece according to the regular NAVA rate. Laudably puckish, and an unsubtle bird in the general direction of every bloodless Marxist who claims to be so bored with red dots and white cubes. I smiled long after the show.

In the back room, Sydney artist Kate Beckingham's work is less sensational. Not everything has to be a puckish critique. The work is humble, understated, adding up to a kind of liminal recollection of a recent residency in Iceland. The small objects, gestures, physical activities that constitute a remembered place – a tug on the drawstring of a parka, a handmade necklace looped around an arm, a stylised rope ladder amid white walls – all of it muted and sparsely hung. Objects and pictures that don't so much evoke Beckingham's experience of the Icelandic landscape as much as they induce a kind of calm. Beckingham seems to be possessed of a lightness of touch and a sincerity that is easily overlooked, borne of the faith one ought to have that the viewer's phenomenology will always brush up against that of the artist without the latter having to force the issue. Crisp air, flat skies, the crunch of snow – none of it evoked explicitly, nobody suggesting it ought to have been. Intentionally or not, it was a calming foil to the brash hullabaloo in the next room.

Stan Mahoney