October 2, 2008
Review by Lucy Birmingham
Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) — Gene and Brian Sherman shone a light on Australian contemporary art for 21 years at Gene's Sydney gallery. Now, 600 fluorescent tubes are illuminating their new non-profit foundation.
Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones's installation “untitled (the tyranny of distance),'' wraps the tubes inside 500-square feet of aluminum frames, covered with blue tarpaulin. The display was commissioned by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF).
“Art foundations seem to be a worldwide trend,'' said Gene Sherman. “Rather than give to an institution, people are often establishing their own foundations through which they can showcase their own collection.''
Enigmatic and beautiful from a distance, close inspection reveals the plastic tarpaulin cover — a cheap illusion with a message.
In Aboriginal communities, “you see tarpaulin everywhere — from people covering their houses after storms to other people using it for seasonal outstations in the country'' said Jones in an interview for the show's catalog.
The project, on show until Oct. 11, was partly inspired by government efforts to restrict the movement of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, he said, “about confining and controlling movement and freedom.''
Based in Sydney, Jones's ancestral roots lie in the Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri nations of southeastern Australia. Unlike the well-known “dot'' painters and protest artists, Jones, 30, is part of a growing number of indigenous artists whose works reveal the Aboriginal position in other ways.
“We want to create a balanced program with both international and national artists and you can't get more Australian than Aboriginal,'' said Gene Sherman, SCAF Director. “Jonathan is one of the most exciting young indigenous artists working today.''
The foundation is backed by Brian, who co-founded fund management company Equitilink in 1981. He now runs the Sherman investment group and is chairman and a major shareholder of the Aberdeen Leaders Fund.
“SCAF will not be intrinsically affected or impacted by the financial crisis,'' he said in an e-mail. “The slowing of the world economies will mean a tightening of the belt. Philanthropic foundations like SCAF are not driven by market prices and profits.''
Sherman plans to commission pieces from both established and emerging artists, Gene said. SCAF's first exhibition, after the foundation's opening in April, was an installation by China's Ai Weiwei, designer of Beijing's “Bird Nest'' Olympic Stadium.
Ai's “Through,'' used Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) tables and temple beams, reassembled to symbolize China's history of destruction and reinvention.
“Australian audiences don't normally have the chance to see work by Ai Weiwei,'' said SCAF Associate Director Danielle Earp. Ai, a cat lover, became involved with the Shermans through another of their philanthropic ventures, Voiceless, an animal- rights organization Brian founded with daughter Ondine in 2004.
In addition to the main gallery, part of the building's veranda houses a small exhibition space called SCAF Out-Site. Jones is now showing a work there that includes stacked emu eggs lit by more fluorescent lights, a reference to the emu eggs painted and carved by Australian Aboriginals in the late 1800s.
SCAF also runs the Sherman Visual Arts Residency. International curators, forum speakers, scholars, writers and artists, including Sydney Biennale participants, are invited to stay at the artist-in-residence house located across the road from the main gallery.
The SCAF Annexe, next door to the main gallery, is used for film screenings. Ai Weiwei showed his video work “Fairytale'' during his exhibition. Now showing are films by Australian Indigenous artists, several of whom influenced Jones.
As economies founder, artists may have to rely more heavily on foundations like SCAF to bankroll big projects.
“The Foundation offers artists an opportunity to make a major work,'' said Earp. “We cover all the expenses.''
After Jones, the space will display a sculpture by Indian artist Jitish Kallat from Oct. 10 to Dec. 20. Kallat fuses socio- political commentary with a biting sense of humor.
“Aquasaurus,'' a seven-meter-long water tank posed to transform into a monster with human-like teeth, is a comment on the increasing scarcity of water in India's burgeoning cities.
(Lucy Birmingham writes on art for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Lucy Birmingham in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: October 2, 2008 11:08 EDT