Exhibition review: Annette Blair and Kate Nixon, Canberra Glassworks

The curatorial thread is clear through these two new exhibitions at Canberra Glassworks, which are about everyday objects and detritus, but they couldn’t be more different.

Kate Nixon, in her installation On reflectionusurps the utilitarian function of the disco-aesthetic Sulo wheelie bins – covering these mundane sidewalk objects in mirrored mosaics – while in the main gallery, Annette Blair’s collection of blown-glass household objects in Discreetly spoken, is the antithesis of Nixon bling, as the title suggests.

Blair delivered a stellar display; it testifies to the difference between making a work for a show and hanging it in a space, and truly considering the development of a body of work for an area. It’s surprising how few artists do the latter.

Upon entering the gallery, Blair used the architecture, which divides an already narrow room, to create a sort of openness Wunderkammer. On the shelves, one encounters everything from the rear tool shed, all crafted in monochromatic glass tones – brushes, buckets, G-tongs, jars and funnels. Some jars are even filled with nails and glass screws.

It’s an absolute masterpiece and demonstrates Blair’s level of skill, but also deep considerations on all levels.

Lily: So you want my job as an artist: Glass Artist

Around him are small “still lifes” of collected objects – a bottle of milk and lemons, a vase of poppies with several fallen petals (which makes an ironic reference to the Venetian glass aesthetic), and a drum tin of branches and scattered autumn leaves. Everything is familiar – making it easy to view – but at the same time elevating the ordinary to a place of wonder and wonder.

The only comment would be that less is more when you consider these works – testimony to the main installation, Vestige #11 (a study of domestic relics). The work Each day, displayed on a shelf on one side, repeats some of these objects, but the glass surface, on the other hand, has been treated with a heavy decorative pattern, hand painted on the blown surface.

Although it demonstrates another incredibly masterful technique, it adds nothing to the object or artwork; its overly painterly “patina” unnecessarily complicates the objects, reflecting neither a realistic patina of age nor any rational connection other than that of “decoration”.

Other than that, this exhibition is an absolute win with the public.

Also a ‘pleasure’ but in a different way, Nixon’s installation is highlighted in the dark brick, heritage chimney of the Glassworks. The setting adds to the drama and narrative. This is the first time Nixon has exhibited in some time (like many artists who transition into curatorial and arts administration). The installation picks up where it left off – its For collection series (c. 2018) – but that doesn’t push it that much except at scale.

Kate Nixon, installation view On Reflection at Canberra Glassworks. ArtsHub photo.

Nixon is interested in ruffling the history of traditional mosaics, which dates back to early civilizations and is based on pattern and color. Stripping the gender of these things, she is more interested in the play of light that her mosaics provide – that is, the shimmer of the disco ball. The exhibit text states that the disco ball dates from 1897 and was widely used in the 1920s, then mass-produced from the 1970s.

The text continues: “Disco exemplifies a time for women’s liberation, black rights, and sexual freedom,” implying that Nixon’s job is to reinsert these stories into mosaic history. While the installation has a fun anti-establishment/anti-categorization feel, it fails to merge these stories.

Ever since Andy Warhol elevated the Brillo Can and Campbell’s Soup Can, artists everywhere have sought to subvert the everyday for their own conceptual framing. So, as viewers, we’re pretty much used these days to reading — and expecting — that conceptual delivery and rigor if that’s the path we’re headed down. I wanted this piece to push me more.

That said, Nixon meets our expectations well. She gets the scale right in the space and still leaves plenty of room for her to develop this work further.

Lily: Review of the exhibition: Little Dreams

This conceptual framing is the cement that binds these two exhibitions together with such ease. More literally, it is played out in collaborative work, The passing of autumn, which the viewer passes from one gallery to another – a mosaic dustpan brushing against sheets of glass. It makes you smile.

It reminds us of the ritual that objects perform in our daily lives. Is it nostalgia? Is it subtle humor, or maybe it’s just joy. It is this sensory experience extended to the viewer that is his greatest gift from these two shows.

Discreetly spokenby Annette Blair, and On reflection, by Kate Nixon.
Canberra Glassworks On view until August 14.

About Timothy Cheatham

Check Also

Bring Home Thornton Dial – Garden & Gun

For Thornton Dial, creative expression was a way of being: In interviews with art collector …