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Brian O'Doherty has commented upon the "radical forgetting" almost endemic to an art system which is based (voraciously) upon marketable products 1
This argument seems most applicable if one considers the negligible holdings of seventies' conceptual work of the public galleries both here and overseas. By contrast Peter CripRs' work manifests what one might call a "radical memory". The five paintings, objects and texts in this exhibition have a clear base in conceptualism, but it is very obviously a rematerialised conceptualism. Thus the work is very much of the present while developing upon the strengths and weaknesses of conceptualism; an Australian example of what Achille Bonito Oliva recently has called "nee-objectivist" art 2. While most of his peers have gone in the direction of post conceptual painting (for example Imants Tillers, Tim Johnson, Peter Tyndall), Cripps has continued to produce object based non "flat"3 products. In this way it is difficult to categorise the work. In her catalogue essay for this IMA 'show Sue Cramer suggests that, "In a curious kind of way, these works inhabit a Dadaist realm that is somewhere between the sculptural and the everyday object "4. The intellectual lessons of the seventies though are very much a presence in the work, both literally, as with the huge (366 X 366 cm) Chinese Cultural Revolution poster, as well as conceptually.
Since he began work as an artist almost two decades ago Cripps has been constructing his own archive which will appear at a later date as the Caravan, a persona museum in some ways akin to Percy Grainger's "music museum". This practice has its origins in Cripps' abiding interest in the nature of history per se and more specifically in the construction of art history and the role of the art museum in that process, which explains his interest in the Grainger Museum in Melbourne. and his challenge to the "selective tradition" of art history. This exhibition includes a number of very minimalist models of the Grainger Museum, placed strategically in front of two of the large untitled canvases, thus emphasising the work as installation. The construction of the "other museum" was an important concern of the conceptual project. The museums' neglect of seventies' work reinforces Cripps' view that the politics of curating must remain on the agenda. Perhaps the seventies' conception of the museum was a utopian view, but for Cripps utopian ideologies remain important against the pessimistic postmodernism of the present. It is significant in this respect that the work in this exhibition has much more in common with European "nee-objectivist" work than with the consumerist nature of much contemporary American "nee-objectivist" work. Cripps himself has stated that, "Utopian visions are necessary to construct something better than the present but they can also become strait-jackets on present practice. On another tack altogether: there are certainly some very negative and pessimistic aspects to the contemporary 'Endgame"'5.
The works in this exhibition almost have a double life, as "backdrops", "props" and "scripts" for the play "Namelessness" which was presented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales during the first week of June. In this way each of the works has a functionality uncommon to most art objects on display in a gallery space. The large canvasses also have a powerful presence, but an inanimate feel. They also eschew author based production; their approach is either minimalist or "flat" almost denying the artist's presence with a minimum of brush strokes. The sculptural models as well seem to have another functional life as furniture. When one realises this the large canvasses, apart from the Chinese poster, seem to exist almost as slices of wallpaper. History is one of Cripps' main concerns; the "furniture" exists as objects of history which perhaps get closer to history than representations of it. Overall the show seems to present a pervasive "feel" of times past while being very contemporary in its concerns.
Much of Cripps' work remains unseen by a broader art audience. This IMA exhibition is very useful in helping to broaden awareness of his work. In some ways the IMA space does not seem expansive enough for the large unstretched canvasses, though it must be said that this is the very type of exhibition that government funded contemporary art spaces should be supporting. But then again, the presence of contemporary art spaces has allowed the state galleries to neglect their duties in relation to contemporary art. The real paradox of course is that Cripps' work requires the support and imprimatur of the Institutions whose practice his work so strongly critiques.
1. Brian O'Doherty: Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Santa Monica, The Lapis Press, New Edition, 1986 p. 87.
2. Achille Bonito Oliva: "Neo Europe (West)" in Flash Art, No. 139, 1988.
3. See Bob Lingard and Peter Cripps : Flattening Judy Watson, Guardian Spirit, 1986. Woodblock print Australian Art History? Catalogue Essay, European Installation Exhibition, ACCA, Melbourne, 1988.
4. Sue Cramer: Peter Cripps: Paintings and Objects , Catalogue Essay, IMA, Brisbane, 1989.
5. Bob Lingard: "Interview with Peter Cripps", Tension, No.15, p.15, 1988.