Samstag

Selected works from the 1993 Anne & Gordon Samstag international visual arts scholarships
The University of South Australia Art Museum, Adelaide

American-born Gordon Samstag held the position of Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at the South Australian School of Art over the period 1961-1972. Retirement took him back to America where he died in 1990. His will incorporated a "Fine Arts Grant Fund" with the start-up value of over US $5m. The income from this fund was to be made available to fine-art students from Australia so that they "may study and develop their artistic capacities, skills and talents in New York, New York and its vicinity, or elsewhere outside of Australia". This remarkable gift to Australian visual artists ranks, with the Felton and Power Bequests, as one of the three greatest bequests to the visual arts in this country. Samstag also proposed in his will that his old employer, the South Australian School of Art , within the University of South Australia, manage the scholarship program. The first national call for applications was made by the University in early 1992 and inaugural scholarships were awarded to ten artists who are currently undertaking post graduate work overseas. History records that there were five men and five women and that an exhibition of their work at the University of South Australia Art Museum in May-June 1993 produced no indication of a 'Samstag style!'·

A second exhibition was held this year. There were ten 1993 recipients. Each was represented by a single work or tight selection of works. In effect the exhibition was tantalizing rather than delivering a comprehensive picture of each artist's position.

Lynne Barwick's Untitled Pyramid, Rope and PVC Piece was an arresting work which derived tension from the clean cut geometry of its forms and the puckered, slippery qualities of its surfaces. What was the symbolism of those three pyramids on rubber sheets, faced by a raft of rope lengths and an Oldenberg-like deflatable? I didn't think it mattered. The focus was on the tacky, rule-of-the-thumb irregularities and a queasy slickness which subverted the rhetoric of structure. Neatness breeding nastiness.

Matthew Calvert's Untitled alongside acted as an unwitting counterpoint. Where Barwick's forms looked compliant and open to rearrangements, Calvert's tank trap-like constructions were unyielding and predatory. They looked like 1960s action drawings made flesh, lots of intersections, compressions and explosive departures. I wondered what program Calvert would set himself over the next year? One wondered also about ADS Donaldson's plans given that there was only one work ( Untitled painting) in this exhibition.

Anne Ooms was relaxed with understatement and the art of possible constant rearrangement. Her catalogue comments betrayed that an interest in syntax and where the narrative begins (was it the pile of salt, the baby shoes, the aquarium?) or ends, was the real focus of game. Sarah Lindner's two installations were made of more explicit stuff. Latex rubber stretched on a circular frame on which spermy 1950s clothes brushes danced with the aid of a vibratory impulse and rampant razor blades inset with tampons and ringed with human hair clasped hands with predecessors from 'I Am Woman' exhibitions from the mid 1970s. A little vulnerable and a bit risky but no grounds for complaint.

Michele Beevors's Fowlerware bathroom installation consisting of bath, toilet, sink etcetera, made from sponges and wettex was the joker in the pack. A danger of overstatement with all the tap trimmings but a promising satirical talent nevertheless.

On the walls, Carl Sutherland reflecting his experience as a geologist, displayed small painted panels which could have been rock samples. There was no denying the visual power of a slab of oil paint churned and twisted as if by twitches in the earth's crust. Exciting objects given added presence by another of Sutherland's works, Fossil Sky which exudes the charm of fat running down a blackened oven door window.

Paul Uhlmann's colours burned and glowed through chunks of darkness and some noticeable areas of cracking paint. A strong visionary quality after the style of Emile Nolde. The small etchings (Finsternis ) with their curious forms floating out of the velvet darkness added to the mystery and intrigue.

Anne Wallace's strong figurative images communicated with a rare intensity. Exemplar, a dominant teacher or mother figure towering over three girls who just wanna be educated, a pilot or the best shanghai shooter in the street, had the right balance of irony and monumentality. Robyn Stacey's three large suspended panels were computer manipulated cibachrome prints, produced in the USA during a residency at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Chicago. The images made reference to the evolution of scientific vision since the Renaissance. In over laying the 'facts' Stacey was approximating cyberspace. The panels were visually spectacular but routine in terms of using air port mural formulas for amalgamating time and events. Her Samstag program may hold solutions for others in learning how to ride the technological tiger without growing stripes.