You are here
Robert Pulie, Mary Teague, John Spiteri
Between the Hong Lee Chinese food store, with its rows of canned foods that most Westerners avoid, and a swankily refurbished Capitol Theatre, two adventurous artist-entrepreneurs have established Gallery 19. Although Sydney's Chinatown area is no stranger to small art spaces hidden away from the gaudy glitz of Asian commerce, it has so far not seen anything like Gallery 19. For a start, Gallery 19 is not an artist-run space; it is a commercial exercise (not that it is yet making money) run and operated by Michael Hutak and Sean O'Brien.
From the street, Gallery 19 'calls' to the passer-by. A former cafe, its large open windows and impressive front room allow for a full kerb-side perusal, at all hours, of the delights within. Artists who pay for a show at Gallery 19 get a professional although understandably limited package of services: stylish invitations and publicity fliers ; access to the Gallery's contacts; and the chance to hang in a quite beautiful exhibition space that is bright, airy, open and centrally located.
A recent show at Gallery 19, one of the first at the space, consisted of work by three well-known Sydney artists: Robert Pulie, John Spiteri and Mary Teague. Teague's elegantly dangerous work, Hazchem (the symbol used on signs to warn of the presence of 'hazardous chemicals') was one of the real highlights of the show, along with Spiteri's video piece Siesta, which had me pining for Roadrunner cartoons. This is not to say Pulie's work was without merit. A new sculptural piece made from cotton and wadding, stretched out along the wall and floor, demanded the viewer's attention. Seeming simple at first, the work revealed a stitched human figure on the surface of the cotton. Intricate and engaging, this work was far more impressive than Pulie's other sculptural piece with its excessively long title The smile shared by the Toothpaste company executives standing to receive the substance of my pitch for their next ad campaign and rather short visual joke.
Spiteri's painting, titled Treasure Hunt, was playful and enjoyable, recalling the work of contemporary Asian artists like Vietnamese painter Truong Tan. For my money (although I'm not sure it was worth its price tag), Teague's Hazchem was the most impressive work in the show. Made of vinyl, PVC and enamel, the work takes the idea of a dirty, dangerous word; adds calligraphy and a silhouette in the shape of a butterfly to produce a highly polished object which shifts in context and meaning. Teague obviously likes these sorts of visual/verbal tricks as she uses them in her other two works in the show, though not with the same impact or complexity. In Under New Management, for instance, the mundane is again put into a softer, more ambiguous focus. In another untitled work, fifteen metres of bright red carpet, leading from the door to the back wall, asks to be walked over and along, cleverly distracting and engaging the viewer.