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White Rabbit's Opening Up: Big Bang, Indeed

by Deborah Turnbull on 10 NOV 2010

A Draft Review by Deborah Turnbull
© New Media Curation 2010

In a world so distracted by the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) how is it that Sydney seems so unaffected by it; especially in our somewhat decorous field, the arts?

According to Twitter account @theartmarket, written by Sydney Arts aficionado Vasili Kaliman, the Bank of Ireland is considering the sale of its art collection, valued at 64millionGBP, and the Saatchi Gallery in London is reconsidering its donation of works totalling 25millionGBP. Despite these aesthetic upheavals, Sydney's art wealth still seems vibrant, our major collections, in tact. I haven't, as yet, heard of any back door sales, and when you hear whispers of a commercial gallery closing, the artists represented are quietly re-homed into adjacent stockrooms with little, if any, negative press.

I still couldn't help contemplating the financial when spurred on by my social media to attend the re-opening of the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney's city suburb of Chippendale. It seems that despite the GFC last year, this space has been beautifully converted from an old 3-storey knitting factory, costing more than any government start-up grant I'm aware of. Now a privately owned and operated gallery specialising in the collection and exhibition of contemporary Chinese Art, White Rabbit Gallery has received more than a lick of paint. Indeed, the collection is owned by billionaire financier Kerr Nielson, operated by his wife, Judith Neilson, and managed by their daughter Paris. Ah, having billions explains the amazing decor then, but it's not only their fortune on display here.


The yin and yang themes of fortune & waste, opulence & the mundane occur at every level in the new hang. Amidst the ground floor full of National Art School hipsters, each more artfully dishevelled then the next, there were politicians from the higher echelons of both China and Australia. Upon entry one is greeted by a very elongated, very bald, nude, leering Chinese man cast monochromatically in bright red. Beside this exaggerated icon is a pig dancing on its hind legs. This is Chen Wenling's Red Memory (2007) and Happy Life series (2006-7). It is simultaneously meek and overwhelming, existing both off the grid (the man) and within scale (the pig).

In opposition, the far side of the gallery is taken up with a 3-story sculpture made up entirely of discarded containers. Standing as a rainbow of rubbish tapering from the ground up, it is visible at every level. Its base is surrounded by both cast-off containers and photographs of the dumps in China where the containers were collected. Drawings abstracted exactly what stares you in the face. The apex stops suddenly at the 3rd floor, a bloom of discarded lids. It was literally the multi-coloured elephant in the room, and constructed by Judith Neilson's own art tutor, Wang Zhiyuan, and is titled Thrown to the Wind (2010).

If the ground floor was the well-coiffed intellectual beard for the evening, the upper floors contained the entertainment. From neon rimmed basketball hoops to paintings emulating neon bars, there seemed something for everyone on the 2nd floor. Ai Wei Wei's hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds lay in a well-lit mound, reminding us that not everything is as it appears. This seemed a recurrent theme in Han Jinpeng's Mona Lisa from Clear Sky to Rain (2009) and The Milkmaid in a Sandstorm (2009). These gilt-framed flatscreens show the artist starring in the da Vinci and Vermeer classics as an agent attacked by the weather. Over 7 and 5 minutes respectively, very damp and very windswept portraits of each protagonist emerge as a clear link to the trouble the weather is causing in our otherwise civilised society. Each time the subject battles the elements, intent on holding the portrait together, but in the end, each painting ends up radically different from where it started. They are absolutely fantastic.

Trompe l'oeil seemed the theme of the 3rd and 4th floors, from amorphously shaped alien beings swooping about the room, to be-spoked wheels of plastic emulating dream catchers, to hand painted bottles featuring major internal organs, to larvae-like lampshades and paper xylophone clones. Though they seem the remains of a popular culture trying not to identify with any one medium, they are recognisable enough so as to be plausible remnants. Together these works mark the essence of the show, lauded on the White Rabbit website as emulating the common theme of change, the common perspective of ziwo, "I, myself".

One of the most intelligent juxta-position of works is a series of digital film clips and a triptych of ceramic sculpture. Before entering the screening, there is a sign marked: WARNING! Course Language and Lewd Content! The videos screened within may offend some viewers. Granted, there was some animated prostitution, parent-approved adultery, crime, and monkeys doing violence to monkeys in the digital; but, ironically enough, right outside that exhibition is a triptych of 3 ceramic cast urinals featuring smooth hairless female genitalia. By the time you realise where the plug is situated and why a tap might replace a flushing mechanism, you understand the subtext; fetishism. If I'm correct, these works certainly are an intriguing match, as one medium portrays repressed sexuality and pack behaviour quite violently, where the other accepts the detrius of sex quite innocuously, almost in the form of sanitised navel gazing. Note the position of the sculpture.

Whatever your predilections, take in the new hang at the White Rabbit Gallery.

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