23 October 2002

Matthew Collings: Strictly modern

Intriguing connections surround the recent Australian visit of British art critic and author Matthew Collings, best known here for his British Academy Award-winning television series, This is Modern Art.

Collings, who has charted the rise of the so-called Young British Artists movement of the mid-1990s, wound up a sell-out speaking tour last week with a talk at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, where his subject was "The Solemn and the Trivial versus the Serious and the Playful". Collings' witty, plain-speaking accounts of the works of YBA stars such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have done much to demystify art for the general public.

But now he believes that, while the popularity of modern art is on the rise (in Britain, at least), artists should have no obligation to be popular. Indeed, art is "neither democratic nor a form of entertainment but is a specialised endeavour for those willing to make the serious effort to engage with it".

While Collings' thesis is less applicable in Australia, where contemporary art more often attracts derision than praise in the popular press, the would-be painter is apparently planning regular sojourns down under.

Collings' visit was organised by Melbourne artist Mary Lou Pavlovic, who revealed to The Bulletin ambitious plans to open a gallery in Melbourne next year - working title: Pav Modern - with her first show being paintings and mosaics by none other than Collings and his artist wife, Emma Biggs.

Pavlovic met Collings at the height of the YBA ferment when she was studying at London's influential Goldsmiths College. The tour, she says, is just the beginning of her entrepreneurial forays onto the local art scene.

She says Pav Modern's backing is already secure and she will be joined in the venture by her brother, pop music promoter Steve Pav. He is a key figure in alternative music circles, being responsible for bringing bands such as the Beastie Boys and Nirvana to Australia long before both acts became household names.

Buoyed by crowds of several thousand for Collings, Pavlovic is thinking big and plans to stage art events that openly court controversy. She cites the landmark Sensation exhibition, where works such as Andres Serrano's Piss Christ were deemed an affront to public morals.

"I've just become sick of the apathy," she says. "Things have been too conservative for too long in the art scene in this country. We need an upbeat, broad-ranging art scene that connects more with what's happening internationally."

While factors such as the proverbial tyranny of distance may kick in before she gets going, either way Pavlovic seems determined to crash through or crash in a blaze of glory.

By Michael Hutak
457 words
22 October 2002
The Bulletin
Volume 120; Number 43

First published in The Bulletin

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