On Vulnerability and Doubt
ACCA’s new show sidesteps the intellectual and goes straight for the gut – but that’s not to say that emotive statements can’t be thoughtful, considered and complex. On Vulnerability and Doubt aims for emotional complexity, and the work here is smart, often absurd and always brimming with feeling. The most engaging pieces are the playful and risqué paintings: Tala Madani presents us with babies undergoing grotesque rituals under disco lighting, and Ambera Wellman’s figures are twisted into erotic embraces – some nude, some in suits – all with identities blurred. Madani and Wellman both paint with similar measured recklessness, paint scratched and scraped onto the canvas in flesh tones and pink, complementing Linda Marrinon’s crude and witty sculptures and paintings. Brent Harris borrows religious imagery in his paintings, including a simple one of the archetypal sceptic Doubting Thomas suggestively probing the wounds of Christ. At its best, this show goes beyond words, into something tender and inexplicable.

On Vulnerability and Doubt is at ACCA until September 1.
acca.melbourne

Coming to America by Vincent Namatjira
Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara artist Vincent Namatjira was recently in Miami for Art Basel, one of the biggest art fairs in the world, where he was the first Aboriginal Australian to ever exhibit. These paintings were inspired by his trip. He paints himself, or a cartoonish and exaggerated caricature of himself, into the role of cliched American tourist. He pops up at the Hollywood sign, on Miami Beach and grinning in front of the White House. “These aren’t just tourist happy-snap selfies,” says the artist in his statement. “These self-portraits are about pride, presence, strength and resilience.”

Alongside the colourful selfie-esque paintings, there’s a series of 16 smaller portraits of prominent Australians – called Australia in Black and White (2018) – including Captain Cook, Pauline Hanson, Adam Goodes and Gina Rinehart. It’s a subversive juxtaposition – the man from remote Indulkana in South Australia in living colour, on the world stage, with the country’s most prominent figures pushed to the side, in black and white.

Vincent Goes to Hollywood is at This is No Fantasy until July 27.
thisisnofantasy.com

Vantages by Shea Kirk
Worry For The Fruit The Birds Won’t Eat by Sophie Gabrielle
Beautifully shot portraits – in black and white, mostly of nude figures – line the Centre for Contemporary Photography’s walls. Each picture is hung twice, side-by-side. Pick up a pair of mirrored glasses from the corner, train your eyes right, and your brain combines the images into a seemingly three-dimensional vision. Photographer Shea Kirk works with dual large-format cameras, capturing images from subtly different perspectives – a technique known as stereoscopy that dates back to 1838 (the View-Master works the same way). The photographs themselves are potent and vulnerable as they are, but looking through the glasses quite literally adds another dimension. They add depth and intimacy, and do weird things to perspective, distorting forms in subtle ways. It’s 3D reality, flattened into 2D images and artificially extrapolated back into 3D.

Elsewhere in the gallery, Worry For The Fruit The Birds Won’t Eat sees artist Sophie Gabrielle explore the eerie and strange world of medical imagery, with a mix of her own images and manipulated found images from MRI scans. There’s a photo of a bizarre therapy involving children stripped to their underwear and goggles. It has a layer of the personal too – the artist conceived of the project as a way of coping with cancer diagnoses in her own family, and the grit on each of the images is actually remnants of her own skin. It’s dreamy, gothic and mesmerising.

Both shows are at CCP until August 11.
ccp.org.au

Scenes from the People’s Paradise by Nicole Reed
In March this year photographer Nicole Reed was invited to take her camera to North Korea. She took photos focusing on Pyongyang’s hotels, from remarkable architecture to bizarre propaganda billboards. A few things recur in photographs of North Korea – in particular, the bright-pastel buildings are an odd mix of grand and retro, and there never seem to be many people around. Is it exploitative and voyeuristic to peer into this troubled country, at these people’s troubled lives? Or is it natural to be curious about a world that’s developed parallel to ours, but isolated from the influence of globalisation? Either way, the results are fascinating. In her artist’s statement, Reed describes Pyongyang as “a place that is virtually impossible to capture with truth … you can only photograph what you see. Well, some of the time, if you are allowed.”

Scenes from the People’s Paradise is at Sunstudios Skylight Gallery until August 1.
sunstudiosaustralia.com

Melbourne Modern: European Art and Design at RMIT Since 1945
Melbourne is a city shaped by immigration, and this show demonstrates the huge post-war influx of creative talent at RMIT, in both the teaching staff and student body. With over 70 artists and designers represented, it’s a broad overview. Through painting, sculpture, jewellery, textiles, architecture and everything in between, we see how European sensibilities helped shape 20th-century Melbourne and beyond.

I found myself drawing connections between mid-20th century art and the present. I was drawn to a 1969 painting by Udo Sellbach (Small Sleep Figure 1), which could have been painted yesterday. In fact the artist’s daughter Antonia Sellbach, also an RMIT graduate, is in the show too, and her work carries her father’s influence. And Paul Zika’s jagged, flat-coloured canvasses (both untitled, 1969 and 1970) look right at home next to Emily Floyd’s Steiner Cave sculpture (2014).

Melbourne Modern: European Art and Design at RMIT Since 1945 is at RMIT Gallery until August 17.
rmit.edu.au

This article was updated on July 24, 2019.