Staying an artist
Alex Spremberg by Darren Jorgenson
On paper, Alex Spremberg must be one of the most successful artists living in Perth. Since he moved from Germany in 1982, he has been solidly making and exhibiting here. You have probably seen his trippy design on the PICA car, or might have had him as a lecturer at the Central Institute of Technology. He won the Bankwest Contemporary Art Prize in 2004, and his 2011 show at PICA, Wrong Angles, was nothing less than a knockout.
In Wrong Angles he mixed mass media images, packaging and paint into a psychedelic and geometrically warped portrait of contemporary cardboard. He has also spent a lot of time with materials that you can buy from the hardware store, such as house paints, MDF, varnish and wire.
Alex Spremberg is the master of making the quotidian sing in
PICA’s support of this artist has not been reflected by Perth at large. He finds it difficult to find places to exhibit here, and even when he does, there is little in the way of a collecting or critical culture to keep him afloat financially or psychologically. The situation has been getting worse since the 2000s, Alex says, and became even more dire after the closure of Galerie Dusseldorf last year, that used to represent him.
“Visual art is a fragile creature because you need the support of a gallery system that endorses you and promotes you. Once that’s gone you are alone in the studio.” He even goes so far as to suggest that without Artsource there would be no local art, as studio spaces are hardly affordable for people who can only sell low priced works.
Alex remembers when there was a project space dedicated to local artists at AGWA, and suggests that such a space could well fill the void left not only by the cancellation of the MoMA shows, but also the hole left by local gallery closures. “If it’s not shown here it’s not going to be shown anywhere else,” he says.
The dire picture Alex paints stands as a warning for younger artists. He wonders if, although they may find support as emerging artists, whether they will be able to find places to show in later years? For the structures of support that are taken for granted elsewhere, including collectors, and a network of private and public galleries, play little role in ensuring artists find their place in the world here.
Alex has a whole storage space full of artworks, of ideas in process, that at the moment are going nowhere else. Yet despite the worsening situation for artists in Perth, he does offer some clues as to what it means to be an artist in this city, if not more generally.
For to be a mid-career artist in Perth one has to have found a way of staying an artist, of continuing with one’s practice and being a part of the artistic conversation while also making a living. Art does not, after all, lie in the world of exhibitions and conversations, but in the dedication that artists like Alex Spremberg have to their ideas over the course of a lifetime.
Alex is included in our online Artist Gallery and Database. Click here to see his profile.
Darren Jorgensen lectures in art history at the University of Western Australia. His most recent essays on West Australian art and exhibitions are in the book, Making Worlds: Art and Science Fiction and Arena magazine.
This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Autumn 2014.