(Australia 09 Oct 1965 – 28 Jul 2012)
installation dimensions variable:
a - rectangular terracotta frame with two erasers atta; 26 x 33 x 7.5 cm; diam.
b - terracotta bowl with pen markings and two blue pen; 24 cm; height
b - terracotta bowl with pen markings and two blue pen; 7 cm; diam
c - terracotta U shaped piece with packing tape on bot; 11 x 23 x 31 cm; height
d - terracotta piece, tapering length, with packing ta; 30.5 x 5 x 2 cm
e - terracotta piece, tapering length, with packing ta; 30 x 5.8 x 3 cm
f - white terracotta piece, U shaped piece, with 2 red; 18 cm
g - terracotta circle, green painted interior with pen; 8 cm
g - terracotta circle, green painted interior with pen
Cullen's objects display the humility, irreverence, made and found materials that reflected a shift in art practice in the early 1990s. In an now infamous article in Art + Text, Jeff Gibson took traits of Seattle based music and slacker culture, and the now period marketing term Generation X, and applied it to art and came up with a movement called 'grunge'. Most of the artists so-called have resisted the term ever since, but then again resisting labels was a Gen X trait. It was a disobedient practice, as art world bad boys and bad girls ruled.
The artists involved created a new arte povera of found materials, haphazardly crafted objects, op shop discards and just plain junk. Humble materials echoed small aims, and that is not derogatory as big gestures did not reflect their aspirations. Large scale and often theatrical installation art had the piss taken out of it by their humorous gestures such as Hany Armanious' unforgettable poo man installed on the stairs of the MCA, Sydney or Adam Cullens cling-film wrapped dead cat on a plinth, an Antipodean reprise to Hearst's shark.
The assembled elements seemed to come from a generational disenfranchisement; the debris of an impoverished urban and suburban life, of artists who were not running with the post-modern pack and were not interested in the excesses and difficulties of critical theory. This marked a strong break with theory dependent practices. In a sense the artist as outsider was back, and he/she had the right to be banal if they wanted to.
The fragile and often contingent abjection of many of these objects is evident in 'New progress with good things'. These humble forms sit on low plinths on the floor, sometimes recalling body parts and sometimes utilitarian objects from contemporary life. The child-like construction and assemblage refuses any functionalism and the progressive modernism their title implies is undercut by their failure to be anything but art works. There is an overt uselessness to these objects that undercuts the self-importance of other contemporary art practices and yet their humility is a false humility in that they are also fascinating exercises in sculptural form. They were made when Cullen was sharing a studio with Mikala Dwyer and Hany Armanious and evidence the energetic exchange of ideas between these artists during a time of fertile development in their art practices.
Wayne Tunnicliffe, Adam Cullen: let's get lost, Sydney, 2008, 27-29 (colour illus.).
Adam Cullen: let's get lost, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 May 2008–27 Jul 2008