First Published in 1995
Juan Davila's political homoerotic collages are depraved, blasphemous, irreverent and his reliance on sexual images juxtaposed with what is held to be all that is good in our society is nothing short of shocking.
In any society with ordered moral values, this revolting Chilean-born artist would be banned. In some South American countries, thankfully, Davila and his porno-sociology is banned. And rightly so.
Davila is one of Australia's most offensive, vulgar, entertaining, accessible and worthy painters. He deserves the publicity that comes for being banned (for his portrayal of Simon Bolivar as less than a red blooded testosterone- poisoned Latin hetero-male). And Australia is all the richer for Davila's presence.
Who else could appropriate Longstaff's Burke and Wills and turn them into a pair of lost moustachioed leather boys or expose Mother Theresa's real miracle of life?
His tastelessness to shock is its own art form. Davila is a post-pop tequila-modernist, combining his South American hallucinogenic social realist heritage with the social- historical tapestry of his adopted country. He is one of Australia's great wog artists.
And unlike his more business-minded contemporaries who eschew attacking the establishment in the vain hope they will not cause any waves in their own toilet bowl and still be noticed, Davila has gone the opposite direction. Davila won't be found on any corporate office walls.
He desperately wants to be part of the society (but being a spick knows he will never crack the network) and unlike others who only whinge and gossip about the bum deal artists get from the critics, Juan Davila has thrown himself into his adopted Melbourne home.
Whereas other cities get on with work, Melbourne still seems to be cringing in its own crud - comparing itself to other places. You never hear people in New York or London say the Village or Soho is just like Carlton". But here the main topic of conversation seems to be "here". And while art scenes are always up themselves (the BBC has continuous analyses of its own analyses of its own programs and Lou Reed's New York Telephone Conversation accurately documents that city's self-obsession) Melbourne does it with a vengeance. I know it's a small art scene, but can't we look outward a little while, instead of carping about who got what job? It's all nepotism anyway. If you're lucky one day it might fall your way. Until then keep working. We all want to blow huge grants. First find your huge grant.
Davila could have chosen to just paint and do his job, without engaging in the politics of the art business. That would be smart. That would be uncontroversial. So what did he do? He took a controversial shocking offensive art work and made the local politics of the art business part of his creative work.
Yeah, the graffiti is childish. Yeah, he's an artist and he's having his say - where else can he? But hell; it's his exhibition and he's a professional exhibitionist. (As with so many public performers his non-professional life is exceedingly, painfully, shy and private.)
On the walls at the Tolarno galleries in Fitzroy, Davila has written his tilts at the establishment. 'The Australia Council: Art is Commerce' National Gallery of Victoria: No fats or fems need apply' Matisse Cockbuster - the Fart Foundation of Victoria and at the entrance "Everything for sale ask at the counter. I also throw in a blow job or a fuck without a condom," says Juanito Laguna, the central character of the exhibitionists exhibition.
The Tolarno exhibition is surprisingly different to the same installation at London's Chisenhale Gallery. There are minor changes including the addition of floor mirrors and the graffiti, but at Tolarno the over the top collage is even more in-your-face than Chisenhale.
As you walk in the door of the narrow off Brunswick Street gallery, your first step is onto the border of the work of art itself. Oops! and you jump tenderly right having realised that a work of art valued around half a million dollars nearly had your muddy footprint on it.
At Chisenhale, Davila's collage was a welcome relief from the usual minimalist fare. Even Tim Maguire's slits was an advance on this most trendy of galleries' frequently time- wasting exhibitions. I went to one which was so radical that it had not one but two artists collaborate to create really interesting (not) whitewashed boards in front of the gallery's whitewashed walls. Geddit?
So when Juan Davila's social commentary through homoerotica exploded all over the Chisenhale floor in lurid living color and moustaches, it was a great relief to drink a glass of wine in an art gallery and be able to have some sort of sensory stimulation for a change.
And it's hard not to laugh (unless the art connoisseur is a completely humourless bastard) at Davila's tilts at his world.
Poor bloody Burke and Wills. Dying in the desert under the Dig Tree not realizing the cruel trick of fate that they were so close to being saved. Not realising the cruel trick of fate that Aboriginal families were watching them, puzzled by the incapacity of the invaders. And then on top of all that - dying together in the dry rotten desert in which they didn't belong and in which they should never have been - some bloody jumped up immigrant from South Bloody America goes and paints them not as heroes, but as a couple of dandy poofs having a wank outback. Is nothing sacred? Er... No. Not if Juan Davila's attention has been caught.
The three eyes and two noses of Indigenous Angel with Matisse Background (oil enamel and collage on canvas, 113 x 109 cm; $A15,000) are visually disturbing - the cocks and cunts and tits and bums and lewd lips are a voyeur's delight.
Sadly the Tolarno Gallery is too small to adequately present this exhibition, which was much more physically accessible at Chisenhale with its far wider room. It really belongs on the floor of one of the National Gallery's huge rooms. But the viewer has no choice. It is Davila's last outing for a long time. He says it has drained him and he wants to get back to painting. Readers have until August 26 to see this superbly disgusting exhibition.
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