Review: Down the Rabbit Hole, White Rabbit gallery, Chippendale

Luxury Logico, Chinese art collective

Review: Down the Rabbit Hole, White Rabbit gallery, Chippendale

I’d never seriously considered the impact that private philanthropy can have in the art world until White Rabbit Gallery opened in Sydney a couple of years ago. Australia just doesn’t have that longstanding culture of art patronage that’s taken for granted in Europe and the US.

That seems to be changing. In the last few years or so, mega-rich art hobbyists like the Neilson family, John Kaldor and that professional gambler turned art gallerist David Walsh of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art have really stepped it up with their Oprah-like gestures of luxury altruism. But instead of hybrid cars and best-selling books, these guys give away access to the kind of art that our government-funded galleries could never get their bureaucratic paws on.

White Rabbit is an art utopia in a four storey warehouse in Chippendale which is updated every four months with the latest acquisitions of Kerr and Judith Nielson. The collection is not at the whims of trends, nor is it accountable to a grant-providing body. It’s just reflects the tastes of two collectors who simply don’t have space in their house for all the art they buy.

Something very interesting is happening in the Chinese art world. The limited opening up of the country’s political system has meant two things: artists are no longer completely restricted to producing socialist realist propaganda, and there are middle and upper classes, who have stacks of new money and are looking for investment opportunities. Beijing now leads the world in its market share of art sales. In other words, there’s a huge new art market that didn’t exist twenty years ago, and there are far more potential buyers than in a country like Australia’s, where being a blogger is a more pragmatic career choice than being an artist.

This has all meant that artists from the People’s Republic of China are producing some of the most engaging and challenging contemporary art in the world.

You really get the sense of a country in flux, of a generation of artists finding their way and busting to really say something. Rather than much contemporary Australian art which is cloaked in layers of irony and self-reference, the thematic trends in White Rabbit seems to be towards artists who are interested in a non-ideological understanding of nature and spirituality, and who are questioning their identity and personal histories in an unstable period. In other words, art is not a cold academic path of inquiry, but a key way that people are understanding the brave new world they’ve found themselves in. Some of these artists have spent much of their careers in exile, and this affects their work in very strange and exciting ways.

The current show is themed Down the Rabbit hole. Perhaps one of the most stunning pieces is Scripting by artist collective, “Luxury logico”.

In a dark room, a row of fluorescent bars of light are suspended from the ceiling. Accompanied by a chime-like soundtrack, the lights moves very slowly, rippling through the air. Though everything about it is mechanised, choreographed and electrified, the work is an exquisite ode to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature, translated into an arresting gallery installation. I lost track of how long I spent enthralled by the lights and sounds in this room.

I have never not been captivated by a White Rabbit show. It is an utterly different experience from the usual white cube gallery show where people glance at the walls then chat with their friends over a glass of bad wine. The latest show is on until August 1 but it really benefits from a couple of viewings. Cancel your plans for this Saturday arvo, and start exploring this brave new art world.

White Rabbit is in Balfour St, Chippendale. It’s open Thursday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

By Lauren Carroll Harris