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Brook Andrew

Brook Andrew


Born in Sydney and university educated, Brook Andrew is an artist, curator, lecturer and writer who is connected through his mother’s kinship to the Wiradjuri who live around Cowra in New South Wales. Through his work in a variety of areas, Andrew, a fervent and forthright social commentator, explores the history of race relations in Australia, colonialism, ethnography, cultural identity, gender politics, globalization, and other themes by employing powerful postmodern imagery, delivered with sociological savvy and slick visual appeal. His high impact, high-energy works are immediate, urgent, and can be at once both beautiful and humourous. They comment on, and elicit responses from, both Indigenous and non-indigenous viewers through a variety of computer-generated photo-media including conventional screen print, neon projected on to large-scale screens lit from behind, and printing on to Duraclear, a material conventionally used in advertising. Created on a large scale, and produced in a refined yet glossy pop style his works are provocative, challenging, and visually dynamic. To Brook Andrew the political is inseparable from the artistic – Art is Polemic, His most recognisable image, and the work that shot the artist to political and artistic prominence, is titled Sexy and Dangerous 2002. It is a name that encapsulates a clever double entendre; poking fun at the art world, whilst implicitly and more seriously, criticising a number of remnants of colonialist thought that continue to exist in society in general. The nineteenth-century archival image depicts the head and torso of a naked virile and handsome young man adorned only in ceremonial body paint, nose-bone and headdress, set against Mandarin and English text.  It is a play on the notion of ‘the noble Aboriginal savage’. The archival ‘ethnographic’ image is a studio photograph taken at the turn of the twentieth century, with the purpose of recording species in the colonies (in particular, dying species) to be sent back to England; part curiosity, part documentation.  By placing such an image in a contemporary context Andrew invokes a dangerous politic. One which argues that just like early 20th century ethnographic photography, a century later we are just as prone to conventional categorisations in relation to the black body; the black artist and black art. Just as with Tracy Moffatt and Gordon Bennett who refuse to be categorised as ‘Aboriginal’ artists, to describe Andrews as a contemporary Aboriginal artist should be done with some hesitation.  Part of the ongoing dialectic of Andrew’s work is a challenge to that kind of casting, by which the art world defines artists, and in doing so, makes them marketable. ‘When I first started making art, people would label me as ‘the gay black artist’… But at the end of the day, I’m part of a broader art spectrum’ (Andrews, speaking on Message Stick, ABC, 2004).  Beyond his own art practice, Brook Andrew has, in recent years, assumed an active role in cultural politics, convening the program ‘Blakatak’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, 2005, and delivering a paper at the Globalisation and Post-colonial Writing conference in Kolkutta, India.  ‘Blakatak’, the onomatopoeic title taking root in the so called ‘blak art' movement, represents a unique development of Andrew’s self-identified position as a political shaker.  Rather than facilitating a program of thought centred around Aboriginal art per se, Andrews chose to bring into focus an exploration of a ‘non-culturally dominant approach’ to contemporary art (Meanjin, 2005: 142). Interesting, because as Andrews perspicaciously observes, discussions set around an oppositional dialectic (us/them, blak art/art world) often only serve to reinforce that very divide. This broad awareness of cultural hybridity is manifest in Andrew’s art.  His most recent work might be described as a study in detournement, or ‘culture jamming’ – the destabilisation of image through the introduction of a distortive visual or textual element. Blair French (1999) writes ‘a difficulty of Brook Andrew’s work – and also a source of its fascination – [is] a simultaneous aestheticisation and critique of the image’. In later works Andrew has added an ongoing textual element to his work that deliberately, sometimes violently, goes against the grain of the image. In Dhally Yullayn (Passionate Skin) 2005, nationalist symbols are set against each other as warring images, the Australian emu eating (or vomiting) the acronym USA, to the backdrop of the Union Jack. The title belies the violence of the image. If success in getting your message across is measured in prominence, then Brook Andrew has surely succeeded, to this point in time at least.  The notoriety Andrew has enjoyed since creating Sexy and Dangerous in 2002 has enabled him to continue to push artistic boundaries on a number of fronts. In 2004 he produced a series of black nudes on Cibachrome. These works titled Kalar Midday (Land of the Three Rivers) are starkly beautiful and no less provocative than his early work. His 2005 exhibition Peace and Hope at the Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi suggested a more transcendental direction, perhaps the expression of a less reactionary, more considered, academic Andrew. Not that he is likely to give up producing high impact work. His popular acclaim lies in the fact that he is both playful and political, delivering dangerous work with a spoonful of sugar. The saccharine, illuminated canvasses allow us to laugh at ourselves and instinctively feel guilty for laughing and then, perhaps, to understand something of the political message. Brook Andrew created no less than ten solo exhibitions between 1996 and 2006 as well as participating in Australian Perspecta 1995 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art in 1996; participating in important exhibitions in New Caledonia, the Netherlands and Japan; and undertaking several overseas residencies throughout 2000-2006. In 1998 he was won the Kate Challis RAKA Award, for an artwork by an Aboriginal visual artist and in 2004 won the Work on Paper Award at the 21st Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

Brook Andrew has been a prodigious and conspicuous artist in the primary market only since 1996 and, despite producing thoughtful work of quality since that time, is most widely recognised for his now famous image Sexy and Dangerous, which has attracted an unusually high level of both commercial and political interest. The piece, created in 1996 in an edition of ten transparent digital images on Perspex, first sold at auction for $14,100 at Christies in June 2002 against an estimate of $6,000-8,000 (Lot 19). Another, offered by Sotheby’s in October 2004 estimated at $12,000-18,000 sold for $33, 400 (Lot 144) while just 18 months later in June 2006 Deutscher~Menzies offered another copy at $20,000-30,000 and achieved $36,000 (Lot 37). However when it appeared in August 2007 (Lot 111) at Bonham’s & Goodman Melbourne it carried a far more ambitious estimate still. Their optimism was rewarded in spades when it sold for a staggering $84,000 against the presale estimate of $50,000-80,000. With interest at this level, Sexy and Dangerous had joined Tracy Moffatt’s Something More to become one of Australia’s defining and classic iconic Aboriginal images. Since its first release in 1996, Andrew reproduced Sexy and Dangerous in two separate editions. In June 2006 Deutscher~Menzies offered another smaller version at $20,000-30,000 and achieved $36,000 (Lot 37). In 2008 another work Sexy and Dangerous II created by the artist as a duraclear print mounted on Perspex in 1997 entered the artists top ten recording a sale of $21,600. The same image sold in 2015 for $29,455 Since  creating these Sexy and Dangerous images in the 1990s, Andrew has experimented with new mediums and themes that impart a technological and conceptual sophistication. He continues to use slick materials to give his works an edgy and alluring finish, with his aim focussed at a far wider audience than the actual purchaser. The pop art aesthetic realised in Duraclear, Cibachrome, neon, and advertising materials demands attention from the viewer, while furnishing the artist with a range of reproductive possibilities, which he has seized upon. These have consistently proven to be his most successful works commercially. In 2019, for instance, Australia I, a silkscreen image (2nd in an edition of 3) in gold leaf and mixed media on linen measuring 200 x 300 cm entered his top ten rsults at 4th place after reaching $46,300 at Deutcher & Hackett. Nevertheless, many works are likely to struggle to hold the value placed on them by his representative galleries, which have increased his prices steadily in line with his rising profile. While Brook Andrew is likely to continue to be one of the favourites of the curatorial museum set, it is unlikely that any but a limited range and number of his works will continue to hold interest and grow in value on the secondary market. Screen prints and photography have been notoriously unsuccessful at auction for all but a handful of artists, now mainly deceased, unless the image and materials make a powerful and immediate impact.  Andrew’s 2004 exhibition, Kalar Midday (Land of Three Rivers Series) comprised dark glossy photographs on Cibachrome, suggestive of a very subtle politic - a polemic pertaining to beauty, the politic of the black body. They had echoes of Bill Henson’s aesthetic about them however, unlike Henson, Andrew produced these prints in admittedly small, but limited editions. While these are likely to hold some interest for collectors it would be surprising if his 2005 works collectively entitled ‘Peace and Hope’ were to increase significantly in value over time.  This collection of screen prints represents a return to Andrew’s fascination with packaging and advertising. Despite the prominence and overwhelming popularity of the Sexy and Dangerous series, other works have begun to command respectable prices at auction as well. 2016 saw Ignoratia (Kookaburra) fetch $22,000 against a high presale estimate of 16,000 (wedging into his top ten at number 9) and 2017 saw a sculpture, Suitcase #1, achieve $18,600 against a presale estimate of $8,000 - 12,000. This might signify that secondary market collectors are beginning to appreciate the artist for his overall vision rather than just his most popular images. Works from the Sexy and Dangerous series now hold seven of Andrew’s highest prices at auction. The most important guide, I suspect, to secondary market interest in his work was the failure of another image from the Sexy and Dangerous series. This failed to sell at Christies in London when offered with an estimate of GBP10,000-15,000. Once again the comparison to Tracy Moffatt is apt. Of the dozen or more works in her Something More series only the iconic  ‘title work’ has sold for prices in excess of $150,000. The best of the others have fetched no more than $45,000, while many fail to attract any interest at all. This has led the artist, in what appeared at first to be the most bizarre of reactions, to forbid copyright permission on this one image alone, lest it lead to the perception that she is a one trick pony. While this is neither true of Moffatt or Andrew, who are both capable of powerfully interesting work, the success of these two images is both a burden and a blessing. Brook Andrew is still quite young and has made a major impact during the past ten years. While it is still far too early make any firm predictions in relation to his work, watch out for anything with a seamless finish and menacing, sexual or emotional undercurrent. I suspect that these are likely to set the market on edge whenever they make an appearance in the future.   

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