Good Manners at Darren Knight Gallery / Sydney, Australia

Good Manners
Vernon Ah Kee, Connie Anthes, Mark Feary, Cheri
Graham, Matthew Griffin, Grant Gronewold, Pamela Pirovic, Sam Stephenson,
Michael Stevenson, Natalie Thomas, Jensen Tjhung, &
Ronnie van Hout

20 January – 24 February 2018

Darren Knight Gallery 
840 Elizabeth Street
Sydney, Australia

would like to begin by sincerely thanking you for taking the time to read this
short reflection on the topic of good manners. It is greatly appreciated.
Manners are the bedrock of our interactions with society around us, enabling us
just enough linguistic and gestural lubrication to avoid antagonisms with
strangers. Good manners are perhaps something apart, although related, to the
idea of being polite. There is certainly nothing wrong with being polite, but
to describe someone as polite seems to suggest an interaction that is all about
courtesy over substance. I have had many polite conversations about things I no
longer recall and with people I can’t remember.
conversations are like interactional appeasement, within which no controversial
or contentious subjects are broached, for fear of raising a topic upon which
the mild-mannered conversationalists may disagree. Polite conversations are
best oriented around subjects about which there
ought to be no fundamental disagreement. Brief conversations regarding the weather
can be a form of superficially connecting with strangers, collectively agreeing
that it is alternately hot, cold, raining or sunny, depending on the obvious
conditions of the moment. When someone enquires about how we are, polite
conversation would suggest an answer that is brief and positive, such as
‘really good’ or even more appropriately, ‘very well thank you’. To honestly
respond to the question would open up a can of worms with no potential to put
the lid back on.
“Nice to see you, how are you?”
“I’m actually very depressed. I’ve really hit rock bottom. But enough
about me, how are you?”
isn’t always an accomplice of politeness, indeed in many instances, being
honest would run counter to being polite. This is especially the case with
regard to questions of taste. If we consider the art world as more inclined
toward considerations of taste than it likes to acknowledge, then we enter into
ripe territory around the topic of good manners. Being polite can straddle
across all classes, but good manners can connote something further, it can
suggest a good upbringing and education, it can reflect one’s social-economic
position. Many people involved in the art world are from middle class and upper
middle-class backgrounds, so it can safely be assumed that most could
demonstrate good manners. There are a number of notable and predictable
exceptions however, which I will now turn to through a series of sweeping and
subjective generalizations.
are a crucial component of the visual arts ecology, financing artists and the
gallery system around them, abetting the circulation of works and thereby also
contributing ongoing storage solutions. Collectors are avid supporters of many
luxury industries, art included, and so are likely to be of good breeding and
therefore likely to possess good manners. Some may have made their fortune in
business, and may treat acquisitional negotiations with the same application of
financial deal making, overriding the restrictive nature of being polite or
good mannered. Business has a different set of rules.
don’t really need to have good manners all the time either, even in spite of a
privileged upbringing. It is almost assumed that they may fight with convention
and challenge systems of the dominant order. Collectors love the sense of risk
of being around artists. It can be quite true, many of them are crazy, and that
is exhilarating for the well-heeled. For their part, artists can rebel from
their upbringing, purposefully dispensing with good manners in an act of
defiance. Artists are invited to events because they are supposed to be
slightly odd, they are the creative loose cannons, the talent, the connection
to youth. It is expected that they will not leave until the bar runs dry, that
they will then continue on and potentially try to sleep with each other, no
matter which night of the week it may be. Collectors love this kind of
absolution from responsibility, and in moments, envy it.
can also be very polite, especially to one another. This is particularly
evident at exhibition openings. Firstly, it is polite to attend the opening and
be seen to be supporting the artist, indeed it is important to be seen by the
artist to be present. Regardless of who turns up, artists always remember the
artists or friends who are absent. In the presence of the exhibiting artist,
everyone displays good manners. People congratulate an artist even before they
have seen the show. Everyone says polite things to the artist, even if one does
not actually like the work. In this instance, one can praise the framing of the
works, the amount of
labour seemingly
involved in the production of the exhibition, the size of the crowd in
attendance, or even the artist’s outfit. Out of ear­–shot of the artist, it can
be an entirely different situation with respect to good manners. This is where
the veil of good manners is cast aside in favour of honest opinion. This
honesty can take the form of scathing criticism at one end of the spectrum or
absolute indifference at the other. Such feedback rarely makes its way back to
the artist, as that would be impolite and run counter to the supportive,
encouraging and community spirit of the art world as it prefers to present
it may be suggested that good manners can have a broad range of applications
depending on the context and situation. This breadth is the realm given focus
to in the exhibition Good Manners,
bringing together works that dispense with the complexities of merely being
polite. Tell Ronnie that is not good manners to stand on the bed. Tell Nat it
is not good manners to reveal people’s private lives. Tell Vernon it is not
good manners to make white people feel uncomfortable. Visit the exhibition and
let the artists know what you really think of their work. Let’s cast good
manners aside and see what happens.
– Mark Feary

Ah Kee courtesy of Milani Gallery, Brisbane and Grant Gronewold courtesy of
Hunger Rozario, Melbourne)