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John Barbour

Inherent Vice 2005-2006

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

ink, acrylic & silk thread, cotton on cotton voile

H 2650 W 2450cm

About the Artwork

For John Barbour, the notions of unmaking or the barely made carried resonances of mortality. This artist pursued a gently ironic artistic practice, exploring the paradox between form and formlessness in a manner he referred to as a kind of ‘studied incompetence’. His materials of choice were modest: fabric, thread, cardboard, found objects and ink. With these he created wall banners and various kinds of wall and floor installations.

The term ‘inherent vice’ derives from art conservation, and refers to the susceptibility of an artwork to damage and disintegration from within – that is, as the response of materials to the effects of light, handling, atmospheric conditions and so on. Barbour’s banner work Inherent Vice is deliberately delicate and very fragile. It is made from panels of voile loosely sewn together with coloured thread. A Rorschach ink blot and other seemingly casual markings appear in non-lightfast coloured inks.

The circular text references a spiral light-work by US contemporary artist Bruce Nauman entitled The True Artist Is An Amazing Luminous Fountain (1966).

Barbour’s allusive and meditative practice conveys a wide range of cultural and artistic allegiances and references. It also incorporates a personal dimension. The artist also stated: ‘Inherent Vice is also a ‘meditation’ in that it brings to mind people I’ve known and loved who are now dead. In a far from obvious way, it is autobiographical in mapping a web of personal relationships. (1)

1. John Barbour (written on the occasion of the purchase of Inherent Vice by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney December 2006)

Artist Statement

My work, Inherent Vice, is a banner which publicly declares itself to be ‘infected’ from within. It is fragile – the voile fabric is delicate, the inks used are not lightfast, and the needlework is loose and unstable. These aspects of its construction reflect a similarly longstanding interest on my part in ‘unmaking’ as an aspect of mortality.

John Barbour, in conversation with Russell Storer, 2006


Anna Davis (curator), Introduction, MCA Collection: New Acquisitions in Context 2010 (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2010.
Rachel Kent (curator), ‘New Acquisitions 2007: Collection in Focus’, MCA Collection: New Acquisitions 2007_ (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2007.

Russell Smith, ‘Seven words for hard times (a glossary for John Barbour)’, _Interesting Times: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art _(exhibition catalogue), Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2005, p. 35.

Quotation: John Barbour, in a statement by the artist, from a conversation with Russell Storer, 2006

My work, Inherent Vice, is a banner which publicly declares itself to be ‘infected’ from within.

John Barbour

John Barbour

– About the artist

b.1954 d.2011

John Barbour’s artistic practice spanned over three decades and his work has been exhibited widely both in Australia and overseas. He was also a senior academic in the Architecture and Design School at the University of South Australia. His last exhibitions – Work for Now (AEAF, Adelaide) and Infinite Thanks (Yuill│Crowley, Sydney) – coincided with the launch of Hard/Soft, a monograph on his work.

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