Tag Archives: Melbourne Central

Melbourne Central has Art

Monday 1 June, a very cold morning, the start of winter in Melbourne and art consultant, Bernadette Alibrando is giving a tour of Melbourne Central’s art for the media. Some people are surprised that Melbourne Central, a shopping centre above a train station, even has a public art collection. Another surprise is the number of street artists commissioned by the shopping centre.

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

The tour did not look at the novelty clock (for that see my post on Melbourne’s giant novelty clocks) or the way that the old shot tower is incorporated into the glass cone architecture the central features of the centre’s main space. We started with the floating Hamish Munro sculpture, Filling the Mould that was slowly deflating after the morning rush hour. The fabric sculpture over a stair well expands and contracts relative to the number of people in the shopping centre. The grey fabric of the sculpture matches the raw concrete architecture of Melbourne’s Central’s interior.

There is the huge (61m. long x 3.5m height) heritage listed mural in the Swanston Walk entrance way to the train platforms that dates back to the completion of the station in 1984. The mural is by Dr Hogg was made in collaborated with Ilma Jasper and Kay Douglas and celebrates workers in a variety of trades and industries. Dr Hogg is the Coordinator of Public Art/Art in Public Space in the School of Art and has been working with public art and murals for most of his career.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

The proximity of RMIT to Melbourne Central brings in RMIT lightscape project with a regular rotation of works by six students. In the food court there is a painted piano, inviting and encouraging buskers to ask permission from the shopping centre administration.

Although I had seen the work before when I thought about it was surprising how many street artists have pieces in Melbourne Central. The tour took in Kaff-eine’s pillar and Kelsey Montague selfie wings. Kelsey Montague cold called Melbourne Central when she arrived in Melbourne to do this piece. The tour didn’t get to the Lucy Lucy and Slicer mural that is also in Melbourne Central.

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

The commissioned works in the controlled environment of shopping centres by street artists known for their uncommissioned/illegal art is either a complete sell out or the obvious triumph of their style of guerrilla urban decorations. There are also works by street artists at the QV Centre and read my post about the street artists at Barkly Square in Brunswick. I am reliably informed that there is also pieces by Adnate-Sofles-Smug in Northland and Lister in Broadway Shopping Centre. That shopping centres consider street art to be the best style to present to their customers stands in contrast to the frequently seen small business owner doing vox pop complaints to the media about graffiti.

It feels odd to be writing about the arts policies of shopping centres but Melbourne Central has a similar arts strategy/policy to Barkely Square with using both recognisable and popular street artists along with buskers to add local colour and atmosphere to a shopping centre’s architecture.

Clocks & Kitsch

Gog and Magog, Melbourne’s floral clock and the giant animated fob watch at Melbourne Central – these clocks, from three different eras, show changes in public taste, however kitsch. All of these kitsch clocks are created as a kind of public sculptures, as local tourist attractions. They range from Anglophile to international to Australiana.

In 1870 the first arcade in Melbourne, the Royal Arcade officially opened. In 1892, two of the Royal Arcade’s most attractive features were erected. Gog and Magog are the bell ringers on Gaunt’s Clock located at the end of the arcade above the Collins Street exit. This extravagant clock was installed in 1892 a year before the Australian banking crisis of 1893 when several of the commercial banks and the Federal Bank collapsed. The figures are modelled on the figures from the Guildhall, London in 1708 that are based on earlier medieval sculptures. The two legendary British giants are depicted with large beards, staring eyes and heavy limbs standing in stiff poses. Carved from pine and painted in multiple bright colours these figures refer to the gothic medieval tradition.

Melbourne’s floral clock is the most boring of the three clocks but they were fashionable for many decades around the world, especially in former parts of the British Empire. The first floral clock was installed in Princes’ Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 1903. The first floral clock that I saw was at Niagara Falls in Canada, built in 1950, so I was never impressed by Melbourne’s floral clock. There is a degree of intercity rivalry with floral clocks – the first and the largest – Sydney installed a floral clock at Taronga Zoo in 1928. Melbourne’s floral clock was donated in 1966 to the City of Melbourne by a group of Swiss watchmakers after it was used at an international trade fair in the Exhibition Building.

The last of these three tourist attraction clocks is the giant fob watch at Melbourne Central. It was installed in 1991, when Japanese company Daimaru opened its department store in Melbourne. This Seiko clock plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour with mechanical Australian parrots and musician figures. The nativism and Australiana was intended to appease Australians to the presence of the foreign store. Although Daimaru has now closed the giant fob watch plays on.

Over a century after Gog and Magog Melbourne shopping arcades still use large animated clocks as marketing attractions. Although such animated clocks have been used in Europe for centuries as civic attractions they were also demonstrations of civic technology, what makes modern giant clocks kitsch is because the technology has become commonplace. In explaining the taste for floral clocks it is worth noting that Michael Jackson had a floral clock at his Neverland Ranch.


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