Tag Archives: Tom Bass

10 Melbourne Public Sculptures Intended for Children

These Melbourne public sculptures are all intended for children, due to their theme or because they can be played on. Although Inge King did not intend the black curves of Forward Surge at the Arts Centre for any particular audience, she does appreciate the enjoyment that children get trying to climb up the curves and sliding down. Definitely for any child with ambitions to climb sculptures. This is without looking at the sculptural value of play equipment like the dragon slide in Fitzroy Gardens or a carved logs in the playground of the Fitzroy housing commission flats.

Listed chronologically.

Photograph courtesy of State Library of Victoria

Photograph courtesy of State Library of Victoria

Paul Montford, Peter Pan, 1925 Melbourne Zoo The figure of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is modelled on Montford’s son and the flora and fauna on the base are all Australian.

Fairy Tree detail

Ola Cohn, Fairy Tree, 1934, Fitzroy Gardens, Like Montford’s Peter Pan, the fauna on Cohn’s Fairy Tree are Australian. Cohn also wrote a Fairy story to go along with her carving.

Tom Bass Children's Tree 2

Tom Bass, Children’s Tree, 1963, Elizabeth Street, Bass intended for children to climb on this sculpture.

Photograph by Dan Magree

Photograph by Dan Magree

Peter Corlett, Tarax Bubble Sculpture, 1966-68 Originally at the National Gallery of Victoria it is now at the McClelland Sculpture Park. The sculpture was intended to be climbed in and on.

Tom Bass, The Genie, 1973 (1)

Tom Bass, Genie, 1973 Queen Victoria Gardens, Melbourne, Bass intended to be climbed on by children.

The Bunyip, 1994, Ron Brooks

There are two sculptures based on children’s book illustrations State Library forecourt. Ron Brooks, The Bunyip, 1994, from Jenny Wagner The Bunyip of Berekeley’s Creek.

Mr Lizard & Gumnut Baby, 1998, Smiley Williams

Smiley Williams, Mr Lizard and Gumnut Baby, 1998, from May Gibbs, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Bruce Armstrong, Untitled Installation 1999, at Flemington Children’s Centre, Flemington. (no photo available unfortunately)

Bronwen Gray, Matryoshka Dolls, 2001-2

Browen Grey, Matryoshka Dolls, 2002, on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude Streets.

photograph courtesy of EastLink

photograph courtesy of EastLink

Emily Floyd, Public Art Piece, 2006 EastlLink. Even though children can’t climb on it or even touch it Floyd did make it with the children in the back seat of the car in mind.

Emily Floyd, An Unfolding Space, 2010, Phoenix Park, Malvern East, sculpture at children’s centre. (I couldn’t get a photograph for this one.)

I will end this with a plug for my book Sculptures of Melbourne, a history of Melbourne’s public sculptures.

West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.

Noula Diamantopoulos’s Quest

Noula Diamantopoulos is performing Quest at the Melbourne Art Fair and I had an interview with her on Wednesday morning. Quest consists of Noula sitting on a pile of cushion on a carpet in a quiet space with mirrors. There is a low table with coloured pens and another pile of cushions for the visitor. The visitor writes a question on paper that has already been painted by Noula and the quest begins. In silence the visitor asks five questions and gets five written responses back. “The silence is intimidating” Noula told me, “The writing makes it concrete.”

Noula Diamantopoulos

You would think that a punk philosopher, like myself interviewing what appears to be a new-ager is bad idea but keep in mind that art is not what it appears to be. Often with good art some people forget that it is art. Quest might look like a meeting with a spiritual guru, but it is not. Some people ask Noula questions as if she were a fortune teller: ‘will I fall in love?’

Noula Diamantopoulos is a performance artist and performance art it is closer to sculpture than spirituality. “I sculpt” Noula said, paused and then explained that her work is like moulding clay only it is a collaborative participation on a conceptual work of art, sculpting both the physical and the conceptual.

In preparation for my interview I looked at several of her websites; Noula told me that she doesn’t have a main website but that she finds them a way to organise her ideas. Noula studied at Sydney sculptor Tom Bass’ school in 1998. She remembers Bass dressed immaculately in white (Noula is also dressed all in white except for a pink scarf) and that his studio smelling of mud. He was very strict in teaching sculpture and wrote poetry. People in Melbourne would know Tom Bass’s sculpture from his Genie in Queen Victoria Gardens or the Children’s Tree on Elizabeth Street.

On one of her many websites Noula had written: “Art making is a transformative process.” People expect transformation from the spiritual but art really is a transformation, something changes into art. In making art you have to have the intention to change something and that requires awareness of what you are intending to change and what you changing. Noula told me that generally by the third question that people ask her things have changed. “Questions have the seeds of all answers.”

In the rush of the Melbourne Art Fair performance art involving a quiet space for reflection is a rare opportunity.

Noula and Peter Burke

Noula Diamantopoulos and Peter Burke

Sculptures @ Queen Victoria Gardens

Queen Victoria Gardens are a very Edwardian garden that has been preserved in Melbourne out of indifference. The 3 palm trees in the middle of the park lawn are an indication, for the British minded population that Melbourne is in, what they would consider, the tropics. The sculptures and drinking fountain in the park were installed to serve a greater purpose that has since been forgotten in the collective consciousness. It might have meant something if I lived in Melbourne in 1901 but nobody does these days. This is what I mean by being forgotten in the collective consciousness.

Apollo Belvedere, artist unknown

Two classical busts stand on either side of the main entrance. In worse repair is the Apollo Belvedere that now has a badly repaired and elongated neck. The marble on both of these statues is very worn after long exposure to Melbourne’s weather. The sculptors are unknown but the donor is known, politician and newspaper proprietor, Theodore Fink who acquired the sculpture on a trip to Rome. Unveiled in 1928 these are the last two classical sculptures installed in Melbourne’s public gardens.

John Robinson, “The Pathfinder”, bronze, 1974

Without the excuse of being a classical sculpture, “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974, stands as a testament to conservative Melbourne. Robinson would have probably considered Rodin a bit avant-garde even though he was working a hundred years later. Robinson’s sculpture of the hammer thrower is so old fashioned to be ridiculous in that it imagines a future where such art would still be seen as important. The stolen hammer has not been replaced and the sculpture needs to be cleaned of graffiti.

Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner, “The Phoenix”, bronze, c.1973

On a plinth in a pond stands “The Phoenix” by Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner. Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner is a German sculptor and painter, her sculptures are scattered around the world from Salzburg, to Goa, to Melbourne. Yrsa Von Leistner’s sculptures are influenced by Rodin’s modernism; the simplified form, the rough and materiality of her figures all indicate his influence. The sculpture is a gift from the 40th International Eucharistic Congress Melbourne February 1973. Feathers, or flames, that were once attached at several points over the body of the sculpture have broken off and only fragments of two remain.

Earlier image showing the intact sculpture.

In another part of the pond there a statue of a nude woman, which you might assume from its style is from the late 19th century, it is “The Water Nymph” by Paul Montford, 1925.

Paul Montford, “The Water Nymph”, bronze, 1925

Up on the hill white marble and granite memorial to Queen Victoria by James White, 1907. More than 7,000 pounds was raised by public subscription for the construction of the memorial; it would impossible to think of contemporary Melbourne doing the same for the current Queen.

Tom Bass, “The Genie”, bronze, 1973

The only sculpture in the garden that still resonates and remains current is “The Genie, a fantasy play sculpture for children” by Tom Bass in 1973. The bronze sculpture of a winged sphinx is still enjoyed by children because they can play on it. A class of schoolgirls were playing and posing for photographs on the sculpture when I visited the park.

The Ottoman revival style drinking fountain c.1936 no longer has water running. The sculptures are worn.  In another city with less space such a garden would have been redesigned but with all the available space even in the centre of the city it has just been left. The people of Melbourne still enjoy the lawns but the park has become a historical relic.

I would prefer not to live in a state with a name that, in the possessive, also refers to a historical period – Victorian. Of course, using English royalty to refer to historical periods is passé in this post-colonial world. But a change of name would be nice just to avoid confusion.

Golden lawns, village green

Victoria was my queen

Victoria Victoria Victoria Victoria

(Mark E. Smith, The Fall)

Moving & Sitting in the City

Moving through the city, thinking about the kinaesthetic relationship of architecture and public sculpture to the way that people move around in the city. A person was even seen swimming on Flinders St. during the early February downpour in 2010. Most of the time people in Melbourne are walking, driving cars, travelling by train or tram or riding bicycles.

Architecture suggests, proscribes and provides for different types of movement. To make clear the differences between suggest, proscribe and provide consider this: a door suggests an entrance but you may find that it is locked, a sign may proscribe the door to be used for the entrance, but an open window can still provide access. People climb buildings like Spiderman or in Parklour, young men walking over the red arc of the pedestrian bridges across the Yarra River.

The ways that skateboard riders use of public sculpture like “Architectural Fragment” 1992 by Petrus Spronk at the State Library or Inge King’s  “Forward Surge” 1972-74 at the Art Centre. Is this a reverse readymade, like a Rembrandt painting used as an ironing board, or are the skateboard riders using these sculptures not just for their geometry but also their aesthetics. Skateboard riding is an aesthetic sport, with the objective to make spectacular use of the infrastructure and judged on degrees of difficulty.

Sculpture provides an easily identifiable meeting place in the city and while you are waiting you want to seat. People can sit on sculptures and climb on sculptures even if the sculptor does not intend it but the sculptures can be so much better if this natural desire is incorporated into the design. Simon Perry “The Public Purse” 1994 in the Bourke St. mall provides such an opportunity. Tom Bass designed his public sculptures to be sat on. He made sculptures for children; the hard bronze doesn’t suffer from their touch. “The Children’s Tree” 1963 in front of the CML Building on Elizabeth St in the city and “The Genie” 1973 in Queen Victoria Gardens can both be sat on. The plinth of “The Children’s Tree” is a favorite seat for buskers playing an instrument.

Busker playing "dagpipes", his own invention, on the plinth of "The Children's Tree"

(Thanks again, for the idea, to Shifty MacDougal, who writes these interesting comments on my entries about public sculpture.)


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