Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade

Turning and spinning are themes that Sean Gladwell’s art revolves around; as in his video Storm Sequence where he spins around on his skateboard. So it is not surprising that his VR art, Reversed Readymade makes heads turn.


In fact you can turn a full 360 degrees in a VR of an actual warehouse studio while seated in an office chair. It makes you feel very much in control of the VR experience, even if you are stuck in one spot, because you can turn your back on things.

Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade is a beautiful use of VR technology with a big reference to Marcel Duchamp. This is both the most direct and complete Duchamp reference that I have ever seen (I did my Master’s thesis on Duchamp so I have seen a lot). Gladwell takes Marcel Duchamp’s first readymade, Bicycle Wheel and makes it his own.

Gladwell actually makes it his own, making his own bicycle wheel mounted on a stool and then rides it around, spinning around in a circle in the studio. The six minute VR experience depicts this along with some bicycle riding.

Marcel Duchamp had the idea of a reverse readymade. It was a reciprocal arrangement to his readymades, where an existing work of art would be used as an ordinary object. “A Rembrandt used as an ironing board” was Duchamp’s suggestion but Bicycle Wheel is more deserving. It also works better for Gladwell who has more experience with wheels than domestic appliances.

Nor should we forget Duchamp’s interest in optical and mechanical art and that the bicycle wheel was his first attempt at optical art. Duchamp made Bicycle Wheel, in part, to be able to watch the pattern of shadows from a spinning spokes for more than a few seconds.

I’d like to think that Duchamp would have been very impressed with Gladwell’s work for its visual, optical and conceptual elements; he would have also probably felt a bit dizzy from the VR experience, I was.

Sean Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade 2016 is part of the Basil Sellers Art Prize exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University.

Victorian Architectural Ornamentation

I have been looking at all the ornamentation on Victorian buildings. The keystones with heads, the corbels scroll brackets, the flower shaped patraes and the plethora of other embellishments, like over decorated wedding cakes, on nineteenth century buildings. Now in the twenty-first century they are in varying states of repair, some crumbling away.


I am amazed that I haven’t heard about some concrete pineapple or other orb becoming dislodged and crashing onto a roof. Do have a metal armature supporting them? There is so much about these ornaments that I don’t know.

Given that I see these ornaments every day I am struggling to even to learn the vocabulary to describe them. They are so alien after the modernist world. Where John Ruskin might have endorsed ornamentation, the architect Alfred Loos declared decoration a crime.

Who made these things?

Some of these architectural ornaments were made by Colin Young Wardrop, who also taught modelling and woodcarving at Geelong College, and William C. Scurry. Both men were on the council of the Yarra Sculptors’ Society.

Ken Scarlett’s Australian Sculptors has details on William C. Scurry.

“Messrs Wardrop and Scurry, Sculptors, Modellers, and Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers, 48 and 69 Arden Street, North Melbourne. This business was established in 1892, and since that date has made rapid strides in advancement. Messrs. Wardrop and Scurry have been large contractors for the principal decorative work in the city and suburbs, the principal buildings entrusted to their care being the Princess Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Opera House, Federal Coffee Palace, the Queen’s Walk, and numerous other places of interest in Melbourne.”

“The firm also executed the group of Justice and the other ornament for the Bendigo Law Courts, also the group of figures for the Bendigo Art Gallery. They were the first to introduce fibrous plaster for decorative purposes in Victoria, and in this class of work they certainly excel, as may be seen from the interior decoration of the Princess Theatre and Opera House” (p. 585)

It is uncertain when William Scurry’s father arrived in Melbourne but what is know is that in 1856 Scurry’s uncle, James Scurry was working with Charles Summers and John Simpson MacKennal. James Scurry was producing decorations for the interior of Parliament House on Spring Street including the two figures, Mercy and Justice, on the north side of the Legislative Council Chamber. Charles Summers went to create the Burke and Will Monument. John Simpson MacKennal was the father of Sir Bertram Mackennal, who became Australia’s first international superstar artist.


Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne

Maritime Art at the Mission to Seafarers

The ANL Maritime Art Awards & Exhibition features the winning artworks and all the short-listed entries. Three rooms of paintings at the Melbourne Mission to Seafarers Victoria at the far dockside end of Flinders Street. It is in the perfect location for the exhibition including exhibiting under the dome of the historic Spanish mission-style building.


Catherine Stringer, “Lost at Sea” (photo courtesy of Maritime Art Awards)

There are lots of paintings of container ships but it was not all traditional painting there is plenty of modern and contemporary art. Lost at Sea” by Catherine Stringer is a haunting dress made of seaweed pulp in a shadow frame that refers to the convict women who drowned in a colonial shipwreck. This work won Stringer the Bendigo Wealth ‘Emerging Artist Award’.

The maritime theme includes more than just boats, there are whimsical paintings about the shore and social realism about nautical life.

I enjoyed the simplicity of Garry Arnephy’s mixed media work “Cargo” Appleton Dock, Melbourne, made of acetate and corrugated cardboard with a few little marks with paint and pencil.


Garry Arnephy, ‘“Cargo” Appleton Dock, Melbourne’, mixed media

With all that is going on in Melbourne art, readers may ask why reviewing an exhibition of maritime art? It is unfortunate, but true, that to produce great art you must not only be a good artist but create art that is significant and meaningful. For this reason John Stubbs is the greatest European painter of equestrian themes and I would be extremely surprised if a greater one emerged. The same will be true, with a different name, for Chinese or Japanese art, not because the artists aren’t as good but because the age of the horse is over.

Likewise, the greatest paintings of dogs and ships have already been painted. (I don’t have a favourite artist to cite for these examples.) However, there is still a demand for paintings of horses, dogs and ships and so there are still people who paint them. I noticed that there was an artist who painted dog portraits at Royal Melbourne Show.

I want to look at the long tail of these themes in art, not as anachronisms, but because they shows certain functional aspects of art. Not the simple functionalism of representation but how art functions in response to a theme and within a context where the theme is meaningful. People want art that celebrates, comments or records themes that are meaningful to them.


True Crime and Art

I am working on my next book about true crime and visual arts in Australia. (My first book  Sculptures of Melbourne of Melbourne was published last year.) This has involved sitting in court, searching archives as well as, my usual activities, looking at art and talking to artists.

Melbourne, like all metropolises has artists, public art galleries, private art galleries, art collectors, art dealers and criminals, everything that is needed for art thefts. Everything that is needed for a lot of other crimes involving art and art involved in crimes.

There are many true stories about the intersection between the worlds of art and crime. I will be writing about the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, of course and also other stories involving art thefts, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art.

Earlier this year I spent days sitting in the Supreme Court watching the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique for the forging of Brett Whitely paintings. I learnt a lot about courtroom procedures and how Brett Whitely’s paintings are framed.

Both Gant and Siddique have been found guilty by the jury but the judgement for that trial has still not been given, so I can’t finish that chapter just yet. Coincidentally it was one of the last trials to be conducted with a judge in a wig.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at original documents in the State Library’s Heritage Collection Reading Room. I had heard that they had the sketch book of the bushranger and sculptor, William Stanford. When I investigated I found that there were two books. They were waiting for me on the desk with the pillow on it. The pillow was to cradle the spin of the delicate old books, its cover half falling off, pages coming out. I was surprised that I was not required to wear white gloves to handle them but there was enough grim on the pages already from when Stanford was in Pentridge.

I was not allowed to take photographs of Stanford’s notebooks, nor was I allowed to photograph the tags on Supreme court’s press bench where the crime reporter have cut their names. Not that I am worried as my next book is going to be an unusual book about art, one without many pictures.

Mostly my historical research has involved searching old newspapers scanned on Trove. You would not believe the number of paint brushes stolen in Victoria in the nineteenth century but before mass production made them inexpensive. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that anyone actually stole a painting.

Readers maybe able to help me if they:

  • Knew the painter Elliot Bull
  • Has any information about Phillip Richmond O’Loughlin of Sydney from around 1946
  • Has any information about John Allen Haywood of Victoria from around 1997
  • Knew Ivan and Pamela Liberto, Ivan worked as a mechanic in Diamond Creek
  • Taught visual arts at any prison in Victoria
  • Studied visual arts in prison in Victoria
  • Has a criminal conviction for graffiti
  • Was a victims of art theft or forgery
  • Has been arrested and/or convicted of any crime due to their art practice
  • Was a member of the Australian Cultural Terrorists (ACT)

If you want to contact me about this or any other information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.

The walls of Irene Warehouse


Irene Warehouse in Brunswick is a former two-storey lingerie factory that is now an artist-run, not-for profit, studio space and venue. It has been doing it for almost two decades and it is still going. It doesn’t say when it started on its website but I can remember going out there to meet with visiting members of the Indonesian art collective Taring Padi in 2002.


It was also at Irene Warehouse in the early years of the twenty-first century that several artists, like HaHa and Civil, who would be important to Melbourne’s stencil art street art movement, had their studios.

On its walls science fiction mixed with politics and Norman Guston rubbed shoulders with William Burroughs in the stencils by Civil, HaHa, Ben Howe, and even Stanley. Stanley did stencils before he teamed up with Bonz and became a notorious tagger.


Like the walls on the street the walls of Irene warehouse had their own anarchic discourse that ranged from the situationalist politics of Civil to the chem trail conspiracy theories of HaHa.

What ever happened to the avant-garde?

I remember the idea of the avant-garde artist and a time when there still were avant-garde artists but it is a distant memory of the nineteen seventies. Even then the time between being an avant-garde artist and an establishment artist was getting shorter and shorter.

Eventually all that remained of the avant-garde was the shock, not the shock of the new, but just shock art. Mark Kostabi and Jeff Koons were not avant-garde they were just shocking. Then there was nothing avant-garde, everything that was new was old. Australian aboriginal art was fresh on the art market in the 1980s but thousands of years old. There were the kids out in the street doing their graffiti but that wasn’t avant-garde.

Was the avant-garde simply a feature of modernism? If not, would it be correct to describe any artist from the 17th Century as ‘avant-garde’?

Although there may no longer be an avant-garde there is the underground and independents.

Independent started in the late 1960s, a vague, nebulous idea of not being controlled by a large corporate institution. It was more of an economic than an artistic progressive model.

The underground would never become mainstream, it wasn’t so much an avant-garde as resistance movement deep behind enemy lines.

The avant-garde is different from simply being opposed to the status quo. Being opposed to the status quo may also be an indication of conservative and reactionary thinking. Likewise being different is not necessarily avant-garde, it could merely be eccentric, or again, deeply conservative.

The military model of the avant-garde art would be that of the advance guard, the forward flank that is the first to engage with the enemy. It also provides a clear indication that progress has been made would be if the rear guard moves to occupy the area formerly occupied by the avant-garde, such as in the case of impressionist painters or jazz.

The military model does raise the question of what is the enemy of art?

This academic model of the ‘avant-garde’, or at least of innovation, presumes that in to develop art it is necessary to be conscious, in the Hegelian sense, of the history and theory of art. It is an understanding that only those in an academic environment have the training and research opportunities to accomplish. The audience for this art must be educated, lectured to and continually challenged to see if they are keeping up with the progress of contemporary art. However a studied approach to a new conclusion is insufficient for the avant-garde needs to be seriously relevant and not merely the product of ‘serious culture’.

“In jazz, as in classical music, the avant-garde is less of a site of innovation than an academic branch of an art-form.” Michael Jarrett, Sound Tracks – A Musical ABC, (Temple University Press, p.174)

The popular arts has its own model for innovation in the arts that proved powerfully sometime between Toulouse LaTrec’s poster and Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground. The use of electronic instruments on the Dr Who theme was indicative of the shape of future contemporary music.

Robert Maycock in Glass, a Portrait (Sanctuary, 2002) argues that the popular arts provided an economic way to bypass the moribund institutional system. The numerous film scores of Phillip Glass and also other composers like, Michael Nyman shows how the economics of popular art now provides more autonomy for the artists than the old institutional art system. The popular arts also provides a motivation for the progress and a means to entrench the progress in the system.

What is the avant-garde today? What would it mean to be an avant-garde artist or musician? Is the value of the avant-garde practice based on its historic achievements and not on any present necessity?

Sculpture @ Showgrounds

Melbourne’s Showgrounds are an odd place to dump unwanted marble sculptures from the nineteenth century but it happened and they are still sitting there.


Outside the RASV (Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria) offices at Melbourne Showgrounds is Young Bull and Herdsman, the work of English sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm (1834-1890). The white marble sculpture of a young man leading a small bull by the bronze ring its nose is an appropriate theme for the Melbourne Showgrounds. The carved marble smocking on the herdsman is a fantastic display of technique.

It came to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition in 1888-89 and was acquired by the Melbourne Art Gallery and Museum before being gifted to the RASV. It was purchased by the Trustees of State Library at the Centennial Exhibition along with St. George and the Dragon outside the State Library of Victoria.

It makes me wonder how many sculptures did Sir Joseph Boehm send to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition? I should also note that  Boehm’s St. George and Dragon was an influence on a very young, Peter Corlett who went on to be one of Melbourne’s most prolific figurative sculptor. Corlett remembers thinking that someone made the sculpture for the first time.

The two sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Charles Summers are slightly less appropriate for the showground’s gardens; Victoria might have been amused. There were originally a set of four sculptures of the royal family, I don’t know where the other two sculptures of her children have gone. The sculptures of the royal family were commissioned by the Trustees of State Library from Charles Summers in 1876. Summers having finished his Burke and Wills Monument, decided that he was Melbourne’s answer to Michelangelo and moved, just like Michelangelo did, to Rome.

It is interesting to note that late nineteenth century sculptures, unlike most other antiques, are actually declining in value.


The one sculpture that appears to have been intended to have been installed at the Showgrounds is a life size equestrian statue The Australian Stockman. It is by Tasmanian based sculptor, Stephen Walker who has numerous public sculptures around Hobart. The bronze plaque says that it is “in memory of David Knox 4 Dec 1916 – 8 April 1995” not that any of the people at the show would know anything about Captain David Knox.

I am surprised that there are any sculptures at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

%d bloggers like this: