Sport Sculptures in Melbourne
The heritage-listed neon sign of the Italian cyclist Nino Borsari at the eponymous Borsari’s Corner, on the corner of Grattan and Lygon Streets, is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about public art and sport in Melbourne but I had to mention it. The Basil Sellers Art has made me think and write more about art and sport. It is one of the intentions of the art prize not just to have an exhibition and a prize but to encourage a dialogue about art and sport. I’m not so sure that there isn’t this dialogue already. Leon Van Schaik discusses the influence of sport on design in Design City Melbourne, (Wiley-Academy, 2006, England).
There are many sports themed sculptures located at Melbourne’s many sporting venues. These are, mostly, conservative, hero-worshipping sculptures in a traditional figurative form, in bronze, on a plinth. They link recent sports with the traditions of commemorating athletes with statues from Ancient Greece. These statutes allows Australian sport create the illusion of history and traditions even though all of these statutes are fairly recent. “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974 in the Queen Victoria Gardens is the earliest. The statue of the hammer thrower clearly looks back to classical Greek traditions.
There are 10 sculptures by Louis Laumen “sporting legends” at the MCG. The 10 sculptures, on their black marble plinths each with a biography and sponsors logos (really classy), were finally all installed for the 2006 Commonwealth Games redevelopment. At Gate 1 there are the cricketers Bill Ponsford and Dennis Lillee. At Gate 3 there are the women sprinters Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland- Delahunty. The footballers Leigh Matthews and Ron Barassi are at Gate 4. There are more cricketers, Sir Donald Bradman and Keith Miller, at Gate 5 and more footballers, Haydn Bunton and Dick Reynolds at Gate 6. Also at the MCG there is a statue of cricket batsman “Victor Trumper”, 1999 and “The Birth of Australian Rules” 2001- both by Louis Laumen. Louis Laumen dominates statues of sports stars in Melbourne and has also created the sculpture of John ‘Kanga’ Kennedy, 2008, at Hawthorn Football Club, Waverly Park.
There is a statue of Jack Dyer by Mitch Mitchell, 2003 at Richmond Headquarters on Punt Road. At Flemington Race Course there is a statute of Phar Lap by Peter Corlett, 1988, commissioned by the Victorian Racing Club to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary.
I don’t really care for any of these sculptures as art especially Louis Laumen’s conservative realism that reminds me of Soviet Realism. The conservative proclamation, glorifying the winners, made by these sculptures is shallow and archaic. Less antiquated, but I don’t know if any more successful, are the non-figurative sports sculptures Simon Perry “Threaded Field”, Docklands Stadium Melbourne (2000) and Anthony Pryor, “The Legend”, 1991 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Simon Perry is best known in Melbourne for his sculpture “Public Purse” in the Burke St. mall. Anthony Pryor, “The Legend” 1991 is a dynamic steel sculpture the upper part suggesting the movement of the ball in play. I don’t think that the orange bollards were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety and vehicle access – the perils of not having a plinth.
Maybe Melbourne does need some better sports themed sculptures. Nick Farr-Jones will be on the judging panel for the third biennial Basil Sellers Art Prize – maybe a sculptor might win (instead of a video artist for the last two prizes). What do you think?