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Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Statues Wars 2017

The statue wars of 2017 sprang to prominence in the USA although the debate had been going for some time. Around the world people have been asking what to do with these monuments to evil men, from Cecil Rhodes in South Africa to General Robert E. Lee in America to John Batman in Melbourne. The debate about these statues has often been furious, ill-informed and poorly reasoned; so more of a war than a debate. However, if I have learnt one thing from it is that the greatest educative value that a statue can have is when it is being torn down.

Stanley Hammond, John  Batman Memorial, 1978 (3)

Stanley Hammond, John Batman Memorial, 1978

I doubt that statues on pedestals are the right thing to erect but then people have been making that observation for over a century. Back then the craze was for putting up these same statues and it was called ‘statuemania’ because it was obvious that the many statues being erected were insane, not just because of the quantity but given the direction of civil society, reason and art. The only purpose in putting something on a pedestal is to worship it. The great man theory of history is not taken seriously by historians any more but some conservative groups still think that a statue will do something worthwhile.

Many people in the debate were confusing, deliberately or idiotically, the monuments with the history that they were commemorating. If tearing down statues is some kind of ‘Stalinist revisionism’ (as a reason-retarded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed) attempting to rewrite history then what were the US troops doing with that statue to Saddam Hussain in Bagdad? In Melbourne this year the controversial statue of John Batman was taken down by a property developer to redevelop the site; I doubt that motives were revisionist or that the statue will ever be permanently installed anywhere.

Do the sculptors who made these care about the fate of their statues? Not beyond the final payment; if I have learnt one thing about the kind of people who make these statues is that they are professionals.

Should these statues be preserved for the sake of their artistry? Ha ha… you were making a joke?

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Moving on the next question is: what to do with these empty plinths that the statues leave behind? Consider London’s Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square or, for a local example, Plinth Projects in Edinburgh Gardens.

Outside the St Kilda Town Hall there is this ‘monument’. Just as you thought it must be meaningful with the man, the airplane and the classical temple turns into crazy snake fun. Made of cast bronze, the sculpture and its large plinth is ironic in its content, materials and form. Local artist Richard Stringer’s Monument for a public building, 1994, turn the form of the monument into self-referential postmodernism.

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building,

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building, 1994, St Kilda Town Hall

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Akio Makigawa @ NGV

Akio Makigawa’s sculptures are elegant works amid the often ludic, bombastic, and inappropriate public sculptures in Australia. Now there is an exhibition of his sculpture at the NGV. The exhibition is on the foyer of each floor of the NGV Australia at Fed Square. It is part of the NGV’s series of exhibitions about sculptors that has included Inga King, Bruce Armstrong and Lenton Parr.

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Makigawa is also a break from the list of European names in the history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. Makigawa moved to Australia in 1974; the year after the White Australia policy finally ended in 1973. The sculptures on exhibition are familiar because Makigawa’s public sculptures are all around Australia. You have probably seen his sculptures as they are out the front of buildings in most capital cities and regularly appear behind parliamentarians giving press conferences in the gardens of Parliament house.

In public spaces his sculptures influence the space around them. It is a larger space than just the negative space around the sculpture; it is a space, a pause or rest, in the movement of the city. They are not obvious and neither are they rigorous theoretical abstractions. Their rigid geometry dissolving into natural forms of a leaf or flame of marble or resin.

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Seen in an exhibition, the viewer quickly becomes familiar with the similar shapes repeated in variations of material: corten steel, stainless steel, marble… Most of the work in the exhibition was very similar to his public sculpture until the third floor where there were three early works that are very different. In these early works lighter materials: papier-mâché, wood, rope, cotton… contrasting heavy materials, like stone and lead.

Also on the third floor is a collection of his maquettes, models for his sculptures. These are interesting because where other sculptors will use any convenient material, Makigawa used exactly the same materials that he used to make the final sculpture. There is a respect for the materials in his work, in the alternating, contrasting surfaces.

For more on Makigawa’s public sculptures.


Morton’s Monument Park

One of the best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen is Callum Morton Monument Park, 2015, on New Quay in the Docklands. It ticks so many of my boxes for public sculpture. You can sit on it, climb on it, walk through it, it is site specific seamlessly integrated into the paving. At one point it is just ordinary paving and then the paving becomes draped material covering monuments. The draped monuments form a square, a hub, for people to gather. Architecture or sculpture it is hard to see where one starts and the other ends at Monument Park.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

What are these covered monuments before their unveiling? It is not clear, unlike Callum Morton’s earlier exhibition, ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ at Anna Schwartz Gallery (my review of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’), there are no plinths to provide clues. Monument Park has developed from the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ series of wrapped versions of local public sculptures.

Given the recent violence over monuments to Confederate heroes in the USA perhaps it is better if these monuments were kept covered. As the First Dog in the Moon points out, Australia has yet to deal with its problematic monuments. I think that some of these monuments should be put in prison where they will no longer be looked up to. Morton manages a light reference to this discourse in cutting away at the interiors of his covered monuments. The bright colours of the exposed, geometric interior of the sculptures introduces splashes of bright colour to the area.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Wrapped sculptures have their own history in modern art in the work of Christo and, still earlier, Man Ray. These art history references adds to the quality of Monument Park without alienating the little children climbing on it. The mix of post-modern references and humour is typical of Callum Morton who originally trained as an architect before swapping to sculpture. His Hotel is a familiar sight to commuters on the Eastlink Freeway a public sculpture and is based on his early artworks influenced by architectural model making.

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (1 EastLink)

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (photo courtesy of EastLink)


Southgate Sculptures

Southgate on Southbank was one of the first shopping centres in Melbourne to commission notable sculptors to create a collection of public art for the centre. Positioned right next to the Arts Centre, it is on the border of Melbourne’s arts precinct but it is still a shopping mall; there is a food court at the river level. This means that however good the restaurants and however classy the specialty shops, including those that call themselves art galleries, there is a certain kind of homogenised taste that goes with a shopping mall.

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Deborah Halpern, Ophelia, 1992, concrete and ceramic, crowded out by outdoor dinning.

I have looked at shopping centre art before; Barkely Square Shopping Centre in Brunswick and Melbourne Central in the city.  There is more I have yet to see Robert Hague West Orbis (2009) four metre tall sculpture at Chadstone Shopping Centre or the Lenton Parr sculpture at another.

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At Southgate the main problems has been with the placement of the art. Sitting alone upon her own dusty inaccessible balcony is Loretta Quinn’s ‘Crossing the First Threshold.’ This is a bad case of dumping a sculpture in a poor location. Hardly anyone notices this sculpture and it has been reduced to being a bird roost. Not surprisingly, Loretta Quinn is better known for her sculpture at the city square.

DSC01500Maurie Hughes’s spiky style is evident in Southgate Sheraton Complex Gates, Forbidden Areas, 1992. I have never seen the gates closed so I don’t know how forbidden the area behind them is but the gates are pretty spiky with the demons and spears. Hughes is best known for his sculpture Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit on Russell Street but he also has a few other public art commissions including the Security Gates, 1994, Lincoln Square South in Carlton. Hughes has his home and studio in South Melbourne and taught at art department at Frankston’s TAFE.

DSC01499Ophelia by Deborah Halpern is part of the Southgate complex although it is now located closer to the river than it once was, see my post about its move. It is made of ceramic tiles over a fiberglass core and was cleaned and restored in 2011 when it was moved to its current location but it looks like it could do with another restoration.

There used to be a sculpture on the upper level mall, the seated figure of a woman, Maggie by Peter Corlett was made of ciment findu, a type of calcium aluminate cement. It was vandalised beyond repair. Public art is not safe even with the security in shopping centres. This brings together two issues, the placement of the art to allow public interaction and to prevent damage to the work from this contact.


Three Public Sculptures in the Docklands

 

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Sally Smart, Shadow Trees, 2014

Shadow Trees by South Australian artist, Sally Smart, was installed in 2014 at the new Buluk Park and library the junction of Bourke and Collins Streets in Victoria Harbour, Docklands. Shadow Trees is both site-specific and creates a landmark for the site.

The plasma cut steel silhouettes are assembled into two large trees in a place where there have been no trees for probably a century or more. There were once many trees in that once swampy area where the river meets the bay before the Europeans arrived and chopped them all down to make docks for their ships. Now all of the trees, some of the docks and most of the ships have gone. Oddly this is not the only sculptural tree in the Docklands, there is also John Kelly’s Cow Up a Tree.

Painted pink, purple, orange, red, white, grey and black, Smart’s trees don’t pretend to be natural. However, they do appear more natural than the rest of the contrived, designed artificial area.

Trees are naturally a great sculptural form, redolent in meaning but until recently it was impossible to make at an appropriate scale. Smart’s trees seem full of stories. “The cut-out painted silhouette elements and text are open to interpretation, drawing on references from the site’s history, biology, botany, habitation, movement and language,” says Smart.

Shadow Trees tie in with Sally Smart’s gallery art works, where trees are a recurring motif. This is most obvious in her large installation, Family Tree House (Shadows and Symptoms),1999–2002. The felt and canvas with collage elements have been translated into steel for the Shadow Trees.

The shadows of these two trees links them to the text in the bluestone paving. The text is a poem by writer and cultural historian, Maria Tumarkin especially commissioned for the location. Like many contemporary sculptures it features an integrated lighting system rather than lighting as a modern addition.

Shadow Trees works well making and marking the location of a park and the Library at The Dock. For more see Victoria Harbour News.

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

The geometric rippling piles of brick and the organic rippling carved white marble rocks or waves are scattered across this large site. There is no front to this sculpture, no perfect vantage point; to see it you have to walk around it, seeing it only in part or as a process of exploration.

You even have to explore the site to find all of the blue explanatory text panels. I have brought all the text together in one quote.

“… this site is the intersection of two axes… one reflects the city grid and its built form, the other is the original flow of the site as traced by the river and the wind… … a collision of water, wind and sun… …a composition of sculptures that creates a landscape of spaces, materials and systems… …in acknowledging the flow and timelessness of the river we may imagine the primal site… ”

The ellipsis are all Stoner’s, he is obviously a fan of ellipsis.

Stoner has other public sculptures; at the Victoria Market a memorial to the previous graveyard and another sculpture on the Geelong foreshore. His work has a monumental heavy quality that has its foundations in the location.

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Adrian Mauriks Silence, 2001–02

On the NewQuay Promenade in Docklands there thirteen of these curvy white biomorophic fibreglass resin sculptures. It is all very surreal, like alien lifeforms growing in the Docklands. Silence, 2001–02 by Melbourne based sculptor, Adrian Mauriks, who described it as “a series of forms arousing to the mind”. Silence is spread out across an area of 18.5 metres by 12.5 metres outside Arkley Tower. The white painted surface of the biomorphic blobs are coated an accumulation of black scuff marks from the shoes of people, mostly children, who climb on them. (For earlier public art by Mauriks in Richmond see my blog post WTF Corner.)


Street art, public art and more in Coburg

I have been walking around my neighbourhood, the streets of Coburg, looking at the street art, the public art and the streets. You can see almost 150 years of history of domestic architecture on the streets of Coburg, from the 1870s to the contemporary buildings still under construction. And you have to love quality pop culture home modifications; we need more of this kind of Batman, not the John Batman kind.

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Notable Melbourne street artist, Al Stark Thinking of the Earth has painted a mural on a couple of buildings at Coburg Oval. Regardless of what I have recently written about murals I like this one. The abstracted geometric shapes and the colours glow against the dark ground improving the feel of an otherwise drek utilitarian carpark between the Sydney Road shopping strip and the oval.

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On the wall of the new flats by the Reynard Street railway crossing is Tropical Flora. It is a mural by experienced Melbourne stencil artist 23rd Key. The very large multi-layered stencil of hibiscus flowers and monstera leaves are technically proficient but boring.

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There is also more unauthorised street art around. I love finding little pieces hidden away, making a treasure hunt out of a walk around the neighbourhood. But this is the strangest piece of buffing; it leaves you wondering what either the writer or the buffer was thinking.

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Some great guerrilla gardening taking over a wide nature strip in Coburg complete with a mosaic ceramic features by local Mel Craven.

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The sculpture of a small bronze house on a rusty steel plinth has been removed late 2016 early 2017 from the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road. Dwelling by Jason Waterhouse was the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. I don’t know what has happened to this sculpture; I hope that a better location has been found for it. It was too small to make any impression on the corner location. You can also see how bad Coburg’s pigeon problem was just a few years ago.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

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Hasell with Bells

The publicly marking time is a basic function of a city because a city need a sense of time to function. Bells can also sound alarms, announce events or play music. Bells can be famous or in themselves works of art. Art bells in Melbourne are often the work of Anton Hasell.Anton Hasell Federation Bells Carillon, 2002

The Federation Bells at Birrung Mar are a combination of sculptural and musical objects. There is this whole area of musical sculpture but then every musical instrument is a kind of sculptural design. Designed by Neil McLachlan and Anton Hasell in collaboration with Swaney Draper Architects. The bells were commissioned in 1998 and installed in 2002. In 2005 the poles underwent a structural upgrade and in 2012 Federation Bells were removed and refurbished; public art requires regular maintenance.

The computer controlled 39 upturned bells can be programmed. Hasell wants the public to interact with his sculptures; he wants more people to compose music for the “Federation Bells.” However, it is not that simple because you have to compose in the just intonation that the bells are tuned to rather than the tempered scale.

Hasell moved from convention sculpture making to bell making as sculpture; after all they both involve casting. (For more on casting bells The Great Wren posted on his blog about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry one of the oldest businesses in London.) I look at one his earlier public sculpture of his in Richmond in my post – WTF corner.

An early bell work of Hasell is the Tilly Aston Bell, 1999 is a bronze sculpture that incorporates three connecting bells. It stands in the middle of a path in Kings Domain near the sunken garden to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. It commemorates the centenary of the Vision Australia Foundation, formerly known as the Association for the Blind, and the life and achievements of its founder, Tilly Aston.

Tilly Aston was the first blind person in Australia to attend university, but her education was cut short by an absence of textbooks in Braille. So in 1894 she established a Braille library. She was responsible for gaining for the blind free post for Braille and talking books, free travel on public transport and the right to vote.

The top bell has three scenes from the life of Tilly Aston in raised relief along with a quote from Tilly Aston. “Poor eyes limit your sight. Poor vision limits your deeds.” The quote is repeated on a Braille strip on the middle bell. The lowest bell has the highest pitch, it has no inscription but a series of hand prints.

Originally movement sensors trigger a series of tolls, when people approached marks proximity and movement. Unfortunately it no longer works and the marvellous speaker mouths on the base are silent.

In 2008 Hasell and Terence McDermott had a temporary installation, The Speed of Sound Nau Interactive Bells,  in Union Lane part of the Laneways Commissions. I didn’t experience this work but again interactivity and bells was an important element.

Hasell’s other Federation Bells, a massive set of tuned hand bells, are spectacularly displayed at one end the Melbourne Museum’s first floor.

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Anton Hasell, Federation Hand Bells, Melbourne Museum


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