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Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.

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John Meade, Aqualung

Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006

Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.

 

Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.

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Louise Paramor @ NGV

I first saw a sculpture by Louise Paramor when her Noble ape was exhibited in Melbourne Now 2013; it is currently installed in the garden at the back of NGV International. Other people might know her from her Panorama Station sculpture beside the freeway in Carrum Downs. Then I saw Paramor’s sculpture, Ursa Major being installed in Federation Square for the Melbourne Prize 2014. I hadn’t seen any of her previous twenty or so years of exhibiting sculpture.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Noble ape, fiberglass, plastic and steel

Currently the NGV is exhibiting Paramor in two large spaces on the third floor of the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with a specially commissioned installation of new paper sculptures and a survey of her recent colourful plastic assemblages.

Palace of the Republic is a series of massive paper sculptures. Honeycomb paper decorations on a scale that will leave you awestruck. It is a reference Paramor’s earlier artistic practice before she started to collage found plastic objects.

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Louis Paramor, Palace of the Republic, paper, steel, aluminium and plywood

Unlike the personal art of Del Kathryn Barton, exhibited on the same floor to the Potter Centre, Paramor’s sculptures inspires no interest in the artist. There is nothing that I can tell you about her that will help you make any more sense of her art, so I will tell you nothing. Likewise you don’t need to know the history of art, anything of biochemistry or French to make sense of her art. Partially because her art makes little sense; her sculptures are cool and humorous and I know this by the smile that they grew on my face when I saw them.

A curator explains them noting that they “combine formal concerns with a pop-inspired sensibility.” That is arranging found plastic in an asymmetrical way makes them look silly and funky.

Studies for Boomtown is a series of maquettes for sculptures that demonstrate Paramor’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Perhaps it is inexhaustible due to the supply of plastic objects in the world.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Studies for Boomtown, 2016, plastic, steel, wood


Religious Statues in Melbourne

Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.

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Darien Pullen, Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, 2017

Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.

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Louis Laumen Mary MacKillop 2012

Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.

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Julie Squires, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012

St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.


Footbridge of Masks

In Brunswick there is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses over CityLink Tullamarine Freeway between Peacock Street and McColl Court. The bridge is adorned with 24 cast concrete faces. In 2017 a couple of newspapers reported on it under the headlines: “Brunswick’s creepy bridge – 25 concrete faces, not one nose and no one knows why” and “Creepy concrete faces appear on Brunswick bridge”.

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When I saw it on the news the artist who made the masks was a mystery to me (and I am trying to be an expert in the limited field of Melbourne’s street art sculpture) but one that I didn’t have time until now to investigate. Now that I have it is the paranoid reaction and the lack of any memory in suburbia that are the most disturbing elements.

What caused this paranoid reaction? Was this reaction just because a local graff writer, the prolific tagger Felon had decorated one of the faces, death metal style or was it because of the absence of a plaque to identify the art? I’m not surprised that the noses are all gone, it is the first thing to be damaged on a sculpture and it gives the masks an antique feel.

The propensity for paranoia in suburbia is no reason for alarm. A mystery has to have an element of danger and intrigue or it wouldn’t be mysterious. However, once the facts are revealed it generally turns out to be not that interesting, perhaps even mundane, like a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.

The following day The Age reported that it was the work of Melbourne artist Mary Rogers who “sculpted the 25 life-size faces in her home studio in the mid-1990s as part of the Freeway Bridge Project.”

The work combines architectural decoration on brutalist concrete and was intended to help humanise the freeway overpass. The masks were cast from local residents but, after twenty years, this has not given the bridge any local context or memory. The lack of any urban memory of the bridge speaks of the transitory nature of the urban life.

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Habitat Filter in Southbank

Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.

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Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.

It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.

I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.

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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


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.


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