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Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Re-Vault

Four people wearing yellow chemical coveralls are slowly moving in the City Square in Melbourne. It is Re-vault a performance about Vault, Ron Robertson-Swan’s ill fated sculpture that once stood in the City Square, hence all the yellow. It is one of EPA’s performances, part of Melbourne 47 “senses of the city” paid for though Melbourne’s Arts Grant Program and Monash University.

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Two of the performers are manipulating planes of steel grids for concrete reinforcing. These modernist grids refer to the angles of the steel planes of Vault. The other two people are tied together with yellow and black barrier tape. They act as pedestrian control and a human safety barrier creating a space between the shallow pools and the Christmas kitsch that is under construction in most of the square.

Jonathan Sinatra’s performance piece comes 35 years after Vault’s removal. The Christmas construction means that the performance could not be anywhere near the original location of Vault, in the northwestern part of the square. Not that it mattered as very few people passing by would have any idea of Robertson-Swann’s sculpture that now located in the forecourt of ACCA.

Although the limited audience of passing school groups, tourists and locals had no idea of the original sculpture the performance did. Aside from the obvious yellow there were a couple of other references. Vault was intended as a grand interlocking sculpture and Re-vault’s body-sculpture also acts as an interlocking sculpture, although less grand.

I take a seat at the Caboose Canteen order a pulled pork slider and a cider and watch the performance unfold. It is a beautiful day, the first day in Melbourne over 30 degrees since March. It was the perfect seat until the performers move one bridge up. It reminds me that these band of shallow water and the very shallow water pouring down the surface of the John Mockridge Fountain are the vestigial remains of the all important ‘water feature’ found in the original architectural brief for the square. In the original city square water the smell of chlorine filled the air as water poured over an enormous multi-stepped fountain. There was so much chlorine in the air that it pitted the bronze sculpture of Burke and Wills. Fortunately water is being used more wisely now.

Re: Vault my review of Geoffrey Joseph Wallis, Peril in the square: the sculpture that challenged a city (Indra Publishing, 2004)

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Emily Floyd’s Signature Work

The big black bunny is clearly a toy; it’s blocky features and simplified form is a result of it being a toy and not modern art. I had only seen in Emily Floyd Signature Work (Rabbit) in a photograph that mislead me about its size. As always with these things I was expecting something larger but Melbourne’s Docklands with it’s multi-story buildings is so large that the rabbit would have to be huge to compete.

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Emily Floyd, Signature Work, 2004

When I first saw Floyd’s work years ago in Anna Schwartz Gallery I didn’t like it. I haven’t liked her subsequent exhibition either including; The Dawn, a solo survey exhibition at the NGV in 2014. All the bright colours and toy like forms seem prosaic when you realise the dull question that they are based on: if art is about communication can we learn from it?

Her public sculpture made me reconsider work. Her Public Art Project (Bird and Worm) on EastLink or her Signature Piece (Rabbit) in Docklands work appear to be fun contemporary public sculptures. They work in that they are effective at creating recognisable landmarks for the otherwise anonymous locations.

Her gallery work is different; you aren’t going past it in a car. It is somehow different even when she is using the same toy rabbit form. I keep hoping for fun, irony, or play in them but there is never enough to balance out the serious pedagogical inspiration of her work. The art-speak about her work reduces the fun even more. Phrases like: “text-based sculptures and pedagogically-inspired works which combine formal concerns with an interest in the legacies of modernism.” Is there that much depth to Floyd’s work? Possibly there is but it does suck all the fun out of it. The deeper that Floyd attempts to make her art, the shallower it seems to me.

In her 2015 exhibition Field Libraries, the pedagogical inspiration of her work is clear, as she turned her brightly coloured play blocks into book shelves. The painted aluminium shelves were stacked with booklets printed, “fair use” from the internet. A series of uniques state screen prints illustrating books, representing the idea of Floyd’s ongoing library. Subjects in the library include ‘Zombie Marxism’ and ‘Feminist Autonomism.’

Emily Floyd’s sculptures might look like toys but this is serious art. It is a bit too serious, too prosaic in its pedantic intent. Floyd is not playing with these big toys, she is using them to demonstrate ideas. The more you look at her art the less fun you have.

Does everything have to be an educational experience? What have you learnt from this?

Emily Floyd, Public Art Strategy, 2006 (19 EastLink)

Emily Floyd, Public Art Project (Bird and Worm) 2006, photograph courtesy of EastLink


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.

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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.

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Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne


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.

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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.

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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.


Some Union Art Connections

Under the portico of Trades Hall is bronze base-relief of John Dias by William Leslie Bowles. I am more familiar with the sculptor for his several public sculptures around Melbourne, including the equestrian statue of General Monash  than the subject. The glass or ceramic eyes are a strange addition to the otherwise unremarkable portrait plaque.

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William Leslie Bowles, John Dias Memorial at Trades Hall

The effusive praise of the inscription on the plaque is unilluminating and almost vacuous: “John Dias – Born May 11 1861 – Died August 13 1924 – A man whose every endeavour was in the cause of the worker and to uplift humanity – a token of respect from those who knew him.” Yes, I can tell he is a man from his moustache and the fact that he has a memorial on the front of Trades Hall would strongly indicate the rest. The shield and motto Credo Sed Caveo (believe, but take heed) reveal that he was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

Further along the block is Steps Gallery is a large, square, well-lit, white walled room on the ground floor of 62 Lygon Street in Carlton South. Established in 1992 one side of the gallery opens onto Artee Cafe, with its glass roof. Unusually for a Melbourne gallery it is owned by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund. It is not a bad investment, the gallery is a rental exhibition space, two artists had rented it for an exhibition when I was there.

You wouldn’t immediately associate the meat worker’s union with artist ceramics but in the foyer of 62 Lygon Street is the Melbourne Meat Workers Union Ceramics Collection. Three large cabinets house a spectacular collection of around 30 high quality artist ceramics. They were collected by Wally Curran, the union secretary between 1983-1997.

There are many connections between Melbourne’s unions and art as this brief exploration has shown but many are also a bit ernest, worthy and boring, like these examples.


Man Lifting Cow in Sunshine

John Kelly’s 4.5 metre bronze sculpture, Man lifting cow was been unveiled today in front of the Brimbank City Council’s offices on W Street in Sunshine. The sculpture is part of Hampshire Road Precinct upgrades and the opening of the Brimbank Community and Civic Centre in 2016. It was made at Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine, see my blog post Progress on Man Lifting Cow.

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John Kelly, Man Lifting Cow, 2016, (photo from Vicinity Centre’s Facebook post)

 

What does John Kelly’s sculptures mean?

In 1994 Kelly painted his first Man Lifting Cow I. It was an oil on linen 182.5 x 152 cm. In the middle is a man in overalls, lifting something that roughly resembles a cow. In the background there is wide brown land with low hills and a wind sock to indicate the legendary airstrip. It is a reference to a story about the artist’s William Dobell’s WWII experience.

‘When World War II broke out. Bill [Dobell] served first as a camouflage labourer, later as an artist recording the work of the Civil Construction Corps, which built airfields and other defence projects. As a camouflagist, he was one of a group of several, later famous, artists who had been ordered to make papier-mache cows and move them around the base in the hope of fooling Japanese pilots. (said Bill, “I think the authorities underestimated the eyesight of Japanese airmen”.) For almost a year he shared a hut with fellow-artist Joshua Smith.’ (Extract from Dr Edward McMahon, Unforgettable “Sir Bill” Dobell, [first proof])

Kelly has created many paintings riffing on the story of Dobell making camouflage cows. It is only a story and there is no proof that Dobell ever actually made a camouflage cow. Kelly said about the idea of camouflage. “Art is never really about … what it’s about.” What is art trying to hide? The intersecting history of abstract art and camouflage in World War Two is underrated in the story of modern art. Kelly’s ludic monumental sculptures are an absurd commentary on Melbourne’s many war memorials.

John Kelly was born in London in 1965, and grew up, part of a large family in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Sunshine. His parents still live in the suburb. His father, an Irishman from Cork, worked in the quarry; John remembers him always wearing overalls, like the man lifting the cow. I can see a family resemblance between John and the man that he is sculpting, even if it is modelled from a different person, the nose and chin are similar. Now John Kelly has returned to Sunshine to install his sculpture.

This is the third sculpture in Kelly’s Cow trilogy. ”Three Cows in a Pile,” was shown at the 2002 Monte Carlo Sculpture Festival ‘Parade des Animaux’. Cow Up A Tree in Docklands and Man lifting cow is now in Sunshine.

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands


Lost Wax Workshop @ Meridian

Although I have written a book about public sculpture I have never done any sculpting. Last weekend I went to Melbourne’s oldest sculpture foundry, Meridian for one of their workshops in the lost wax technique.

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When the sculptor Peter Corlett first took me to see Meridian I was amazed that there was a sculpture foundry just off Johnston Street in Fitzroy. Looking around the foundry there are sculptures in progress and moulds for sculptures by notable sculptors including Peter Corlett, Robert Kippel, Lisa Roet, and Andrew Rogers.

The foundry has been located in a two story nineteenth century brick warehouse, since it was established in 1973 by Peter Morely. It is now in its second generation with Peter Morely’s son, Gareth working at the foundry.

Peter Morely still works part-time often doing his favourite job applying the surface colouring effect to the bronze, the patination on the sculptures. This ranges from traditional black and brown through to green, white or polished.

So Fitzroy hasn’t been completely gentrified, there is still some industry in the suburb. People are still melting down bronze in furnaces and pouring the molten metal into moulds to make sculptures, using techniques that have been developed over the last five millennia.

Although the lost wax casting has been around for millennia techniques in bronze casting have not stopped developing. New synthetic materials are being used from building industry rubber to 3D printing using potato starch. Anything that will cleanly burn away like wax leaving an empty space, the mould into which the bronze will be poured.

Even the traditional bees wax has also been replaced by a synthetic wax with a dark green pigment added. The wax as media is very forgiving because it can be both additive modelled and subtractive carved; so if you make a mistake you can easily stick something back on or cut it off.

I thought that I knew about lost wax technique before the workshop however there is so many steps in the process that you don’t realise until you start. One thing I did know it is a process where you don’t do it all yourself; that part of the job of a sculpture foundry is providing assistance and advice to the sculptor.

Darien Pullen conducted the workshop for three people and myself which allowed for plenty of one on one advice and assistance. Darien is a sculptor who has worked at Meridian since 1984 mostly making moulds and preparing waxes for casting; last year his winged victory statue was unveiled outside the Marrickville Town Hall. He also teaches in life drawing and that helped with my sculpture.

I thought that a small cat sculpture would be a good idea because I had a lot of sketches and photographs of my cats. Cats, like sculpture, are all about volume, the thin creature beneath the hair is a very different creature. Furthermore, I consoled myself, as many people like cats, so any cat sculpture however poor will have some admirers.

At the end of Sunday afternoon I took the wax model home; nobody is expected to complete a model in six hours. I plan to do some more work on it and sandpaper smooth out some of its curves. Eventually each of the workshop participants will have their wax model cast in bronze and a patina applied. None of the workshop participants will be involved in pouring the bronze as there are too many health and safety issues involved to even begin to list.

Black Mark did the workshop courtesy of Meridian.


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