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Tag Archives: Clement Meadmore

Clement Meadmore, a mid-century modern hipster

With his well-groomed full beard and neatly barbered hair Clement Meadmore looked like a hipster. Except this was in 1950s Melbourne. In the photograph he is sitting on a mid-century modernist chair, one of his earliest designs, the steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951.

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“Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design” at the Potter Museum of Art is a survey exhibition about Meadmore as a designer rather than a sculptor for which he is better known. Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver’s exhibition starts with Meadmore entering Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) and ends in 1963 with the last chair he designed, his leather Sling Chair, and his moving to NYC to do abstract sculpture. It focuses on Meadmore’s furniture design along with his interest in jazz and his early sculpture development.

It is also a look at how modern Melbourne was created. Meadmore’s design of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar at 239 Burke Street, chairs, lamps and decor. Including seven large abstract paintings by Leonard French that glow with radiant colours. French also designed the matchbooks, menus and cups for the Legend. This exhibition is a must-see for anyone enthusiastic about the early Australian jazz scene. Meadmore had more than just a passing interest in jazz, a photo of him playing the washboard in 1952 with thimbles on his fingers. A wall of record covers that he designed for Swaggie Records.

Meadmore’s designs were practical and pragmatic both for the designer, manufacturer and the consumer. It was important for the designs to be practical for the manufacturer because often he and his wife were making the machine-made modern aesthetic by hand out the back of their shop. It was an efficiency and pragmatism that he continued with his sculptures that could be transported in shipping containers.

Clement Meadmore, Devish

Clement Meadmore, Devish

NYC was the right place for Meadmore to go as it had jazz and abstract art whereas both were still derided in Melbourne. It was the attitude of conservative figurative artists, including Blackman, Boyd, Brack, Dickinson, Perceval and Pugh who provided additional incentive to leave. If Meadmore was living in Melbourne today I’m sure that he would not have left as he would be able to have an international career as an abstract sculptor and be enjoying the jazz scene. 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design

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Public Sculptures @ Arts Centre Melbourne

In the shadow of the landmark architecture of the Art Centre’s spire Inge King’s Forward Surge stands between curves of Hamer Hall and the Art Centre. Children try to climb this sculpture by Melbourne’s matriarch of modernism, trying for a moment to surf these four massive black metal waves. Forward Surge is one of the many significant number of public sculptures, many by notable local sculptors, like King, in the grounds of Hamer Hall, the Art Centre and also at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74 (4)

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Now there is an exhibition about these public sculptures; “Sculpture Show: Public Art in the Arts Precinct” is displayed in the curved ‘Gallery’ that runs along the outer wall of the Arts Centre. The exhibition features four maquettes, the scale or working models for a sculpture, a few preliminary drawings and photographs of the sculptures by Mark Ashkanasy and Carla Gottgen. This was rounded out with a new series of drawings of some of the sculptures by Melbourne artist, Jill Anderson present new views of these familiar sculptures.

Amongst the preliminary drawings there are three drawings for a proposed but never completed hanging sculpture by the trio of Melbourne sculptors; Anthony Pryor, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava. Although the three sculptors shared a studio in Fitzroy but collaborative works are rare. The drawing depicts a crazy mobile with pulleys, springs, weights and mini mobiles hanging off larger beams. Parts resemble Bartlett’s “Messenger” 1983 that once stood in the NGV’s moat.

Many of the sculptures around the Arts Centre have moved over the years as their surrounds have been redeveloped. Several of the photographs in the exhibition, especially those of interior sculptural elements in the buildings, reminded me how much has changed. Cole Sopov’s Family of Man has changed from interior to exterior sculptures. Even the five tons of Meadmore’s Dervish has been moved.

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maquettes for Clement Meadmore Dervish, painted wood

After looking at the exhibition I went out into a little sculpture park at the back of the Arts Centre where Les Kossatz’s sheep are still Coming and Going 1979-82, in their comedy routine of doors. The sheep are kept company by an odd trio of sculptures; Tom Merrifield’s tribute to Anna Pavlova, Dragonfly 1988, Anthony Pryor’s Marathon Man 1991 and Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life.

Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life once stood on the river front side of Hamer Hall but this area has been taken over for more eateries. (It is not the only public sculpture along the Yarra River that has been moved to accomodate more dining areas; Deborah Halpern’s Ophelia was also moved for the same reason.)

To complete the experience I should have continued on to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl where there is the sculpture of Sidney Myer by Michael Meszaros, Carl Milles’ Hand of God and Pino Conte’s Miraggio.

I have previously written blog posts about David Maughan’s Les Belle Helénès, as well as the sculptures of Pino Conte and Cole Sopov. I have also written blog posts about the sculptures of Geoffrey BartlettInge King, Anthony Pryor and Andrew Rogers.


Flinders Lane

Melbourne’s CBD artistic centre of Flinders Lane is slowly being further gentrified. Galleries like Span and Upstairs Flinders Lane have closed, artist’s studios are closing, to make way for more inner city apartments and restaurants.

Flinders Lane has been slowly gentrified since its original incarnation as the garment district of Melbourne. Now there are fashion boutiques like Alphaville, designer furniture and jewellery boutiques. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants along Flinders Lane. The charm of Flinders Lane runs out as it crosses Elizabeth St. after that it is the boring business sector of Melbourne’s CBD.

Milton House – Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The mix of architectural styles along the lane range from the gothic revival of the cathedral, the eclectic style of Australian federation architecture, art noueveau and the international style of glass walled skyscrapers. Look up and see Melbourne’s only glass bottom swimming pool that extends a metre over the lane. There is also AC/DC Lane (formerly Corporation Lane) named after the rock band in 2004 and Melbourne’s only street sign with a lightening bolt through it.

Between 1945 and 1956 the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, was working from a small studio on the 5th floor of 353 Flinders Lane, “Pioneer House” which he rented for 5 pounds per month. The proximity to Melbourne’s rag trade was advantageous for Newton’s career.

Modern art came to Flinders Lane with Gallery A, established in 1959 by designer Clement Meadmore and furniture manufacture Max Hutchinson. It was a combination of a furniture store and art gallery; and it exhibited contemporary Australian modern artists, including Robert Kippel and John Olsen. Flinders Lane has been the location for many of Melbourne’s established commercial galleries, many specializing in Aboriginal art. There are also rental space and artist-run galleries and spaces in the buildings along Flinders Lane. There is plenty of exhibition space along Flinders Lane. The art at the Melbourne City Library foyer exhibition space has been generally disappointing this year. At the very top of the Flinders Lane there is Craft Victoria with information, a shop and exhibition space with excellent, avant-garde, craft exhibitions.

Mailbox 141 must be a difficult space to fill; the fifteen small glass fronted former wooden mailboxes in the small tiled foyer of 141 Flinders Lane do not make it easy for the artist. It might be the smallest art gallery in the world. However, it frequently has surprisingly good exhibitions.

Street art is featured just off Flinders Lane, on the famous little Hosier Lane (a street name from the area’s garment district days). With all of the street art Hosier Lane is now a popular location for wedding and advertising photographs, as well as, tourists and school groups who take more photographs.

Looking up Hosier Lane to Flinders Lane

The Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane is still a living cultural centre. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. But the antique lifts still work and the upper floors are full of studios, art galleries (Pigment, Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery), clothes designers, the Victorian Writers Centre and Collected Works Bookshop (the best bookshop for poetry and literature in Melbourne).

The high point of Flinders Lane’s part of Melbourne cultural may have passed but there is still a lot of life it. If you are going to visit Flinders Lane I recommend getting off at Parliament Station and walking downhill towards Elizabeth Street, as it will be easier on your legs.


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