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.
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.
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.
Maurie 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.
Ophelia 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.