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Tag Archives: Deborah Halpern

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.

Deborah HepbernOphelia

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.

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Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


Ophelia will return

Ophelia hasn’t jumped in the river and drowned she has been removed for a full restoration and will be returning to Southgate in November. Not Hamlet’s Ophelia but Deborah Halpern’s “Ophelia”, 1992, the concrete and ceramic sculpture with the face that was named “the official face of Melbourne” by Tourism Victoria in 1996.

The familiarity of the city landscape comes with a kind of blinkers that limit the number of things that are seen. As we become so familiar with the landscape we forget the past. Change in the city is continuos and there is a kind of social amnesia that most of us suffer from. Most people, including myself, cannot remember/imagine the city without certain public sculptures and so assume that a particular sculpture has been there for far longer than it actually has.

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

In case you hadn’t noticed Deborah Halpern’s 1992 “Ophelia” has been removed from the Southgate Complex on Melbourne’s Southbank. Bear Brass bar and restaurant has taken over the location with more out door smoker’s sections, it had already crowded the sculpture out when I photographed it over a year ago.

“We have been working extensively with the artist, Deborah Halpern and look forward to welcoming her (Ophelia) back very soon.” Jo Gartner, Southgate’s Events and Marketing Manager told Black Mark. “When Ophelia returns she will be located on the promenade directly opposite our main entrance, creating a natural meeting place for Melburnians on the river, and providing a stronger visual connection with the artist’s other major work Angel in Birrarung Marr.”

This is the second of Halpern’s Melbourne sculptures to have been moved from its original iconic location to a riverside location. Halpern’s “Angel” has been moved from the NGV’s moat to its current location (see my post: More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture). Halpern’s concrete and ceramic tile sculptures were colourful and popular Melbourne icons of the 1980s and 90s. Have they now fallen from favour as tastes change? Or does their new locations give them new life?

 


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