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Tag Archives: John Batman

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

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Batman & Fawkner

Standing in the forecourt of 447 Collins Street in Melbourne are two bronze sculptures honouring the founders of the English settlement of Melbourne, Batman and Fawkner. Although they are a matching pair of sculptures, were made by two different sculptors: Stanley Hammond and Michael Mezaros.

Stanley Hammond, John Batman, bronze 1978

Melbourne sculptor, Michael Mezaros created the bronze sculpture of John Pascoe Fawkner in 1978. Menzaros has made several other figurative public sculptures: a war memorial in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, “Spirit of the Skier” (1994) and a life-size equestrian sculpture “Mountain Cattleman” (1996) at Mt. Buller, Victoria. There was another sculpture by Mezaros at the Telstra building, on the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition streets, but it has been removed with the remolding of the foyer.

In 1990 Michael Mezaros had completely changed his style with the creation of Rainbow, in the foyer of 565 Bourke Street, Melbourne. This 7m formalist abstract work fits perfectly into the modern foyer of the office building even though it is now surrounded by tables and chairs from a café.  Brass squares of sunlight and drops of stainless steel rain.

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, bronze, 1978

Stanley Hammond, MBE (1913-2000) created the sculpture of John Batman, also in 1978. The sculpture refers to Batman’s diary note about the site of central Melbourne: “This will be the place for a village”. During his long life Stanley Hammond worked on the stone sculptures of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and other war memorials in Geelong, Broken Hill and Mont St. Quentin, France. See Heritage Victoria’s “Deep Lead Pioneers Memorial, Western Highway” for more biographical details about Stanley Hammond.

Who now cares about Batman and Fawkner? Their entrepreneurial spirit must have a few supporters in Melbourne’s business district, where their statues are located, however there is little else to recommend their characters. The statue of Arthur Batman tried for war crimes by aboriginal activists. The uninspiring bronze statues would have looked old fashioned even when they were new. The time lag evident in these two history sculptures from 1978 demonstrates that the collective conscious in Melbourne was, in the late 70s, introspective, isolationist and conservative.


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