Tag Archives: Melbourne University

Save Strata!

Melbourne University has a fine tradition of acquiring, for very little cost, sculptures that are surplus to the requirements of Melbourne’s business world. Many architectural sculptures from the 19th Century “marvellous Melbourne” found new homes at Melbourne University. The demolition of old commercial buildings and the removal of their sculptures has added to the university’s collection. Urban Melbourne has a page about sculptures that have moved generally due to demolitions.

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Chris Booth, Strata, 2001

This tradition continues today with the university acquiring the sculptures in the AXA Plaza in Little Collins Street. Several sculptures will be displaced by construction including the works of Peter and Paul Blizzard and, New Zealand sculptor, Chris Booth’s massive stone assembly (400cm x 1000cm x 35cm), Strata, 2001.

Booth is known internationally and has major commissions in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Strata is typical of Booth’s work with stone. The stones are bound together with stainless steel cable to create the curved sculptural form. The sculpture is tied to the land for on the Castlemaine slate there are petroglyph by aboriginal artist, Fiona Clarke.

The problem is that Melbourne University has agreed to take Strata but not pay for it to be reassembled by the artist. Chris Booth describes this as “an act of vandalism” for it  is no better than the complete destruction of the sculpture. For without reassembly Strata is nothing more than a pile of rocks. It doesn’t come with pages of interactions and an Allen key from Ikea; not that would help, it needs the artist to reassemble it.

Urgent action is required as the dismantling of the sculpture is due to start in a week. Chris Booth is requesting that the Melbourne University reconsider their decision. It is all very well for Melbourne University to accept Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones because it can easily moved and plopped in a new location. However, as Booth points out, “as the University of Melbourne has accepted these three works into its keeping it has a legal and moral duty to protect them for posterity.”

The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act, under section 195AT, states that the owner of a moveable artistic work is liable to the artist if they destroy the artistic work without first giving the artist opportunity to remove it.

For more about this issue see my earlier post: Redevelopments and Public Sculpture.

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The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street


Street Art’s Institutional Phase

On some walls layers of graffiti and street art have been building up for decades. They are like layers of archeology they could be divided up into phases of work on the street. They are not perfect layers of paint, paper and glue. There are plenty of overlap, early isolated examples and the long tails of previous phases mix with subsequent phases. This leaves plenty of room for argument over when one phase started and finished, so all the dates in the next paragraph are vague.

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Hosier Lane, Meeting of Styles 2016

A short history of Melbourne’s graffiti/street art would consist of the following phases, each with their own distinct group of artists and media. Starting with the white paint and brushes of the old message, the text based graffiti and sgraffito where the art was in the literary aphorism. Followed by, and concurrent with, the muralists of the 1960s and 70s, a left wing political tradition of public art making. Then came the old school, hip hop aerosol graffiti of the 1980s from bubble letter to wild style. Then street art with peaks of stencils, and subsequent peaks in other media: paste-ups, installations and yarn bombing.

In case you hadn’t noticed, and confirmed by Dr Lachlan MacDonald, street art is now the institutional phase, the “mainstreaming of street art”. In the institutional phase there are established career path for artists, established curators, collectors, major exhibitions and civic interest in street art murals. The very fact that Dr MacDonald, Head of Centre for Cultural Partnerships, Faculty of the VCA and MCM, was talking about this at a Street Art Round Table on the 22/4/16 at Melbourne University is evidence of the institutional phase.

Not that this institutional phase is necessarily bad for the ecology of street art. The archeology of this phase will reveal a layers of better quality paint with more durable pigments as spray paint is now being manufactured to suit the needs of aerosol art. In this phase the wild street art and graffiti is not being buffed to extinction but at times, facilitated or conserved. And unlike any of the other phases, the institutional phase understands the place of street art and graffiti in the urban ecology.

The Street Art Round Table was a one day forum present by Asialink attended by students, academics, street artists, curators, collectors, creative directors, arts managers and civic administrators. It was a series of short talks about a variety of aspects about street art, including a talk about street art’s hipster brother the resurgence of sign writing. I was particularly interested in hearing about street art in Singapore presented by Jasmine Choe from Singapore Youth Arts (see my earlier posts about street art the city state of Singapore). Further proof, if it was needed, of the institutional phase of street art.

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Unknown, paste-up cans, Hosier Lane, 2016


Redevelopments and Public Sculptures

There is constant redevelopment in the CBD, buildings are being torn down and new buildings built, but two redevelopments have caught my attention because of the public sculptures caught up in these developments. Although these sculptures are public, in that they are on premises open to the public, they are privately owned. These are the redevelopment at the 360 Collins Street and 447 Collins Street.

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

My interest in 360 Collins Street is focused on the forecourt area on Little Collins Street where there are several sculptures by Peter Blizzard’s Shrine to the Ancient River, Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones and Chris Booth’s Strata. See my blog post.  In 2011 there was a proposal approved for 15-storey development in the forecourt area whereas the present 2015 proposal retains, refurbishes and redevelops part of the forecourt area. For more on the development see Urban Melbourne.

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Ironically it was a dislodged slab of its marble facade in 2012  that spelt the end for the National Mutual building at 447 Collins Street designed by architects Godfrey, Spowers, Hughes, Mewton & Lobb in 1965. It’s façade of marble slabs was its one notable architectural feature, a move away from the curtain wall of earlier modernism. 447 Collins Street is now vacant and approved for demolition. In the forecourt of 447 Collins Street are the statues of John Batman by Stanley Hammond and John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Mezaros, see my blog post.

What will happen to the sculptures? The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act in 2000, under section 195AT, the owner of a moveable artistic work is liable to the artist if they destroy the artistic work without first giving the artist opportunity to remove it. The artist or their heirs, as two of the sculptors are now deceased, have the right to be informed about the removal, storage or subsequent reinstallation.

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

In the past Melbourne University was eager to provide new homes to sculptures dislodged from their original locations in the city, see my blog post. None of the sculptures at either 360 Collins Street or 447 Collins Street are site specific so it should not proved difficult to find a new home for them, if they are not returned to refurbished forecourts at their present locations.


Slap Pals Potato Art

I love exhibition where I leave with free numbered artwork, even if I had to stamp and tear it out from the pad myself. It is more efficient that way.

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

“Slap Pals present Slap Pals get sacked – an art improvement program” in George Paton Gallery at the Union House, University of Melbourne. The art improvement program that Slap Pals is talking about, is not about improving the quality of the art but the efficiency of producing art. The exhibition text is a parody of contemporary corporate language and has the best written room sheet that I have read in years.

It is also a potato based exhibition opening a day late for St. Patrick’s Day. The potatoes used in the show was supplied by their sponsor Georgie’s Harvest at South Melbourne Market. There are many potato references in the exhibition including potato battery power and potato prints but You, Tuber, a beautiful and sickening work, uses both a YouTube tutorial on tuba playing and colour mashed potatoes. And Slap Pals know that video art projections are an efficient means of filling a gallery space.

“Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Joe Strummer asked the audience at the Roundhouse, London on the 23 September 1976.

Sure we all might feel like we are being cheated but who is doing the cheating is the real question. Are Slap Pals cheating at creating art? Is Joe Strummer cheating the audience by asking that question instead of The Clash belting out another song? It is not as if the combined activities of Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and every other contemporary artist that you might hate, caused the global financial crisis. That was done by very different people, who made vastly more money.

Do I make myself clear? It is a parody, a shock, a punk action and shooting the messenger is never solution when you listening to the message. “Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Is this efficiency really an improvement? Is your manager talking complete bollocks? Fantastic work Slap Pals, who ever you are; you should get the sack in the next efficiency drive.

In the entrance gallery at George Paton Gallery there is Nik Lee’s “Polo for NASA: Listening to Lorde @ UniLodge”. Nik Lee’s sense of humour expressed in cryptic assemblies of commercial objects. His rearrangement of readymades creates a funky futuristic rootless world with strong sculptural qualities.


Inge King – Retrospective @ NGV

Without a doubt Inge King is Melbourne’s most important sculptor of the second half of the twentieth century. Her importance comes from being amongst the first modern sculptors in Melbourne, her many public sculptures and her long life.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King Constellation is a retrospective exhibition at the NGV Ian Potter Centre (Fed Square). In giving an overview of her life’s work the exhibition shows the point where King found her style and then how it developed. Her early works resembles various European modern sculptors: Jan Arp, Juan Miro, Henry Moore, along with a bit of Alexander Calder.

Sculpture was, until the 20th century, made from raw materials, clay, stone, wood, metal; then came assemblage, a particularly modern method because it requires previously manufactured materials to assemble. In 1959 King acquired and learnt to use an arc welder; it was with the welded assemblage of steel plates that she found her style. It was a style that was perfect for public sculpture. A field guide to recognising a King’s public sculpture would probably note they are assemblages of metal and mostly painted black.

King’s public sculptures are very familiar to many people in Melbourne. Her sculptures are across the city from Melbourne University, the Arts Centre to EastLink. Students and graduates of Melbourne University would be familiar with King Sun Ribbon (1970).

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Forward Surge (1972-74 installed in 1981) fits perfectly into the curved architecture of the Arts Centre Melbourne and Hamer Hall, turning the horizontal curves of the buildings vertical. The curves delight small children who try to climb them only to have to slide back down when the curve becomes to steep. King remarks in a video interview that although she understands why the council wants to stop skateboarders using Forward Surge, because they have to repaint it, she is glad that skateboarders do use it.

As a member of the Centre 5 group King wanted to reunited modern sculpture with architecture. Her Red Rings (2008), located at the junction of the EastLink pedestrian and bike trail and the Dandenong Creek trail, are three steel rings painted red. The human scale of the Red Rings, 2.5 metres in diameter allows for people to move through them.

The NGV’s exhibition has many of the maquettes, at various scales, for these public sculptures. There is the maquette for the bird form, Sheerwater (1994) in front of the Esso building on Southbank.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

The exhibition gives further insight into King’s interest in reuniting sculpture with architecture, one of the five objectives of the Centre 5 group that King was involved with. Her sculptures can be walls, screens and arches but they can also relate to architecture by projecting from walls or, made of aluminium instead of steal, hanging from the ceiling.

King’s arrival in Melbourne in 1951 marks the beginning of modern Melbourne; the beginning of an international outlook aware of Europe and the USA rather than provincial colonial view. King said that when she arrived Melbourne was “like opening a can of flat beer”. It was the arrival of post-war immigrants that saved Melbourne’s culture and made this contemporary, artistic city.

There was no interest in modern sculpture in Melbourne when King arrived and to make a living she turned to jewellery making. The exhibition includes two vitrines of her boldly modern jewellery; vambrace style bracelets set with opals, necklaces and rings with geometric elegance that can be seen in her most recent sculptures.

Given Inge King’s importance in the history of Australian art it is a shame that this exhibition was so disjointed. The exhibition is located in the large foyers of each floor of Ian Potter Centre, extending a bit into a gallery on the second floor and on the landings of stairs. Starting on the third floor with her earliest work, her classic black sculptures are on the second floor and her most recent work in stainless steel on the ground floor. Extending into the gallery space on the second floor allows the curator to include a mini-retrospective of King’s husband, Grahame King, a notable print maker.


Sculpture @ Melbourne University

There is an expectation of sculptures adoring the university’s buildings and gardens and Melbourne University’s collection provides a unique view of the history of sculpture in Melbourne. (Macquarie University established a Sculpture Park in 1992.) The removal of the iron fence around the grounds in 19th Century meant that grounds of Melbourne University were open to the public. However, although the sculptures are on public display they are in the separate space of the university and have a different history to that of the Melbourne’s public sculptures. This is not a guide to Melbourne University’s sculpture for that see Lorinda Cramer and Lisa Sulivan’s Sculpture on Campus.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Sculptures at Melbourne University have accrued over time – there has been no over all plan.  Brian Lewis (Foundation Professor of Architecture, 1947– 1971) was described by Ray Marginson as “an outstandingly successful ‘magpie’.” (“Impecunious magpies, or how to adorn a university with little ready cash – Ray Marginson, interviewed by Robyn Sloggett” University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 7, December 2010 Dr Ray Marginson was Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne from 1965 to 1988.) This magpie aspect to the collection ties in with the earlier trend of ‘façadism’, as well as, Melbourne University’s outstanding collection of modern sculptures.

‘Façadism’ at Melbourne University is a struggle to accrue identity in the post-colonial new world, a kind of antiquarianism on a gigantic scale. It is a local version of the American multi-millionaires who moved whole European palaces across the Atlantic to feel more in touch with history.

The redevelopment of the city brought sculptures to Melbourne University. In 1890 the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the USA acquired northwest corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. When Whelan the Wrecker demolished the building in 1959 and the group of bronze statuary that topped the entrance portico was donated to the University of Melbourne.

The sculpture depicts a sandal-shod Amazon giving succour to a widow with two children. It was modelled and cast in Vienna in 1893 and is similar to the sculpture that once stood at Equitable’s New York office. It was originally located at its new Architecture school at Mt. Martha but was relocated to the main campus in 1981.

In 1966 Whelan the Wrecker’s work provided more sculptures for Melbourne University when the Union Bank was demolished. Two figures meant to represent Great Britain and Australia, also known as Ada and Elsie. (Robyn Annear, A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne, 2006)

The gateway to the underground car park with figures by Percival Ball (1845-1900) was also saved from demolition.

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The early appearance of abstract modern sculptures on the Melbourne University campus demonstrates the progressive university community compared to the rest of Melbourne. Inga King and Norma Redpath played a more important part in introducing modernist sculpture to Melbourne than Ron Robertson-Swann regardless of the brouhaha over Vault.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

In 1980 Inge King‘s Sun Ribbon replaced a pond on the Union Lawn; it was what the university students wanted (Marginson p. 28). The sculpture is the gift of Mrs Eileen Kaye Fox in 1982 in memory of her parents Ernest and Fannie Kaye. In 1985 a group of students covered the sculpture in aluminium foil. Also by King on the campus is “Upward Surge” 1974–75 Steel Commissioned 1974 for the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew and installed in its current location in 2001.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital, 1970-74

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74

The Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial by Norma Redpath 1970 (signed 1969-70) is a bronze capital on top of a black steel column. Prof. Sydney Dattilo Rubbo (1911-69) was the professor of Microbiology from 1945-69. Leading post-war sculptor Norma Redpath 69-73 studied sculpture at RMIT, 1953 was part of the ‘Group Four’ with Inge King, Julius Kane and Clifford Last. Other public sculptures by Redpath in Melbourne, the Facade Relief (1970–1972) at Victoria College of Pharmacy and the Victoria Coats of Arms (1968) on the front of the Arts Centre of Victoria.

Although Melbourne University has an good collection of sculptures featuring works by many notable sculptors and with examples from many different eras of sculpture, it is a peculiar collection that often picks up what others were casting aside.


Who Pays For Public Mistakes?

Many public sculptures are mistakes, very few are really successful. Given that permanent public sculptures are expensive due to the cost of materials like bronze and marble. Given that a sculptor creating public sculpture has to learn from experience the question must be asked who should pay for these public mistakes?

Micheal Menzaros, The More We Know, bronze, 2013, Melbourne University

Micheal Menzaros, The More We Know, bronze, 2013, Melbourne University

This question came up when I was examining the recent sculpture The More We Know 2013 by Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros. It is located out the front of the entrance to the Medical Building at Melbourne University, near the corner of Grattan Street and Royal Parade.

The More We Know is about the advance of medical knowledge and it commemorates Melbourne Medical School’s 150th anniversary. It is the idea of a group of nine Melbourne Medical School alumni from 1972 who last year commissioned the sculpture from Meszaros. The sculpture represents progress in the increasing complexity of the figure including the gaps in the figures; the more we know the more aware of we are of the gaps in our knowledge.

The statue is not only expresses how medical knowledge, practice and technology evolve but also the evolution of Meszaros’ sculpture. The linked group of figures is a development from his earlier sculpture, further down Grattan Street outside of main entrance of the Royal Women’s Hospital. The figures go towards and away from the hospital; there is doctor with a stethoscope, a pregnant woman, a woman holding a baby, a nun like nurse, a woman with a nametag.

Michael Meszaros's sculpture at Royal Melbourne Hospital

Michael Meszaros’s sculpture at Royal Melbourne Hospital

The profile faces in The More We Know are a development from metal outline profiles in Meszaros’ Distant Conversation, 1992 that once was in the lobby of the Telstra building. All of this far more complex than Meszaros’ earliest public sculpture in Melbourne, his 1978 realist figure of John Pascoe Fawkner at 447 Collins Street.

In 1979 in The Age the critic, Robert Rooney described Meszaros’ John Pascoe Fawkner (and its companion, Stan Hammond’s John Batman) as a “miserable pair of bronze nonentities”. Former Age art critic Peter Timms was more forgiving saying that it “shows a need for social coherence which we all desire; a sense of hierarchy and order. But I guess we all acknowledge that that’s not the reality anymore – so is sculpture the way to achieve it? I don’t know.”

Michael Meszaros (b.1945) is the son of the Hungarian born sculptor and medalist Andor Mészáros (1900-1972). Michael Meszaros studied architecture at Melbourne University before turning to sculpture. He is still working in the same studio in Kew that his father built. He is a former member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and was also instrumental in the original push for legislation to recognize the artists’ moral rights. Meszaros’s niece, Anna Meszaros is also a sculptor, notable for her fourteen relief sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross outside several of Melbourne’s inner city churches.

There are many sculptures by Michael Meszaros in Melbourne. There is his memorial to William Guilfoyle, curator from 1873 to 1909, a cluster of bronze sprouting seeds with large acorns at the Royal Botanic Gardens. His copper birds at 350 St. Kilda Road and the others that I have mentioned in this post.

I started writing this post with some sympathy towards Meszaros, not because I admired any his sculptures but I did appreciate his development over his 43 years of working as a sculptor. However I lost what sympathy I had when I read his public submissions to the federal Minister for the Arts Review of Private Sector Support for the Arts 2011. Meszaros’ submission exposes his anti-intellectual, conservative position and demonstrates that while he might be good at getting sculptural commissions ranging from small medallions to public sculpture he lacks training in both diplomacy and a greater understanding of the art world outside his own studio.

In the submission Meszaros complains about ephemeral artists, performance ‘sculptors’, sound sculptors, etc. claiming that they alienate the public. This raises the question if Meszaros’ own sculptures engage or alienates the public? I’ve never seen the public interact with any of his sculptures aside from people using the plinth of his figure of Fawkner as a seat. No one touches the sculptures even though they are at street level and no one takes selfies with them. Meszaros’ Telstra figures Distant Conversation, 1992, have been alienated from Telstra’s lobby and ultimately the from Telstra; the sculpture was finally acquired by Grollo Australia. Café tables in the lobby of 565 Bourke Street now surround his Rainbow, 1990. After a while his sculptures just fade into the background of the city and are ignored.

Michael Menzaros, Rainbow, steel, 565 Bourke Street

Michael Meszaros, Rainbow, steel, 565 Bourke Street

Meszaros complains in his submission that: “In may (sic) circles, commissioned artists are looked on as a lower form of commercialised life. By that definition, Michelangelo was a commercial sculptor.” In cherry-picking evidence Meszaros disdain of education meant that he didn’t realize the irony of this comment as Michelangelo found many of his commissions annoying.

To prospective clients each commissions looks like a triumph because they are not an absolute disaster. A sculptor working on commissions doesn’t have to rely on repeat customers, he just moves on to the next commission. In this way organizations pay for his development as a sculpture and have to live with his mistakes. That said; Michael Meszaros has built a reputation through commissions involving Melbourne University, for decades, he received commissions for portrait medals of retiring Melbourne University academics.


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