Tag Archives: Melbourne

Frog Pond

The thin frog looks so skinny that you can see its bones. It is not meant to be a particular frog but rather a generic Australian native frog leaping fully extended from the water. An amphibious athlete to match the near-by hammer thrower by John Robinson.

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John Olsen, Frog, 2013 bronze

John Olsen’s Frog, 2013 is installed in the Children’s Pond in the Queen Victoria Gardens. The two metre tall bronze frog was unveiled on Wednesday 16 December 2016.

The pond is named after two other sculptures, John Robinson’s Water Children (c.1970) is a bronze sculpture of two children, a boy and a girl, playing amongst the rocks at the source of the pond. It amongst some of the most sentimental sculpture in Melbourne. However, the source of the pond is now a damp bowl and the fountain has been turned off and this post is about Olsen’s Frog and not Robinson’s Water Children, which were modelled on his own children.

John Olsen is well know for his paintings of frogs but he is not widely know as a sculptor. When a major artist like him want to make a sculpture there are people who can help you produce a saleable work that would look attractive in a millionaire’s garden.

Olsen’s Frog is a gift from the property developer Eddie Kutner (Wonderment Walk) to the City of Melbourne in recognition of the work that the city has done in capturing, purifying and reusing stormwater. Water is a reoccurring theme in Melbourne’s sculptures with the first public sculpture Charles Summers, River God commissioned by the council to celebrate Melbourne’s water supply.

About a century earlier another businessmen, Theodore Fink donate two busts to Queen Victoria Gardens. Since then it has slowly been filling with mostly gift sculpture.

But thinking now about the frog; since I have been writing this blog I have been noticing many animals in contemporary art, from taxidermy specimens to drawings of animals. Taxidermy animals in particularly figure prominently in contemporary art. For more on this subject see my posts on taxidermy and contemporary art, and Why look at Dead Animals.

The answer to my question came in Janine Burke’s “The elephant in the room: Uses and misuses of animals in curatorial practice” Art Monthly Australia (Issue 280, June 2015) examines the nexus of animals and contemporary art attributing this to a massive shift in contemporary thinking that challenges the binary human and animal distinction. Burke attributes this to philosophers including: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guttari, Jacques Derrida and Peter Singer.

Humans are feeling more comfortable accepting that they are another animal amongst many. The family of ducks inhabiting the ponds with the sculpture, watching the ducklings explore the pond. Contemporary art’s interest in the soft sciences, zoology and biology, as well as, the social sciences may be a reaction to the high modernist interested in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry.


The City As Art

The buildings in the centre of Melbourne are both familiar and unknown, they seem to change around like something out of the movie, Dark City. Exploring the city has to be a regular activity as there are changes occurring all of the time and a once familiar area transforms.

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The city as a creation, as a great co-operative work of architecture, art and engineering stretching over a vast area and reaching into the sky, a larger concept than a medieval cathedral. The creation, curation and alteration of which is a mix of planning, adapting and neglect.

The city draws you along its streets, wanting to see what is coming around the corner. Each street creates a new scene, one block is totally different from the next.

Underneath the city, the ground level is as constructed on foundations. How deep does it go? The labyrinthine network of tunnels, the subway, the subconscious of all cities. There is a mystery beneath all cities, the mystery of  the labyrinth and at its core the Minotaur.

Too much repetition in a city reminds one that it is also a labyrinth where a Minotaur hunts for sacrificial victims. “Bloody tribute!” says Theseus after tagging the wall with an outline of his hand sprayed by mouth in red ochre, or is it bull’s blood?

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Cities are visually dense; signs and symbols compete for our attention. The accretion of images, of advertising and signs. The many shiny surfaces reflect the many lights further confusing the vision. The visual density of the city has presented a challenge to visual artists for the last two centuries.

Graffiti and street art rise to this challenge by imitating the visual intensity of the city, by being part of and by being framed by the infrastructure of the city. Graffiti tries to fit into this environment by becoming a tag, a personal logo in a world full of corporate logos. Both the graffiti writer and the street artist rectifies the urban environment by adding their designs to the layers of images, personalising the alien, impersonal architecture of the city.

The whole of Melbourne could be seen as an un-curated art gallery for graffiti and street art. Except that there are small semi-curated zones, like… roll the credits… Doyle’s Blender Alley and Lovelands, the area of Fitzroy curated by Shaun Hossack of Juddy Roller, Dean Sunshine’s factories in Brunswick. Gordon Harrison, the City of Melbourne engineer should also get some credit of street art in the CBD. I’m sorry if I have missed anyone.

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Cowen Gallery @ State Library

Trying to imagine what the National Gallery would have looked like when it was in the State Library. At the same time as looking in the future at what Patricia Picininni images the evolution, or the genetic alteration of car drivers.

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Patricia Piccinini, Graham, 2016

Prior to the construction of the National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road in 1968 the National Gallery of Victoria was located in the State Library. It consisted of the Swinburne Hall, the painting school studios and three galleries. What were the McArthur and La Trobe galleries are no longer open to the public, but the Cowen Gallery and the two linking rooms, are still used for exhibiting art at the State Library.

A century ago it would have looked rather different, the now redundant skylights would have allowed diffused natural light into the galleries. The paintings and prints would have been hung Salon style, hanging multiple works right up to the ceiling to fill the wall. Rather than the way it is hung now with a single row of works at eye level along the wall. On the walls would have been Alma Tadema’s The Vintage Festival in Ancient Rome, Watt’s portrait of Tennyson, and John Longstaff’s Breaking the News. In the middle of the room there were marble statues of the royal family by Charles Summers.

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Charles Summers, bust of the actor Gustavus Brooke, 1868

The numerous marble busts by Charles Summers still on exhibition reminds me that he was allowed to arrange the sculptures in the gallery. Summers placed plaster casts of Michelangelo next to a plaster cast of his Burke and Wills Monument to demonstrate his references. Summers’s ego exhibited in this arrangement amused some English visitors but for nineteenth century Melbourne he was their Michelangelo.

The plaster casts and etching of works by other artists hanging in the gallery indicate that issues of originality and even the function of the art gallery was very different.

In the present the art gallery at the State Library is an odd mix of art from Melbourne’s past, with a particular focus on landscapes of Melbourne and portraits of Melbourne identities, along with some contemporary art. Above the stairs hangs a tapestry by the Australian Tapestry Workshop based on a painting by Juan Davila.

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Juan Davila and Australian Tapestry Workshop, Sorry, 2013

Graham was just sitting there in his shorts going viral as people crowded around taking photos of him. After a selfie with Graham in the background the visitor might spend awhile with the headphones and iPads finding out why Graham looks that way and how the collaborated between the TAC, Patricia Piccinini, a leading trauma surgeon and a crash investigation expert produced him. Piccinini’s art makes an impact both in the gallery and online and that makes her work perfect for a road safety awareness campaign.

I wonder how Graham would have been greeted, if he had been created a century ago, and where would he have been displayed in Melbourne. Undoubtedly he still would have received a lot of media attention.


Sculpture Walk and other public sculptures

Public sculpture in Melbourne has changed dramatically in style, materials, locations and numbers. Join me in a walk to view sculptures around the city from the 18th to the 21st centuries and learn about how the art of sculpture has evolved through the years. Ticket price includes morning tea at the Melbourne Writers Festival Club at ACMI at the conclusion of the walk. Book at the Festival’s website.

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A sculpture tour takes shelter under Vault during a sudden shower.

While I am writing a post about public sculptures I thought that I could mention two small war memorials that didn’t mention in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne and won’t be on my sculpture walk.

WWII Nurses Memorial

Raymond Ewers, Memorial to WWII nurses

The memorial to WWII nurses outside Fawkner Towner on St. Kilda Road (431 St. Kilda Road) that was re-landscaped in 2012. The memorial consists of a bronze plaque on a stone and bronze bust in a niche. The bust is of a composite, idealised nurse. The memorial is by Raymond Ewers who created several of Melbourne’s memorials, including the Sir Thomas Blamey Memorial, 1958, in Kings Domain and the bronze bas-relief for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fountain,1965. Although there is nothing now connecting the area to nurses, there was an earlier connection, as it was the site of the Nurses Memorial Centre. I have written about other of Ewers sculptures in my book but there are so many other war memorials in Melbourne that it would have made for a very dull read to write about all of them.

R. George Summers, Brunswick Beor War Memorial, 1903 2

R. George Summers, Boer War Memorial

Brunswick’s Boer War memorial by the sculptor, R. George Summers of Carlton (no relation to the Charles Summers who made the Burke and Wills Monument in the city square) was originally located in front of the Court House. The figure and the monument was originally intended for Private S.J. Barnard, however Chairman of the committee wanted it more inclusive, to honour both the 69 returned soldiers and the four dead from Brunswick. The memorial was then relocated to the Brunswick Town Hall, before it was moved to its current location, on the traffic island tram stop at the start of Sydney Road, around 1925.


Piecing in Burnside

Way out in Melbourne’s west, in the suburb of Burnside there is an industrial park. Constructions built from reinforced concrete walls fill up half of the blocks. Lots of big concrete walls covered in graffiti facing empty blocks. It is obvious from the graffiti pieces that Kame and the Boogaloo Bros had been doing a lot of painting on the industrial estate.

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At 11am last Saturday three cars rolled into the empty block loaded with spray cans, paint, rollers, and step ladders. There were four guys piecing: Jamit, Kame and the Boogaloo Bros, Suer and Rise. Forgetting their tags, these are just four middle-aged guys in daggy old clothes; the Boogaloo Bros are wearing fluro jackets.

These middle aged guys were all painting in the eighties, the initial hiphop graffiti phase in Melbourne but this was the first time that Jamit had actually met Kame and the Boogaloo Bros. The internet has brought these guys together, it has also given a new life to Kame’s painting. Kame had lost interest in graffiti many years ago and was completely unaware of how Melbourne’s scene had developed until an old friend got in touch with him just over a year ago. They are not a crew; the idea of graffiti crew has morphed into an online network.

These are all legal walls that were being painted. The Boogaloo Bros have permission to paint from the building owners, a folder of signed documents sits in their car, just in case. So they have invited Kame and Jamit to join them for a day’s painting.

The first order of business was buffing the wall black. The black paint was watered down so that it would go on faster. Suer kissed goodbye to an old piece as they efficiently roller painted over the wall.

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Next the guys started their outlines. Jamit and Kame were working from sketches but not the Boogaloo Bros. they just start on geometric underpaintings. Suer and Rise do sketches but they just do them for their own sake. As they are out painting most weekends they have plenty of practice and confidence.

Three different styles of pieces start to emerge from the black wall: Jamit is doing a big blockbuster piece taking up two of the concrete panels, the Boogaloo Bros are working up two wildstyle pieces and Kame is doing something more character based in a rock’n’roll tattoo style.

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Jamit hasn’t painted in ages and is struggling a bit. He is running out of paint, using a tape measure to get the letters the right size and buffing out mistakes.

Kame’s curving lines are loose but well planned. He has a beautiful almost traditional sign writing calligraphy, his mother is into calligraphy. Kame has talent and it is not surprising to learn that he is off to paint in the Meeting of Styles in San Francisco in September.

The Boogaloo Bros are confidently and methodically filling in their outlines. Rise does run out of one colour and has to improvise. Suer loves his colours. “Wait till you see this Derby with Fuchia.”

It is all the guys do; apart from a couple of bottles of Pepsi, Kame documenting his painting with a camera and Rise sucking on some cancer sticks.

The wind blows across the wide western plains bring in the grey cloud fronts. It is about 10 degree Celsius out of the wind and there is nowhere out of the wind, the wind chill is freezing. You can see the rain closing in for about thirty minutes; plenty of time for Suer to stand on a small hillock and to try blow the clouds back west. Only Kame kept painting through the rain.

“This is the worst day I’ve ever painted” Kame says.

Perhaps because of this Kame is the first to finish while the others still painting. After another couple of rain fronts the others had finished their outlines and highlights. Finally they sign off with crew affiliations, tags and tributes to the people who were there on the day. Then it was time for photographs to be uploaded to Instagram.

It was just after 4:30 when the graffiti writers drive out of the industrial estate; cold, hungry but happy with their day’s painting.


More of Melbourne’s Public Sculptures

More of Melbourne’s public sculptures that aren’t in Sculptures of Melbourne. My book was never intended to be a catalogue of Melbourne’s sculpture. In writing a history I could not include every example. The Melbourne City Council has 100 sculptures and 80 monuments, not including privately owned sculptures on public display, nor those owned by institutions like the Arts Centre or Melbourne University and RMIT. Then there are all the sculptures in the suburbs of greater Melbourne. So here are a few more that aren’t in my book, and haven’t yet been mentioned in this blog.

Nadim Karam,The Travellers, 2005 (3)

Nadim Karam, The Travellers, 2005-6

A large prominent series of sculpture that I didn’t mention are The Travellers, 2005-6 by the multidisciplinary artist and architect, Nadim Karam. Karam has made similar sculptures for cities around the world, so he was a safe choice for a major commission.

The steel figures parade across the Sandridge bridge, some with little wind propellers turning. The figures are meant to represent migration to Australia. On the south bank of the Yarra is Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank, represents both the indigenous Aboriginal population and a gathering point for the travellers. It is dubious that any of this well intended meaning is obvious to the thousands of people who see it every day.

The Gayip figure was designed by Karam in collaboration with Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson, an RMIT graduate also designed the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam and Kirrip Wurrung Biik.

Konstantin Dimopolulos “Red Centre” 2006 06

Konstantin Dimopoulos, Red Centre, 2006

Federation Square is often used for temporary sculpture exhibitions and because of all the temporary events there is only one permanent sculpture at Federation Square. Like a tussock of grass the red coated steel stems of Konstantin Dimopoulos Red Centre 2006, move, rattle and sways. Red Centre takes some of Len Lye, the master of kinetic sculptures ideas and expands them into a post minimalist sculpture.

Since creating Red Centre the Egypt-born and Melbourne-based sculpture artist, Dimopoulos has created a ”social art action” with blue trees painted with environmentally safe, ultramarine blue pigment to raise awareness of deforestation. This series started in 2005 with Sacred Grove – The Blue Forest commissioned by the City of Melbourne. It continued in cities in New Zealand, Canada and the USA. From blue trees and red poles Dimopoulos continues to work with colours and social issues with Black Parthenon 2009 and The Purple Rain 2015.

Pauline Fraser, Wind Contrivance,1995

Pauline Fraser, Wind Contrivance, 1995

At the Victoria Market there is Pauline Fraser’s Wind Contrivance, 1995. With the wheel it almost looks industrial were it not for the scattering of bronze pumpkin, aboriginal fish trap and other items. The mix of materials, stone, bronze and wood, further confuses the meaning. The meaning of the sculpture, like its materials and parts are scattered. It was acquired when the market was refurbished as part of the percent for the arts. It is located in an odd position half way up Therry Street. Children climb on it and its low plinth is often used as a seat by people eating take-away food from the market.

The sculptor, Fraser has a series of bronze sculptures with a clearer meaning marking the entrance to the Altona Pier. On six corten steel plinths is a bronze leatherjacket fish,  a cuttlefish, a sea horse, a shell and a large crab. “Seaborn” 2005 makes reference to the diversity of marine life in Port Philip Bay.


LOL Street Art

Toys will be Toys

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Chuck Norris Was Here

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B1 Crucified, Brunswick

Jesus paintroller original

God has a plan to kill me

Darth %22Who's Your Daddy%22

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