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Tag Archives: Parkville

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.

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Recent Public Sculpture in Melbourne

There are two recent public sculptures with botanical references: Fruition, 2013 by Matthew Harding and Moment, 2013 by Damien Vicks where the geometry of botany lends itself to contemporary sculpture.

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

The two giant seed pods creates a landmark for the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue are Matthew Harding’s Fruition. The sculptures mediate between the nature of Royal Park, the largest of Melbourne’s inner city parks, and the artificial world of the roads and traffic. Royal Park has, up until last year, been bereft of any public sculpture. Fruition is huge, with an axis length 6.5m and 4.2m, even when seen from the road, where most people will see this sculpture, they are larger than most trucks. Made of corten steel, a favourite of sculptors and designers because it quickly develops an outer patina of rust that protects the steel from further oxidation.

Fruition is not the only public sculpture by Matthew Harding in Melbourne, there is his Mercury Rising, 2008 series of seats in the city, commissioned by Colonial First State. The three cast mirror polished stainless steel forms with inset stainless steel contour banding in the pavement. The contour banding and the title refer to climate change.

Harding studied at the Canberra School of Art and is a regular exhibitor at the Fringe Festival Furniture, Sydney’s Workshopped, McClelland National Sculpture Survey, Sculpture by the Sea and the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment was installed in 2013 at Guild Apartments, Sturt Street in Southbank. Moment is the beautiful flower in the buttonhole of the building. Few buildings are designed with a crest, aside from a corporate logo. This is Vick’s first public commission; in 2011 he won both the Association of Sculptors of Victoria Annual Exhibition and the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show Sculpture exhibition. Vicks has also been a regular exhibitor at Toorak Village sculpture competition.

The number of sculptures in greater Melbourne continues to grow at an increasing rate. There is also William Eicholtz’s sculpture Courage in Fitzroy and the Steampunk sculptures in the city. These are some recent public sculpture in Melbourne that I haven’t mentioned in my up coming book, Sculptures of Melbourne. They have all been installed while I’ve been concentrating on writing the history, not that this is a problem because it is a history and not a survey of the sculptures.


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.


Jericho to Jerusalem

There is always an exhibition of classical antiquities on the first floor of the Ian Potter Museum of Art and it forms a significant part of the museum’s character. The current exhibition, “Jericho to Jerusalem” is of Bronze and Iron Age pottery from excavations by Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978) in Jericho and Jerusalem. The artefacts are all from the Melbourne University’s Classics and Archaeology Department’s collection that is used for hands on teaching and research.

Biblical archaeology has a bad reputation connected with the religious mania of evangelical Christians and political justification of Zionism but the work of Kathleen Kenyon is not of that kind of archaeologist. Kenyon, one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th Century, is notable for refining archaeological techniques, in particular her stratigraphy of the Middle East. Her stratigraphy has subsequently been largely backed up by radiocarbon dating. You might have heard of Jericho and Jerusalem from the Bible but there are no Biblical references in this exhibition.

This is an exhibition of ordinary domestic pottery from the Bronze and Iron Age. There are no masterpieces, the antiquity of the exhibits are the main attraction. Although this is just plain pottery I was particularly taken by a small gypsum (alabaster) juglet from Bronze Age Jericho 2200-1750 BCE and three jar handles from Iron Age Jerusalem 100-586 BCE stamped with the maker’s flying eagle stamp on them. The maker’s eagle stamp is a trademark that any modern company would be proud to have as their logo.

The didactic panels accompanying the exhibits are clear, informative without being too technical or over burdening the visitor with excessive information. A reproduction of Kathleen Kenyon’s hand drawn stratigraphy from one of her Jericho trenches makes a great backdrop to one of the display cases.

The archaeological interest of the pottery is in shapes, surface treatments, attachments and evidence of use, for example the carbon burn marks on the lamps. The existence of ceramics indicates social aspects: established settlement, specialized skills and trade.

I normally don’t write about ceramics or ancient art so I was pleased that I went to the exhibition opening by my old friend and archaeologist, Geoff Irvin who gave me a great deal of background on Kenyon’s work and the archaeology of the Middle East.


Seven Exhibitions

The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride to Melbourne University today; I had various reasons to go including having another look at the sculptures on campus for a future blog post. I also saw a couple of galleries on the campus, the George Paton Gallery and Ian Potter Museum of Art and on the way back I stopped in to have a look at Brunswick Arts Space.

I thought that I might give George Paton Gallery a miss because the exhibition “Make it New” was just a student union photography competition and exhibition but as I was passing by the Melbourne Student Union building I felt that this reason was snobbish. I was glad that I saw the exhibition, the variety and quality was impressive; I had seen some of the photographs before in other exhibitions.

Ian Potter Museum had three exhibitions: Heat in the eyes, Colour Me Dead and Under the Sun.

“Heat in the eyes: new acquisitions 2010–13” has more than fifty works recently acquired through purchase and donation. This included works by some familiar names: Jenny Watson, Mike Kelly and Peter Tyndall. Trevor Nickolls’ exuberant painting “Gertrude Street, Fitzroy” is definitely worth acquiring for so many reasons.

“Under the sun” is exhibition for the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2013 is an annual award for Indigenous creative artists. The $25,000 award winner is Mabel Juli for her minimal painting “Garnkeny Ngarranggarni (Moon Dreaming)”. The artists on exhibition are Teresa Baker, Daniel Boyd, Hector Burton, Timothy Cook, Mabel Juli, Kunmarnanya Mitchell, Alick Tipoti, Garawan Wanambi and Regina Wilson. I was taking note on the fibreglass resin masks by Alick Tipoti from the Torres Strait Islands, Hector Burton’s paintings of the trees around the waterhole with their fantastic colours, and the woven patterns in Garawan Wanambi (NT) paintings when my pen ran out of ink and so did my notes at this point.

Philip Brophy’s exhibition “Colour Me Dead” is about “changing perceptions of the nude in art from Neoclassicism and Romanticism”. It sounds more like an art history thesis than an art exhibition but Brophy has created an attractive and clever multi-media exhibition from his research. There is a movie, works on paper, digital art, sounds, lights and plenty to cogitate on. And here was I with out a functioning pen.

On my ride back I looked at the graffiti covered Upfield bike track (more research for future blog posts) and I stopped at Brunswick Arts Space. Where there were three good exhibitions. “I need a life, where can I download one? A drawing investigation by Alice Alva” fills two walls with drawings of debatable quality in a Barry McGee style hanging. Jess Kelly’s “Photosynthesis” has alchemical jars and life-size paper cut-outs of the lamppost growing leaves evoking a mysterious atmosphere. And Andy Robertson’s “Works, 2012” took a wry look at the documentation of contemporary art.


Basil Sellers Art Prize 2012

Melbourne artist, Jon Campbell won the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize for his work Dream team – 22, a series of enamel paintings on board each with a footballer’s nickname: Dipper, Richo and Buddy Love. It is a footie fan’s dream team a nicknames.

Basil Sellers will be relieved not to be taking home a DVD this time for it is an acquisitive prize and the last two prizes have been won by video art.

There was a strong showing by aboriginal artists this year I especially enjoyed Richard Bell’s two paintings and Brook Andrew two works, especially his painting examining the indigenous origins of Australian Rules football.

I enjoyed seeing Simon Perry sculpture “Twickenham”. The small figures rotate as their roll along a track mounted on the gallery wall; the figures are based on Ian Bradshaw’s photo of the arrest of the first streaker.

Patrick Pound’s exhibition of found photographs of amateur sports-people, electronic game machines and souvenirs of professional sports stars that lost suggest the ordinary tragedies that are the corollary of sporting triumphs.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize has started me thinking about sport again – see my previous post about Art & Sport and the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2010.  (I don’t often think about sport; when the grand final was being played in Melbourne on Saturday I was watching “Writer’s Bench” at ACMI, thank you Sandra.)

In “Fair game: Art versus sport in ‘the lucky country’ (Art & Australia v.47 n.4) the article Christopher McAuliffe describes the oppositional positioning of art and sport noting the objections to sport from Robin Boyd (and David Williamson) and identifying the 1956 Olympics as the point where sport moved from a balanced part of Australian life to an obsession that indicative of conservatism and a reason for national pessimism. McAuliffe is optimistic that a balance can be restored but his evidence is only anecdotal.

On the other hand Barrie Houlihan (School of Social Sciences, Staffordshire University, “Sport, National Identity and Public Policy”, Nations and Nationalism v.3, Issue 1) concluded “that while sport possesses a powerful symbolism that can be exploited on occasion to great effect, the malleability of sports symbolism often undermines its capacity to exert a lasting effect on national identity.”

Art, what ever it is, is an elaborate cultural activity that exposes elements of a culture. Reflecting on art can illuminate these cultural elements, both the intentional and the unintentional. In this aspect I think that art is helpful to human happiness as it provides a time to think – as happiness requires, according to Epicurus: friends, freedom and time to think. Sport and games in general, although enjoyable but do not provide time to think, very few people reflect on their life at a football match or while playing on the X-box. This is not to argue that sport and games are not conducive to happiness, they are a great way to spend time with friends, only that sport and games alone will not provide a happy life. Sport and games are not the same as the free play that occurs in art.


Cunningham Dax Collection – New & Improved

Even in the beautiful new building viewing the Cunningham Dax Collection is not an enjoyable experience. It is an emotionally unsettling experience but enjoyment is not the purpose of the exhibition. There is an educational purpose to this collection; this is not just another art gallery.

The collection is named after its founder Dr Eric Cunningham Dax who in 1946 pioneered the place of art therapy in mainstream psychiatric treatment. I’d been to the Cunningham Dax Collection before in 2010 when it was still located in some old buildings in the hard to find location in the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Royal Park Campus (see my previous post about the old location).

Now Cunningham Dax Collection has a new location at the Department of Neuroscience on Melbourne University’s main campus. The new building still has the same basic facilities as in the old one, reception, the gallery space, the education resource centre, multimedia gallery, but this time it has been purpose built and beautifully designed. There is a spectacular 6-story light well in the middle of the gallery making the experience of viewing the exhibition as comfortable as possible.

The current exhibitions are “Selected works from the collection” and “Hide & Seek: Self Portraits from the collection.” The selected work from the collection shows the range of art therapy from diagnostic to disaster relief. There are examples of the “draw a picture of a tree” section of the Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS) or the House-tree-person test (HTP) along with moving works from the Holocaust collection.

I found “Hide & Seek: Self Portraits” a difficult experience – I didn’t want to look it for long. It is difficult to know what to think when viewing the art of the mentally ill in a gallery. Often this art is such a private experience or clinical experience. And this raises the question of the ability of the mentally ill to fully consent to exhibiting their art. Most of the artists on exhibited are referred to as “artist name withheld”; including the artist who drew their complaints about the conditions in 1963 Larundel clearly wanted to communicate about the “Larunhole cell” and the “dinner (revolting)”. And, Richard McLean, who trained Victorian College of the Arts and worked professionally as a graphic designer certainly wants his art exhibited to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness.

Those suffering from grief and trauma often want to communicate about their experience and they can do it clearly, even if they have no arts training. Sharing traumatic experiences, like the Tsunami Collection by Sri Lanka children, is a meaningful experience for both the artist and the viewer. You can easily see it from their point of view but this is more difficult with the mentally ill.

The art from the Cunningham Dax Collection makes me think that there is clear difference between art therapy for grief and art therapy for mental illness. The broad application of art therapy for grief, trauma, to mental illness makes it appear like a panacea. However much I love art I am suspicious of claims of panaceas. Perhaps we need to think of art as a tonic, a boost, a refresher, as in something that lifts the spirits or makes somebody feel better generally, rather than a therapy. We should all regularly do art and it will make us feel better.

In a recent systematic review of art therapy J. Leckey notes: “Although participation in creative arts is believed to have mental health and social benefits for individuals, the evidence base is weak and a major factor seems to be the lack of clarity of the concepts (well-being, mental illness/ health and creative arts), as how can something be measured if you are not clear on what it is that is being measured.” (J. Leckey “The therapeutic effectiveness of creative activities on mental well-being: a systematic review of the literature” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 2011, n.18 p.508)

“This review highlights the need for further research into the effects of creative arts and to clearly identify what is meant by mental well-being in a more systematic and structured way.” So there is still a purpose for the research carried out at the Dax Centre.


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