Category Archives: Architecture

Drive Time Sculpture & Architecture

The international style of freeway design makes all the roads in the world look the same but Melbourne’s freeways no longer look like Jeffrey Smart’s modern and utilitarian Cahill Expressway. There are sculptures that can really only be seen from a car in Melbourne – EastLink Freeway has a $5.5 million public art collection.

Driving through Melbourne there is DCM’s City Gateway in Flemington with its a reference to the Vault. The big yellow beam at the start of the freeway is better known by other nicknames – “the cheese stick”. DCM is a Melbourne firm specializing in architecture and urban design and their work can be seen all over Melbourne from the new visitors centre at the Shrine of Remembrance to the Web Bridge in Docklands.

Noise reduction walls along the freeways have become works of architectural design. Wood Marsh, with Pels Innes and Nielson Kosloff, designed the noise reduction walls along the Eastern Freeway Extension in 1997. Other noise reduction walls designed by architects are the Geelong Road Noise Walls and the Bypass Soundwalls.

There is also the Craigieburn Bypass a giant rust-red corten steel arc sweeps across the freeway to create a grand visual gateway into northern Melbourne. This freeway sculpture consists of three long sculptural sound walls punctuated by a pedestrian bridge. Architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer in collaboration with landscape architecture firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean and artist Robert Owen designed the Craigieburn Bypass.

The speed at which the view passes the sculpture was assumed to be walking pace but the modern viewer in a car travels much faster, so the sculptures have to be huge, engaging but not too distracting. I don’t drive a car, I ride a bicycle and the only sculpture that I see from that is Simon Perry’s Rolled Path or the MoreArts exhibition and generally I stop my bike, so I see sculptures at walking pace. Consequently I haven’t actually seen the sculpture along EastLink (can I do it with Google Maps?).

Lisa Young, Island Wave, 2003, Melbourne

Lisa Young, Island Wave, 2003, Melbourne

A traffic sculpture that I have seen is in the round about at the corner of Franklin and Queen streets – Island Wave (2003) by Lisa Young. It is a repeating series of white painted steel shapes following the perimeter of the round about. Each of the steel shapes repeats the form of a stylised cross section of a wave about to break. The steel sculpture on concrete footing was fabricated by Gilbro Engineering and installed by Famous Constructions.

The linear sculpture parks along  EastLink in Melbourne’s outer Eastern suburbs. It features four major works by notable Australian artists. In addition to these major artworks, ConnectEast also funded a collection of smaller scale pieces located along the EastLink Trail for the enjoyment of cyclists and walkers, like me.

Elipsoidal Freeway Sculpture by James Angus is between Wellington Rd and Corhanwarrabul Creek. 24 green, blue and white coloured modular ellipsoids of varying sizes cover a distance of 36 metres.

Public Art Strategy by Emily Floyd is a giant painted steel blackbird overlooking a yellow worm. It is located between Cheltenham Road and the Dandenong Bypass. The giant children’s toy image is typical of Floyd’s work as an artist, Emily Floyd Signature Work (Rabbit), 2004 a large black painted aluminium toy rabbit on Waterview Walk in the Docklands. At 13 metres high, 19 metres long hers is the smallest of sculptures along the EastLink Trail.

Hotel by Callum Morton is between Greens Road and Bangholme road. Callum Morton, an RMIT alumnus, represented Australia at the 2007 Venice Biennale and his art is about architecture (“how space is experienced in built environments”). Hotel is a large-scale model of a bland high-rise modern hotel and some of its windows are lit at night with solar power.

Resembling a fallen tree or tower of galvanized steel plate along the side of the motorway. Desiring Machine by Simeon Nelson is next to EastLink south of Thompson Road, near Boundary-Colman’s Road. This is not Nelson’s only sculpture designed for a roadside there is his The M4 Freeway Commission, Sydney 2000.

(See The Age from 2007 on the Eastlink sculptures.)


Art Architecture @ fortyfivedownstairs

Stephen Nova “The Architectural Uncanny” and Dayne Trower “External Walls” at fortyfivedownstairs are two exhibitions that combine art and architecture. Art about architecture and architectural models as art are not unusual but that is because the subject is so important to us.

In the side gallery is Dayne Trower, a graduate of RMIT of Architectural Design, “External Walls”. “External Walls” is 24 almost identical plywood objects in wooden frames. I didn’t think at first that I would enjoy this minimalist work but Trower’s small models of external walls and stairs have methodical variations and alternatives to a defined site that work in a pleasing narrative sequence. “Put together as a whole, the sequence also presents an argument for an approach to architecture and a way of building.”

In the main gallery “The Architectural Uncanny” features five large works on paper in various media and seven large oil paintings on canvas by Stephen Nova.

The suburban house is a psychic icon, or as Nova describes them, in the title of one of his paintings, “The Memory Cathedral”. And Nova explores the inherent surrealism in these sombulist dormitory suburbs.

Nova depicts his architecture on a featureless tabletop or stage set, the atomistic nowhere of the suburbs. Combined with toys and other things Nova’s images are reassuring paintings of models of houses, often under construction and not inhabited. They are imaginary architectural models or architecture as child’s play.

The traditional imaginary home is surrounded by the white picket fence but what is underneath the artificial landscape of suburbia? Along with the comforting familiarity there is a threatening uncertain element to Nova’s images. In “House and Garden (See/Saw)” a diving board off the back porch leads to a trapeze bar, both suspended above a hedge maze. This hint of menace is part of the current tradition of the portrayals of uncanny suburbs.

(For more and photos of these two exhibitions see Habitus Living.)


Retro Style

Checking my mailbox there was an email from a publicist about five permanent larger-than-life original artworks by a Melbourne artist Steve Rosendale on the façade of the “YOU AND I” apartment precinct, a Collingwood residential development on the northern end of Smith Street. The name of the artist, Steve Rosendale, wasn’t initially familiar but on further research I found that I had reviewed an early exhibition, “Silhouettes” by Rosendale at Brunswick Arts in 2006 in my old blog. I had some vague memories of the exhibition and I was impressed at the targeting of the publicists email.

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It is always interesting to see how artists have developed over the years and Steve Rosendale’s painting technique has greatly improved. What I remember of his 2006 exhibition was the 60s pop style and cinematic style. Now Rosendale has developed this theme into a figurative retro style depicting scenes of 1950s Americana.

Orbit Architecture, the architect of the new development plan to incorporate Rosendale’s images in both perforated metal screens and an unusual technique of curing graphic concrete that will recreate one of Rosendale’s pieces in bas-relief.

Looking at Rosendale’s recent painting made me aware that there are a lot of retro artists around deliberately painting figurative images from the 1950s. Along with Steve Rosendale’s painting, there are Dianne Gall’s atmospheric 1950s interiors and Kathrin Longhurst’s sexed-up Soviet Realism. (Both Gall and Longhurst are represented by Catherine Asquith Gallery and Rosendale is represented by Libby Edwards Galleries.)

Retro styles have been a big feature of art, design, fashion, music and popular culture since the 1980s. The post-modern mix of kitsch, camp and conservative elements in these retro styles make me think that the baby boomers love the recreation and repetition of their history but also – what happened to the future?


Sculpture vs. Architecture

Architects, rather than sculptors have created many of Melbourne’s memorials and public sculptures. This is not a recent development, it has been going on for a century; a firm of architects, Irwin and Stevenson created Melbourne’s art deco Boar War Memorial, on the corner of St Kilda and Domain Roads, in 1924. Architects and designers often compete with sculptors for the same commissions for public sculpture.

Bertram McKennel, Victoria Parliament House, 1888

Bertram McKennel, Victoria Parliament House, 1888

In the 19th Century it was different, architecture created commissions for sculpture rather than competed with it. Classical inspired architecture requires bas-relief and other sculptural ornaments. From the figures at the tops of buildings to the Corinthian columns with their stylised Acanthus leaves on their ornate capitals they all had to be designed and carved.

And in the 19th Century many sculptors in Melbourne worked producing architectural ornamentation. Paul Montford was part of the New Sculpture movement that tried to emphasis the connection between sculpture and architecture. In 1888 Bertram Mackennal created two allegorical reliefs depicting industry, commerce, arts and agriculture for the façade of Victorian Parliament and the spandrels of the Mercantile Chambers, Collins Street. Mackennal’s father, an architecture modeller and sculptor had also worked on figures and decorations for Parliament under the supervision of Victoria’s first public sculptor, Charles Summers.

Bertram Mckennel, Victoria Parliament, 1888

Bertram Mckennel, Victoria Parliament House, 1888

In the modern era along the disappearance of sculptural ornamentation in architecture there was a change in how sculptors saw themselves. No longer supporting architecture modern sculptors saw themselves mini-architects with the same ambitions to create formal 3D shapes. It was an odd move world public sculptures were seen as a means of ameliorating the aesthetic effect a functionalist a modern building. Public art was expected to humanize the alienating undecorated architecture with an artistic gesture.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

Now Melbourne has an increasing use of architectural forms in the decoration of freeways, roundabouts and buildings. The stark minimalism of the modern era has gone and now sculptors are expected to work in collaboration with the architect from the start of the project.

Denton Corker and Marshall (DCM) is a Melbourne firm specializing in architecture and urban design. DCM’s work can be seen all over Melbourne from the Melbourne Museum to the Web Bridge in Docklands. Ron Robertson-Swann’s statue haunts DCM like Banquo’s ghost at the banquet, because they had designed the city square and championed the sculpture. DCM’s “City Gateway” in Flemington is a reference to Vault. Like Vault the big yellow beam is better known by other nicknames – “the cheese stick”.

However the competition between sculptors and architects has lead to resentment by Melbourne sculptors. William Eicholtz argues that architects have pushed the art, especially sculpture, out of Melbourne’s urban/suburban environment. Another Melbourne sculptor, Anton Hasell was able to explain why architects have an advantage over sculptors in applying for public commissions; architects firm has the computing power and in-house graphic design to make their applications standout compared to a sculptor’s application.

Is public sculpture a subset of architecture, itself a subset of design? Or is there something that the art in the sculpture brings that should not be confused with architecture and design?


Of Mall & Place

There are two little pedestrian spaces off the long straight length of the Sydney Road shopping strip. These two urban hubs are Sparta Place in Brunswick and Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. Sparta Place has some great aerosol walls, yarn bombing, sculpture and fashion boutiques and a cafe. Victoria Street Mall has yarn bombing, sculpture, cafes, post-office and public library. In both malls the public art, in both cases sculpture and street art, has accreted rather than incorporated into the design. These two malls were first designed and created by the Moreland City Council but then the public and surrounding businesses have added to this design. Just as the trees planted in them have grown these malls have changed over time.

Sparta Place

Three different groups are struggling for control of Sparta Place. There is the Moreland City Council urban design team who did the initial change to a pedestrian space in 1998. Maria Hardwick as a business owner invested heavily in renovating the old building gentrifying it to opening fashion boutiques. The five metal columns full of post and pans, “New Order” by Louise Lavarack have a post-modern approach to classical references. But some of the residents of Brunswick and their council member wanted a memorial to Sparta to celebrate the relationship between Moreland and its sister city in Greece (one of Moreland’s many sister cities) with the statue to King Leonidas and they got in 2009.

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

New Order,  Louise Lavarack

New Order, Louise Lavarack

Sparta Place has the architectural attractions of the Hardwick building and the Spanish revival building at the end of Sparta Place. The dappled shade of the trees, benches with yarn bombing, the shop signs unfolded on the pavement that emphasize the middle path through the mall. At the carpark end of the mall quality street art on the large walls adds to the sense of place.

Local people do use Sparta Place to sit and talk, although it is not as successful an urban space as Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. The old men who come regularly to Victoria Street Mall to sit on the long bench by along the glass wall of the library make it an institution. But there is a social balance in the ages of people using the mall from the very young to the very old and this is important in this time of age segregation.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

There have been recent improvements to Victoria Street Mall with new water permeable cover around the base of the trees, replacing the area that was covered with heavy sand that quickly spread across the paving. The seats have been covered with an artificial turf giving the Mall a quirky and fun design feature. The style has become funkier along with the yarn bombing and other community art projects.

Board-games have been added to the large public table that is now located at the library end of the mall – not that I’ve seen anyone playing them yet although this public table (in a mall full of private café tables) is still well used.

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is a small bronze house with a corridor with a corridor going straight through it. It is simplified but typical of Australian houses in Coburg. It is “Dwelling” by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. Waterhouse has been making sculptures of this basic house form for a number of years in various media. At other end, the Sydney Road end chuggers and buskers compete for the passing trade.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

These two malls are urban nodes. Nods are those points of interaction in urban environment that link various paths. The public perceives and navigates the urban space, in a graduated scale from a path, edge, node, to a district. Public art and sculpture is used to mark the edge of a path or as part of the design of a node.

Apart from these two malls poor urban design of nods in far more typical in Coburg. Coburg’s historic railway station is still not working as a nod even after the recent renovations to the station’s forecourt. All of the hubs around any of the railway stations in Coburg and Brunswick are badly designed; the local councils and the railways department don’t appear to be able to communicate.

(I’ve written blog entries about both of these malls in 2009: Leonidas @ Sparta Place and Victoria Street Mall Coburg.)


Seoul Man

I’m back from a holiday in Korea where I saw some awesome art and met some warm generous artists. I was also impressed with Korea’s public sculptures, urban design and the public toilets are the best in the world.

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

When I travel I like to visit art galleries, from the major official art galleries to what smaller galleries I can find; I try to avoid the tourist focused commercial galleries. I try to find some street art but that’s not always that easy because it is generally not in the guidebooks. Along the way I see historic buildings, public sculptures, travel on public transport and eat at local food at local restaurants but seeing art is my primary objective. I have written so many blog posts about art tourism that I have now created a separate category for them. Maybe I should write a book about them; I haven’t been finding Lonely Planet that useful a guidebook when it comes to this side of travel.

Seoul does contain two of the top 20 museums in the world (based on visitor numbers) the National Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 3,1289,550 visitors last year is in 12th place (according to Art Newspaper’s annual museum attendance figures for 2012) and in 15th place the National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 2,640,264 visitors. (Melbourne’s NGV was in 25th place with 1,571,333 visitors.)

I didn’t know much about Korean art before my trip; I was vaguely aware that Korea was promoting itself as a centre of contemporary art. But the only Korean artists I knew was Nam June Paik and Lee Bul. Nam June Paik was the man who cut off John Cage’s tie and who did video installations before it was commonplace. Lee Bul who makes white contemporary space-age alien kind of sculptures that hang.

Before I left I tried to familiarize myself with the Korean art scene by reading Seoul Art Fiend! Earlier this year I walked in to Doosan Gallery in NYC Chelsea gallery district (See my post Black Mark in Chelsea). It was certainly distinctive as a not-for-profit space amongst all the commercial galleries. I wasn’t sure about the art on exhibition it was very neutral and very studied.

I saw a lot art, ancient, modern and contemporary as Korea does have some great galleries and museums large and small. There are many contemporary public sculptures in the streets of Seoul of varying quality and there is a small graffiti and street art scene in Korea. More blog posts to follow about Korea when I have copied my notes and read more of the literature that I brought back. (Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art, Seoul’s Big Art Museums, Wandering Seoul’s Galleries and Wandering Seoul’s II.)

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

I particularly liked the use of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture that marked the start of the urban redesign masterpiece of Seoul, the Cheonggyecheon. The stream side walk is such a relaxing place to be but just a few steps away from the centre of Seoul and it goes on for kilometres.  It is like the reverse of Boston’s new park, a great reinvention of an urban space, a raised hight way demolished to recreate the urban space.

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Korean folk art has a lot going for it too – could these be the new tikki?

Aside from all the art, the buildings, the food and the hard mattresses my strongest impression of Korea is of the excellent public toilets that are there where you need them. I am not just talking clean and functional but automatic motion detector lights and music. And there is always access for the disabled. The public toilets in the streets and parks were well design and not simple utilitarian constructions. Korean public toilets are the paradigm for public toilets and made my trip so comfortable.


Architecture & Fashion

I saw a few exhibitions this week that united art, architecture and fashion: “Transitions” at No Vacancy and the combination of Denise Wray’s “Compartments” and Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark” at the George Paton Gallery. This seems an odd remark because I rarely see exhibitions that unite art, architecture and fashion and yet what is the difference between them?

“Transitions” by Make Shift Concepts: Armando Chant, Donna Sgro and Oliver Solente is part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s cultural program. “At first glance it will look like just a video and some sculptures.” Oliver Solente (from the exhibition paper.) It did look like that but the suspended dresses and video of the dress worn on the catwalk reminded me that this was a fashion exhibition. The suspended dresses were not hung to suggest a human form but hung to show potentials in their architectural form, much like the angular architectural forms of the sculptures.

It was these angular architectural forms that reminded me of the structure of the masks in Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark”. Preveal’s exhibition isn’t in the fashion festival’s cultural program but it should be, it is like the queer alternative. The exhibition is basically a series of photographs of queer couples wearing only black underpants and Preveal’s cardboard masks. The architecture of the couple’s bodies as they posed together is what made the photographs. Love the scattered black underwear around the room, suggesting that the couples from the photographs had stripped off their costumes and left the ark.

Denise Wray’s “Compartments” definitely united art, architecture and fashion. If art and architecture is about filling or not filling a space than Wray’s four works did that, with stitched zips, acrylic on canvas, polyester twine and leather strips. It looked like Wray gone mad after reading too much Greenberg and books on Duchamp and had raided a leather garment factory’s bins to make ‘art’. I liked it is ironic in punk deconstructionist way.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a big fashion, design or architecture fan; it is too cool for me. I want passionately engage – this why I’m very interested in sculpture and I enjoy writing about it. It is odd because sculpture and architecture are so similar – it is often difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends – visually it is often difficult to distinguish them, they might be indistinguishable. But what is the difference between sculpture and architectural or fashion forms? Function appears to be too simple an explanation as sculptures are also functional (see my post on the Uses of Public Art). Given that I can’t clearly distinguish between sculpture and architecture I don’t know why I feel differently about them.

The difference between sculpture and architectural forms is not an insubstantial issue and can have legal, as well as, aesthetic implications. The Copyright Website reports that in the case of Leicester vs. Warner Bros. the Los Angeles “district court found that the towers (Andrew Leicester’s sculpture Zanja Madre), although containing artistic elements, were actually part of the architectural work of the building.”


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