Tag Archives: classical sculpture

The Rubble of History

“Cultural Rubble”, 1993, by Christine O’Loughlin, was re-installed on the façade of the new Ian Potter Art Gallery at Melbourne University in 1998. “Culture Rubble” is a large scale, site-specific installation of 4 panels in very high relief; statues and vases stand our almost complete above the surface. It represents the rubble of the classical world reinterpreted in the antipodes.

The idea that a site-specific installation could be re-installed on a new building is made understandable by the moving of the contents, the Ian Potter Art Gallery, from the old building to the new one. The Ian Potter Art Gallery contains a collection of classical antiquities.

“Cultural Rubble” samples past images and recombines them to create a new meaning. It was the first public sculpture that said post-modern to me (although Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon” 1989 is historically the first post-modern sculpture in Melbourne).  For me, “Cultural Rubble” was a visual proof of a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. It demonstrates a post-modern sense of history, as opposed to the modernist rejection of history. It looked back not just to the classical Greek world but also to the history of art museums such as the paster-cast gallery in the V&A Museum. “Cultural Rubble” contains, in a way, the entire sense of art history embodied by the Louvre’s collection, including the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Discus Thrower.

The rubble has been broken, a symbol of no value, and then reassembled in a different order. It is like the Japanese Buddhist monks that cut up and reassemble a patchwork of fabrics or broken ceramics. It is not an effort to restore what has been sacrificed but find new meaning and order in the sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice is the reciprocal action to terrible destruction, however the sacrifice, itself is a terrible destruction require yet another sacrifice in order to restore the balance. The Christian iconoclasts and the modernists failed to clear up all the rubble of their destruction of the classical pagan world.

The artist, Christine O’Loughlin had lived and worked in France since 1979 and cast the sculptural elements for “Cultural Rubble” at the Louvre. “Cultural Rubble” is an early anomaly in Christine O’Loughlin’s sculptural work, in that it is not representative of her other work, except in its use of the poetics of displacement. She has continued to exhibit in Europe using the environment as her main sculptural material.

Post-modernism was not the end of history rather it was a different sense of history. It was a sense of history with multiple different views. It was sense of history that was evident not just in O’Loughlin’s sculpture but also in the photography of Bill Henson and in the paintings of Gordon Bennett, Imant Tillers and Juan Davilla. However, as Melbourne moved from post-modern to contemporary art the sense of history has faded.


Oddities of Melbourne

Melbourne has Gothic Revival, Moorish Revival, Romanesque Revival and Venetian Renaissance Revival architecture and a Model Tudor Village. The end of the 19th century was so into retro revivals they make current retro styles appear prospective. And Melbourne is a place where the king tide of the eclectic architectural revivals of the 19th Century washed up. The round arches, belt courses of stone or brick are all features of Romanesque revival but Melbourne’s Romanesque revival has more decorative brick and tile work than it’s American counterparts. The architectural revivals tended to be more exuberant because there was still money from the Victorian gold rush around. Maybe this excess is one of the reasons why Melbourne was known as “marvellous Melbourne.”

Victorian Artists Society - Romanesque Revival building

I was standing around in the stucco covered foyer of the Forum Theatre in Melbourne after the Tripod show last year. The whole place, inside and out, is covered in this over the top, eclectic collection of styles from the faux Renaissance interior to the over the top Moorish Revival exterior. Amongst all this stucco there are plaster casts of classical sculpture from the Uffizi, Naples Museum and other Italian collections. These copies of statues were included in the original 1929 décor to contribute their aura of classical quality to the then new media of cinema. Unfortunately the plaster sculptures are now covered in a thick layer of acrylic paint.

It made me think what are the other art and architectural oddities there are around Melbourne. The typical list came to mind: Ola Cohn’s “Fairy Tree” in Fitzroy Gardens, William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenongs, with its Australian romanticism carvings.

Model Tudor village in Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens is full of art and architectural oddities: there is Model Tudor Village, Captain Cook’s cottage transplanted from England and Ola Cohn’s Fairy Tree. The Model Tudor village – this is from another era when model villages were considered legitimate garden decoration. It is part of Australia’s colonial longing for England; even if it was represented in miniature scale.

detail Ola Cohn, "Fairy Tree" 1931-4

Melbourne sculpture, Ola Cohn carved her “Fairy Tree” between 1931-4. I have some sympathy with the fairy art obsession of the late 19th and early 20th century because of its respect for nature; Ola Cohn declares the place sacred “to all living creatures” on the inscription bronze plaque beside the tree. The tree is carved with images of Australian native fauna but all the fairies are European.

These things did not start life as oddities, they were intended to be mainstream even progressive, but the future expected by their creators didn’t happen and they now look oddly out of place. They have been caught in time lags and other psycho-temporal eddies and whirlpools such that their existence now appears disjointed from reality, the detritus of history washed ashore in Melbourne. They are not simply curiosities, these oddities demonstrates particular but irrelevant features of Melbourne’s past. But what do we do with these odd monsters? Hide them, ignore them and hope that they will go away or conserve these unsuccessful mutants?


Sculptures @ Queen Victoria Gardens

Queen Victoria Gardens are a very Edwardian garden that has been preserved in Melbourne out of indifference. The 3 palm trees in the middle of the park lawn are an indication, for the British minded population that Melbourne is in, what they would consider, the tropics. The sculptures and drinking fountain in the park were installed to serve a greater purpose that has since been forgotten in the collective consciousness. It might have meant something if I lived in Melbourne in 1901 but nobody does these days. This is what I mean by being forgotten in the collective consciousness.

Apollo Belvedere, artist unknown

Two classical busts stand on either side of the main entrance. In worse repair is the Apollo Belvedere that now has a badly repaired and elongated neck. The marble on both of these statues is very worn after long exposure to Melbourne’s weather. The sculptors are unknown but the donor is known, politician and newspaper proprietor, Theodore Fink who acquired the sculpture on a trip to Rome. Unveiled in 1928 these are the last two classical sculptures installed in Melbourne’s public gardens.

John Robinson, “The Pathfinder”, bronze, 1974

Without the excuse of being a classical sculpture, “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974, stands as a testament to conservative Melbourne. Robinson would have probably considered Rodin a bit avant-garde even though he was working a hundred years later. Robinson’s sculpture of the hammer thrower is so old fashioned to be ridiculous in that it imagines a future where such art would still be seen as important. The stolen hammer has not been replaced and the sculpture needs to be cleaned of graffiti.

Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner, “The Phoenix”, bronze, c.1973

On a plinth in a pond stands “The Phoenix” by Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner. Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner is a German sculptor and painter, her sculptures are scattered around the world from Salzburg, to Goa, to Melbourne. Yrsa Von Leistner’s sculptures are influenced by Rodin’s modernism; the simplified form, the rough and materiality of her figures all indicate his influence. The sculpture is a gift from the 40th International Eucharistic Congress Melbourne February 1973. Feathers, or flames, that were once attached at several points over the body of the sculpture have broken off and only fragments of two remain.

Earlier image showing the intact sculpture.

In another part of the pond there a statue of a nude woman, which you might assume from its style is from the late 19th century, it is “The Water Nymph” by Paul Montford, 1925.

Paul Montford, “The Water Nymph”, bronze, 1925

Up on the hill white marble and granite memorial to Queen Victoria by James White, 1907. More than 7,000 pounds was raised by public subscription for the construction of the memorial; it would impossible to think of contemporary Melbourne doing the same for the current Queen.

Tom Bass, “The Genie”, bronze, 1973

The only sculpture in the garden that still resonates and remains current is “The Genie, a fantasy play sculpture for children” by Tom Bass in 1973. The bronze sculpture of a winged sphinx is still enjoyed by children because they can play on it. A class of schoolgirls were playing and posing for photographs on the sculpture when I visited the park.

The Ottoman revival style drinking fountain c.1936 no longer has water running. The sculptures are worn.  In another city with less space such a garden would have been redesigned but with all the available space even in the centre of the city it has just been left. The people of Melbourne still enjoy the lawns but the park has become a historical relic.

I would prefer not to live in a state with a name that, in the possessive, also refers to a historical period – Victorian. Of course, using English royalty to refer to historical periods is passé in this post-colonial world. But a change of name would be nice just to avoid confusion.

Golden lawns, village green

Victoria was my queen

Victoria Victoria Victoria Victoria

(Mark E. Smith, The Fall)


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