Tag Archives: Simon Perry

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.


Pop of Pop

Richard Hamilton, the pop of Pop Art, lived a great life reaching back to the Dada of Marcel Duchamp and looking forward to fun future for art. This is not an obituary – there is an excellent one in The Guardian. Considering the life of Richard Hamilton lead me to thinking about Pop Art and, in particular the impact of Pop Art in Australia.

Maybe Pop Art first came to Australia with Martin Sharp. Maybe it was here already with Barry Humphries 1968 screenprint of the infinite regression of Willie Wheaties on a cereal package (but Barry thought it was Dada when he did it). In the 1990s Howard Arkley’s celebrated the images of Melbourne suburbia with spray paint. And there are still many artists in Australia doing Pop Art including David Bromley, HaHa Maria Kozic, Christopher Langton, Dennis Roper and David Wadelton. Melbourne even has a Pop Art sculpture, “The Public Purse” by Simon Perry in the Burke St. Mall. The sculpture is based on Claes Oldenberg’s idea making giant sculpture versions of everyday objects.

If Pop Art is about the art of ironically sampling the visual clutter of the modern world then it is definitely still here and bigger than before. The cultural influences celebrated by Pop Art; rock music, celebrities, advertising and pop media images, have continued and even expanded in our society. Pop Art ended the division between high arts and popular arts; it looked at the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse as equally recognizable images. Artists like Jeff Koons were clearly continuing the techniques and imagery associated with Pop Art in the 1980s and 90s. Pop Art might now be so big that we might not be able to see it anymore because it almost completely fills our vision. Is street art, especially Bansky and all the other stencil artists, another part of Pop Art?

Was Pop Art just another one of the modern art’s “isms”? Has the style bubble burst with a snap, crackle and pop. Is Pop Art a dead, historical art movement? Or has it continued as major movement in the contemporary world? In a narrow sense Pop Art, Neo-Realism, Capitalist Realism, whatever you want to call it, is a defined movement in art history from the 1950s and 60s. But the style continues – the art history books that we grew up with got it wrong. When a future history of 20th – 21st art is written where will Pop Art be located? There are precursors to Pop Art in Dada and clear decedents still making Pop Art today.

But this might just part of the long tail of Pop Art, like the long tail of Impressionism, where the style became more commercialised and the domain of amateur landscape artists. Pop Art is incredibly popular; that isn’t tautological, Pop Art could be unpopular. Pop Art is popular because it is fun and recognizable, it doesn’t threaten, it isn’t seen as ugly. And this popularity has made features of Pop Art into a kind of folk art and a design style.

However Pop Art is a significant art style not just for art history; it also caused major thinking of the philosophy. Pop Art provoked responses by philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic: Arthur Danto and Jean Baudrillard. Both philosophers were deeply impressed by Andy Warhol’s art. For Danto Pop Art raised issues about what art is and for Baudrillard about reality and simulacra.

Pop Art half a century later and still wow.


Sporting Heroes

Sport Sculptures in Melbourne

The heritage-listed neon sign of the Italian cyclist Nino Borsari at the eponymous Borsari’s Corner, on the corner of Grattan and Lygon Streets, is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about public art and sport in Melbourne but I had to mention it. The Basil Sellers Art has made me think and write more about art and sport. It is one of the intentions of the art prize not just to have an exhibition and a prize but to encourage a dialogue about art and sport. I’m not so sure that there isn’t this dialogue already. Leon Van Schaik discusses the influence of sport on design in Design City Melbourne, (Wiley-Academy, 2006, England).

Louis Laumen "Sir Donald Bradman" bronze

There are many sports themed sculptures located at Melbourne’s many sporting venues. These are, mostly, conservative, hero-worshipping sculptures in a traditional figurative form, in bronze, on a plinth. They link recent sports with the traditions of commemorating athletes with statues from Ancient Greece. These statutes allows Australian sport create the illusion of history and traditions even though all of these statutes are fairly recent. “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974 in the Queen Victoria Gardens is the earliest. The statue of the hammer thrower clearly looks back to classical Greek traditions.

There are 10 sculptures by Louis Laumen “sporting legends” at the MCG. The 10 sculptures, on their black marble plinths each with a biography and sponsors logos (really classy), were finally all installed for the 2006 Commonwealth Games redevelopment. At Gate 1 there are the cricketers Bill Ponsford and Dennis Lillee. At Gate 3 there are the women sprinters Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland- Delahunty. The footballers Leigh Matthews and Ron Barassi are at Gate 4. There are more cricketers, Sir Donald Bradman and Keith Miller, at Gate 5 and more footballers, Haydn Bunton and Dick Reynolds at Gate 6. Also at the MCG there is a statue of cricket batsman “Victor Trumper”, 1999 and “The Birth of Australian Rules” 2001- both by Louis Laumen. Louis Laumen  dominates statues of sports stars in Melbourne and has also created the sculpture of John ‘Kanga’ Kennedy, 2008, at Hawthorn Football Club, Waverly Park.

There is a statue of Jack Dyer by Mitch Mitchell, 2003 at Richmond Headquarters on Punt Road. At Flemington Race Course there is a statute of Phar Lap by Peter Corlett, 1988, commissioned by the Victorian Racing Club to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary.

detail of Louis Laumen "Leigh Matthews", bronze

I don’t really care for any of these sculptures as art especially Louis Laumen’s conservative realism that reminds me of Soviet Realism. The conservative proclamation, glorifying the winners, made by these sculptures is shallow and archaic.  Less antiquated, but I don’t know if any more successful, are the non-figurative sports sculptures Simon Perry “Threaded Field”, Docklands Stadium Melbourne (2000) and Anthony Pryor, “The Legend”, 1991 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Simon Perry is best known in Melbourne for his sculpture “Public Purse” in the Burke St. mall. Anthony Pryor, “The Legend” 1991 is a dynamic steel sculpture the upper part suggesting the movement of the ball in play. I don’t think that the orange bollards were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety and vehicle access – the perils of not having a plinth.

Anthony Pryor, “The Legend”, 1991

Maybe Melbourne does need some better sports themed sculptures. Nick Farr-Jones will be on the judging panel for the third biennial Basil Sellers Art Prize – maybe a sculptor might win (instead of a video artist for the last two prizes). What do you think?


Submarine Psycho Nursery

I had seen the all white relief prints before in a group show of prints at Jenny Port Gallery but I hadn’t thought much of them. I’ve seen a lot of all white art. The prints appeared to be a thoughtless but playful print gesture; the white relief prints of Rorschach test patterns pressed into thick white paper made the content entirely the responsibility of the viewer. When I saw them again at Jenny Port Gallery’s “Summer Salon” along with the mobile “Submarine Psycho Nursery” – I took note of the artist’s name – Simon Perry.

Simon Perry is the creator of “The Public Purse” in the Bourke St. Mall, “Rolled Path” in Brunswick and “Threaded Field” at the <insert corporate logo here> stadium. He is a non-figurative sculptor who has received multiple commissions for public sculptures – a unique position in Melbourne. Perry has no recognizable style or medium to advertise his identity but his art always contains a sense of play.

Perry’s mobile, “Submarine Psycho Nursery” consists of lazar-cut aluminium in the shape of Rorschach’s blogs hanging over a pair of child-sized flippers cast in bronze. The relief prints were made from these aluminium versions of the symmetrical paper folded inkblots that now hung from the arms of the mobile. In this sculpture Perry is riffing on ideas about the unconscious; combination of the Rorschach blogs, references to childhood and undersea exploration. It is a very balanced, amusing and attractive unconscious for a psycho nursery.

There is a lot of variety in rest of the “Summer Salon” exhibition. Amongst the prints, ceramics, photographs and paintings there are post-minimalist sculptures by Lucy Irvine and Carmel Wallace. And following the trend for illustrative work there are Jazmina Cininas wolf girl print series or Sarah Gully’s drawings of hirsute girls and animals – more disturbing images for a psycho nursery.


Some Brunswick Sculptures

Melbourne’s suburb of Brunswick did not inherit many public sculptures from previous generations. The Temperance Movement from early last century erected a few drinking fountains, a couple of war memorials were commissioned, and there is that ugly bronze lump  – now stuck outside a carpark along Sydney Rd., that commemorates the gold rush of the 19th century.

Peter Corlett “Father John Brosnan” 2004

There are now many more contemporary sculptures including some by notable Melbourne sculptors, Peter Corlett (see my entry about Peter Corlett) and Simon Perry. Peter Corlett’s 2004 statue of “Father John Brosnan, Chaplin Pentridge Prison 1945-1985” is out the front of the Brosnan Centre in Brunswick. Simon Perry, whose best-known sculpture, is the “Public Purse” is in the Bourke St. mall, has a number of sculptures around Brunswick.

Simon Perry, “Rolled Path”, 1997

Simon Perry’s “Rolled Path”, 1997, on the Merri Creek bicycle path, north of Albion St. and south of the Brunswick velodrome, is witty and fun. At the end of a short side path, the concrete rolls up into a large cylinder, like a giant classical scroll, or a carpet waiting to be unrolled were its progression not blocked by a large bluestone rock. The sculpture plays with the parkland environment of concrete paths, the boulder is the local bluestone granite found along the creek. It reminds me of Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, as a work of earth art because of its form and the invitation to walk a path that ends in the contemplation of art.

“Rolled Path” exhibits many of the qualities that I think are essential to public art. Like all good public art kids can climb on it and you can sit on it. It is practically indestructible without heavy equipment or explosives and even the graffiti that was painted on it when I was there was inconsequential. It fits perfectly into the park environment of Merri Creek, creating an identity for an otherwise nondescript area beside the bicycle path.

“Rolled Path” is a rare example in Moreland of the sculpture that has been incorporated into the design of the landscape. Too often sculpture is put where space can found for it, with little consideration to the landscape or architecture. And for this reason none of these sculptures have become an image for suburb or a meeting place.

At the corner of Sydney and Glenlyon Rd. is a less successful sculpture by Simon Perry. “Monument to free speech” 1993, commemorates artist and activist Noel Counihan. It is a stone carving of a cage being unveiled or covered by a bronze dove. Only 3m high this sculpture is too small to be much of a monument and too ambiguous to be a landmark, given that Australians do not have any rights to free speech. The original commission for this sculpture is probably the source of many of its problems.


Moving & Sitting in the City

Moving through the city, thinking about the kinaesthetic relationship of architecture and public sculpture to the way that people move around in the city. A person was even seen swimming on Flinders St. during the early February downpour in 2010. Most of the time people in Melbourne are walking, driving cars, travelling by train or tram or riding bicycles.

Architecture suggests, proscribes and provides for different types of movement. To make clear the differences between suggest, proscribe and provide consider this: a door suggests an entrance but you may find that it is locked, a sign may proscribe the door to be used for the entrance, but an open window can still provide access. People climb buildings like Spiderman or in Parklour, young men walking over the red arc of the pedestrian bridges across the Yarra River.

The ways that skateboard riders use of public sculpture like “Architectural Fragment” 1992 by Petrus Spronk at the State Library or Inge King’s  “Forward Surge” 1972-74 at the Art Centre. Is this a reverse readymade, like a Rembrandt painting used as an ironing board, or are the skateboard riders using these sculptures not just for their geometry but also their aesthetics. Skateboard riding is an aesthetic sport, with the objective to make spectacular use of the infrastructure and judged on degrees of difficulty.

Sculpture provides an easily identifiable meeting place in the city and while you are waiting you want to seat. People can sit on sculptures and climb on sculptures even if the sculptor does not intend it but the sculptures can be so much better if this natural desire is incorporated into the design. Simon Perry “The Public Purse” 1994 in the Bourke St. mall provides such an opportunity. Tom Bass designed his public sculptures to be sat on. He made sculptures for children; the hard bronze doesn’t suffer from their touch. “The Children’s Tree” 1963 in front of the CML Building on Elizabeth St in the city and “The Genie” 1973 in Queen Victoria Gardens can both be sat on. The plinth of “The Children’s Tree” is a favorite seat for buskers playing an instrument.

Busker playing "dagpipes", his own invention, on the plinth of "The Children's Tree"

(Thanks again, for the idea, to Shifty MacDougal, who writes these interesting comments on my entries about public sculpture.)


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