Monthly Archives: April 2010

Corporate Sculpture in the CBD

Most of the contemporary and modern sculpture in Melbourne’s CBD is not public sculpture it is owned by the corporation that owns the building. The sculptures out the front office buildings are often very high quality by notable artists. Modern architecture needs sculpture in forecourts and foyers to humanize the austere geometry. So while the City of Melbourne was avoiding installing public sculpture for most of the 20th century the business sector was not. These sculptures don’t attract much attention. They are ignored (in a way that public sculpture is not), there are no public controversies over them because they were not paid for public money even though they are on public show.

Tom Bass, Chidren’s Tree, bronze

In front of the CML Building on Elizabeth St. is “Children’s Tree” 1963, a bronze sculpture by Tom Bass. The plinth of this statue has been designed as public seating and is very popular. This whimsical sculpture has a boy and girl playing around stylized tree with an owl, a subtle allegory of wisdom through play. It is part of an era when conservative Melbourne avoided abstract art but its whimsical style is again in fashion.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis, bronze

At the front of 200 Queen Street is a large bronze sculpture by Andrew Rogers “Rhythms of the Metropolis” 1996, a very futurist title and sculpture. The rhythmic energy of the city was celebrated by futurism. This sculpture is not representative of Roger’s style. Andrew Rogers is now internationally known for his very large geo-glyph land art around the world.

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Chris Booth Strata on Little Collins St.

There is a small collection of contemporary sculptures in the courtyard of 360 Collins Street that faces Lt. Collins St. It is worth a look for the variety of styles and techniques represented in the small collection. There is no information about these sculptures in the courtyard; hopefully someone will fill me in. There are sculptures  by Paul Blizzard, his father the late Peter Blizzard and New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth.  The tall sculpture is Peter Blizzard’s Shrine to The Ancient River, 2000.

I have been looking more closely at Paul Blizzard’s familiar bronze fossils set in stone. They frequently include an anachronistic inconsistency; there is the bicycle tire print across the snake skeleton and a small padlock with a bird skeleton. These anachronisms and other inconsistencies, such as mounting the bronze ‘fossils’ in volcanic igneous rather than a fossil bearing sedimentary rock, are part of the charm of the work. Paul Blizzard added artistic details to the rocks that he wished were there, even though that would be impossible.

Paul Blizzard, Fossil Stone detail, bronze

And this is just a few of the sculptures out the front of buildings in the CBD – I would be interested in exploring corporate art collections further if I could get further access and information.


Flinders Lane

Melbourne’s CBD artistic centre of Flinders Lane is slowly being further gentrified. Galleries like Span and Upstairs Flinders Lane have closed, artist’s studios are closing, to make way for more inner city apartments and restaurants.

Flinders Lane has been slowly gentrified since its original incarnation as the garment district of Melbourne. Now there are fashion boutiques like Alphaville, designer furniture and jewellery boutiques. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants along Flinders Lane. The charm of Flinders Lane runs out as it crosses Elizabeth St. after that it is the boring business sector of Melbourne’s CBD.

Milton House – Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The mix of architectural styles along the lane range from the gothic revival of the cathedral, the eclectic style of Australian federation architecture, art noueveau and the international style of glass walled skyscrapers. Look up and see Melbourne’s only glass bottom swimming pool that extends a metre over the lane. There is also AC/DC Lane (formerly Corporation Lane) named after the rock band in 2004 and Melbourne’s only street sign with a lightening bolt through it.

Between 1945 and 1956 the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, was working from a small studio on the 5th floor of 353 Flinders Lane, “Pioneer House” which he rented for 5 pounds per month. The proximity to Melbourne’s rag trade was advantageous for Newton’s career.

Modern art came to Flinders Lane with Gallery A, established in 1959 by designer Clement Meadmore and furniture manufacture Max Hutchinson. It was a combination of a furniture store and art gallery; and it exhibited contemporary Australian modern artists, including Robert Kippel and John Olsen. Flinders Lane has been the location for many of Melbourne’s established commercial galleries, many specializing in Aboriginal art. There are also rental space and artist-run galleries and spaces in the buildings along Flinders Lane. There is plenty of exhibition space along Flinders Lane. The art at the Melbourne City Library foyer exhibition space has been generally disappointing this year. At the very top of the Flinders Lane there is Craft Victoria with information, a shop and exhibition space with excellent, avant-garde, craft exhibitions.

Mailbox 141 must be a difficult space to fill; the fifteen small glass fronted former wooden mailboxes in the small tiled foyer of 141 Flinders Lane do not make it easy for the artist. It might be the smallest art gallery in the world. However, it frequently has surprisingly good exhibitions.

Street art is featured just off Flinders Lane, on the famous little Hosier Lane (a street name from the area’s garment district days). With all of the street art Hosier Lane is now a popular location for wedding and advertising photographs, as well as, tourists and school groups who take more photographs.

Looking up Hosier Lane to Flinders Lane

The Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane is still a living cultural centre. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. But the antique lifts still work and the upper floors are full of studios, art galleries (Pigment, Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery), clothes designers, the Victorian Writers Centre and Collected Works Bookshop (the best bookshop for poetry and literature in Melbourne).

The high point of Flinders Lane’s part of Melbourne cultural may have passed but there is still a lot of life it. If you are going to visit Flinders Lane I recommend getting off at Parliament Station and walking downhill towards Elizabeth Street, as it will be easier on your legs.


Top Arts @ NGV

The Top Arts VCE 2009 exhibition has more variety than regular exhibitions at the NGV, Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Sure there are examples of all media that are regularly exhibitions at the NGV: painting, photography, prints, sculpture and video art. But there is also lots of art that is not normally exhibited at the NGV. Illustrations, especially illustrations from literary sources like Nina Waldron’s “Lord of the Flies” that powerfully evokes William Golding’s novel, are rarely shown. Comic books, like Harry Hay’s “Rover and the captains” are also rarely seen on exhibition at the NGV. Pop-surrealist paintings, like those of Michelle Molinari, are a genre that the NGV curators would normally avoid.

The Top Arts exhibition forces these media and genres into the NGV. It is a democratic election that brings art into the gallery based on quality rather than curatorial fashion. The variety of art on exhibition maybe one of the reasons for the popularity of this annual exhibition; Tops Arts last year had more than 100,000 people attending the exhibition (from the NGV media kit). It is one reason why I have seen the Top Arts exhibition in previous years.

I went to the NGV media preview for the exhibition. At least this exhibition fits with the main focus of my blog – to review artists that are off the mainstream critical map. This is the 16th year of Top Arts exhibition at the NGV. The exhibition features 80 works by 57 of the best students who completed Art or Studio Arts as part of their VCE, Victorian Certificate of Education (I’m cribbing again from the NGV’s media kit).

I did get to speak to some of the artists at the media preview; they were all wearing nametags and were standing by their art to be interviewed and photographed by the media pack. I talked with André Bricknell who is exploring abstract painting: he said his style has already developed from the Basquiat inspired painting on exhibition. His painting demonstrated that he enjoyed the unconscious revelry of painting. Ryan Mitchell told me that his prints, with their calm and elegant images, were possible due to his art teacher’s interaction with the students at Portland Secondary College rather than good printing facilities at the school.

If you enjoy variety in an art exhibition then you will enjoy this exhibition. If you normally don’t like a lot of the art on exhibition at the NGV you will find something that you will like at Top Arts.


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