Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


The scene: Haring & Basquiat

This to-do list by is  Keith Haring is a massive name drop even though mostly only first names are used: Whoopi, Jean Michel, Debbie … It is exhibited as part of the documentary part of the exhibition “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV. It shows the vibrant artistic scene that Haring and Basquiat inhabited.

The scene, the geographic-social environment that an artist lives and works in. The loose association that both inspires and documents them. Often appears as interesting as the artist themselves – Warhol’s Factory scene, the Dadaist or the Surrealists.

I wonder how the geographic-social environment contributes to an artist’s development and success or failure? How much their art is a product of a network of people talking, dancing and otherwise moving around (depending on the type of transport)?

Or is it all about the unique talent of the ‘great man’ independent from the city and its society? If it is all about the person then it is very surprising that two or more great artists, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, would emerge at the same time and place.

Even if it is unique talent of the individual that created it is the social environment that gives meaning to the art. Without the gay club scene Haring would not have created his dancing figures or his art about AIDS. Without his black identity Basquiat would not have attempted to write art history. These topics were not so much chosen by the artist as determined by the scene.

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were living in a particularly fertile art scene, that produced many other artists including the street artists, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. A self-selecting scene, volunteers who had congregated because they wanted to be artists and New York was the place to do it. It was a geographic and social circle that included various clubs, art galleries, flats and people from Madonna to William Burroughs.

The exhibition catalogue for “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” does much to document their scene. It has many interviews, including one with Jenny Holzer and Patti Astor. And a map of lower Manhattan shows the tight geography where everything was within walking distance or a few subway stops. (I can’t emphasis enough how important a walkable geography is to a vibrant arts scene.)

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. See also Haring/Basquiat @NGV and Under the Influence (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition.)


Hosier Lane January 2020

“I can draw anything you like. 10 min $15 draw” His sign said. In Hosier Lane yesterday there were two people occupying two of the alcoves selling their drawings. The next step will be for a caricature  artist set up a stall to sell portraits to the tourists in the lane.

I am not going to be hysterical and apocalyptic and declare that this is end of Hosier Lane when there are so many more clear indications of doom in the world (the climate catastrophe). There has always been a commercial aspect to the paint in Hosier Lane; graffiti writers and street artists have all these commercial projects — t-shirts, leading walking tours, exhibitions and commissions. And a few metres up the lane, the shop Culture Kings has made a massive hole in the lanes famous walls to provide access for buyers of their shit.

That said, an attractive piece of commercial art was being painted opposite the entrance to Hosier Lane on Flinders Lane. George Rose was just finishing an attractive mural commission celebrating the Lunar New Year.

George Rose, Have a Grand Lunar New Year

Although the lane was, as usual for a weekday, full of tourists, the walls were not looking their best. There was a lot of text in marker pen written across many of the pieces by someone who thought that they had unique insight (it happens). There is a lot of bland work about current events. Many of pieces with an @Instagram rather than a tag showing that their creators are focused on getting ‘likes’ above everything else. A couple of relevant political pieces struggled to find space on the walls. The tourists didn’t care as they were focused on taking selfies of themselves in front of the paint covered walls.

I was pleased to see what I took for the work of an Indigenous street artist in the lane as I don’t see enough of this. Reclaiming their country and culture by painting walls. Dot painting with dots of aerosol paint.

If you want to see more whoring for Instagram ‘likes’ there are Lush’s work in Higson Lane a few corners further up Flinders Lane. About half a dozen huge celebrity faces randomly exploiting the popularity of anyone from Baby Yoda to Julian Assange.

Lush, Julian Assange

Working in a different direction is the increasing street art in Presgrave Place. This started in 2007 when was a couple of picture frames with art prints still in them glued onto the wall of this circuitous lane. The picture frames are still glued to the wall but the quantity of art keeps growing focused on the creativity of art rather than aerosol of popularity. 


Faces – the survival of street sculpture

A face emerges from or sinks into the aerosol paint covered walls. A person merging with the structure of the city, a skeleton of metal, a body of bricks and concrete and a skin of paint. Features register underneath the layers of paint, the hint of a smile. There are more faces on the wall… It is the same face? Is it a portrait?

Street art sculpture still interest me on because it is such a difficult medium. The sculpture has to survive the conditions on the street. Public sculpture criticism needs to be modified by a difficulty rating. Just as the aesthetics of sculpture is modified by a difficulty rating for moving large pieces of metal or stone around, public sculpture has the additional difficulty rating for being exposed to drunks and dickheads. And street art sculpture has the added difficulty multiplier for being done without permission.

The sculptures survive under multiple layers of paint. In graffiti intense environment, like Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art sculpture will need to still work underneath aerosol paint.

There are a cluster of Will Coles crushed cans at the entrance of Rutledge Lane (now a stub off Hosier Lane blocked at both ends by building work). Further along there on a ledge are the vandalised remains of a Will Coles sculptures that someone broke trying to steal it. Nearby are cast sea shells, the faces and pieces with raised lettering. I suspect, because of a couple of tags in raised letters, that the raised letters could be the work of Anthony Lister except the letter style is different.

I have no idea who did the faces. There are many other similar works, like Mary Rogers cast faces for a footbridge in Moreland. They are also similar the work of the French artist Gregos but it is not his face and therefore not his work.

Having a particular focus on street art sculpture and don’t feel compelled to photograph every piece of street art that I see. My photography teacher always emphasised being focused.


A sculpture, a garden and a library

There is a quote from Cicero engraved into the paving stones on Dawson Street in Brunswick:

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Now there is a garden and a library there.

The garden plugs Saxon Street shut near the corner of Sydney Rd and Dawson Street. A new micro-park with a sculpture, trees, shrubs, a couple of benches, lot of paving and rocks has turned a dull lane beside Brunswick Library into a place for people.

The sculpture is a bronze column like a twisted rope stands. On its base there are the words “bring us together’, in part referring to the strands of its rope-like form. It is Anton Hasell’s most recent sculpture, Where We Have Come To, 2019.

As a sculptor Hasell has learnt to keep things simple with public art. His early sculptures were so full of meaning you couldn’t unpack them without a tool box and manual (see WTF Corner). Now he is focused on combines sight and sound with circles. Hasell makes circles beautiful, meaningful and strong.

The circular twisted column of Where We Have Come To is about the twisted place that brings us together. And it makes a sound.

I didn’t get to the launch of Anton Hasell’s sculpture Where We Have Come To. According to the launch invite the sculpture “represents the many diverse cultures that give strength to the community of Moreland.” The plan for the launch of the sculpture on Thursday 5 December was described as a “celebration of Moreland’s multiculturalism”. After the Mayor of Moreland’s opening remarks and there was a community musical event playing Hasell’s tubular bell sculpture and Federation Bells. I don’t know if it went to plan, because I wasn’t there. I wonder what it sounded like.

Hasel has always been interested in the sound that sculpture makes when you tap it; bronze sculpture are hollow. Then he started to make bells: the Tilly Aston Bells, the Federation Bells, lots and lots of bells (link to my post Hasell with Bells).

When I went to see his new bronze column I neglected to bring along a pencil or something suitable to tap it. What sound does the sculpture produces? Perhaps it sounds as if it is similar to Hasell’s Twisted Bell located on the Yarra River main trail next to the Yarra River between Yarra and Darling Street in South Yarra but I haven’t seen or heard it yet. I must get around to listening to some more sculpture.


%d bloggers like this: