Monthly Archives: March 2021

Four works of public art

Considering four works of public art with differences in funding, permanence, and relationship to place, as well as techniques and materials. All of them are associated with the complex of hospitals in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

There is some recent yarn bombing by Yarn Corner on the trees in front of Royal Melbourne Hospital on Royal Parade and outside the Royal Women’s Hospital on Flemington Road. A thank-you to the hospital staff during the pandemic. This collective, co-operative community work, includes one of the best pieces of yarn bombing that I have ever seen. This was not mindless, meditative knitting but a work planned from the start with a vision of how it would look on a tree in Parkville. It is a temporary installation that interacts with the built and natural environment and, in that respect, is specific to the location.

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015 is a permanent sculpture commissioned by the Dyson Bequest to commemorate the anniversary of Gordon Clunes MacKay’s death Mathison, a doctor and talented medical researcher, from wounds in WW1. It is another in his series of sculptures at the front of the Royal Women’s Hospital and Medical Building at the University of Melbourne. The series emphasises the collaborative, team effort that is at the core of medical science. The sculpture is not site-specific. It is now in its second location near the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute entrance.

Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990

Next to Meszaros’ sculpture at the entrance of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990. It is was purchased as a complete statue from Armstrong with funds donated by Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. A seated figure, solid and substantial, head bowed, reflecting inward; its archetypal form would speak to many people. Carved in a subtractive process from logs of red gum. The massive pieces of wood used are found material that Armstrong has salvaged. Other Armstrong sculptures around Melbourne include the well known Eagle on Wurundjeri Way. Armstrong is one of Melbourne’s public art giants. For more on his sculpture, see my blog post.

Holly O’Brien, Hope

Just across Royal Parade on the University of Melbourne’s grounds is one of the Me and UooUoo sculpture trail. It is connected to my hospital sculpture theme because it is “the Royal Children’s Hospital Anniversary Art Trail”. Me and UooUoo are temporarily plonked down and don’t interact with the built or natural environment. Painted by local artists on the same round Uoo Uoo form, these sculptures form a trail, but you couldn’t walk it as it goes all the way to Geelong. This attractively painted one is Hope by Holly O’Brien, a final year student at Templestowe College. Among the many artists involved in this project, several street artists were involved, including Manda Lane, Mike Makatron, Be Free, and Ghostpatrol. And the corporate sponsorship, the art wash, is prominently displayed along the base.


Mamas of Dada

Dada was the first gender inclusive avant-garde art movement in Europe. It is impossible to understand its history without knowing something about the many women in Dada. However, the structure of art history led to the men acting as if they were being written about and writing much of the group’s history. So it was not until recently that these women artists and writers have been studied.

Mamas of Dada is a scholarly examination the lives of six women involved with Dada: Emmy Hennings, Gabrielle Buffet, Germaine Everling, Céline Arnauld, Juliette Roche, and Hannah Höch. They come from variety of backgrounds, working class to upper class, and gives a perspective on the lives of avant-garde European women. Some of these Mamas of Dada were actual mothers (someone should write Children of Dada).

Emmy Hennings was obviously the star of the Cabaret Voltaire but before this book all I had were a series of contradictory impressions — the Berlin cabaret singer, the Dada puppeteer and the devoted Catholic convert. The only child of work-class parents Hennings had been a maid, cleaner, washer woman, actress, nightclub singer, part-time prostitute, thief, poet, and later in life, a novelist.

Although neither Gabrielle Buffet and Germaine Everling were exactly participants because of their relationship with Picabia both provide a view of Dada in New York, Barcelona, Zurich, and Paris. Although Buffet’s music career ended when she marries Picabia she continued to write and lecture about avant-garde art. Everling, Picabia’s lover, provides more critical views of the Dadaists along with her hat and arms for Man Ray’s photo of Duchamp as Rrose Selavy.

Before Kamenish’s book I knew nothing about Céline Arnauld, the one woman poet and publisher amongst the Paris Dada. Aside from her name appearing in lists of contributors to many Dada publications and her face in photographs, the one woman amongst all the men.

Likewise I was ignorant of the painter and poet, Juliette Roche. Kamenish explains Roche’s privileged background: “everything converged to make the daughter of Jules Roche the most perfect of snobs, she was saved by painting.”

Hannah Höch the mother of photomontage is the best known of all the women in Dada. She preserved an archive of Dada material from the Nazis by burying it in her Berlin garden. In this chapter Kamenish’s interest in literature rather than visual arts is clear as she even examines a poem by Höch; Kamenish is an associate professor of Enblish at the University of North Caroline Wilmington.

Kamenish exposes the sexism in Dada – Francis Picabia and Raoul Hausmann the whole of Berlin Dada club. Their famous nihilism did not extend to male chauvinism. Who amongst all the men in European Dada who could act towards women as a colleague (and was not as a sexist pig)? Hannah Höch’s  list is Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp.

In the final chapter Kamenish provides brief biographies on seventeen other women involved with Dada including Sophie Täuber, Susanna Duchamp and some of the women in the Von Laben School of Dance in Zurich. There is much more to the story of these women that needs to be researched and written especially on their influence on textile and performing arts. Then there are women involved in New York Dada: Mina Loy, Beatrice Wood, and Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven. More needs to be written about these women but Paula K. Kamenish’s Mama of Dada is an important step.

Paula K. Kamenish Mamas of Dada – Women of the European avant-garde (The University of South Carolina Press, 2015)


Brunswick – March 2021

My rough plan was to start at Jewell Station, walk north to Sparta Place, visit some art galleries, and search for street art or graffiti in Brunswick. I wasn’t sure what I would find; there is only so much research that you can do online before exploring the facts on the ground.

Tāne Te Manu McRoberts, Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins, installation view

Avoiding the busy Sydney Road and navigating all the parallel streets and lanes. The location of all the galleries that I wanted to visit.This is where I thought I had the best chance of seeing some eye-popping graffiti. Much of the area used to light industrial but is now being replaced with multi-storey apartments, so my route included detours around various construction projects. There were knots of rope and green x marking trees spray-painted on the pavement around Jewell Station. Part of community consultation about the redesign of that end of Wilson Avenue.

The first gallery was Blak Dot. Blak Dot has an exhibition by Indigenous people from around the world. Tāne Te Manu McRoberts mixes traditional and contemporary textile art in “Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins”, keeping his culture charged with spectacular feather cloaks and other textile art. A must-see for anyone in Melbourne who is a poi enthusiast.

TCB had two exhibitions that had just opened on Wednesday night; “Medicine Walls” by Fergus Binns and “Cat toys & paperweights” by Brayden van Meurs. Binns five paintings are crazy fun with a fully sick paint technique and references to Dali and William Blake. Van Meurs’ five cat toys & paperweights are sculptures, in other words. Many are titled “lofi cityscape to scratch”, and “scratchable fabric” is included in the long list of materials. Having started the day with a conversation with my cat when I was still trying to sleep, I felt sympathy for van Meurs enterprise. My cat was trying to tell me that she had thrown up on the couch.

TCB on Wilkinson Street is a small, L shaped gallery space in front of the partitions of artist’s studios. This long-running artist-run-gallery that started in 1998 is now in its third location. I remember seeing one of Juan Ford’s first exhibitions at TCB at its first site in Port Phillips Arcade in the city.

I had seen some fresh graffiti pieces north of Jewell, but off the narrowing lane that runs through Bunnings, I saw a wall of graffiti writers of the avant-garde. Modernism, two meters high, as if it was written by graffers and not Greenberg. Pushing letterform  as far as it will go in all directions.

Finally, in Sparta Place, I found the empty former location of Beinart Gallery. Jon is now selling NFT art. Further removing the fantastic art that his gallery stocks from the actual world. At this point, my stomach seized control and directed my legs towards the nearest Lebanese bakery.


The Dolls House

The Dolls House is a not-for-profit gallery space at 110 Miller Street in West Preston run by Isabel Nina Young, a screen printer and surface designer. The gallery is in a dollhouse in the window of a shop in the little local shopping strip where the tram turns from Miller Street into Gilbert Road. It features site-specific installations and is open all hours.

The sturdy wooden dolls house has a pitched roof and a single chimney. It is quartered into four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. It is the second smallest gallery space in Melbourne, after Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. More reasons to think small. It started in 2004, a small project that is sustainable over a long duration.

I meant to write about The Dolls House many years ago and was surprised to see that it is still going. When I visited, it was populated by a multitude of tiny dolls. Well, they were called dolls, cubes and balls of different colours. They were dolls abstracted to geometrics; modernist, logical, and fun. And there was a multitude of them, an absurd status for handcrafted sculpture.

It is an untitled exhibition by Aphra Nolan. Made from bake clay last year in response to a turbulent time in her life. The combination of the idea of dolls and modernism appealed to me. Dolls/puppets have been part of modern art since Höch, Tauber and Hennings made them in Zurich and Berlin Dada.

The site-specific aspect of exhibition at The Dolls House is a unique aspect of this gallery. Not always dolls or miniatures; over the years, there have been small sculptural works, photography, even a local history exhibition when Bell Primary School turned 80.

My only problem has been the difficulty of finding information about the exhibition. Although I don’t expect a shopfront gallery space to have an online media manager. I hope to write more about other shopfront art gallery spaces in Melbourne’s north, as I know some more in the windows of architects and sculptors’ studios. And all these little spaces, like Nolan’s dolls, add up in the chaos of Melbourne’s art world.

Aphra Nolan, untitled dolls

Megan Evans and murals in Northcote

There was an earlier phase of mural painting in Melbourne before the current aerosol art. Influenced by the Mexican muralists rather than any hip hop elements. They took a far more social, historical, and educational approach. One of the most important of these is the 44.27 metres long Northcote Koori Mural (aka the Aboriginal Mural, the St Georges Road Mural).

Designed by Megan Evans in 1985 with an additional three metres designed by Gary Saunders in 2013, to bring its history of Indigenous Australia up to date. The mural now faces St Georges Road in Thornbury, backing onto the Sir Douglas Nicholls Sporting Complex. It was initially on a wall opposite the Northcote Town Hall on High Street it was and moved to its current location in 1992. In 2013 it was dismantled and replaced with a refreshed, digital version, printed on vinyl.

Painted by Megan Evans, Ray Thomas (Gunnai/Barlijan), Ian Johnson, Millie Yarran (Noongar), Les Griggs (Gunditjmara/Kerup Marra), Elaine Trott and along with Aboriginal, African and European volunteers. Megan Evans would work with several of these artists again on other public art projects. She worked with Ray Thomas on Another View Walking Trail for the City of Melbourne in 1995. Later Ray Thomas painted the Northcote Civic Square Mural and was one of the artists who carved a pole for Scar – A Stolen Vision in Enterprise Park along the Yarra River.

For three years, Evans was painting a mural a year in the Northcote area. These murals are based on research, interviews, and consultation with local people that she undertook before starting the design. In 1986 Evans and Eve Glenn completed the Women’s Mural: Bomboniere to Barbed Wire on the wall Gas & Fuel Office on Smith Street, Fitzroy. Capped by the notorious graffiti writer Nost in 2016, the wall was demolished in 2019. The mural can still be viewed as a digital version online. And, in 1987 Evans painted Northcote Youth Mural, with Les Griggs and Marina Baker.

All of Evans original murals are gone due to land sales and building demolitions. Darebin Council has opted for digital preservation for all of these murals. For more on preserving and conserving murals, see my post on the conservation of street art.


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