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Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Tweed’s Cook Memorial

There are many inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne, memorials to people who have no connection to Melbourne, memorials to evil men, dumb and ugly things. If I was to put together a list of inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne I would judge them: irrelevance, offence and aesthetics. So an irrelevant, offensive and aesthetic non-entity like the Captain Cook Memorial by Sir John Tweed would be top of my list.

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

It also appears to be top of the list of inappropriate public sculptures for some of Melbourne’s Indigenous people. People with paint who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of Cook’s death added red paint on his hands and face, a streak of yellow down his trouser leg and ‘Good Riddance’ in black on the plinth. It was not the first time, in 2017 someone poured pink paint over the head of the statue, and it won’t be the last.

Tweed’s Cook Memorial is an anaesthetic non-entity of Edwardian sculpture; created at a time, in the early twentieth century when British art was a non-entity in art history. The one in Melbourne is just another edition of a statue that has an appropriate location in Cook’s home town of Whitby in England.

Commenting on the “current multitude of memorial designs” around the world and the “public physical interpretation of memory” Peter Tonkin and Janet Laurence writes: “the creators of memorials build an image of immortality, often inflating the event’s importance.” (“Space and memory: A meditation on memorials and monuments” Architecture Australia Vol 92 No 5 Sep/Oct 2003 pp 48-49)

There are three or four memorials to Boer War in Melbourne, then there is that massive temple complex called the Shrine of Remembrance, along with all the memorials to subsequent wars in which Australia served its imperial masters; evidence that Australians are loyal foot soldiers to the largest imperial power. There is even a memorial to General Gordon, although troops from Australia was unable to fight in that nineteenth campaign.

A century after many of the wars that sparked the initial round of memorial building in Melbourne Australians are still desperately building memorials (along with war museums and ‘interpretive centres’) like a junky with expensive habit. (For an idea of how expensive this habit is see my blog post An Expensive Identity.)

The quantity of memorial reminds me of the stone age barrows in Kent that were constructed without any associated burials. As the purpose of both constructions appears to be a claim to land ownership under the guise of a memorial. ‘Lest we forget’ that the phrase was first used on a memorial to colonialists killed by Aboriginal people defending their land in the frontier wars is noted by K. S. Inglis in his book Sacred places, war memorials in the Australian landscape (Melbourne University Press, 1998).

I find Melbourne’s public art fascinating because it is an official expression of a civic identity and values that attempts to permanently occupy public space. Both the glut of war memorials and the scarcity of statues of women or Indigenous people shows the official priorities of Melbourne, reveals its collective consciousness. In the case of Tweed’s Cook Memorial it is an imported, British colonial zombie consciousness.

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Most controversial public sculptures in Australia

Readers in Melbourne might think that this will be about the flat yellow steel planes of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka the Yellow Peril) but it is not. Although the controversy lasted a year, mostly letters to the paper and angry city council meetings. A few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on Vault read my post: And it was all yellow.

Other readers might think that the controversy was the statue wars of 2017 when statues of Captain Cook and Governor Macquarie were vandalised with paint. “No pride in Genocide.” Again a few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on this read my post: Statue Wars 2017.

There are two sculptures that were so controversial that the sculptures were actually decapitated.

Robert Hitchcock Yagan 1984 (photo by Nachoman)

The Yagan statue by Robert Hitchcock is located on Heirisson Island in the Swan River in Perth. It was decapitated and the head stolen in 1997 by an anonymous vandal who identified themselves as a ‘British patriot’.

The decapitation occurred the same week that Yagan’s actual head was returned. Yagan was murdered in 1833, shot a point-blank range by an eighteen year old Englishman William Keates was speared to death in revenge. Yagan’s head was taken as a trophy to England; if this had been done today it would be a war crime. After passing through multiple British hands Yagan’s head was eventually buried in an unmarked grave along with the body of another Indigenous Australian, some dried viscera and a Peruvian mummy in a corner of Everton Cemetery in Liverpool.

The statue was restored with a new head only to be decapitated again in 2002 leading to a second restoration and another slightly different head. The pattern of racist attacks only stopped when the area was fenced off. There were no witnesses to either of these crimes although WA Police Headquarters has views across the Swan River to the statues site.

Greg Taylor, Liz and Phil Down by the Lake, 1995 (image gregtaylor-sculpture.com)

However, even the Yagan statue is not the most controversial public sculpture in Australia which has to be Greg Taylor’s Liz and Phil Down by the  Lake 1995. Made of cement fondue coated with iron oxide to give them a rested appearance. It was part of a temporary exhibition for the National Sculpture festival organised by the Australian National University in Canberra.

Seated on a park bench by Lake Burley Griffin were two naked figures. The wrinkly old naked Liz and Phil looked, the very opposite of regal, frail and human; only the crown on Liz’s head reminded the viewer who was being depicted. The fact that Lese-majeste is not in Australian law but that didn’t stop Returned Service League chief Bruce Ruxton calling for Taylor’s execution.

Then the head of Liz was stolen on the night of 13 April. The police log stated boldly: ”The Queen has lost her head and doesn’t know where to find it.” After the beheading a former Sydney policeman decided to dress the sculpture in bedsheets printed with the Australian flag. The following night the Duke’s head was removed along with further vandalism that severed legs from both figures and caved in Phil’s chest. The entire sculpture was was removed on 16 April, two days later.

Taylor told the Canberra Times: “It’s a pretty sad day for freedom of speech and freedom of expression when you can’t even put a piece of art up without its opponents being able to control themselves.”

In a secondary controversy the Australian Federal Police on May 14 issued a denial that the Queens head had been found in home of a right wing militia member who had infiltrated the computer and communications sections of the Defence Department and possessed an arsenal of weapons.


Unveiling the Molly Meldrum Statue

At the unveiling of a new public sculpture, after customary the welcome to country; the politicians and philanthropists make speeches to thank everyone involved, often forgetting the sculptor. But Molly Meldrum did not forget to thank the sculpture Louis Laumen.

Meldrum had a signed cowboy hat, as well as, words of thanks for Laumen. He spoke about Laumen’s other sculptures at the MCG, gushing how much he loved all of them. (He didn’t mention Laumen’s most recent statue of Nicky Winmar or the argument over its location.)

Meldrum was the last to speak, after Uncle Colin Hunter, Mayor of City of Yarra Daniel Nguyen, Minister for the Arts Martin Foley, Eddie McGuire and founder of Mushroom Records Michael Gudinski. And, as usual, in spite of his slurred speech, it was difficult to get Meldrum to shut up. He did say that he resisted the proposal to honour him with a bronze statue and tried to derail the plan by insisting that his dog, Ziggy, was included.

It was a cold grey Tuesday in Richmond and a crowd of about three hundred people had turned out. They were patiently waiting through the speeches to see the new bronze sculpture unveiled.

It turned out to be a very colourful statue as it turned out with plenty of gold, white, black and brown patination. Now that it is well known fact that classical sculpture was painted people are not shy about polychromatic patination. It is on a very low plinth, a little more than a step, because it wouldn’t do to put Meldrum on a pedestal.

It is located in a micro park opposite to the stairs going up the beer garden at the Corner Hotel, a somewhat fitting location given that it is a notable band venue. Along with the statue, there is a new mural by 23rd key on the train embankment wall. A green and white image of a concert crowd bookended with painted copies of band posters.


Nicky Winmar Statue – Significance and Beauty

Hanging above my desk is HaHa’s stencil portrait of Nicky Winmar and I have long wanted to see a public bronze statue of Winmar ever since that football match at Victoria Park in 1993. I’ve never been interested in Australian football nor do I think that more bronze statues are a great addition to a cityscape. I wanted one because Winmar’s gesture in reply to racist taunts is both significant and beautiful.

HaHa, Nicky Winmar, 2009

HaHa, Nicky Winmar, 2009

Australia is still in love with monuments and memorials. There is no shortage of recent official monuments and memorials in Melbourne from traditional bronze figures to abstract monuments, like the Great Petition. These permanent monuments express the desire to establish a national mythology but given the lack of statues of both women and Indigenous people it is not representative.

Public sculpture is an obvious indication of the political and social values and structures of a place. Public sculptures make obvious public statements, from the choice of subjects to the style of the finished work it is all deliberate. This is why Australia needs a statue of a proud Noongar man standing victorious in defiance racist taunts.

If someone had asked me which sculptor I would like to sculpt Winmar I would have picked Melbourne-based sculptor, Louis Laumen because of his experience in sculpting sporting heroes around the MCG. Not that anyone asked me (nor I am surprised that they didn’t, I have no power or influence) but the commission did go to Laumen. I don’t like Laumen’s style but I know that it will be appreciated by the crowds of football supporters. My one criticism is why Laumen keeps on making statues with their mouths half open; Wayne Ludbey’s photo shows that Winmar was tight lipped as he points to his chest.

The only problem now facing the statue of Winmar is that it hasn’t been decided where to install it: Melbourne or Perth. Perth because Perth’s Optus Stadium on Noongar land. It is a strange problem for a sculpture and the Indigenous Past Players Association is right to question the process because generally a location for the sculpture is agreed before it is commissioned. There is an obvious solution to this problem; bronze sculptures can be made in multiple additions. So lets put our hands in our collective pockets and pay Louis Laumen and Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine for another edition of this important sculpture.


La Trobe Uni Sculpture Park

I studied at La Trobe University in the 1980s; recently I went back to its Bundoora campus to see some of its sculpture collection. The university describes itself as a “sculpture park” and features sculptures from every decade from the 1960s, when it was established, to the present. I am not going to look at all of the sculptures but have chosen to look at four.

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Charles Robb’s Landmark, 2004 was the main reason for my visit. In front of the West Lecture Theatres, Landmark is a traditional memorial statue of La Trobe that has been turned on its head with the plinth looming above the upside down figure. Made of fibreglass, polyester resin, steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, sand, automotive lacquers and acrylic paint to look like bronze and stone.

Robb’s anti-monumental sculpture was donated to the University through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Artist 2006. Landmark was originally installed as temporary sculpture in the City of Melbourne in 2005 when it was award a judge’s commendation the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

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Outside of the LIMS building (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2012. The work was commissioned by La Trobe Uni in 2012. Rennie is an interdisciplinary artist who mixes his Kamilaroi heritage with graffiti style. The four aluminium pillars are a mix of contemporary art and traditional Murri designs. Each pole represents one of the five platonic solids – icosahedron, octahedron, star tetrahedron, hexahedron and dodecahedron on to which Murri designs have been painted.

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Bart Sanciolo’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1980-1983, is near the Thomas Cherry Building. You can’t miss it. This ten metre tall pointy pyramid of bronze was presented to the university in 1987 as a 150th Gift of the Italian Community to the People of Australia. This was the one sculpture that I remember from my years at La Trobe; I remember it because didn’t like it then and I still don’t.

Sanciolo was born in Messina, Sicily in 1955 and arrived in Australia in 1968. I also disliked his sculpture groups that were in the western and eastern internal moats of 101 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. They looked an ugly pile of figures and have fortunately been removed by the owner. Sanciolo’s sculptures are big but I don’t know if that is a good quality.

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The bronze figure of a woman on the Peribolos Lawn is Herman Hohaus’s Sofia, 1970. Although Sofia is the goddess of wisdom, this Sofia seems more concerned with her hair. The sculpture was purchased with funds donated by Dr Roy Simpson through Friends of La Trobe University 1986 but it seems more suited to a private garden than a university. Herman Hohaus was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia 1954 where he lived until his death in 1990. The NGV has one of Hohaus’s sculpture in its collection (but not on display) another crouching female form in bronze.

There are sculptures on the campus by Inge King, Jock Clutterbuck, Robert Kipple and other notable sculptors; more on La Trobe University as sculpture park.


Innocent’s Colony

The virtual world of digital art and the physical world of public art seem very far apart. So Troy Innocent was one of the last artists that I expected to have done public art. Public art in the sense that it is in a public space belonging to a privately owned building in Melbourne’s Docklands.

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I remember in 1996 Innocent produced Psy-Harmonics a 50 minute video combining synaesthesia and electronic music. It achieved the pop height of being played on MTV in Europe and Australia. He is now a Senior Lecturer in Games and Interactivity at Swinburne University of Technology. For more on Innocent read my review of a group exhibition, Melbourne Future in 2014.

Innocent uses codes and icons to give unknown meaning to the entrance way of another anodyne office block. In Colony 2008 unknown symbols appear on lights, etched into the concrete walls and as coloured forms on the wall. The symbols even appear on the name plate for the art. How to interpret the symbols in the code is the key to how interpret Innocent’s art. It is all about semantics and the relationship between symbols and meaning.

This is not the first public art that Innocent has done. I have vague memories of a project that he did for Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions. It was an interactive work that built on both Innocent’s digital art and his way-finding “urban codemaking”. And Colony builds on that project in a more permanent form.

I was interrupted in contemplating and photographing the parts of Colony by a security worker. I was asked to stop photographing. There were no signs saying no photography. I have never been stopped from photographing sculpture on display in building lobby’s before. But discussing the matter with a low-paid security worker was pointless. As I walked through the car park the reason became clear from the signs on the doors of the trucks; the building housed part of Australia’s fascist department, the paranoid psychos of Border Force.


You are here, wish you were there

I didn’t expect to see Godzilla in Tokyo. On my recent trip to Japan; I encountered Godzilla, a bit of graffiti and a few art galleries.

The statue is based on the film “Shin Godzilla” released in 2016 and had just been installed when I first saw it in March. It is the second Godzilla sculptures in the square; the previous statue, from 1995, was modelled after the original 1954 Godzilla. It is not monstrous, the statue measures about 3 meters in height, which seems small for Godzilla. It is located in Hibiya Godzilla Square where Toho Studios, who made the Godzilla movie, was founded. And it, stands next to a booth for buying cinema tickets.

“This statue contains the surviving final version of the shooting script and storyboard from Godzilla (1954). Here resides the soul of Godzilla.” The statue’s plaque states along with: “Man must live with Godzilla – Rando Yaguchi Unidentified Creature Response Special Task Force Headquarters” It is the first sculpture based on a movie that I have seen but as the quote from the movie script argues we have to learn to live with monsters. (“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146)

I almost always write a post about what street art I saw on my holiday (see my posts on Athens, Dublin and Korea) only I didn’t see much Japanese street art or graffiti. I was expecting to encounter some along the streets or lanes or along the rail corridors but I didn’t see enough to write a blog post about. Nothing that was even worth a photo: a bit of tagging, a paste-up and even a small piece of yarn bombing.

I did see several art galleries in Japan from the elegant contemporary, Museum of 21st Century Art in Kanazawa to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, the most unergonomic museum that I’ve ever visited (both C and I came out with aching backs from leaning in to see the prints). I have already written about some of the exhibitions that I saw in one post about sakura influenced art in Japan. I don’t think that I will be writing anymore as writing blog posts was way down on my list of priorities in my travelling to Japan.

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