Category Archives: Public Sculpture

The Michael Gudinski statue

With one finger, the statue of Michael Gudinski outside the Rod Laver Arena points to the sky. A strange gesture – reminiscent of da Vinci’s John the Baptist. However, unlike da Vinci’s Baptist, Gudinski is not recommending the heavens but looking at the stars; he has promoted many music stars.

The Mushroom Group (aka Mushroom Records) founder Gudinski emphasises the ‘Entertainment’ part of the precinct. The mushrooms on the base signify the Mushroom Group that Gudinski founded. Over the years, many of the bands that he represented played in the arena.

The distinction between “Arts” and “Entertainment” is part of the collective consciousness, divided by the Yarra River and built into the city’s fabric. Like the arts precinct on the Southbank, Both have extensive parklands, trains, and trams. Melbourne’s entertainment district is the sports stadiums, which are regularly used for large stadium concerts, on the north bank of the Yarra River.

When I looked, some real dry stems were amidst the bronze mushrooms. The remains of some flowers. Gudinski is still being mourned a little over a year after his death on 2 March 2021. But what will it mean in a couple of decades? Who will recognise him then? Curiously, Gudinski’s name is in stone and, on a bronze plaque on the back of the plinth that gives more details about his life and words “Forever #1”.  As if there was already some uncertainty of him being recognised.

Why does Melbourne need another statue? Celebrating music in bronze appears pointless. The three-dimensional representations of an abstract experience of organised sound seem to contradict Hegelian aesthetics. Rock now shares the money and influence with high-end culture for some odd memorials. That more of Melbourne’s music heroes are celebrated in bronze statues should be no surprise. In my review of the Mushroom Records exhibition at RMIT Gallery in 2014, I wrote, “rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment.”  

It must have been a tight schedule for the Meridian Sculpture Foundry in Fitzroy team to complete the statue, remembering that making a bronze statue is a team effort. The figure was made by Darien Pullen, Meridian’s senior mould maker and wax technician. The casting and coloured patination on the surface of the bronze statue is the work of others. Peter Morley, the founder of Meridian, has created different patinas to make Gudinski’s overcoat darker than his body. This is achieved by gently blow-torching a cocktail of chemicals sprayed onto the sculpture’s surface.

After Louis Laumen’s sculpture of Molly Meldrum, I’d heard that the next music star in the line for the memorial sculpture was Micheal Hutchins. Laumen’s staid portrait of Meldrum in his cowboy hat holding one of his dogs and his other hand with a thumbs up is the least rocking of Melbourne’s rock tributes. There are also laneway tributes to Bon Scott of AC/DC and Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls and a shrine to Elvis in the Melbourne General Cemetery.  

Darien Pullen, Michael Gudinski, 2022

Victoria’s first professional female sculptor

“Margaret Francis Ellen Baskerville (1861-1930) was an artist, educator and Victoria’s first professional female sculptor. During her 50-year career she produced several notable works including the Alexandra War Memorial, Maryborough War Memorial, the Edith Cavell Memorial, the James Cuming, Footscray and the Ernest Wood Memorial Plaque, St Paul’s Cathedral. Margaret’s studio from where she created her sculptures was located in close vicinity to this lane.”

I was surprised to see the panel because, apart from a sculpture nerd like myself, would have even heard of Margaret Baskerville? Who else would care about an obscure turn of last century sculptor? The plaque is the work of the Victorian Women’s Trust, UEM Sunrise, a member of UEM Group, and Probuild. It is part of the art washing around the Aura tower construction site in the middle of the city.

It was on a wall in a lane so new that Google maps has not yet included it. It is on the north side of La Trobe Street, near the intersection of Swanston Street. The lane is part of a pedestrian detour over four times longer than the blocked footpath that has lasted many months. And this morsel of art history is to somehow ameliorate this inconvenience. 

I am interested in Baskerville only because of her public sculpture. I didn’t know about the studio that plaque refers to or even how many studios Margaret Baskerville had in Melbourne over her career? When I last looked into it, I found that she had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914, and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Baskerville’s studio then was behind Assembly Hall in Collins Street; obviously, she had another studio near La Trobe Street at another time.

Baskerville at work on the Tomas Bent statue.

Maybe it was when she received her first public commission for the Thomas Bent statue. Tommy Bent was the kind of crooked politician and state premier that Australia is famous for, who corruptly enriched himself through public office. The kind who needs a larger-than-life statue to be impressive enough compared to their shortcomings. Originally, it stood at the Nepean Highway and Bay Street intersection in Brighton; it was moved to Bay Street in the 1970s.

Aside from being the first public commission given to a female sculptor in Victoria, the Bent statue is the first bronze sculpture in Australia to be welded together with an oxy-acetylene jet from cast pieces (before that, statues were riveted together). In the case of the Bent statue, there were over sixty pieces. Not that Baskerville did the welding or the casting (or the stone caving in later projects), her role in the project was to sculpt the clay model.

Baskerville found that Victoria’s first professional female sculptor was not always a disadvantage. She received the commission for the Maryborough War Memorial because the committee raising the money were all women and favoured giving the commission to a woman. And by the time she received her final commission for the Nurse Edith Cavell Memorial, she was not the only professional female sculptor in the state. By then, Ola Cohn was also at work. 

Margaret Baskerville, Nurse Edith Cavell Memorial

Norma Redpath and the Higuchi Sculpture

If you have visited the NGV or studied pharmacy or microbiology at Melbourne University, you would have seen a sculpture by Norma Redpath. She has public sculptures in other cities, including the Treasury Fountain in front of the Treasury building in King Edward Terrace, Canberra, the Extended Column for the school of music of the Australian National University in Canberra Sculpture Column for the Reserve Bank of Australia in Brisbane.

Norma Redpath, The Higuchi Sculpture

I had seen The Higuchi Sculpture many times from the tram. It is easily seen high up on the blank cream brick wall of the Manning Building facing Royal Parade of the Victoria College of Pharmacy. The Victorian coat of arms on the NGV above the water wall is another notable Redpath sculpture on a plain modern wall. Redpath’s sculptures have a relationship to architecture, mediating modern architecture. She was amongst the first generation of sculptors to be site-specific.

I was walking past this time, so I ducked in to look at the accompanying bronze plaque beside the basketball court. It gave appropriate credit to the artist, the Pharmaceutical Society of Victoria, and the American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co provided financial support. Unveiled on 23 February 1972 by drug thermodynamicist Takeru Higuchi, ”the father of physical pharmacy.” 

“The sculpture is made up of a disc and a rectangle. The gap between the two pieces represents the time students spend on placement gaining vital practical experience. The ridges on the disc represent the main streams of knowledge taught in the pharmaceutical sciences. These ridges fuse together in the rectangle to denote the competent pharmacist, when academic, practical and professional experiences become integrated into the whole and complete pharmacist. A fourth ridge appears on the left hand side of the rectangle to represent administrative pharmacy and pharmacy management. The total design suggests an inverse mortar and pestle, and the symbolism is that of the heraldic academic medallion.” (Alchemy, Faculty magazine issue 21, summer 2011

So many Australians are familiar with sculptures by Norma Redpath (1928 —2013). Still, few would know the name of this leading modern sculptor. Redpath studied at sculpture Swinburne and Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT). Taught by George Allen and Stanley Hammond, she is a link between the anti-modernism of Paul Montford and Italian mid-century modernism. Redpath had close ties with the Italian art scene.

There is an absence in Redpath’s monumental sculptures, a part reduced to an absence, fragmentary forms. For abstract means to remove. The gap or lacuna is like the slashing of Lucio Fontana’s paintings (she had met and worked with the Milan-based artist).

There is an absence in Australian art history regarding this significant woman sculptor. The ABC has neglected to make a documentary, and the NGV to have a retrospective exhibition about her. Even my own book, Melbourne Sculptures, only mentions her three times.

Reading Jane Eckett’s essay “Man sights an object in space: Norma Redpath’s approach to public art.” and Redpath’s obituary by Kenneth Eugieniuz Wach’s “Australian sculptor who was enamoured with Italy” helped me understand Redpath’s life.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74


Memories of the paperboy

The bronze paperboy is standing at the corner of a park on Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads in Caulfield. His clothes, flared bellbottom trousers, and long hair are clearly from the sixties or early seventies. Now they are antique fashions from another century.

When I first saw the bronze paperboy, I was sitting in a tram going past it. I thought that there had to be a story to the sculpture. Was it a memorial to someone hit by a car as they sold newspapers? I am not the only person to have thought that, but it’s not true.

Melbourne was very dull in the early 80s, and public sculpture was rare. Although it was the first time I saw it, I thought that I would see it again, get a better look, perhaps so regularly that I would be bored with its story. It could become part of my daily commute.

It never did. The next time that I saw it was almost forty years later. Even though I have lived in Melbourne the whole time, the vast city meant that I was travelling different routes. Again I was in a tram, and I again didn’t stop. On the return trip, it was pouring rain, and I didn’t get off the tram to look at the sculpture. My memory was only of one sculpture of the paperboy, but there are a group of statues. How many works of public art are like this? Things seen for a few seconds, once or twice in a lifetime, from fleeting, half-remembered views of a sculpture in a park that you have never stopped to see as you pass by on the tram.

The third time was in the sunshine. I walked through Caulfield Park to look at the sculptures. I am amazed to find that there are three naked bronze figures climbing poles for a garland. How could I have missed them? I was just looking out a tram window on the other occasions. And because the complete scene is more meaningless than just the single figure of a bronze paperboy from my memory.

I have no idea what the whole scene means. It is titled The Paper Boy, Mother and Child and Climbing Boys by sculptor Phillip J Cannizzo installed in 1980. Cannizzo was born in 1945, studied at Prahran Tech and RMIT, and now lives in Italy. He had his first one-man exhibition at Komon Gallery, Woollahra, in 1971, and he has some work in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

The more I look, the less sense it makes. Why didn’t I remember the paperboy and not the pole climber? Because the rest of it makes no sense. It is not as if there was an annual naked pole-climbing spring festival in Caulfield in the 1970s. It would be great if there was, but there is no tradition.

In some ways, it is not a bad piece of public art. It is integrated with the corner and the landscaping of the park. Like so many subsequent public sculptures, you could sit on the same bench as the woman and child. The figures are sculpted in a loose, sketchy style with a light touch that was popular at that time. The figures are seated, standing, and climbing poles. Few details and no attribution, a common feature of older public art that I am glad has largely been abandoned. Artists have the moral right to be identified as the creator of their work.


Sculptures of animals in Melbourne

As statues of people have come into further question recently. What about public sculptures of non-human animals? Just them; not when they are with humans, like all the equestrian statues. Most of the animals depicted are not native to Australia. There are imperial lions and even a few unicorns and dragons. The symbolic use of animals in sculptures is an ancient tradition.

Melbourne and Bruce Armstrong were fortunate that his symbolic work, Eagle (Bunjil) from the Jungian collective unconscious, has resonated with local Kulin Nation mythology.

Aside from heraldic use as supports on coats of arms there are a few sculptures of native animals. There is large wooden wombat called Warin who used to live in the city. The extinct Tasmanian tiger  can be found in Richmond, Anton Hasell’s Yarra Thylacine. A couple of stone kangaroos surmount the drinking troughs while the water spouts are emus on the nineteenth-century Westgarth Drinking Fountain at the Exhibition Buildings. 

Fiona Foley, Murnalong, is not the only bee sculpture in Melbourne, there is Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower, but it is the only indigenous bee sculpture. Ray Ewer’s made a plaque for a memorial fountain to Cookie the black swan. There are even animals most people wouldn’t even recognise, Alex Goad’s Tethya, the cells of a local sea sponge. 

Pamela Irving’s Larry LaTrobe is located in the centre of Melbourne, outside the Town Hall; this ugly bronze dog makes a grab for being Melbourne’s most popular statue. The other dog sculpture in the fight is the Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO), and FIDO is a mighty big dog.  There are more dog statues around, including this fine bronze greyhound resting soulfully on a tomb in Boroondara Cemetery.

There are sculptures by artists who have depicted other animals as the focus of their practice. Lisa Roet’s art reminds us that we are great apes, like our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees. Her work uses scale, notably the temporary, giant, inflatable statue of one of David Greybeard, a chimpanzee studied by Jane Goodall. 

Les Kossatz is best known for his sculptures of sheep. The balance between the realism and the comic energy in Coming and Going at the back of the Arts Centre of the sheep coming and going through trap doors. 

John Olsen’s signature image of a frog leaping was made into a bronze sculpture in a pond in Queen Victoria Gardens.

Where John Olsen’s Frog is a signature image made into a sculpture, Floyd’s sculpture is literally called Signature Work. Going down a rabbit hole of post-modern semiotics. Depicting a toy rabbit, a toy that represents an idea of a rabbit, or rather the repeated use of that image of it in Floyd’s art. 

There are also a few horse statues, not surprising in a city so owned by the gambling industry that there is a public holiday for a horse race. I am not a fan of all these sculptures anymore than I’m a fan of all the statues of homo sapiens. Some are horrible, while others are just tasteless or boring. June Arnold’s Dolphin Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens with bronze dolphins, birds, sea horses, and starfish is Melbourne’s most kitsch sculpture. 


Street Art Sculpture 12

This is my annual post about street art sculpture, a topic that I’ve been focused on for decades because it crosses over into my interest in public sculpture. It is the most difficult of all unauthorised art for street art sculpture often requires more materials, planning and choice of location than other forms of street art and graffiti. Even creating a small piece of black glazed ceramic with the raised letters “Black Lives Matter” on it and gluing it to a power pole takes infinitely more effort than writing it with a marker.

The ABC reported about a googly eye prankster operating in Adelaide, but all I’ve seen in Melbourne is this pink rock attached to a power pole in Brunswick. That pink rock rocks. 

Prof Alison Young pointed out a series of tiny blue creatures inhabiting caves in some ill-formed concrete at the VCA. They were probably made a few years ago, given how many have been damaged, but they are still recognisable.

The year’s highlight was a series of unauthorised sculptures with a contemporary Arte Povera attitude installed in a field in Royal Park is, something very formal, physical and site-specific. 

If you are make something that will survive outdoors in Melbourne, then it will last. I love how this old Will Coles cast concret sculpture in Hosier Lane survives under multiple layers of aerosol paint.

I keep finding tiny doors all over the city; I have no idea how long they have been there or what is behind them.

Street artists will sometimes create three-dimensional versions of their art. The art toy scene is another step further in this practice.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures, see my earlier posts:


Dr Louis Smith & the arts

To one side of the entrance to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton stands a bronze bust of a man with a moustache. It is on a granite pedestal plinth with the following words engraved:

The honorable Dr LL Smith FRCS

Erected by public subscription 26th March 1914

Chairman Exhibition Trustees 1884-1909

A trustee from 1881

Dr Louis Lawrence Smith (1830-1910) was a celebrity doctor, anatomy museum director and politician in colonial Melbourne. A witty, self-promoter, and as unscrupulous and corrupt as the best Australian politicians. He also had some odd connections to the visual arts.

Being a celebrity doctor, only the best will do with the bust by Australia’s first international superstar artist, Bertram Mackennal. It is not a significant work in Mackennal’s career, a small commission compared to others that he had from Melbourne’s doctors (you must see the grave commissioned by Dr Springthorpe at Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew).

Dr Smith arrived in Melbourne in 1852 at the start of the gold rush as a ship’s surgeon. His father was a theatrical entrepreneur in London, and from him, Smith learned how to gain attention by spending enormous amounts on advertising. Smith specialised in venereal disease at a time when there were no effective cures. Besides a medical practice, he ran an anatomy museum, a nineteenth-century cover for sex education, alongside his clinic in Bourke Street, until 1869 when it was ordered closed because it offended ‘taste’.

Dr Smith supported the early release of the bushranger turned sculptor William Stanford. He examined Stanford in Pentridge Prison and diagnosed that Stanford had contracted a lung disease from the fine granite dust that he had inhaled carving basalt. Dr Smith’s prognosis was that Stanford could not be expected to live long. Smith diagnosis was incorrect; Stanford did live for many more years, working as a stonemason and did not die of any lung disease.

A petition for Stanford’s release in 1869 failed. Stanford completed his fountain in 1870. In the 1871 Victorian elections, Smith won the seat of Richmond as the ‘people’s candidate’ and called for ‘an unconditional pardon’ for Stanford. Stanford was ‘discharged to freedom by remission’ in October 1871. Smith provided him with an interest-free loan of £900 (about $140,000 today) to buy a house on Madeline Street in Prahran and establish a monumental masons business on Dandenong Road in the then working-class suburb of Windsor. If all parliamentarians lent released prisoners as much money, recidivism would be far lower.

Stanford’s Fountain in Melbourne

Later Dr Smith gave a gift to the Royal Exhibition Building of a ‘Rembrandt painting’ The wayfarer. Smith claimed it had been given to him by the Duke of York in 1901. The painting was subsequently stolen during a burglary at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne on the 29 April 1932. The canvas was cut from its frame, making me doubt its authenticity, as most Rembrandts are painted on wood. And before we mourn the loss of a masterpiece from the golden age of Dutch painting, remember that there were thousands of more paintings attributed to ‘Rembrandt’ in 1932 than there are now. Even supposing the original attribution was even close to being accurate, the painting would be attributed to one of Rembrandt’s students or followers. The inaccurate attribution may itself have been a reason to steal it, saving the owners from the future embarrassment of owning a fake.

Everything I learn about Dr Smith raises more questions.


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