Tag Archives: Adelaide

Four Adelaide Sculptures

Considering two sculptures at the Adelaide Station Environs and two in Rundle Mall. The former are two prominent local late-modernist sculptors; large sculptures focused on formal qualities. The latter are contemporary sculptures focused on facilitating interactions.

Robert Kipple’s Bronze Sculpture Number 714 1968 has a reflexive quality like all of Kipple’s mature sculptures; its subject refers to its own creation. An assemblage of wooden parts used for casting steel machine parts cast as bronze sculptures. The machine aesthetic of Dada and Surrealism played out a casual conglomeration.

There is a balance of tones, curves and straight lines in Akio Makigawa’s Elements and Being 1989. It is one of his largest sculptural groups with five separate elements: a column with a pillow on top, a square pavilion with a round roof, a curved form and two obelisks topped with a flame and a cloud. Lyrical, but its black and white stone appears cold and unapproachable.

Makigawa’s time in Australia reminds me of the end of the White Australia Policy (before that, Australia was an apartheid state like South Africa and now Israel). Makigawa was only allowed to move to Australia because the policy was officially over. For more on Makigawa, see my earlier post

People passing by barely glance at these sculptures. The Makigawa looks like it is part of the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel. Both the Kipple and Makigawa sculptures project the statement that this is art, so do not touch.

Compare this to sculptures of the animals in the Rundle Mall: the four pigs and the pigeon. A bronze pig is going for bronze rubbish atop an actual rubbish bin. It is not high art, it doesn’t mean much, but it does a lot of work in the mall. A Day Out 1999 is the work of Sydney-based sculptor Marguerite Derricourt.

These are much-loved pigs; their noses and bodies polished by the hands of many people. Sat on by children and a few adults. The pigs were named by members of the public in 1999. Horatio, Truffles, Oliver, Augusta; plaques record the pigs’ names and the names of the namers. 

A boy runs up and taps the chest of the stainless steel and brass Pigeon before running back to rejoin his family; his younger sister follows suit. This is not some feral pigeon; the ring on its leg indicates it is a racing pigeon or a pet. The angular metal pigeon, geometric rather than realist, is a recent addition from 2020. It is the first public sculpture of Paul Sloan, not the American actor, director and screenwriter, but the Adelaide-based artist.

These are more than selfie-props; they serve as waymarkers, physical elements of the mall outside the commercial. Unlike Kipple and Makigawa, neither Derricourt nor Sloan are well known. The aesthetic difference between these four sculptures is reflected in a debate in the Adelaide City Council about replacing words in their public sculpture commissions from “cheeky” and “subversive” to “beautiful”. If they want “beautiful” they should quadruple their budget because it is that much rarer.


A visit to Adelaide

I was recently in Adelaide, where I visited the Art Gallery of South Australia, Carrick Hill and two historic artist studios. I was aware that I was coincidently continuing my research into art crimes as I was visiting the scene of some historic art thefts, photographing windows, and retrospectively casing the joints.

A painting by Paul Gauguin that was stolen in a robbery from Carrick Hill

The Art Gallery of South Australia the gallery’s collection has been wholly rehung in a vast improvement from the traditional hanging I remember seeing on my last visit over a decade ago. Indigenous artists repainting the white colonial arches, paintings hung on patterned wallpaper, items juxtaposed, works placed high and low. The binaries of European and non-European art and historical and contemporary are ignored to give thematic coherence and more for the eye to find.

In contrast, the “2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State” (at the Art Gallery of SA) was hung in the now traditional manner for contemporary art. Basically, one work or artist per room. This safe approach applied to its curation, which was fun enough without anything new. There was a diversity of contemporary Australian artists, from Abdul-Rahman Abdullah to Reko Rennie. It was also good to see the work of the former Melbourne street artist known as Miso, now doing contemporary art under her name Stanislava Pinchuk.

Stanislava Pinchuk, The Wine Dark Sea, 2021

I had been warned about the cafe at the Art Gallery of South Australia by a random lady on a bus, but I ignored her warning about my loss. If you fail to fill a coffee order, you fail as a cafe.

Carrick Hill, the former home of Australian ultra-rich couple Bill and Ursula Haywood now open to the public. The mock-Tudor house is a Frankenstein creation bringing to life parts from a demolished English manor. The odd contemporary sculptures have since been added to the estate’s expansive gardens but not enough to call it a sculpture park. The wealthy art collectors were purchasing safe options. Their tastes were conservative and uninspired but expensive. A Turner, a Gauguin, several works by Augustus Johns, about ten busts by Jacob Epstein and other works of English, French and Australian artists. The Gauguin and a Boudin were stolen in a break-in just after the house was open to the public but were fortunately recovered shortly after.

In a bucolic setting out of the city, just outside the town of Hahndorf, are the historic studios of Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora Heysen. The landscape, even some of the same trees from his paintings, can still be seen close by. There are very few historic artist’s studios open to the public in Australia; the other is Brett Whitely’s studio in Sydney. Historic artist’s studios are an opportunity to see the artist’s actual materials, tools, brushes, palettes, easel, collection of art books, and even some incomplete works. Again a few contemporary sculptures have since been added to the rural property but not sufficient to call it a sculpture park.

The nearby Hahndorf Academy had a couple of art exhibitions by some contemporary artists, some historical exhibits and a couple more drawings by Hans Heysen. Heysen had donated more pictures to them, but they had been stolen in a break-in decades ago, uninsured and never seen again. Except for their frames which were found discarded in someone’s backyard on the way to the airport.

I would have liked to have seen the Samstag Museum of Art at UniSA but ran out of time on my brief visit to Adelaide.

detail from Marguerite Derricourt, A Day Out, 1999, Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Art Vs Reality Fail

Art Vs Reality is a six part YouTube series of videos. “The aim of the series is really to save art from the curse of luxury imposed by a corporatised artworld,” says Peter Drew, the presenter in the series. The words “save” and “curse” is an indication of the kind of magico-religious thinking about art behind this series.

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

There is plenty of this kind of fuzzy thinking in the series. In Episode 3 Peter Drew appears to claim that artists who sell art lack integrity and are basically guilty of simony for selling the sacred. This obsession with money is a popular take on the institutional theory of art and money features prominently in Art Vs Reality right in the graphics at the start of each episode.

The fixation of money is perhaps due because Peter Drew is a street artist from Adelaide and street art is the most commercial of art movements since the Surrealism. From Futura, Kaws and Os Gêmeos marketing Hennessy cognac, to the entrepreneurial street artists selling street fashion, to quasi religious idealists, like Drew, there has always been a focus on money in graffiti and street art. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t begrudge any artist a single dollar that they make, or don’t make, but you might regard it differently if you have a fantasy about simony.

It is the word ‘reality’ in the title that is symbolic of the its simplistic fantasy of art; it continues to measure art on its Procrustean bed. A fantasy based on a rather simple understanding of a largely French focused version of European art history, ignoring art before the 19th century and most other cultures and countries. The ‘reality’ that Art Vs Reality is referring to is an imaginary popular idealised ‘reality’ that frequently has a tenuous relation to the facts.

Facts, like what happened in the creation of Duchamp’s Fountain that Drew blames for the starting conceptualism. Drew is unaware that the New York Independent Show that Fountain was excluded from had no jury (nor as Drew claims judges to “dismiss it out of hand”). How then was Fountain excluded from the exhibition and where the first edition of Fountain is far more complex than Drew’s ‘reality’.

Ironically it is the conceptual art of the Duchamp that Art Vs Reality, in Episode 2, blames for what it see as what is wrong with art. With a more complete reading of art history Drew might have been aware that the initial attacks on art institutions and the idea of great artists first launched by the Dadaists, followed by the conceptual artists in the 1960s, weren’t concerned about the influence of money but on the ideological support that the galleries gave to the state/war criminals.

Drew’s light-hearted approach lacks any subtly, depth or understanding of art or social history. He doesn’t take the audience to anything new or offer any new insights. Given the subject matter that he wants to deal with it is a shame that Drew does not appear to have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or, even the arch and sardonic Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (as Wolfe was at least informed about modern art history when he wrote it). For a much more detailed analysis of the contemporary art market I would recommend reading Judith Benhamou-Huet’s The Worth of Art – Pricing the Priceless (Assouline, 2001).

Unfortunately Art vs Reality is just another jeremiad, posing as a comedic commentary, a general complaint about how art has lost its way, declined and become decadent.


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