Tag Archives: Geoffrey Bartlett

David Smith in Melbourne

The great American modern art critic Clement Greenberg grandly described David Smith simply as “the best sculptor anywhere”. Although David Smith never came to Australia, his influence on Melbourne’s sculpture can be seen in several public sculptures. There are works by Dan Wollmering, Anthony Pryor and Geoffrey Bartlett that are clearly influenced by Smith.

Smith had a massive influence on Australian sculpture, a tidal wave of American mid-century modern rolling across the Pacific Ocean. He helped change sculpture’s format from the vertical portrait to the horizontal landscape; Henry Moore’s abstracted figurative sculptures of mothers were already reclining in that direction. He also changed the basic structure of sculpture from a solid core to an extended form, which he created in space and steel. And the source of inspiration from an external model, illustrating the civic consciousness, to the sculptor’s unconscious, connected to the collective unconscious.

You can see Smith’s influence in Geoffrey Bartlett’s sculpture at RMIT (on the right). It almost quotes Smith’s Hudson River Landscape, 1951 (on the left). It is part of an early series of sculptures and similar to his sculpture that used to be in the NGV’s moat. It is a framed landscape that contains a gravity-defying dynamism. A tension and stored energy in the collection of forms attached to rods that suggest pivot, pitch and spring. I always expect Bartlett’s early sculptures to do something.

Smith wrote clear and concise statements about sculpture. “I start with one part, then a unit of parts, until a whole sculpture appears.” (David Smith “Notes on My Work” Arts, Feb 1960 Special David Smith Issue)

Dan Wollmering Xanthe

This could be the instructions for Dan Wollmering’s Xanthe 1988. It is sited in a garden outside the white neo-classical Glen Eira City Hall (in Caulfield at the corner of Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads). An energetic 3.5-metre metal sculpture with its curving and angular forms frames the spaces between its metal form. One part responding to next part like a guitar solo.

It is entirely modernist, not only influenced by Smith but the blue edges and white planes colours reference to the Cubist works of Fernand Léger. Xanthe was a brave choice for Caulfield City Council, with the controversy over Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault still hanging over local commissions of modern public sculpture.

Vault is another example of Smith’s influence. Even though it has the metal planes and colourful skin of Anthony Caro’s sculptures. For Smith’s influence din’t just roll west; it spread across the Atlantic too. He influenced British sculptors like Anthony Caro and generations of English (and Australian) artists through him.

Ron Robertson-Swann Vault

If there was an Abstract Expressionist version of the Village People (an ugly, alcoholic version of the disco ensemble), David Smith would be the construction worker (both shared the same moustache). (Jackson Pollock the cowboy, and you can fill out the rest.) For there is the macho energy of Smith’s background as a car and tank fabricator in his welded metal sculptures. And like disco, it is a style from the last century.

Will David Smith continue to be an influence on Melbourne sculpture?


Public Sculptures @ Arts Centre Melbourne

In the shadow of the landmark architecture of the Art Centre’s spire Inge King’s Forward Surge stands between curves of Hamer Hall and the Art Centre. Children try to climb this sculpture by Melbourne’s matriarch of modernism, trying for a moment to surf these four massive black metal waves. Forward Surge is one of the many significant number of public sculptures, many by notable local sculptors, like King, in the grounds of Hamer Hall, the Art Centre and also at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74 (4)

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Now there is an exhibition about these public sculptures; “Sculpture Show: Public Art in the Arts Precinct” is displayed in the curved ‘Gallery’ that runs along the outer wall of the Arts Centre. The exhibition features four maquettes, the scale or working models for a sculpture, a few preliminary drawings and photographs of the sculptures by Mark Ashkanasy and Carla Gottgen. This was rounded out with a new series of drawings of some of the sculptures by Melbourne artist, Jill Anderson present new views of these familiar sculptures.

Amongst the preliminary drawings there are three drawings for a proposed but never completed hanging sculpture by the trio of Melbourne sculptors; Anthony Pryor, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava. Although the three sculptors shared a studio in Fitzroy but collaborative works are rare. The drawing depicts a crazy mobile with pulleys, springs, weights and mini mobiles hanging off larger beams. Parts resemble Bartlett’s “Messenger” 1983 that once stood in the NGV’s moat.

Many of the sculptures around the Arts Centre have moved over the years as their surrounds have been redeveloped. Several of the photographs in the exhibition, especially those of interior sculptural elements in the buildings, reminded me how much has changed. Cole Sopov’s Family of Man has changed from interior to exterior sculptures. Even the five tons of Meadmore’s Dervish has been moved.

DSC01173

maquettes for Clement Meadmore Dervish, painted wood

After looking at the exhibition I went out into a little sculpture park at the back of the Arts Centre where Les Kossatz’s sheep are still Coming and Going 1979-82, in their comedy routine of doors. The sheep are kept company by an odd trio of sculptures; Tom Merrifield’s tribute to Anna Pavlova, Dragonfly 1988, Anthony Pryor’s Marathon Man 1991 and Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life.

Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life once stood on the river front side of Hamer Hall but this area has been taken over for more eateries. (It is not the only public sculpture along the Yarra River that has been moved to accomodate more dining areas; Deborah Halpern’s Ophelia was also moved for the same reason.)

To complete the experience I should have continued on to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl where there is the sculpture of Sidney Myer by Michael Meszaros, Carl Milles’ Hand of God and Pino Conte’s Miraggio.

I have previously written blog posts about David Maughan’s Les Belle Helénès, as well as the sculptures of Pino Conte and Cole Sopov. I have also written blog posts about the sculptures of Geoffrey BartlettInge King, Anthony Pryor and Andrew Rogers.


Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


Anthony Pryor “The Legend”

“The Legend”, 1991, stands at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is a steel sculpture with the upper part suggesting the movement of the football in play. Anthony Pryor wanted it to be a climax of exuberance and energy.

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Daryl Jackson describes “The Legend” as a “gateway, an arched figure through which people may journey to the game.” (Joanna Capon, Anthony Pryor: Sculpture & Drawings 1974-1991, Macmillan Education AU, 1999, p.6) When I last saw “The Legend” there were orange bollards around it. I don’t think that the orange bollards around each of the steel pillars were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety reasons – just one of the perils of not having a plinth.

The maquette for “The Legend” was made at the studio that Pryor shared with Geoffrey Barlett and Augustine Dall’Ava at 108 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. The actual sculpture fabricated at J K Fasham Pty Ltd a firm that specialize in architectural metal fabrication. (J K Fasham Pty Ltd in Clayton South fabricated many other public sculptures including Deborah Helpburn’s “Ophelia”, Inge King “Sheerwater” and Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” in Melbourne.) The sculptures commission was associated with the re-development at the MCG. It was completed and installed just before Pryor’s untimely death in 1991; he was only 40.

The youngest of three siblings Anthony Pryor was born in Melbourne in 1951. His father Ron Pryor ran a knitwear manufacturing business. Pryor grew up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs where attended Reservoir High School and Preston Technical Collage. It was a tough place in a young man in the late 60s and Pryor thought that he wanted to be an engineer. He changed his mind mid way through an engineering exam and studied sculpture at RMIT. There he met fellow students, his friends, and now, also notable sculptors, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava.

Anthony Pryor, The Performers, 533 St. Kilda Rd.

Anthony Pryor, The Performers, 533 St. Kilda Rd.

Pryor’s sculptures are dynamic even though they stand still. They have so much energy zapping around them that they have are lighting bolts and motion blurs. His curved marble forms have metal wings.

Anthony Pryor has other public sculptures in Melbourne, as well as, in Brisbane, at Bond University, in far north Queensland and in central Victoria. There are several of his sculptures outside corporate buildings along St. Kilda Road. In the foyer of 607 St. Kilda Road there is his “Tree of Life 2”. And at 553 St. Kilda Road “The Performers” 1989 metal and marble commissioned by Pomeroy Industries for its development now occupied by the American Consulate General. There is another figure titled “The Performers” at Box Hill Central. This is not the only Pryor sculpture in Melbourne’s outer suburbs; Templestowe City Council acquired “I am a Man Like You” in 1986.


Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


Geoffrey Bartlett’s Public Sculpture

Remember Geoffrey Bartlett’s “Messenger” 1983 that stood in the NGV ‘s moat? It is now located at the back of the NGV in their sculpture garden’s moat. Geoffrey Bartlett should be better known as a sculptor in Melbourne. “Messenger” was from a time when Bartlett was influenced by the American sculptor, David Smith. It looked like a kind of Rube Goldberg device; I kept wishing that it would move to release some of the tension in it. There is an obvious reference in “Messenger” to Smith’s “The Letter” 1950.

Geoffrey Bartlett, “Messenger”, 1983, steel

Melbourne based sculptor Geoffrey Bartlett first solo exhibition in 1976 at the Ewing Gallery, University of Melbourne, seven years later his sculpture stood in front of the NGV. Artists emerged quickly in those days. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Personally I prefer Bartlett’s later sculptures, after he was influenced by Henry Moore and added more volume and mass to his sculptures, and there are plenty around Melbourne. These later sculptures have fusion of elements organic and metallic with the individual parts united into a whole complex form. There is a biomorphic appeal of his sculptures, like “Nautilus, Study with 2 Legs” 2010, 24 George Street, East Melbourne. There is also the appeal that his sculptures show their construction process, you can see the bolts and rivets that hold his stainless-steel sculptures together.

“Bartlett intends to disclose, rather than hide the construction process, believing in providing the viewer with an honest impression of the nature of the structure.” [Caroline  Field, “Geoffery Bartlett: The Art of Refinement” Geoffrey Bartlett – Silver Cloud (Deakin University, 2001, Toorak) p.9]

Geoffrey Bartlett, “Orion”, 2008, stainless steel

Geoffrey Bartlett is inspired by astronomy – there is his “Orion” 2008 at the Lucient Building, 430 St. Kilda Road (or his “Orion, Study 2,” 2011, 20 Straun Street, Toorak), “Aurora”, 2006, named after the Greek goddess of dawn on the corner of Harbour Esplanade and Bourke Street in the Docklands and, in collaboration with Bruce Armstrong, “Constellation”, 1997 along the boardwalk at the Yarra Turning Basin.

Geoffery Bartlett & Bruce Armstrong “Constellation”, 1997, wood and steel, detail

“Constellation” sees the return of maritime themes in Bartlett’s work but  in other ways a departure from Bartlett’s usual style. Seashells, like that of the Nautilus, have long inspired Bartlett. In 1988 Bartlett created “Mariner” for New Zealand’s Trans-Tasman Shipping.

Other sculptures by Geoffrey Bartlett in Melbourne include: “Landscape at Moyston”, Price Waterhouse Coopers, 215 Spring Street, 1996, and “Obelisk” for the City of Melbourne, Focal Building also on Spring Street. There are also public sculptures by Bartlett in Auckland, and Newcastle, NSW.

Geoffery Barlett “Aura”, 2006, stainless steel, Docklands


Corporate Power Symbols

Outside 1 Spring Street is C.O. Perry’s “Shell Mace”, 1989, a huge ribbed form of steel with a bronze coloured finish. Commissioned by the Shell Oil Co. American industrial designer, Charles O. Perry (1929-2011) was a sculptor, designer, and architect. There is another Perry sculpture, “Cassini”, 1978 outside the front of the Civic Arts Complex in Ringwood and three more in Sydney and Perth. Inside 1 Spring Street above the foyer is a large Arthur Boyd painting of swimmers at Shollhaven.

Charles O. Perry, Shell Mace, 1989

This post is about the corporate sculpture on public display in the forecourts of office buildings, mostly along St. Kilda Road in Melbourne. I have already written about some corporate sculptures in the CBD in an earlier post as well as in Batman and Fawkner. I don’t want to suggest that these corporately owned public sculptures are common; less 10% of the buildings along St. Kilda Road have a sculpture in front of them.

Most of the sculptures were added long after the buildings construction. BHP House, 140 William Street, built 1967 – 1972, added Robert Juniper’s C.O. Perry’s Shell Mace, 1989. “Shadow Form” is steel simplified organic forms, like a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

One difficulty in writing about these sculptures is identifying them, as unlike sculptures owned by the City of Melbourne there are no brass plaques in the sidewalk to identify the artist. On the corner of Albert St. and St. Kilda Rd. and out the front of The Domain (1 Albert Street) it is a corten steel sculpture, like a curved figure on a steel obelisk plinth. I wasn’t been able to find out anything about this sculpture or the sculptor but after an appeal on this blog it has been identified as the work of Robert Jacks

Robert Jacks sculpture, title unknown

There are a couple of Akio Makigawa statues outside 479 and 509 St. Kilda Road. They were easy to identify as I have previously written a post on Akio Makigawa. 509 St. Kilda Rd, the MLC building has 3 black stone obelisks surmounted with white twists of marble turn on three different axes. There is a single obelisk surmounted with a leaf or flame of marble outside of 479 Dun & Bradstreet House. The obelisk is composed of alternating grey and white marble, a simple rhythm typical of Makigawa’s sculpture.

Akio Makigawa sculpture at MLC Building

Akio Makigawa sculpture at Dun & Bradstreet House

At the Lucient Building 430 St. Kilda Road there is a curved steel form set in a water-feature, a very shallow, black marble reflecting pond. A welded signature allowed me to identify it as Melbourne based sculptor, Geoffrey Bartlett’s “Orion”, 2008. I must write more about Barlett’s organic metal forms as he has many sculptures around Melbourne and is represented in significant public collections, like the NGA and NGV.

Geoffrey Bartlett, “Orion”, 2008

These sculptures are symbols of corporate wealth and power. The corporations aspire to own sculptures that exhibit to public that the company has wealth, power and a modern outlook.


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