Tag Archives: Henry Moore

The Temple of Boom

As a teenager, I thought the third-scale Parthenon of Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh was the wankiest construction I’d ever seen. Intended as a memorial to the  Napoleonic War and to emphasise Edinburgh’s claim to be “the Athens of the north”, it failed at both. So I’m not sure about another one of the same scale in the NGV’s sculpture garden.

As a symbol of western slave-ownership delusional exceptionalism, the Parthenon is best not remembered for its white sun-bleached marble but as a painted temple. Given this, I prefer the Temple of Boom to the one in Edinburgh.

The Temple of Boom is the 2022 NGV Architecture Commission and was designed by Melbourne-based architects Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang. It is a semi-complete classical Greek-style temple constructed around the Henry Moore sculpture. It is not a temple to Athena, for Moore’s figure is an Aphrodite or a Hera, not Athena.

I wasn’t there for the architecture, the Friday night DJ sets or the VR experience of the Acropolis in Greece. I was there to see what guest curated by Toby Benador of Just Another Agency had arranged for the painting of the temple.

I’ve seen art by two artists on Melbourne’s streets: Drez’s vibrant colours and Manda Lane’s black and white vegetation. Manda painted with a brush which she does paint with a brush on the street when she isn’t doing paste-ups. And finally, there is the luxurious floral art of David Lee Pereira, whose work I’ve seen at Beinart Gallery.

The Temple of Boom served these artists well. Street and mural artists have a close and important relationship with their surfaces’ architecture, which is different from how other artists might relate to the surface they are painting. It is also temporary, ephemeral work for which they are well suited. The tree branch from the NGV’s garden grows into the temple, mixing with the built environment like a reverse of Pereira’s painting.

I’m interested in how street artists work in gallery settings. Within the gallery cage’s confines, the wild art will start to exhibit domesticated behaviour. It is kind of a litmus test for art galleries; are they an anaesthetic environment for art or institutions of colonial appropriation? Not that the Temple of Boom is either of these, it is a play space.

I didn’t see it with music playing, and I was there at a quiet time of day.


Henry Moore & Australian Sculpture

Australian interwar sculptors mark the transition from traditional to modernist. Interwar modernism in Australia was not building on any modernist foundations, it was the start, and it started in England with Henry Moore.

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Henry Moore was the acceptable face of modernism in England. He was English and his easy version of biomorphic surrealism was friendly. Although it was modern sculpture, all smooth with holes in it, everyone could engage with because everyone has a mother.

It was a particularly British sense of modern and Moore did things including making his sculpture from local stone, to maintain the idea that the sculptures were British. The British liked to distance themselves from the mainland of the continent hoping to avoid the French revolution and the other revolutions, like modernism, that might arise after it.

Assisting Henry Moore was almost a rite of passage for Australian sculptors. George Allen, Lenton Parr, Ron Robertson-Swann, and Ola Cohn all worked with Henry Moore at one time. Art in Australia was still part of Britain even if it was on the other side of the earth. Australia was too close to Britain to look to at European art and consequently early modern sculpture in Australia was in part a response to Henry Moore.

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Ola Cohn sculpture at Melbourne City Library

In Ola Cohn’s autobiography, A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R. W. Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne) there are no insights provided about the transition to modernism in Australia. Cohn doesn’t seem like a typical modern artist as she doesn’t express any desire for change, she just goes along with the changes. The lack of insight that Ola Cohn exhibits in her autobiography means that her rambling account of her life has many details with little meaning.

However, there is one insight that is quoted in Cohn’s autobiography. Blamire Young in “Art – Past and Future: Streeton and Ola Cohn” (The Herald 1931 p.86) writes: “Our approach to modern art is surrounded with difficulties, and its effect on Australian students who visit Europe is interesting to watch. They return to Australia with an amazing understanding of its outward and most recognisable  characteristics, but it is seldom they make us feel that they have been through the spiritual suffering that its originators had to undergo.”

For Cohn and many other Australian sculptors modern art meant simply smoothing out the figure into a streamlined form and nothing else. There was no deeper meaning to early Australian modernists as there was no modern revolution or revolt in Australia. Early Australian modernism was simply a copy of British modernism, more a shift in style rather than a revolutionary attitude.

In the progression of modernism another one of Henry Moore’s assistants, Anthony Caro would continue to be a major influence on Australian sculptors, particularly in the work of his students Ron Robertson-Swann and Fiona Foley. The history of Australian sculpture continues to be entwined with British sculpture and the legacy of Moore’s influence in Australian sculpture continues to this day.


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