Tag Archives: Ian Potter Museum of Art

The Rubble of History

“Cultural Rubble”, 1993, by Christine O’Loughlin, was re-installed on the façade of the new Ian Potter Art Gallery at Melbourne University in 1998. “Culture Rubble” is a large scale, site-specific installation of 4 panels in very high relief; statues and vases stand our almost complete above the surface. It represents the rubble of the classical world reinterpreted in the antipodes.

The idea that a site-specific installation could be re-installed on a new building is made understandable by the moving of the contents, the Ian Potter Art Gallery, from the old building to the new one. The Ian Potter Art Gallery contains a collection of classical antiquities.

“Cultural Rubble” samples past images and recombines them to create a new meaning. It was the first public sculpture that said post-modern to me (although Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon” 1989 is historically the first post-modern sculpture in Melbourne).  For me, “Cultural Rubble” was a visual proof of a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. It demonstrates a post-modern sense of history, as opposed to the modernist rejection of history. It looked back not just to the classical Greek world but also to the history of art museums such as the paster-cast gallery in the V&A Museum. “Cultural Rubble” contains, in a way, the entire sense of art history embodied by the Louvre’s collection, including the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Discus Thrower.

The rubble has been broken, a symbol of no value, and then reassembled in a different order. It is like the Japanese Buddhist monks that cut up and reassemble a patchwork of fabrics or broken ceramics. It is not an effort to restore what has been sacrificed but find new meaning and order in the sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice is the reciprocal action to terrible destruction, however the sacrifice, itself is a terrible destruction require yet another sacrifice in order to restore the balance. The Christian iconoclasts and the modernists failed to clear up all the rubble of their destruction of the classical pagan world.

The artist, Christine O’Loughlin had lived and worked in France since 1979 and cast the sculptural elements for “Cultural Rubble” at the Louvre. “Cultural Rubble” is an early anomaly in Christine O’Loughlin’s sculptural work, in that it is not representative of her other work, except in its use of the poetics of displacement. She has continued to exhibit in Europe using the environment as her main sculptural material.

Post-modernism was not the end of history rather it was a different sense of history. It was a sense of history with multiple different views. It was sense of history that was evident not just in O’Loughlin’s sculpture but also in the photography of Bill Henson and in the paintings of Gordon Bennett, Imant Tillers and Juan Davilla. However, as Melbourne moved from post-modern to contemporary art the sense of history has faded.


And the winner is…

On a cold Thursday evening, on the 5 August 2010 sport and art luminaries walking on the green astroturf carpet that had been laid outside the Ian Potter Museum of Art. Amongst the crowd was legendary football coach, Ron Barassi who turned up to support a relative, one of the finalists, the artist, David Ray. Inside the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2010 was about to be announced (see my preview of the prize and exhibition).

And the winner is… The Gymnasium 2010 by Perth video artists, Pilar Mata Dupont and Tarryn Gill. The Gymnasium is a new work created for the Basil Sellers Art Prize.

Gymnasium, 2010, Courtesy the artists and Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth

Pilar Mata Dupont and Tarryn Gill’s video is fun, like a 4-minute music video clip. You can watch it over and over again. The aesthetic image of the gymnasium from an era, prior to branding with corporate logos and exercise machines, has the ironic appeal of nostalgic propaganda. The video ends of the smiling, laughing faces of the athletes with the Australian flag waving in the background.

The Gymnasium was filmed in a boy’s school in Perth; the attention to detail in the video is amazing. Along with the location, the casting, hairdressing, soundtrack and the costumes perfectly fit the era and nationalistic propaganda style. The artists have beautifully captured choreographed movement.

The Gymnasium lives up to the objective of the Basil Sellers Art Prize as it challenges the perception of sport through the use of visual arts.  It examines the link between Australian national identity and sports. The national identity of the white Australia is based on a sporting body culture and this video gets to the heart of the aesthetics of athletics.

The video is ironically inspired by Lenni Riefenstahl’s classic film, Olympia, of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The video images also have a direct relationship with one of Australian’s most famous photographers, Max Dupain. Isobel Crombie in Body Culture – Max Dupain, Photography and Autralian Culture 1919-1939, (Peleus Press, 2004) examines the fascist body culture that inspired Max Dupain’s photography. These images echo the aesthetic aspiration of ancient Greek athletes for control of their bodies, as examined by Michel Foucault in The Uses of Pleasure, the history of sexuality: v. 2 (1984). Foucault highlights the ethical relationship of this control to ancient Greeks. And the ethics of this body culture is displayed in The Gymnasium; the different athletic activities of the men and women demonstrate the use of sport to emphasise gender differences, as well as, control of sexuality.

Gymnasium 2010 Courtesy the artists and Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth

Australia needs to acknowledge and better understand the history of its sporting culture in order to move beyond the nationalism and fascism. And Pilar Mata Dupont and Tarryn Gill’s The Gymnasium 2010 is part of this cultural re-evaluation.


Basil Sellers Art Prize

Challenging the relationship of art and sport.

The challenger: The bi-annual Basil Sellers Art Prize, the biggest art prize in Australia, weighing in at a massive 100,000 dollars (twice the size of the 50,000 Archibald Prize). The contenders have been narrowed down from over 350 entries to 14 artists.

Defending the perception of sport is a team of popular opinions and stereotypes. In school I learnt that there are two types of people: arty and sporty and that it had been that way forever. I wasn’t taught this in the classroom, but in the playground, on the sports field and in the extra school activities. For most of my life I have lived with the division between people interested in the arts and people interested in sport.

How and when did this happen? This contemporary division could not be more pronounced but it was not always the case. Sport was seen as a physical art; in ancient Greek sports the athletes displayed their ‘arête’. Sculpture in ancient Greece celebrated the athlete and was created to commemorate their triumph. The ancient Olympic games combined both sports and artistic activities.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize aspires to recreate a relationship between art and sport, to legitimise the topic in art, not all at once but as the prize gain momentum over the year. They even have an ambassador to the sporting world, sports media personality Samantha Lane – the division is so extensive it is like another country.

Maybe it is another country, maybe there are two Australia’s geographically identical but with complete different populations that never interact, like two alternate worlds. You would think that if you were told that sports dominated Australian culture and you then visited the NGV to find no images of sport. It is this cultural disconnect, the absence of sport in Australian art that inspired Basil Sellers to fund this art prize. There is no planned outcome, just a series of prizes designed to develop a connection over a generation of artists. Basil Sellers says, “ My hope is that this prize will take lovers of sport and art into what may be unchartered, but ultimately reward territory leading to an engagement that will enhance their enjoyment of each other’s loves”. Can the challenger defeat the current perception of sports and the arts through the use of visual arts?

Nobody is taking any bets. Nobody is taking any bets either on who will be the winner tomorrow night; unlike the Archibald Prize there is no bookmaker giving the odds on the Basil Sellers Art Prize.

The media preview was a chance to look at the art without the prize-winning status hanging over the work. So what are we looking at with art about sport? Cricket, running, football, gymnastics, netball, cycling, surfing and boxing are all represented in the exhibition. The art deals with issues beyond sport of identity, gender, corporate branding, celebrity and movement.

Dr Chris McAuliffe pointing out a change to Eric Bridgeman’s Wilma Jr. ("Blacky"), 2009

Surveying the field:

Eric Bridgeman’s life sized footballer installation. Ponch Hawkes has staged photographs of female athletes in a series addressing gender, violence, power and alcohol. Philip George’s surfboard installation mixes Islamic art with surfing culture. Glenn Morgan’s automated diorama tableaus have a folksy charm recording sporting history. Noel McKenna’s is exhibiting three paintings of sporting celebrity profiles. Richard Lewer is showing hand drawn animation of ordinary sporting tragedies. Vernon Ah Kee has both a video installation and photographs of an all-Indigenous cricket team from north Queensland. Juan Ford has five images using anamorphosis. Grant Hobson’s large digital photographs depict surf culture and the environment. David Jolly with two glass paintings of cyclists in the Tour de France. Pilar Mata Dupont & Tarryn Gill present a video with a tongue-in-cheek look at fascist-style aesthetic present in Australian’s sporting culture’s history. David Ray’s trophy made from witty ceramics in a vitrine. Gareth Sansom’s painting about spin bowling. Tony Schwensen’s video documents the artist watching of sport.

What is the ground, track conditions etc. like? Four gallery spaces on two floors in the Ian Potter  Museum of Art at Melbourne University giving the art a home ground advantage.

What are the rules? Art in all media is allowed and the selected artists are all paid a $3,000 participation fee and may present one or more works in the exhibition. The winner gets $100,000 and Basil Sellers goes home with a prize-winning work of art.

The winner will be announced tonight (see my entry And the winner is… ). Then there is the $5,000 People’s Choice Award that you can judge for yourself.


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