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Tag Archives: Inge King

Modernism and Refugees

On world refugee day March 20, the Metropolitan Museum in New York shrouded paintings by refugees. “What would the Met’s walls look like if there were no refugees?” (No Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, Sopheap Pich, Mark Rothko) If that had been done at the opening of RMIT’s exhibition, “Melbourne Modern: European art & design at RMIT since 1945”,  there would have been many shrouded works.

Vincas Jomantas, Landing Object, 1971

In his opening remarks Philip Goad pointed out the contribution of the European modernists to RMIT. Without the post-war refugees RMIT and Australia’s culture (art, design, food, life) would be boiled, bland and ugly. It is clearly visible in the high tide mark of modern art, architecture, jewellery, fashion and other designs in this extensive exhibition at RMIT Gallery.

It is especially evident in the sculpture. The central sculptures in the main gallery are by Teisutis Zikaras, Inge King and Vincas Jomantas; all were displaced by WWII and were essentially refugees.

Teisutis Zikaras, Mother and Child c.1956-9

Teisutis Zikaras was the first of five émigré sculptors to teach at RMIT. His geometric mother and child in the exhibition are a homage to cubism and European modernism.

Inge King Daruma, Maquette for Garden Sculpture 1978

There are two familiar black steel sculptures by Inge King; many local people would be familiar with King’s sculptures from her public works. Her Daruma are particularly elegant reducing the traditional Japanese doll to two curved planes.

Vincas Jomantas, Birds of Death, 1964-5

Vincas Jomantas is particularly important to the RMIT art department; indeed the curators refer to 1961-1987 as the “Jomantas years” in wall notes. Jomantas may not be a famous artist but his influence on generations of sculptors is a greater legacy.

Jomantas black wooden curved forms in Birds of Death (1964-5) and his white geometric forms of Landing Object II (1971).

Even at modest scale in their sculptures look monumental. Their simple solid forms stand of symbols of modern sense of freedom.

So much of modern culture has been created refugees. Successful and humane countries took them in far greater numbers and far earlier than Australia. Who knows what damage current Australia’s refugee policy is doing to its culture because it takes decades to measure this; Australia definitely lost at least one refugee who is now a Fulbright scholar.

I don’t want any smug ALP supporters reading this and thinking that anyone who doesn’t support the current refugee policy should support the ALP. The ALP started the cruel policy of indefinite detention of refugees under Paul Keating (a creature with less compassion than a snake) and has no plans to end it. I call on my readers to imagine a better world where there is no ALP or LNP and then to do everything that they can to make it a reality.

“Melbourne Modern: European art & design at RMIT since 1945” was curated by Jane Eckett and Harriet Edquist.

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Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

A collector can only span a lifetime but an institution’s collection can span more than one lifetime. A collector has a limited interest but an institutions collection policy can be redirected and renegotiated. RMIT’s 120 years of art collecting reflects a major period in Australian art history.

Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

This makes RMIT Gallery’s exhibition of the RMIT collection, Chaos & Order, one of the best exhibitions of Australian art history that you will see. The size of the collection, which fills more spaces in the building that I’ve ever seen the gallery use before, means that it can tell Australian art history. And it does this without being too big and overwhelming.

The collection has works from the modern to the post-modern. Often these are not major works by major artist but works on paper and sculpture maquettes.

It is an exhibition to expand your knowledge of an artist, to round out your knowledge of Australian artists and to throw in a few surprises. A work by the Spanish artist Antoni Tapies? What is it doing there? The reasons why a work was added to the collection is one thing missing from the exhibition.

For a reviewer selecting a couple of  examples to write about posses more problems than even the curator, Jon Buckingham faced in selecting the exhibition from the collection. I am faced with constructing a narrative order whereas the exhibition fills a building or laid out as a mass in the middle of the gallery. Sculpture nerd that I am I have to take a photograph with the work of Norma Redpath, Inge King and Clement Meadmore in the one shot. Note the conflict of interest in a couple of paintings by my Facebook friends, Juan Ford and Sam Leach.

Listening to the sound art in the basement on a multichannel sound system and trying to think of ways of finding order in the chaos of the collection. There are so many stories to tell in the collection. There is a watercolour by Albert Namatjira and Noel Counihan’s linocut depicting a crucified Namatjira. Should I follow this theme through to Reko Rennie’s neon graff-style slogan: ‘I wear my own crown’? Or, I could trace waves of immigration and its impact on the arts in Australia. Or, changes in artistic media… It is such a rich collection that many stands in the narrative of art history can be easily found in it. Strands that will reach into the future and define yet unimagined art.

Noel Counihan, Albert Namatjira, 1959

Noel Counihan, Albert Namatjira, 1959


Dan Wollmering “Street Beat”

When he did his masters at RMIT Dan Wollmering was a student of Inge King and Vicas Jomantas. In that respect he is a bridge from Melbourne’s high modernism to the present. He has had 40 years of exhibiting sculptures and now that he retired from his teaching career he can concentrates on his sculptural practice.

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Wollmering’s exhibition “Street Beat” at & Gallery consists of three different series of sculptures and an earlier cast aluminium work On the Horizon (2010). This work harks back to earlier works of Wollmering. All the sculptures build on earlier works but in On the Horizon the small lime green hemispheres that indent and bubble on the surface becomes the central image in his most recent wall works.

The exhibition opening was well attended late on Saturday afternoon. & Gallery specialises in sculpture. It is a couple of glass walled commercial spaces in the ground floor of a new building on the corner of Spencer and Little Bourke streets, off Water Tank Place, a private lane in Melbourne.

The work on exhibition is inspired during two art residencies in Malaysia sponsored by the architectural firm Hajjis Kasturi. You will not see any quotes to buildings in KL or Penang but reference to architectural constructs in modern sculpture. The modernity of Malaysia, the modern federated state full of multi-story modern architecture. This series of stand alone hard edge modern sculptures. Penaga (1.2) is the intersection of a circle and rectangle, an alternative resolution to a classic architectural issue. Painted fabricated steel in lime green, orange and fire engine red; except for the largest Function Fit 1.2 which is fabricated painted plywood.

The jetty series of wall works are assemblies of aluminium mesh, galvanised steal and various timbers. Titles, including Incense Jetty, Curry Jetty and Egg-tart Jetty have a more obvious Malaysian reference. These constructions reminded me of the bricolage make-do that fill in for modern unified designs and hark back to Mondrian’s early abstract Pier and Ocean series.

Attention was paid to the exhibition display with two groups of Wollmering’s wall works exhibited on painted large gray and large orange rectangles.


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.


Yarra Sculptures

My brother-in-law, Tom wanted to take a hundred photographs of the buildings in Melbourne’s docklands and riverfront, so earlier this year I went along with him for the early morning walk. We got out at Southern Cross Station, the former Spencer Street Station and crossed the tracks out of the old city. This is not walking Docklands’ public “Art Journey” as Bronwen Colman, the urban art director of the Melbourne Docklands precinct planned but a psychogeographical meandering along the Yarra River.

Webb Bridge, Docklands

Webb Bridge, Docklands

The Yarra River is the reason for Melbourne’s location, it was the transportation hub for the new settlement and it became an industrial site. When the modes of transportation changed in the late 20th Century the river became a neglected site. Another use had to be found for this polluted waterway and like many cities around the world Melbourne turned it into a parkland, river walk, casino, aquarium, restaurants and arts centre. The Yarra River started to be redeveloped in the 1970s with the construction of the Victoria Arts Centre and this urban redesign required more public sculpture.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Piccinini, Car Nuggets, 2006

While Tom was photographing the architecture I was looking at and occasionally photographing the sculptures. Just off Batman Hill Drive at the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence I spotted three seats by Patricia Piccinini, the Car Nuggets, 2006. The chrysalis forms of cars or motorcycles about to metamorphose is both typical of Piccinini’s oeuvre and appropriate for the location.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

We could hardly miss seeing Sydney-based artist, Duncan Stemler’s Blowhole, 2005; a 15 metre tall kinetic wind-responsive stainless-steel and aluminium sculpture located in Docklands Park. In 2008 two of the anodised aluminium cups were blown off but there wasn’t much wind and it wasn’t doing much when we were there.

The area feels deserted until we crossed the river at the Webb Bridge and then things were there was the noise of a flock of parrots enjoying the palm trees. Tom didn’t mind the lack of people, he was happily photographing the architecture of all the new buildings.

As we progress up the south bank of the Yarra there are a few more people were around. I remember reading stories about the early days of Melbourne where people disembarking from ships at the port kept walking up river for what to them seemed like ages until they saw the city. It is very similar today or maybe the city was finally waking up on the weekend.

Further reminding me of the early days of Melbourne the area has these touches of hyper-reality in the old pump house with boilers made by the old Robinson Bros. foundry. I recognised the name of the foundry as they had made Percival Ball’s Francis Ormond Memorial at RMIT.

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

On the north bank of the Yarra River poking its head out from amongst the apartments is a giant metal John Dory fish. It was originally on a floating platoon during the 2006 Commonwealth games and was constructed by a company called Megafun. Megafun also provided technical and project management support to Scar – A Stolen Vision in 2001, the aboriginal poles further along the north bank.

The crowds started to build up around the exhibition building and the casino. We had to find some shade so that Tom could see his camera’s screen properly; he was up to his 81st photo.

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Outside the eastern end of Crown Entertainment Complex are The Guardians by Simon Rigg. These two large sculptures carved from Italian statuary marble and clad with ceramic tiles. Rigg has a number of other marble public sculptures around Melbourne, including Babylon, 1995 is at 101 Collins Street, as well as, in Beijing and New York.

We come to Inge King Sheerwater, 1994 in front of the Esso building. (See my post on Inge King.) Tom puts his camera away, he has taken his hundredth photo and we cross the Yarra heading up Swanston Walk to Chinatown for a well earned yum cha.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994


Wrapped & Revealed

Callum Morton’s exhibition Neighbourhood Watch at Anna Schwartz Gallery is a lot of fun. Morton’s art is generally a lot of fun; Morton’s Motel is a familiar sight to drivers on the Eastlink Freeway and would also be familiar to listeners of the Triple M breakfast show where mistaking Morton’s Motel for the real thing has become a long running joke.

The game of Morton’s Neighbourhood Watch is a guessing game. If you have lived in Melbourne and are sighted you should be able to guess the identity of the wrapped statues. All the wrapped statues are familiar public statues that are located in Melbourne’s major streets and parks even if only their feet are visible underneath the brightly coloured plastic wrapping. What might also confuse the guess is that although the statues are a quarter of their actual size, the simplified plinths on which they stand have only be scaled down to half their size.

They are all memorial statutes but do we remember? The exhibition could have been extended into a social sculpture with a survey to find out which of these five statues were most recognised and which had been mostly forgotten.

I could go on about these wrapped statues, with reference to the work of Christo or Man Ray, but I think that I’ll use this to segue to another sculpture exhibition Revelations – Sculpture from the RMIT Art Collection at RMIT Gallery. RMIT’s art collection has the benefit that many of the best sculptors in Australia have at one time been students or staff or both. A lot of what I have to say about RMIT and sculpture can be found in my catalogue essay for Revelations “From Great Men to Landmarks”.

Revealing what is in RMIT’s sculpture collection makes an exciting sculpture exhibition that tells the history of sculpture in Melbourne from plaster casts of the Parthenon frieze, through modernism to contemporary sculpture. The exhibition also supplements the Inge King retrospective at the NGV (see my post) with more work by King and other members of the Centre Five group, so I would urge anyone going to the King exhibition to also see Revelations.

It is a great time to see sculpture exhibitions in Melbourne.


Inge King – Retrospective @ NGV

Without a doubt Inge King is Melbourne’s most important sculptor of the second half of the twentieth century. Her importance comes from being amongst the first modern sculptors in Melbourne, her many public sculptures and her long life.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King Constellation is a retrospective exhibition at the NGV Ian Potter Centre (Fed Square). In giving an overview of her life’s work the exhibition shows the point where King found her style and then how it developed. Her early works resembles various European modern sculptors: Jan Arp, Juan Miro, Henry Moore, along with a bit of Alexander Calder.

Sculpture was, until the 20th century, made from raw materials, clay, stone, wood, metal; then came assemblage, a particularly modern method because it requires previously manufactured materials to assemble. In 1959 King acquired and learnt to use an arc welder; it was with the welded assemblage of steel plates that she found her style. It was a style that was perfect for public sculpture. A field guide to recognising a King’s public sculpture would probably note they are assemblages of metal and mostly painted black.

King’s public sculptures are very familiar to many people in Melbourne. Her sculptures are across the city from Melbourne University, the Arts Centre to EastLink. Students and graduates of Melbourne University would be familiar with King Sun Ribbon (1970).

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Inge King, Forward Surge 1972-74

Forward Surge (1972-74 installed in 1981) fits perfectly into the curved architecture of the Arts Centre Melbourne and Hamer Hall, turning the horizontal curves of the buildings vertical. The curves delight small children who try to climb them only to have to slide back down when the curve becomes to steep. King remarks in a video interview that although she understands why the council wants to stop skateboarders using Forward Surge, because they have to repaint it, she is glad that skateboarders do use it.

As a member of the Centre 5 group King wanted to reunited modern sculpture with architecture. Her Red Rings (2008), located at the junction of the EastLink pedestrian and bike trail and the Dandenong Creek trail, are three steel rings painted red. The human scale of the Red Rings, 2.5 metres in diameter allows for people to move through them.

The NGV’s exhibition has many of the maquettes, at various scales, for these public sculptures. There is the maquette for the bird form, Sheerwater (1994) in front of the Esso building on Southbank.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

The exhibition gives further insight into King’s interest in reuniting sculpture with architecture, one of the five objectives of the Centre 5 group that King was involved with. Her sculptures can be walls, screens and arches but they can also relate to architecture by projecting from walls or, made of aluminium instead of steal, hanging from the ceiling.

King’s arrival in Melbourne in 1951 marks the beginning of modern Melbourne; the beginning of an international outlook aware of Europe and the USA rather than provincial colonial view. King said that when she arrived Melbourne was “like opening a can of flat beer”. It was the arrival of post-war immigrants that saved Melbourne’s culture and made this contemporary, artistic city.

There was no interest in modern sculpture in Melbourne when King arrived and to make a living she turned to jewellery making. The exhibition includes two vitrines of her boldly modern jewellery; vambrace style bracelets set with opals, necklaces and rings with geometric elegance that can be seen in her most recent sculptures.

Given Inge King’s importance in the history of Australian art it is a shame that this exhibition was so disjointed. The exhibition is located in the large foyers of each floor of Ian Potter Centre, extending a bit into a gallery on the second floor and on the landings of stairs. Starting on the third floor with her earliest work, her classic black sculptures are on the second floor and her most recent work in stainless steel on the ground floor. Extending into the gallery space on the second floor allows the curator to include a mini-retrospective of King’s husband, Grahame King, a notable print maker.


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