Tag Archives: John Kelly

Recent Public Sculptures in Melbourne

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Alex Goad, Tethya, 2015

Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda is a recent public sculpture. Since my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture was published last year there are a few new public sculptures around the city. Not that Sculptures of Melbourne was intended as an index of all the sculptures in greater Melbourne, that would be insane as I included street art sculptures.

Two ballet dancers, Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan, were installed on the lawn at the Arts Centre. And John Olsen’s Frog was installed in a pond in Queen Victoria Gardens. As if either location needed any more sculptures.

Further out of town and in a better, some might even say “site specific” location, John Kelly’s Man Lifting Cow was installed in Sunshine marking a return to his home suburb for Kelly. Brimbank Council really milked the cow with associated events: the 1000 cow project, an art prize, a John Kelly exhibition and an education program at the Brimbank Civic Centre.

Most of the recent public sculpture has been temporary sculptures or pieces put up by street artists. Local street artist, Kranky and other were reviving Presgrave Place. Ironically there were several street sculpture homes this year including several by MOW from the USA. MOW was in Melbourne sticking up a few tiny doors and windows.

The campaign this year to save Chris Booth’s Strata had a happy ending with MONA agreeing to take the sculpture and pay for it to be reassembled. Melbourne’s loss will be Hobart’s gain.

There was no campaign to save Peter Corlett’s sculptures of John Farnham, Dame Nellie Melba, Dame Edna Everage and Graham Kennedy in the Docklands. There were many reasons for this chiefly because they had very little artistic quality, few people in Melbourne want to remember that these entertainers came from Melbourne and no-one ever saw them in the Docklands.


Man Lifting Cow in Sunshine

John Kelly’s 4.5 metre bronze sculpture, Man lifting cow was been unveiled today in front of the Brimbank City Council’s offices on W Street in Sunshine. The sculpture is part of Hampshire Road Precinct upgrades and the opening of the Brimbank Community and Civic Centre in 2016. It was made at Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine, see my blog post Progress on Man Lifting Cow.

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John Kelly, Man Lifting Cow, 2016, (photo from Vicinity Centre’s Facebook post)

 

What does John Kelly’s sculptures mean?

In 1994 Kelly painted his first Man Lifting Cow I. It was an oil on linen 182.5 x 152 cm. In the middle is a man in overalls, lifting something that roughly resembles a cow. In the background there is wide brown land with low hills and a wind sock to indicate the legendary airstrip. It is a reference to a story about the artist’s William Dobell’s WWII experience.

‘When World War II broke out. Bill [Dobell] served first as a camouflage labourer, later as an artist recording the work of the Civil Construction Corps, which built airfields and other defence projects. As a camouflagist, he was one of a group of several, later famous, artists who had been ordered to make papier-mache cows and move them around the base in the hope of fooling Japanese pilots. (said Bill, “I think the authorities underestimated the eyesight of Japanese airmen”.) For almost a year he shared a hut with fellow-artist Joshua Smith.’ (Extract from Dr Edward McMahon, Unforgettable “Sir Bill” Dobell, [first proof])

Kelly has created many paintings riffing on the story of Dobell making camouflage cows. It is only a story and there is no proof that Dobell ever actually made a camouflage cow. Kelly said about the idea of camouflage. “Art is never really about … what it’s about.” What is art trying to hide? The intersecting history of abstract art and camouflage in World War Two is underrated in the story of modern art. Kelly’s ludic monumental sculptures are an absurd commentary on Melbourne’s many war memorials.

John Kelly was born in London in 1965, and grew up, part of a large family in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Sunshine. His parents still live in the suburb. His father, an Irishman from Cork, worked in the quarry; John remembers him always wearing overalls, like the man lifting the cow. I can see a family resemblance between John and the man that he is sculpting, even if it is modelled from a different person, the nose and chin are similar. Now John Kelly has returned to Sunshine to install his sculpture.

This is the third sculpture in Kelly’s Cow trilogy. ”Three Cows in a Pile,” was shown at the 2002 Monte Carlo Sculpture Festival ‘Parade des Animaux’. Cow Up A Tree in Docklands and Man lifting cow is now in Sunshine.

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands


Progress on Man Lifting Cow

At Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine John Kelly, the artist famous for his Cow Up a Tree sculpture, is making the third sculpture in his cow series. This one will be a 5.5 metre bronze, Man lifting cow, but at the moment it is mostly clay.

John Kelly at work

Now that I am the author of Sculptures of Melbourne, a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture I get invited to foundries to meet artists. I should really check exactly what I have written about them in the book and on my blog before meeting them, so that I can be prepared. The first thing that John Kelly wanted to talk about was site specific sculptures as I had described his Cow Up a Tree sculpture as “completely non-site specific”.

I doubt that I will say anything like that for his next sculpture as there is a big hook for that story: local boy makes a sculpture for his local suburb in a local foundry. John Kelly is not the only contemporary artist who grew up in Sunshine, but sculptures by Leigh Bowery or Stelarc might be too extreme and confronting for general public.

The local Brimbank City Council is making the most of the sculpture’s local manufacture, holding a “commissioning launch” at the foundry for the sculpture in a few weeks time. Something to do before the model becomes unrecognisable in plaster moulds. For several reasons the model for fake camouflage cow will be made of fibreglass, chiefly as it would weigh several tons if made of solid clay like the figure of man.

John Kelly and the marquette

John takes a break from pushing clay around on the sculpture and shows me the marquettes as Cameron McIndoe of Fundêre Foundry welds the armature of the hand. The problem of fitting the hand to the cow’s leg is going to take some time.

John Kelly and Cameron McIndoe

In the corner of Fundêre Foundry there is the larger than life size equestrian sculpture of a Australian horseman from the Boer War by Louis Laumen. There are plans for three more.

Louis Laumen Boer War equestrian at Fundêre Foundry


Docklands 1% Sculpture

There is an abundance of public sculpture in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct because the Melbourne City Council required the developers to commit 1% of its capital works program to art. The sculptures in the Docklands include some work by notable Australian sculptors but this post is not about all the sculpture, although I will mention some of them. This is about the commissioning process for these sculptures.

There are endless complaints about the Docklands, from almost everyone who speaks or writes about it. Except in Waterfront Spectacular – creating Melbourne Docklands – the people’s waterfront ed. John Keeney (Design Masters Press, 2005). This huge coffee table book is a puff piece of colour photography, hopelessly compromised with an editorial board that includes representatives from VicUrban and various state government departments. It has very little about the sculpture but lots of photographs of them. However, in one chapter, “State of the art”, Sue Neales gives details about the commissions and funding for the sculptures at Docklands.

There was a 1% contribution to public art from all construction. Of that 1% half would be spent within the public space of the developer’s building, 30% for artwork located outside of developers building and the remaining 20% went to fund commissions of large-scale sculptures and artwork for public spaces across the whole of Docklands. The art spend by the developers had to “involve the direct commissioning of an artist to design and construct a specific artwork”. A variety of commissioning processes were used in the Docklands from direct to open competitions.

Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” 2004 is a stainless steel and aluminium sculpture above reflective pool with a path through the middle of the A frame support for the boat structure. Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” on Navigation Drive was a result of a limited competition. Six selected artists were invited to submit designs and maquettes (models of the proposed sculpture) for a competition with three winners selected to create artworks along Harbour Esplanade. New Zealand artist, Virginia King’s proposal was chosen. This work clearly fits with the Dockland’s themes.

The selection criteria for the sculpture included meeting Dockland themes of indigenous history, maritime, water, industrial history and urban interface. The themes are a way of the city council manipulating the memory of the area exploiting a desire for the authentic amid the completely constructed landscape.

Obviously not all of the sculptures do meet these themes. Emily Floyd “Signature Work (Rabbit)”, 2004 a large black painted aluminium toy rabbit on Waterview Walk and John Kelly’s “Cow Up a Tree” 1999 on Grand Plaza have little do with any of the themes in the selection criteria (except for, maybe “urban interface” what ever that means). Kelly’s “Cow Up a Tree” sculpture toured the France, Ireland and the Netherlands, making it completely non-site specific.

The art needed to be made for durable materials not prone to corrosion, able to withstand vandalism, with no small parts that could be stolen, “and be safe for people to touch and move around without any public liability issues” (p.118) For years temporary fencing has surrounded “Shoal Fly By” by Melbourne-based architect/artist partnership, Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo on the
Harbour Esplanade. And now the sculpture has gone. Maybe there is a health and safety issue with the sculpture?

There are lots of new public sculptures in the Docklands development but I’ve been finding it hard to get around all of the industrial scale development. I ended up looking at Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” on Google maps.

Has the 1% for the arts improved Docklands?


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