Tag Archives: Melbourne University

Sculpture @ Melbourne University

There is an expectation of sculptures adoring the university’s buildings and gardens and Melbourne University’s collection provides a unique view of the history of sculpture in Melbourne. (Macquarie University established a Sculpture Park in 1992.) The removal of the iron fence around the grounds in 19th Century meant that grounds of Melbourne University were open to the public. However, although the sculptures are on public display they are in the separate space of the university and have a different history to that of the Melbourne’s public sculptures. This is not a guide to Melbourne University’s sculpture for that see Lorinda Cramer and Lisa Sulivan’s Sculpture on Campus.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Sculptures at Melbourne University have accrued over time – there has been no over all plan.  Brian Lewis (Foundation Professor of Architecture, 1947– 1971) was described by Ray Marginson as “an outstandingly successful ‘magpie’.” (“Impecunious magpies, or how to adorn a university with little ready cash – Ray Marginson, interviewed by Robyn Sloggett” University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 7, December 2010 Dr Ray Marginson was Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne from 1965 to 1988.) This magpie aspect to the collection ties in with the earlier trend of ‘façadism’, as well as, Melbourne University’s outstanding collection of modern sculptures.

‘Façadism’ at Melbourne University is a struggle to accrue identity in the post-colonial new world, a kind of antiquarianism on a gigantic scale. It is a local version of the American multi-millionaires who moved whole European palaces across the Atlantic to feel more in touch with history.

The redevelopment of the city brought sculptures to Melbourne University. In 1890 the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the USA acquired northwest corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. When Whelan the Wrecker demolished the building in 1959 and the group of bronze statuary that topped the entrance portico was donated to the University of Melbourne.

The sculpture depicts a sandal-shod Amazon giving succour to a widow with two children. It was modelled and cast in Vienna in 1893 and is similar to the sculpture that once stood at Equitable’s New York office. It was originally located at its new Architecture school at Mt. Martha but was relocated to the main campus in 1981.

In 1966 Whelan the Wrecker’s work provided more sculptures for Melbourne University when the Union Bank was demolished. Two figures meant to represent Great Britain and Australia, also known as Ada and Elsie. (Robyn Annear, A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne, 2006)

The gateway to the underground car park with figures by Percival Ball (1845-1900) was also saved from demolition.

DSC09226

The early appearance of abstract modern sculptures on the Melbourne University campus demonstrates the progressive university community compared to the rest of Melbourne. Inga King and Norma Redpath played a more important part in introducing modernist sculpture to Melbourne than Ron Robertson-Swann regardless of the brouhaha over Vault.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

In 1980 Inge King‘s Sun Ribbon replaced a pond on the Union Lawn; it was what the university students wanted (Marginson p. 28). The sculpture is the gift of Mrs Eileen Kaye Fox in 1982 in memory of her parents Ernest and Fannie Kaye. In 1985 a group of students covered the sculpture in aluminium foil. Also by King on the campus is “Upward Surge” 1974–75 Steel Commissioned 1974 for the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew and installed in its current location in 2001.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital, 1970-74

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74

The Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial by Norma Redpath 1970 (signed 1969-70) is a bronze capital on top of a black steel column. Prof. Sydney Dattilo Rubbo (1911-69) was the professor of Microbiology from 1945-69. Leading post-war sculptor Norma Redpath 69-73 studied sculpture at RMIT, 1953 was part of the ‘Group Four’ with Inge King, Julius Kane and Clifford Last. Other public sculptures by Redpath in Melbourne, the Facade Relief (1970–1972) at Victoria College of Pharmacy and the Victoria Coats of Arms (1968) on the front of the Arts Centre of Victoria.

Although Melbourne University has an good collection of sculptures featuring works by many notable sculptors and with examples from many different eras of sculpture, it is a peculiar collection that often picks up what others were casting aside.


Who Pays For Public Mistakes?

Many public sculptures are mistakes, very few are really successful. Given that permanent public sculptures are expensive due to the cost of materials like bronze and marble. Given that a sculptor creating public sculpture has to learn from experience the question must be asked who should pay for these public mistakes?

Micheal Menzaros, The More We Know, bronze, 2013, Melbourne University

Micheal Menzaros, The More We Know, bronze, 2013, Melbourne University

This question came up when I was examining the recent sculpture The More We Know 2013 by Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros. It is located out the front of the entrance to the Medical Building at Melbourne University, near the corner of Grattan Street and Royal Parade.

The More We Know is about the advance of medical knowledge and it commemorates Melbourne Medical School’s 150th anniversary. It is the idea of a group of nine Melbourne Medical School alumni from 1972 who last year commissioned the sculpture from Meszaros. The sculpture represents progress in the increasing complexity of the figure including the gaps in the figures; the more we know the more aware of we are of the gaps in our knowledge.

The statue is not only expresses how medical knowledge, practice and technology evolve but also the evolution of Meszaros’ sculpture. The linked group of figures is a development from his earlier sculpture, further down Grattan Street outside of main entrance of the Royal Women’s Hospital. The figures go towards and away from the hospital; there is doctor with a stethoscope, a pregnant woman, a woman holding a baby, a nun like nurse, a woman with a nametag.

Michael Meszaros's sculpture at Royal Melbourne Hospital

Michael Meszaros’s sculpture at Royal Melbourne Hospital

The profile faces in The More We Know are a development from metal outline profiles in Meszaros’ Distant Conversation, 1992 that once was in the lobby of the Telstra building. All of this far more complex than Meszaros’ earliest public sculpture in Melbourne, his 1978 realist figure of John Pascoe Fawkner at 447 Collins Street.

In 1979 in The Age the critic, Robert Rooney described Meszaros’ John Pascoe Fawkner (and its companion, Stan Hammond’s John Batman) as a “miserable pair of bronze nonentities”. Former Age art critic Peter Timms was more forgiving saying that it “shows a need for social coherence which we all desire; a sense of hierarchy and order. But I guess we all acknowledge that that’s not the reality anymore – so is sculpture the way to achieve it? I don’t know.”

Michael Meszaros (b.1945) is the son of the Hungarian born sculptor and medalist Andor Mészáros (1900-1972). Michael Meszaros studied architecture at Melbourne University before turning to sculpture. He is still working in the same studio in Kew that his father built. He is a former member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and was also instrumental in the original push for legislation to recognize the artists’ moral rights. Meszaros’s niece, Anna Meszaros is also a sculptor, notable for her fourteen relief sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross outside several of Melbourne’s inner city churches.

There are many sculptures by Michael Meszaros in Melbourne. There is his memorial to William Guilfoyle, curator from 1873 to 1909, a cluster of bronze sprouting seeds with large acorns at the Royal Botanic Gardens. His copper birds at 350 St. Kilda Road and the others that I have mentioned in this post.

I started writing this post with some sympathy towards Meszaros, not because I admired any his sculptures but I did appreciate his development over his 43 years of working as a sculptor. However I lost what sympathy I had when I read his public submissions to the federal Minister for the Arts Review of Private Sector Support for the Arts 2011. Meszaros’ submission exposes his anti-intellectual, conservative position and demonstrates that while he might be good at getting sculptural commissions ranging from small medallions to public sculpture he lacks training in both diplomacy and a greater understanding of the art world outside his own studio.

In the submission Meszaros complains about ephemeral artists, performance ‘sculptors’, sound sculptors, etc. claiming that they alienate the public. This raises the question if Meszaros’ own sculptures engage or alienates the public? I’ve never seen the public interact with any of his sculptures aside from people using the plinth of his figure of Fawkner as a seat. No one touches the sculptures even though they are at street level and no one takes selfies with them. Meszaros’ Telstra figures Distant Conversation, 1992, have been alienated from Telstra’s lobby and ultimately the from Telstra; the sculpture was finally acquired by Grollo Australia. Café tables in the lobby of 565 Bourke Street now surround his Rainbow, 1990. After a while his sculptures just fade into the background of the city and are ignored.

Michael Menzaros, Rainbow, steel, 565 Bourke Street

Michael Meszaros, Rainbow, steel, 565 Bourke Street

Meszaros complains in his submission that: “In may (sic) circles, commissioned artists are looked on as a lower form of commercialised life. By that definition, Michelangelo was a commercial sculptor.” In cherry-picking evidence Meszaros disdain of education meant that he didn’t realize the irony of this comment as Michelangelo found many of his commissions annoying.

To prospective clients each commissions looks like a triumph because they are not an absolute disaster. A sculptor working on commissions doesn’t have to rely on repeat customers, he just moves on to the next commission. In this way organizations pay for his development as a sculpture and have to live with his mistakes. That said; Michael Meszaros has built a reputation through commissions involving Melbourne University, for decades, he received commissions for portrait medals of retiring Melbourne University academics.


Seven Exhibitions

The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride to Melbourne University today; I had various reasons to go including having another look at the sculptures on campus for a future blog post. I also saw a couple of galleries on the campus, the George Paton Gallery and Ian Potter Museum of Art and on the way back I stopped in to have a look at Brunswick Arts Space.

I thought that I might give George Paton Gallery a miss because the exhibition “Make it New” was just a student union photography competition and exhibition but as I was passing by the Melbourne Student Union building I felt that this reason was snobbish. I was glad that I saw the exhibition, the variety and quality was impressive; I had seen some of the photographs before in other exhibitions.

Ian Potter Museum had three exhibitions: Heat in the eyes, Colour Me Dead and Under the Sun.

“Heat in the eyes: new acquisitions 2010–13” has more than fifty works recently acquired through purchase and donation. This included works by some familiar names: Jenny Watson, Mike Kelly and Peter Tyndall. Trevor Nickolls’ exuberant painting “Gertrude Street, Fitzroy” is definitely worth acquiring for so many reasons.

“Under the sun” is exhibition for the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2013 is an annual award for Indigenous creative artists. The $25,000 award winner is Mabel Juli for her minimal painting “Garnkeny Ngarranggarni (Moon Dreaming)”. The artists on exhibition are Teresa Baker, Daniel Boyd, Hector Burton, Timothy Cook, Mabel Juli, Kunmarnanya Mitchell, Alick Tipoti, Garawan Wanambi and Regina Wilson. I was taking note on the fibreglass resin masks by Alick Tipoti from the Torres Strait Islands, Hector Burton’s paintings of the trees around the waterhole with their fantastic colours, and the woven patterns in Garawan Wanambi (NT) paintings when my pen ran out of ink and so did my notes at this point.

Philip Brophy’s exhibition “Colour Me Dead” is about “changing perceptions of the nude in art from Neoclassicism and Romanticism”. It sounds more like an art history thesis than an art exhibition but Brophy has created an attractive and clever multi-media exhibition from his research. There is a movie, works on paper, digital art, sounds, lights and plenty to cogitate on. And here was I with out a functioning pen.

On my ride back I looked at the graffiti covered Upfield bike track (more research for future blog posts) and I stopped at Brunswick Arts Space. Where there were three good exhibitions. “I need a life, where can I download one? A drawing investigation by Alice Alva” fills two walls with drawings of debatable quality in a Barry McGee style hanging. Jess Kelly’s “Photosynthesis” has alchemical jars and life-size paper cut-outs of the lamppost growing leaves evoking a mysterious atmosphere. And Andy Robertson’s “Works, 2012” took a wry look at the documentation of contemporary art.


2012 Reflections

This will be my last post for the year, as I need a break.  So here are some reflections on my year of blogging.

Write locally and read globally.

I have been intrigued, and a little bemused, by the global views of this blog. I knew that there were some international views but I thought they weren’t that common.  This is a very local blog with a focus on the visual arts in Melbourne. When WordPress introduced the stats of views from countries I realized how many of my views come from countries other than Australia – I’ve had readers from almost every country in the world. I’m not sure why I have relatively so few readers from New Zealand or why anyone in Africa would be reading it but thanks for reading where ever in the world you are.

Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

American artist Snyder pasting up in Hosier Lane.

This year I have been doing some professional development as a critic going to a lot of art history talks and workshops this year; bloggers do need to do a bit of “professional development” and I’ve certainly been doing that this year. I find out about most of them on Melbourne Art Network. The best were a free mini-conference at Melbourne University: “Dispersed Identities – sexuality, surreal and the global avant-gardes” and the “Workshop on the Human and the Image” at the Centre for Ideas, Victorian College of the Arts (I gave a paper at there – I don’t know if that added to the quality). It has been great getting back to my love of art history and philosophy, although they remind me that I’m glad that I didn’t pursue an academic career especially considering the end of art history department at La Trobe University. The end of the art history department at La Trobe will impact on Melbourne’s visual culture for decades into the future. Studying art history at Monash University was a life changing experience for me – I wouldn’t be writing this blog without it.

The NGV’s new director, Tony Ellwood has been an improvement from what I’ve seen so far; acquiring Juan’s Ford’s “Last Laugh” and exhibiting the Trojan Petition in the NGV’s foyer for a week.

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

The Trojan Petition brings me to the subject of street art. The big change in street art in 2012 has been street artists competing in mainstream art prizes and being included in the prize exhibition (like E.L.K. in the Archibald) or winning like Baby Guerrilla. Major events in Melbourne’s street art in 2012 included Project Melbourne Underground and the Andy Mac Auction. Hosier Lane has changed since Andy Mac decamped; there has been major construction in the lane and in the adjoining Rutledge Lane (like so many other places around Melbourne) but the art goes on in spite of the now averted/delayed installation of CCTV cameras.

It has been a fun year. Cheers Alley Chats.


Anti-Catholicism & Surrealism

He who sleeps with the pope requires long feet.

If you see a priest being beaten, make a wish.

For good luck, nail up consecrated hosts in the bathroom.

- Benjamin Péret

Surrealist’s anti-Catholicism needs to be re-examined in the light of the increasing evidence of the extent of paedophile Catholic priests. In the past the anti-Catholic aspects of Surrealism were regarded simply as a provocations designed to annoy the establishment but what if they were expressions of serious revenge fantasies?

The Surrealist most noted for expressing his dislike for Catholics is Benjamin Péret (4 July 1899 – 18 September 1959). There is the famous photograph of Péret insulting a priest in the street. Although most of the Surrealists were raised as Catholics this left them with a low opinion of it. Benjamin Péret received little education due to his dislike of school. Did he dislike school because he was he abused in school?

Marquis da Sade was a favourite of the Surrealists and De Sade’s stories are full of Catholic clergy engaged in sexual abuse. He was educated by his uncle, Abbé de Sade and later at a Jesuit lycee. Was the Marquis de Sade sexually abused as a boy?

There are so many examples of anti-Catholicism amongst the Surrealists that this can only be a small sample. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali were anti-Catholicism and both were raised as Catholic in Spain. As a youth, Buñuel was deeply religious, serving at as an altar boy, but at age 16 he grew disgusted with the Church. There are many reasons why a 16 year old would become disgusted with illogical religious dogma but the prevalence of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy can no longer be ignored as a reason for anti-Catholicism amongst the Surrealists.

The denial and cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church makes it is difficult to properly assess the significance of the Surrealists. It is further complicated by the religious and political judgements interfering (subverting and misleading) with the aesthetic and historic assessments of Surrealism.

Take a very small example of the Viennese Fantastic Realists distancing themselves from Surrealism. Two of the Viennese Fantastic Realists Rudolf Hausner and Ernst Fuchs both moved to Paris in the late 1940s and had contacts with the French Surrealists. Michael Messner writes about Hausner’s “problems subjugating himself to the strict dogma of the unreflected, sub-conscious act of painting as espoused and propagated in the form of manifestos by Breton.” (Michael Messner, Visionary Art, v3 p.28) However, by the late 1940s the dominance of automatist Surrealism was long over. Breton had only just returned from America in 1946 and by 1951 the ‘Carrouges Affair’ had further isolates Breton. Blaming Andre Breton, the Pope of Surrealism is a popular excuse but his influence at the time was limited to Paris and there are likely to have been other reasons. The obvious but un-stated reason is that Ernst Fuchs, a Catholic convert, must have had problems with the Surrealist’s anti-Catholicism.

Earlier this year I attended a free mini-conference at Melbourne University: “Dispersed Identities – sexuality, surreal and the global avant-gardes.” Juan Davila’s gave the opening address of the conference with a talk and slideshow. David Lomas looked at the Linaean botonical introduction of the word “sexuality” and how this related to Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even” and Max Ernst’s floral paintings. Michael Richardson carefully dissected Breton’s attitude to homosexuality and his alleged homophobia. Janine Burke looked at the influence of Surrealism on two female artists and Natalya Lusty spoke about Surrealist masculinity. Sexual abuse and Surrealist anti-Catholicism were not mentioned in any of the papers given at the conference – there is room for much more research than I can do in this post on the subject.


Cunningham Dax Collection – New & Improved

Even in the beautiful new building viewing the Cunningham Dax Collection is not an enjoyable experience. It is an emotionally unsettling experience but enjoyment is not the purpose of the exhibition. There is an educational purpose to this collection; this is not just another art gallery.

The collection is named after its founder Dr Eric Cunningham Dax who in 1946 pioneered the place of art therapy in mainstream psychiatric treatment. I’d been to the Cunningham Dax Collection before in 2010 when it was still located in some old buildings in the hard to find location in the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Royal Park Campus (see my previous post about the old location).

Now Cunningham Dax Collection has a new location at the Department of Neuroscience on Melbourne University’s main campus. The new building still has the same basic facilities as in the old one, reception, the gallery space, the education resource centre, multimedia gallery, but this time it has been purpose built and beautifully designed. There is a spectacular 6-story light well in the middle of the gallery making the experience of viewing the exhibition as comfortable as possible.

The current exhibitions are “Selected works from the collection” and “Hide & Seek: Self Portraits from the collection.” The selected work from the collection shows the range of art therapy from diagnostic to disaster relief. There are examples of the “draw a picture of a tree” section of the Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS) or the House-tree-person test (HTP) along with moving works from the Holocaust collection.

I found “Hide & Seek: Self Portraits” a difficult experience – I didn’t want to look it for long. It is difficult to know what to think when viewing the art of the mentally ill in a gallery. Often this art is such a private experience or clinical experience. And this raises the question of the ability of the mentally ill to fully consent to exhibiting their art. Most of the artists on exhibited are referred to as “artist name withheld”; including the artist who drew their complaints about the conditions in 1963 Larundel clearly wanted to communicate about the “Larunhole cell” and the “dinner (revolting)”. And, Richard McLean, who trained Victorian College of the Arts and worked professionally as a graphic designer certainly wants his art exhibited to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness.

Those suffering from grief and trauma often want to communicate about their experience and they can do it clearly, even if they have no arts training. Sharing traumatic experiences, like the Tsunami Collection by Sri Lanka children, is a meaningful experience for both the artist and the viewer. You can easily see it from their point of view but this is more difficult with the mentally ill.

The art from the Cunningham Dax Collection makes me think that there is clear difference between art therapy for grief and art therapy for mental illness. The broad application of art therapy for grief, trauma, to mental illness makes it appear like a panacea. However much I love art I am suspicious of claims of panaceas. Perhaps we need to think of art as a tonic, a boost, a refresher, as in something that lifts the spirits or makes somebody feel better generally, rather than a therapy. We should all regularly do art and it will make us feel better.

In a recent systematic review of art therapy J. Leckey notes: “Although participation in creative arts is believed to have mental health and social benefits for individuals, the evidence base is weak and a major factor seems to be the lack of clarity of the concepts (well-being, mental illness/ health and creative arts), as how can something be measured if you are not clear on what it is that is being measured.” (J. Leckey “The therapeutic effectiveness of creative activities on mental well-being: a systematic review of the literature” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 2011, n.18 p.508)

“This review highlights the need for further research into the effects of creative arts and to clearly identify what is meant by mental well-being in a more systematic and structured way.” So there is still a purpose for the research carried out at the Dax Centre.


Grainger Museum

You don’t have to be a fan of Percy Grainger’s music to appreciate the Grainger Museum; you don’t really need to know anything his music. You can look at this remarkable little museum as an exhibition of the life an early 20th century eccentric. It is half a biographical museum and half a music museum specializing in musical invention.

As a music museum the collection of instruments focuses on the eccentric and innovative. Grainger was a great musical inventor and experimenter, late in his life Grainger made a programmable electronic organ powered by vacuum cleaners. Grainger’s great  “Cross-Grainger Kangaroo-pouch Tone-Tool” completed by 1952 is on exhibition (Burnett Cross writes about his experience collaborating with Percy Grainger on this and other experiments). Grainger’s eccentric position isolated his  work from other electronic music pioneers at Melbourne University programming CSIRACto play digital music in 1950 or 1951.

Cross-Grainger Kangaroo-pouch Tone-Tool

There are less of Grainger’s folding suitcase pianos and his collection of European folk instruments on display now. They have been replaced with a whole room of Australian musical inventions and musical instruments. There are new instruments by Garry Greenwood (1943-2005), Colin Offord and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1893-1965), who went from the Bauhaus to Geelong Grammar School. These inventors of musical instruments are also visual artists because musical instruments are also sculptural aesthetic objects and there are paintings by Colin Offord and drawing by Garry Greenwood that compliment the sculptural beauty of their invented instruments.

Instruments created by Garry Greenwood

The biographical part of museum presents an unvarnished biography of Percy Grainger, the way that he would have wanted it. The museum is notorious for its exhibition of Grainger’s collection of whips and other relics of his sadomasochism. Grainger should be more notorious for his proto-fascist attitudes about the Nordic race and anti-Semitism. Other of his eccentricities such as vegetarian and passion for jogging (Grainger was known as the “running pianist”) appear ordinary today.

Grainger’s unbridled creativity and inventiveness is on display throughout the museum. Along with his musical inventions there are his designs for his published edition covers with the free-hand typography and his clothing creations (Grainger may have also invented the sports bra). The remarkable clothes that Grainger made for himself from towelling reminds me of the costume designs of Matisse for Diaghilev ballet.

And there is art from Grainger’s collection, portraits, cartoons, photographs, erotic Norman Lindsey prints and Grainger’s father’s collection of cartoons by Morris & Co. Grainger’s collection of Native American beadwork is on exhibition (beadwork was also one of Grainger’s hobbies).

Fortunately not all of Grainger’s desire for the museum have been carried out; such as, his bequeathing his skeleton “for preservation and possible display in the Grainger Museum” and his stipulation that the museum be lite by “daylight only, and to contain no electric lighting or other lighting (to avoid fire danger)”. It is a remarkable and unique museum; what might have been intended as an egotistical plan to fetishize the relics of Grainger’s life has changed with history to tell a different story.

Percy Grainger was born in Melbourne and left a museum to Melbourne; for most of his life he was in Europe and America. The old brick museum at Melbourne University doesn’t attract much attention; it looks similar to the toilet block/changing rooms at the sports fields further along Royal Parade. The museum has been refurbished since I last visited a decade ago and the exhibits have been rearranged to create a more coherent exhibition, so even if you have seen it before the Grainger Museum is worth another visit.

The Grainger Museum @ Melbourne University


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 938 other followers

%d bloggers like this: