Tag Archives: Patricia Piccinini

Spring 1883

The Hotel Windsor opened in 1883 on Spring Street; a grand nineteenth century hotel that has survived into the twenty-first century. For four days at the start of August it was used as the venue for an alternative art fair. A hotel as setting for an art fair is not an original idea; it started with the Gramercy International Art Fair at Gramercy Hotel in New York in 1994 and has been replicated in several other cities.

Patricia Piccinini, Bear Couple

Patricia Piccinini, bed installation at Spring 1883

The Melbourne Art Fair has returned after a four year absence but I didn’t have the time or energy to spend a whole day looking at forty galleries stands. Nor did I want to go to The Other Art Fair in Kensington because I had been to it last year. Surveying twenty-four galleries in the attractive and comfortable surrounds of the Windsor suited me better.

There were major commercial galleries from Melbourne, NSW, SA and NZ on all of the Windsor’s four floors displaying their art in most of larger suits of rooms along with some smaller rooms. Sharing rooms with Fort Delta was Dutton from New York.

Video art was on many of the tvs in the rooms. The setting of the hotel was more intimate and you could see what the art looked like in a furnished room rather than an unfurnished gallery. Standing in a bedroom with gallery staff encourages more conversation. Some of the smaller galleries were also using the space for both exhibition and accomodation.

The Project Room: In Bloom was curated by Madé Spencer-Castle and Jeremy Easton was the best smelling art space that I’ve ever been in thanks to the flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox.

flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox at Spring 1883

Flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox

There was an unofficial competition to have the best display on a bed or in a bathroom. My own award for best bathroom goes to Arts Project Australia which was full of ceramic snakes and sharks. My own award for best bed goes to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery with a couple of Patricia Piccinini creatures in bed and an honourable mention (if those are the right words) to Mars Gallery for an impressive Simon Pericich work with bondage themes. The tower made of bales of hay in Bowerband Ninow, a NZ gallery, was a surprise but unfortunately nothing more.

Simon Pericich installation

Simon Pericich installation in Mars Gallery’s room


Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.


John Meade, Aqualung

Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006

Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.


Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.

Cowen Gallery @ State Library

Trying to imagine what the National Gallery would have looked like when it was in the State Library. At the same time as looking in the future at what Patricia Picininni images the evolution, or the genetic alteration of car drivers.


Patricia Piccinini, Graham, 2016

Prior to the construction of the National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road in 1968 the National Gallery of Victoria was located in the State Library. It consisted of the Swinburne Hall, the painting school studios and three galleries. What were the McArthur and La Trobe galleries are no longer open to the public, but the Cowen Gallery and the two linking rooms, are still used for exhibiting art at the State Library.

A century ago it would have looked rather different, the now redundant skylights would have allowed diffused natural light into the galleries. The paintings and prints would have been hung Salon style, hanging multiple works right up to the ceiling to fill the wall. Rather than the way it is hung now with a single row of works at eye level along the wall. On the walls would have been Alma Tadema’s The Vintage Festival in Ancient Rome, Watt’s portrait of Tennyson, and John Longstaff’s Breaking the News. In the middle of the room there were marble statues of the royal family by Charles Summers.


Charles Summers, bust of the actor Gustavus Brooke, 1868

The numerous marble busts by Charles Summers still on exhibition reminds me that he was allowed to arrange the sculptures in the gallery. Summers placed plaster casts of Michelangelo next to a plaster cast of his Burke and Wills Monument to demonstrate his references. Summers’s ego exhibited in this arrangement amused some English visitors but for nineteenth century Melbourne he was their Michelangelo.

The plaster casts and etching of works by other artists hanging in the gallery indicate that issues of originality and even the function of the art gallery was very different.

In the present the art gallery at the State Library is an odd mix of art from Melbourne’s past, with a particular focus on landscapes of Melbourne and portraits of Melbourne identities, along with some contemporary art. Above the stairs hangs a tapestry by the Australian Tapestry Workshop based on a painting by Juan Davila.


Juan Davila and Australian Tapestry Workshop, Sorry, 2013

Graham was just sitting there in his shorts going viral as people crowded around taking photos of him. After a selfie with Graham in the background the visitor might spend awhile with the headphones and iPads finding out why Graham looks that way and how the collaborated between the TAC, Patricia Piccinini, a leading trauma surgeon and a crash investigation expert produced him. Piccinini’s art makes an impact both in the gallery and online and that makes her work perfect for a road safety awareness campaign.

I wonder how Graham would have been greeted, if he had been created a century ago, and where would he have been displayed in Melbourne. Undoubtedly he still would have received a lot of media attention.

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

The Future @ RMIT

The New Year is a good time for thinking about the future. Reading stories like: “Ten 100-year predictions that came true” from BBC News Magazine and seeing RMIT Gallery “2112 Imagining the Future”, a diverse and engaging exhibition of art from local and international artists about the future. Will the future be utopic or a dystopic or some kind of combination, a strange, cool Japanese future where people wear costumes? Will it be the end of the world?

Hisaharu Motoda, Opera House, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

In imagining the future there are still paintings – that probably wouldn’t have been predicted a century ago. Maybe the future never happened, maybe, as Sam Leach’s painting, “We Have Never Been Modern” (2011) suggests, we are still living in a mythic past. In the painting priest/scientists in their white coats unveil something that an eagle perches on.

Leach was not the only painter in the exhibition: Tony Lloyd and Darren Wardle’s landscapes. However, photographs, video art, sound art and sculptural installations dominated the media used for visions of the future. Using 3D stereoscopic technology NOW and WHEN “Australian Urbanism” shows amazing images of Australian cities and giant mines. (“Australian Urbanism” was featured in the Australian Pavilion at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia 2010). There was the constant hum of machines throughout the exhibition.

Kenji Yanobe’s “Atom Suit Project: Antenna of the Earth” (2001) is an impressive centrepiece for the exhibition. http://www.yanobe.com/aw/aw_atomsuit.html Surrounded by hundreds of miniature versions of the Atom Suit, some lighting up and going “ping” occasionally. (Could this have something to do with Geiger counter?) The figure in the Atom Suit with his ocular wand is between a scientist and shaman. On the back wall in a large photo, Kenji Yanobe is shown wearing the suit on a desolate saltpan, like a shaman in the land of the dead.

Around the corner Patricia Piccinini’s “Game Boys Advanced” lean against the wall absorbed in their game. They are well positioned near Keith Cottingham’s “Triplets”, 1993 and the colour palette of an imaginary seed bank by Lyndal Osborne. All works considering the genetic implications of the future.

Lyndal Osborne, 0 ab ovo, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

Another stunning work is Ken + Julia Yonetani “Still Life – The Food Bowl”, 2011, cast from the pinkish salt of the Murray River. This dystopic vision of ‘the food bowl’ of Australia made of salt. It is a traditional European still life with a table, glasses, fruit bowl, cutlery, fish and crayfish all solid salt. On a similar environmental theme Debbie Symons digital video work “Arrivals/Departures” 2011. Positioned beautifully over the gallery door “Arrivals/Departures” uses the familiar transport screen to record introduced and endangered species.

Now that I consider it, these visions of the future are all very pessimistic, predicting an imminent environmental catastrophe. There is a great deal of pessimism in the visions. There are ruins in Hisaharu Motoda’s lithographs, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre photographs of destruction and Kirsten Johannsen’s bean sprouts had wilted under the lights. But it didn’t feel that way when I saw it; it felt fun, intriguing and engaging.

Ghost Artists

Continuing my exploration of the living-dead of the art world (after finding zombie artists in Melbourne see Art Zombies) ghost-artists were brought to my attention thanks to Karen Thompson (Melbourne Jeweler) and Richard Watts (Man About Town).

Ghost-artists are like ghost-writers and session musicians, they are the ones who make the work that the big name artists, like Patricia Piccinini, put there name to. Piccinini does not draw images of her sculptors, nor does she manufacture them, all she does is think of the idea.

“For me, the ideas for the work come first. I have an image or a vision, and then I think about how I would like it to exist in the world, as a sculpture or photograph or video or whatever. I them find the right person to collaborate with to create that artwork, working closely with them so that what I get in the end is what I imagined in the beginning. Often the work does change a little, because of the input from the people I work with. I have to trust those people a lot, and be able to communicate with them easily. They need to understand me. So I tend to work with the same people a lot, once we have a good relationship. In some ways it is like a write/director of a film, who works with a crew of people to realize their vision.” Patricia Piccinini (2003)

Of course artists since have always used studio assistants, fabricators and other people with technical skills but as they are rarely credited I am calling them ghost-artists.

The public does not expect that a composer to play all the instruments and record, mix and master all their own music. Nor do they expect an author to edit, print and bind their own books. However, the great artist theory of visual art history, with lone genius creators, has ignored, obscured and made ghostly the people assisting the artist. Pop art attacked this image of the artist but the idea lived on in the public’s idea of art to the extent that Mark Kostabi was able to shock the public in the early 1980s by telling 60 Minutes that he hired other artists to think of his ideas.

Credits are not given for many of the roles in the art gallery either: curators do get a mention, sometimes, but not the exhibition installers who hang the work or the catering. The list of credits for an exhibition is considerably shorter than contemporary film or computer games credits. Patricia Piccinini did credit Sam Jinks and Peter Hennessey for their help in producing her work during a speech but is this enough? Sculptor Isabel Peppard (who exhibited at 696 Ink) has also done work for Piccinini. Most people know more about the job of set dressers and grips than the existence of exhibition installers and studio assistants. The argument could be made that the lack of credits doesn’t matter on the basis of trivial importance. Do we really need to know that Mott Iron Works. made the urinal for Duchamp’s “Fountain” or is this trivia? More credits to studio assistants and other ghost artists would help the public to understand, avoid historical debates about who did what and give credit where credit has long been due.

See my review of a Sam Jinks exhibition.

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