Tag Archives: Public Sculpture

Book Deal

I’m very happy to announce that my forthcoming book on the history Melbourne’s public sculpture will be published by Melbourne Books next year. It is the blogging dream – a book deal based on the blog.

Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett, “Constellation”

Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett, “Constellation”

As regular readers of this blog would know one of the topics that I regularly write about is public sculpture. Not that the book will be exactly what I’ve written in my blog, far from it, there have been many additions, revisions and corrections and there are still many to do.

Which public sculpture represents the identity of Melbourne? I started thinking about this question and so I wrote a blog post about it (see Melbourne’s Sculpture). The question is still haunting me and now I have to choose an image for the book’s front cover.

As I wrote more and more blog posts about public sculpture I became more interested. I noticed that very few people were writing about public sculpture, it is considered a dull topic by art critics and art historians dismissing it as the work of second rate artists working on commissions. However the public want to know about these sculptures I was finding some interesting stories about public sculptures politics, crime and the history of the city. Putting all these blog posts together I found that I was writing a history about a major change in public sculptures; a true story with a beginning, middle and end.

Although it is every blogger’s dream to write a book, it took prompting from my wife, my inspiration, Catherine, for the idea to form. I also needed the copy editing skills of Sue Wind and the advice of many people to get the manuscript to this stage – I’ve already added getting a proper thank you list together to my ever growing 2Do list… write, edit, sort and label jpg files, the front cover image…. ?

La Pok's guerilla gardening Melbourne

La Pok’s guerilla gardening Melbourne

Hester, "a world, fully accessible by no living being", 2011

Hester, “a world, fully accessible by no living being”, 2011

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

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

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


Street Art Notes 5/13

Local Paintspotting –

Coburg piece

Coburg piece

Earlier this year I wrote about Coburg being a transition point between street art and graffiti.  As more legal walls become available in Coburg the quality writers push further north and pieces in Coburg continue to improve. But I’m surprised at both the pace and quality of the work. This great piece instantly evoked for me the unforgettable sound of Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit”… “When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go…”

Coburg house

Coburg house

Ghost Signs and Graffiti –

Good to see a legal piece in Brunswick preserving a ghost sign. I sent the photo to my friend and former LookSmart colleague, Stefan Schutt for excellent blog about ghost signs – Finding the Radio Book and he turned it into a post; A generational jostling for space on a Brunswick wall.

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

Yarn bombing public sculptures –

Socks for the little girl in Lorretta Quinn’s Within Three Worlds, a red knitted plume for King Leonidas in Sparta Place, a ruff for Dianna’s panther in Paul Juraszek. The Sun & the Moon in Malvern, Melbourne’s yarn bombers have been dressing up sculptures.

The tradition of dressing up public sculptures comes from the dressing up of religious statues. If religious practices can be in bad taste then it is in the worst possible taste. It is the infringement on the moral rights of the artist is annoying in a way that decorating a pole or bench is not. The artist never asked for the contribution of the yarn bomber.

On the other hand these are public sculptures and the public should interact with them provided that this does no damage. Street artists like, CDH and Will Coles both have done good interventions using public sculptures but they are always conscious of the moral and political issues involved in this intervention. This is a subtle difference like that between appropriation art and plagiarism. But I doubt that the yarn bombers thinking of anything other than adding their woollen touch and there is no evidence in what they produce that they are aware.

White Night with kids

We ventured into the inaugural White Night in Melbourne with 4 young people, two sixteen year-old girls and two ten year-old boys, each of our kids had brought a friend.

Because we had kids with us we did that nerdy thing of arriving right on time, in fact slightly before the official start – and really – arriving early for an event that was supposed to go all night was, predictably a little disappointing. When a show is all about the lights, its only ever going to be good after dark.

Walking down to Federation Square from a meal in Chinatown, we could see some settling up just off Russell St, but we had strung out during the walk and dawdlers had to keep up and not duck down side streets and get lost.

The teenagers had been shopping in town and were keen for a sit down, so we headed to St Paul’s Cathedral which was listed as a venue. I had never been into St Paul’s, so that was worth it just for the stickybeak- such beautiful woodwork on the ceiling – majestic. 7pm ticked up, the cathedral filling – and ticked past – that was when it occurred to us that any laser show would be better after dark, which was still more than an hour away. So, shoppers rested, we decided to check out the National Gallery.

Working our way across a not yet too crowded Federation Square where some zumba dancers were trying, with not a lot of luck, to engage the crowd, we hit our first success for the night. “Red Centre” by Konstanin Dimopoulos, not part of the White Night event, but it drew the boys like moths to a flame, because people were playing it like a tall, bright red percussion instrument, reaching grasping, rattling, banging. It sounded great, clunks, bangs, resonate thrums.

Heading on down St Kilda Rd we passed by the Arts Centre and let the boys join in the clambering on “Forward Surge” by Inge King while we watched the passing parade.

Continuing on the the National Gallery Victoria, “The Commoners” by Jompet Kuswidananto caught the teenagers attention, the missing bodies, the potential for noise (it wasn’t active when we went in). “How does it work?” What is it meant to do?”

Further on in the Great Hall, “Bouquet Final 2” by Michal Blazy beckoned.


What a hit! It has foam! What’s not to love? We spent awhile there. It was enchanting.

It was quite mesmerising as the billows of foam grew before your eyes, and yet at the same time imperceptibly. It was so hard to catch it actually growing. There was so much of it, huge walls of growing bubbles, and I don’t think they grew at a constant rate either. I suspect the pumps were variable.

The boys had a ball. It was all the fun a giant bubble-machine should be. You were allowed to play with any bits that had fallen off, and a lot did.

We had a few goes of foam volleyball, where you had to blow and keep the foam in the air.

They boys were sticky with it by the end.

From there we headed back to the Yarra and Birrarung Marr, where there were a large number of things to interact with, from creepy blow-up purple clowns to “From the Deep” laser show another highlight of the night.

I asked the 10year old to dictate something about what he thought of White Night.

The White Night was OK. I particularly like the laser show on the river, because of the way that they incorporated water and light to make the shapes and the colours.

I also really liked the foam thing in the gallery. It was really fun to play with, the bits that fell off, they were so foamy and bubbly.

How would you describe it?

Really really Awesome. And bubbly and foamy.

How would you rate it?

Seven out of 10.

Blog Housekeeping

This not about my life as a house-husband but to draw attention to my addition of two new pages to this blog: Contact and Events.


Regarding contacting me. I don’t mind getting invitations to art exhibitions, but don’t expect to see me there. If you are an artist and I have told you to please invite me to your next exhibition I really do mean it. On the other hand I hate the pushy publicists who think that my blog is just another promotional platform for their message. I wish that this wasn’t the main reason that people contacted me.

I go to openings partially to look at the art, to schmooze and drink wine – in that order. It gets difficult to look at the art after awhile because there are so many people standing around drinking wine and talking. It is kind of pointless talking to the artist at an exhibition opening with so many people saying hello and congratulating them. My strategy is to arrive early and look at the art before most of the people arrive – the flaw to my strategy is that I left before the late arrivals.


The first event off the rack is a series of sculpture tours that might become a permanent event. As regular readers would know I write a lot about Melbourne’s public sculpture, now I have put together a tour of a selection of them. For more information see Events.

Other events will follow; talks, panel discussions and a book launch. If you want me for tours, panel discussions or other events see Contact.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Fear & Loathing & Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Melbourne’s public sculpture collection has been assembled without much thought and without much expense. Although I write blog posts about Melbourne’s sculpture it is not because I am particularly impressed with Melbourne public sculpture collection. Melbourne sculptures strike me as a cheap collection by a city that was desperate to install some public art.

As a collection of art the city’s public sculptures are not world class. Melbourne does not have many famous sculptors; the William de Kooning bronze out the front of the Arts Centre is an anomaly both for Melbourne and for de Kooning, who is better known as a painter. In contrast, Adelaide has sculptures by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth and Donald Judd all of which are well known for their sculpture.

Although Australian Aboriginal art is popular with Melbourne’s international visitors there are no major public work of Aboriginal art. The City of Melbourne has also chosen to ignore the local street art movement in public street art – rather they choose to attempt to preserve a piece by Banksy. (Although both Aboriginal art and street art are primarily based painting a sculptural work would not be inappropriate or impossible.)

Edward Ginger “The Echo” 1997

Melbourne City Council’s choice of emerging sculptors rather than established sculptors has saved the city money and given new sculptures a break but very few have become established sculptors. Near the corner of Lt. Bourke St. and Swanston St. is Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” 1997. “The Echo” is a big red funky geometric sculpture that attempts to be an urban totem. “The Echo” is representative of Ginger’s other, usually smaller mixed media works; the intense colours, especially red, and funky geometric forms. Edward Ginger. Unfortunately Ginger has not exhibited since 1998

There is an element of what the late great Hunter S. Thompson would call “fear and loathing” in Melbourne’s sculpture collection. Melbourne’s population has a tradition of opposition to public sculptures, expressed in opposition to Ron Robertson Swan’s “Vault” and Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon”. Melbourne’s conservative past is the reason most often cited for this rejection but there might other factors in the mix. One might be an imported tradition of opposition to public sculpture from Melbourne’s significant Irish immigrant population. Paula Murphy in her article “Rejecting public sculpture: monuments in Dublin” (Apollo v. 154 no.475 Sept. 2001 p. 38-43) discusses the rejection of public sculpture in Dublin in the 19th and 20th centuries. “The extent of the opposition to the public sculpture in place and the numbers of works that are now lost to the city suggest that this attitude apparently verged on a national pastime at the time.” Murphy suggest several reasons for this attitude, including the style of the work or the subject portrayed in it, but it is political reasons that account for the rejection of many imperial statues.

In Melbourne sculpture has been installed in the city as a token gesture. “Sculpture plays a vital part in public investment with regard to urban regeneration. Art is seen as a crucial component in improving safety, restricting crime, and encouraging a prosperous local economy.” (John Finlay,  “Christchurch: Sculpture as Urban Design Strategy” Sculpture 27 no9 N 2008) And Melbourne is squandering its investment in public sculpture.

More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Although public sculptures are generally intended for a specific location they are sometimes moved due to changes to the usage of the site. Melbourne has a number of major sculptures that have moved due to the taste of adminstrators. Melbourne’s moving sculptures include, “Angel” and “Vault”, the orphans of the 80s who are without a permanent home. “Angel” by Deborah Halpern originally stood in front of the NGV on St. Kilda Road before it was moved to, Birrarung Marr, on the banks of the Yarra River in 2006. There was no controversy over the sculpture or the move unlike Ron Robertson-Swann’s “Vault”.

Ron Robertson-Swann’s “Vault” is currently in its third location; originally commission for the city square, and installed in May 1980. “Vault” was controversial, many people in Melbourne had a avoided any kind of modern sculpture and in reference to Australian xenophobia the foreign modernist sculpture was nicknamed “The Yellow Peril”. Melbourne City Council quickly caved into the critics and less than a year later, in 1981 Vault was exiled to Batman Park the banks of the Yarra, then a forgotten area of the city before the casino was constructed on the opposite side of the river. After the casino was constructed, in 2002, “Vault” was moved to its present location in the aesthetic preserve near ACCA. The people of Brisbane appear to have no problems with their Ron Robertson-Swann statue “Leviathan Play” 1985. Maybe it is the color but more likely it is the location outside the art gallery.

Ron Robertson-Swann, Leviathan Play, 1985

(This part of the entry was inspired by comments by Shifty MacDougal on my blog entry on Melbourne’s Public Sculpture. Thanks Shifty.)

I didn’t mention Simon’s Perry popular sculpture “The Public Purse” in my earlier blog entry on Melbourne’s Public Sculpture. “The Public Purse” is a giant stone and metal purse in the Bourke St Mall. “The Public Purse” is excellent public art; you can sit on it and it is witty, even if it is an idea borrowed from Pop artist, Claus Oldenburg’s urban monuments. Simon Perry studied art in England and now lectures in Sculpture and Art in Public Place at RMIT. Less well known is Simon Perry’s “Rolling Path” along the Merri Creek bicycle track. I like Simon Perry’s “Rolling Path” better than the “The Public Purse” because it is simpler and less derivative.

Petrus Spronk, Architectural Fragment, 1992

Another very popular Melbourne sculpture is “Architectural Fragment” by Petrus Spronk, 1992, at the State Library. It is popular even though it is post-modern sculpture with neo-classical references and you even can’t sit on it (although there is wear on one edge from skateboard riders). “Architectural Fragment” makes me think of the end of Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston on the beach but instead of the Statue of Liberty there is a corner of a library’s classical portico. And speaking of the beach, “Architectural Fragment” is based on Spronk’s sand-sculpture works.

The State Library forecourt has several other statues following the classical tradition of heroic statues: “St. George and the Dragon” by Sir J.E. Boehm and “Jeanne D’Arc” by E. Fremiet. These bronze editions of 19th Century heroes belong to another era; they were imported to Melbourne with the aspiration of giving the public inspiring art that would morally improve them. This is not the aim of most contemporary public sculpture.

Peter Corlett, La Trobe, 2006

I couldn’t find the name of the artist who made the statue of Sir Redman Barry, in the State Library forecourt, on the plinth’s panel amidst the all the many words about the subject and the commission. It was made by James Gilbert in England and finished by Percival Ball in Australia.

At least, the artist, Peter Corlett, has not been neglected mention in the panel about the statue of Governor La Trobe. The bronze statue has some colour to parts of its finish, a feature that would have been seen as retrograde by Hegel. It is not the colours on the statue that concern me but the very small plinth that makes La Trobe look like an eccentric soapbox orator. Peter Corlett has numerous other figurative, bronze, public sculptures around Melbourne.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

This small one-block pedestrian mall on Victoria Street in Coburg is a bustling micro urban environment is centre of Coburg’s shopping precinct. It is very popular, seldom deserted from dawn until dusk. Buskers have been making regular appearances in the mall and it is the location for two award winning sculptures. It makes a change from all the car parks, the major eyesores in Coburg shopping precinct. Waterfield Rd. has large car parks on both sides; the road is nothing but an extended carpark and loading bay.

Victoria St. Mall, Coburg

Victoria St. Mall, Coburg

The mall is almost completely full of tables from the cafes and their customers. Most of the mall is made of cafes (the Half Moon Café does the best falafels) but there is also the public library, the post office and the tobacconist on the corner of Sydney Road. The addition of a large public picnic table in the mall has been very welcomed adding a large public table space. Out the front of the Coburg library the long row of seat are also very popular with a wide range of locals.

Robert Waghorn - Doorstop II

Robert Waghorn – Doorstop II

Robert Waghorn was the winner of the 2007 Moreland Sculpture Show. His winning sculpture, Doorstop II, is on exhibition in the foyer of the Coburg Public Library. The sculpture, Doorstop II is a rather ominous oblong work, with what appears to be a small prison door on a metal plinth. The prison door, with heavy bolts, chalk graffiti marks and a view window is held ajar by a pile of small brightly painted houses, a final optimistic note to the sculpture. The houses holding open the cell door made me think of the nearby conversion of the former Pentridge Prison into Pentridge Village, housing estate. Although the sculpture appears to be made of rusted iron it is painted and oxidized wood. The little houses are painted with bright brushstrokes of colour, contributing to their optimistic note and contrasting to the detail of the prison door. In 2006 Robert Waghorn received two highly commended awards at the Contemporary Art Soc. Annual exhibition for Doorstop and another similar sculpture. Both of these sculptures were earlier versions of the idea for Doorstop II. This demonstrates that there is some consistency in art prize judging in Melbourne and that the Contemporary Art Soc. is still relevant.

Coburg really needs a purpose built Library rather than the remoulded former supermarket currently used as a library. Such a library could accommodate Waghorn’s sculpture better and wouldn’t flood after heavy rain; every night the doors of the Coburg Library are ‘sandbagged’ with bags of old books. (A new drainage system in front of the library has reduced the chances of the library flooding but a purpose built Library is still needed.)

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is another sculpture, a small bronze house, a simplified but typical of Australian house, on a mild steel plinth. This is Dwelling by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. The house has a corridor with a corridor leading straight through it. Unfortunately this corridor is used, as so often these spaces are in public sculpture, as a place to put rubbish (this is known as “wedging”, as the rubbish is wedged in place). It also suffers, like many public sculptures, from pigeon’s droppings.

Jason Waterhouse - Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse – Dwelling

There is obviously a great lack of pedestrian space and other infrastructure in Coburg and as in Waghorn’s Doorstop II, the door to this better life has just been held ajar.

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