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.
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 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.
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 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.
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
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 ofexamples 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.
Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.
It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)
Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.
Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.
Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.
Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.
There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.
P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.
Monday 1 June, a very cold morning, the start of winter in Melbourne and art consultant, Bernadette Alibrando is giving a tour of Melbourne Central’s art for the media. Some people are surprised that Melbourne Central, a shopping centre above a train station, even has a public art collection. Another surprise is the number of street artists commissioned by the shopping centre.
Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014
The tour did not look at the novelty clock (for that see my post on Melbourne’s giant novelty clocks) or the way that the old shot tower is incorporated into the glass cone architecture the central features of the centre’s main space. We started with the floating Hamish Munro sculpture, Filling the Mould that was slowly deflating after the morning rush hour. The fabric sculpture over a stair well expands and contracts relative to the number of people in the shopping centre. The grey fabric of the sculpture matches the raw concrete architecture of Melbourne’s Central’s interior.
There is the huge (61m. long x 3.5m height) heritage listed mural in the Swanston Walk entrance way to the train platforms that dates back to the completion of the station in 1984. The mural is by Dr Hogg was made in collaborated with Ilma Jasper and Kay Douglas and celebrates workers in a variety of trades and industries. Dr Hogg is the Coordinator of Public Art/Art in Public Space in the School of Art and has been working with public art and murals for most of his career.
Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.
The proximity of RMIT to Melbourne Central brings in RMIT lightscape project with a regular rotation of works by six students. In the food court there is a painted piano, inviting and encouraging buskers to ask permission from the shopping centre administration.
Although I had seen the work before when I thought about it was surprising how many street artists have pieces in Melbourne Central. The tour took in Kaff-eine’s pillar and Kelsey Montague selfie wings. Kelsey Montague cold called Melbourne Central when she arrived in Melbourne to do this piece. The tour didn’t get to the Lucy Lucy and Slicer mural that is also in Melbourne Central.
Lucy Lucy and Slicer
The commissioned works in the controlled environment of shopping centres by street artists known for their uncommissioned/illegal art is either a complete sell out or the obvious triumph of their style of guerrilla urban decorations. There are also works by street artists at the QV Centre and read my post about the street artists at Barkly Square in Brunswick. I am reliably informed that there is also pieces by Adnate-Sofles-Smug in Northland and Lister in Broadway Shopping Centre. That shopping centres consider street art to be the best style to present to their customers stands in contrast to the frequently seen small business owner doing vox pop complaints to the media about graffiti.
It feels odd to be writing about the arts policies of shopping centres but Melbourne Central has a similar arts strategy/policy to Barkely Square with using both recognisable and popular street artists along with buskers to add local colour and atmosphere to a shopping centre’s architecture.
“The Legend”, 1991, stands at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is a steel sculpture with the upper part suggesting the movement of the football in play. Anthony Pryor wanted it to be a climax of exuberance and energy.
Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG
Daryl Jackson describes “The Legend” as a “gateway, an arched figure through which people may journey to the game.” (Joanna Capon, Anthony Pryor: Sculpture & Drawings 1974-1991, Macmillan Education AU, 1999, p.6) When I last saw “The Legend” there were orange bollards around it. I don’t think that the orange bollards around each of the steel pillars were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety reasons – just one of the perils of not having a plinth.
The maquette for “The Legend” was made at the studio that Pryor shared with Geoffrey Barlett and Augustine Dall’Ava at 108 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. The actual sculpture fabricated at J K Fasham Pty Ltd a firm that specialize in architectural metal fabrication. (J K Fasham Pty Ltd in Clayton South fabricated many other public sculptures including Deborah Helpburn’s “Ophelia”, Inge King “Sheerwater” and Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” in Melbourne.) The sculptures commission was associated with the re-development at the MCG. It was completed and installed just before Pryor’s untimely death in 1991; he was only 40.
The youngest of three siblings Anthony Pryor was born in Melbourne in 1951. His father Ron Pryor ran a knitwear manufacturing business. Pryor grew up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs where attended Reservoir High School and Preston Technical Collage. It was a tough place in a young man in the late 60s and Pryor thought that he wanted to be an engineer. He changed his mind mid way through an engineering exam and studied sculpture at RMIT. There he met fellow students, his friends, and now, also notable sculptors, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava.
Anthony Pryor, The Performers, 533 St. Kilda Rd.
Pryor’s sculptures are dynamic even though they stand still. They have so much energy zapping around them that they have are lighting bolts and motion blurs. His curved marble forms have metal wings.
Anthony Pryor has other public sculptures in Melbourne, as well as, in Brisbane, at Bond University, in far north Queensland and in central Victoria. There are several of his sculptures outside corporate buildings along St. Kilda Road. In the foyer of 607 St. Kilda Road there is his “Tree of Life 2”. And at 553 St. Kilda Road “The Performers” 1989 metal and marble commissioned by Pomeroy Industries for its development now occupied by the American Consulate General. There is another figure titled “The Performers” at Box Hill Central. This is not the only Pryor sculpture in Melbourne’s outer suburbs; Templestowe City Council acquired “I am a Man Like You” in 1986.
There were no deadly poisoned tunics ready to melt the skin from your very bones in this years showcase of graduate RMIT students which speaks well of the selection committee involved in choosing design students. They must have a ‘’No Medeas’’ policy. Though it would be interesting to figure out how exactly they could ascertain whether or not a student had a vengeful nature.
They hung from the ceiling like apparitions moving infinite nano inches from the breeze made from the air conditioning. This added to the allure of what was a very enjoyable and eye opening ode to sustainable forms of fashion. A waist coat made of growing grass hung on a limbless mannequin. It brought to mind a more army styled outfit that the first man, Adam himself would have worn had he been more creative and had more time in the garden of Eden before being distracted by illicit fruit. As I wandered the gallery quite spell bound, a gallery attendant sprayed water from a small spray bottle all over the green grass waistcoat in order to keep it lush. A cropped knitted jumper hung from a coat hanger with sleeves resembling wings and complete with plumage each tiny plume a different bright colour. I would have worn that quite happily. It would go so well with black leggings and ….
But I digress.
It is this kind of digression that made the whole exhibition so enjoyable. A blue dress made from garbage bags and a tutu skirt that included six strips of malleable metal curving around the flare of the skirt, adding a sense of resilience to another otherwise feathered friend inspired item. It is a dress for the environmentally conscious girl with a steely determination to succeed. How often do you by items of clothing because they are cheap and wear them once only to throw away soon after because they fall apart?
This exhibition is not just a flimsy excuse to look at pretty items of original clothing. It is an excuse to raise questions about consumption and excess in our day to day. Clothes become ladfill just as easily as take away coffee recepticles and plastic plates. We need to redefine how we think about clothes and fashion. This is not to say we must not enjoy it and take pleasure in a well fitted and flattering item but to simply be more mindful of how much we buy and dispose off over time. The talented students of RMIT should be proud of their accomplishment as its breadth is far wider than the confines of the gallery it inhabits.
The Uses of Art in Public Space was a free public research symposium on Tuesday 12th of March hosted by RMIT University’s Design Research Institute and convened by Quentin Stevens. Held in the “Design Hub” (RMIT Building 100); that building on the corner Victoria and Swanston Street covered with round plates of glass.
The conference looked at public art in a broad sense to include commissioned and unofficial artworks, memorials, street art, advertising, and street furniture – all topics that I’ve looked at in this blog. Jane Rendell of University College London in her opening address on “The Use of an Object” spoke via video about the use value of public art as distinct from exchange value of private art. Rendell also noted that to use an object is to relate to it.
This was followed by two talks about the unconventional use of public art and street furniture by parkour and skateboarders. Mirko Guaralda presented a paper by himself and Christopher Rawlinson, QUT on “The Art of Parkour of Art”. And Mat de Koning and Tim Yuen from Perth gave an excellent talk on “Skate Sculpture” (check out their website). Both parkour and skateboards change the normal navigation features of the city; edges become paths and the presence of spectators can change a path to a node.
Anton Hasell, the artist who created Melbourne’s Federation Bells, spoke about “Art in Public Space as Multi-Sensory Sites of Experience”. Hasell is a technological optimist who wants shared creative interactive public spaces.
Karen A. Franck from New Jersey Institute of Technology in her paper “The Life and Death of Public Art Works” gave a basic structure to what can happen to public art: occupation, addition, subtraction, multiplication, (re)moving and destroying. Another paper that gave structure to the issue was Quentin Stevens “The Ergonomics of Public Art”. Stevens looked at the opportunities afforded by public sculpture: a table, a shelter, holding on to, leaning on, a challenge or something to fall off. As opposed to the way that city councils think about how to make areas less useful with anti-seating, anti-climbing, anti-skateboard knobs and skate-stoppers.
Then there were several papers that looked at specific examples of using public art. Shanti Sumartojo from Australian National University spoke about “Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth: creating and contesting national identity”. Julia Lossau of the University of Bremen talked on “Tree Planting: The use of public art in an urban regeneration project in Glasgow”.
Kate MacNeill from the University of Melbourne gave a paper on “The quotidian life of art in public places” looking at the ordinary, unmediated engagement with public art: touch, play, emersion and contemplation with examples from familiar Melbourne public sculptures. And, to complete the variety of public art covered by this symposium, Lachlan MacDowall of the Victorian College of the Arts spoke about “The Uses of Street Art”.
Finally there was a panel discussion that ranged across a variety of topics that had not been covered in the symposium from the relationship between artists and architects to the moral rights of the artist to determine interactions. The symposium presented lots of ways of looking at the use of public art that will influence my thinking on the topic for years to come.