Tag Archives: sculpture

Mimovich’s sculptures in Kew

Last year on Christmas morning, the ninety-nine-year old artist Leopoldine (Poldi) Mimovich died aged 99. This year Australia Post’s Christmas 2020 stamp features a painting by Mimovich. A madonna and child surrounded by Australian fauna and flora, illustrating Mimovich’s desire to adapt Christian images to Australia. Mimovich is best known for her Catholic liturgical sculptures which is why I hadn’t heard of her before I walked through Alexandra Gardens in Kew.

According to the bronze plaque in the garden, Mimovich gave the city ten sculptures in 1990. Her house and studio, at 33 Miller Road, was only a fourteen-minute walk away.

The sculptures are scattered around the garden: groups of children, a girl with a rabbit, a woman, a seated man with a long beard that flows over his foot. I could only find seven and one of them was concealed in the foliage so I wouldn’t be surprised if the other three were also hidden in the undergrowth.

Can you see the sculpture?

Unlike most of Mimovich’s sculptures, the ones in the public gardens have a secular theme. Like all of Mimovich’s sculptures, the figures have simplified forms, typical of mid-twentieth-century modernism. They work well with the garden setting, contributing to the scene a quiet, reflective mood.

During her very long life, she made many religious sculptures, and when she was no longer able to sculpt, she painted icons. In 1985 she received an Order of Australia Medal for services to sculpture. And in 1996 her experience as a post-war migrant coming to Australia was told in an episode of SBS’s series: Tales from a Suitcase.

Museums Victoria has a short biography of her: Leopoldine Mimovich, Austrian Migrant & Artist, 1949 by Stevenson, M. and McFadzean, M. (2010) This biography does miss one dramatic moment in her life. In 2014 her house caught fire in the afternoon as she dozed in her reclining armchair. She was rescued, unharmed, by three neighbours, but many of her sculptures were smoke damaged.


The Big Walking Stick

Big things are probably not the right place to start when looking at public art, but they are hard not to notice. However, there is something different about the giant (7 m tall) walking stick in Kew. It rarely gets a mention compared to the Big Pineapple, the Big Marino and the proposals for the Big Bong for the northern New South Wales town of Woodenbong.

Peter Schipperheyn, Grip of Time, 1978

The fibreglass and wood big walking stick at Kew Library is an odd figurative work; somewhere between kitsch and post-modernism, between Claes Oldenburg’s big things and a piece by Maurizio Cattelan. It is one of Melbourne’s stranger public sculptures and was a weird mystery until I learnt something of its history.

It was an early work by a sculptor young sculptor, Peter Schipperheyn. Schipperheyn is still based-in Melbourne and sculpting, often large, always representational and figurative sculptures, now carved in marble (see my post on his more recent work ).

In 1978 Schipperheyn was still studying fine art at the Caulfield Institute of Technology when he won the Abercrombie Sculpture Prize for a monumental sculpture design. The Abercombie Sculpture Prize was an open competition from Abercrombie gallery. Back in the 70s, there were fewer sculptors in Melbourne, and open art prizes were sometimes won by art students; it never happens now.

Schipperheyn’s youth explains both the pop realist style and the tasteless undergrad humour of the title of the work that was, at the time, Senility. The fibreglass part of the sculpture was probably made on campus. Did he also submit it for assessment that year? 

It was initially installed on the exterior wall of the Abercrombie Gallery in Johnston Street, Collingwood. But when Laurel Abercrombie closed her gallery, she gave the sculpture to the city of Kew.

It was relocated to the outer wall of the Kew Library where it works well with the bare brick external wall. It was renamed Grip of Time; as Senility was no longer an appropriate title for a public sculpture.

Unlike most public art, there is no intended meaning to his big walking stick. Is it poking fun at or supporting the elderly and frail? The different names for the sculpture suggest that the no-one, not even Schipperheyn, is sure. And it is this ambiguity that has saved the work.

In 1997 there was restoration work done on the sculpture by the artist and a new pole was donated by Citipower. Currently, the big walkings stick is a bit overgrown and some unsympathetic planted trees need to be pruned.


Adrian Mauriks 1942 – 2020

Even if his name is not, Adrian Mauriks’s public sculptures will be familiar to many Australians. As they are in every major Australian cities — in Melbourne, there are sculptures in the Docklands, in Laverton, and Richmond.

From multimedia installations to spiky, monumental forms and then curving smooth white biomorphic creations; Mauriks was a prolific artist who kept on developing his art rather than reproducing the more of the same kind of works.

Influenced by Arp Mauriks’s white curving sculptures with their organic forms were surrealist without being pretentious, for this was not surrealism of hyperreal dreams but the poetic totems. Landscapes of surreal white gardens with gateways and organic growths. Maurik’s Silence, 2001, commissioned by MAB Corp for Docklands, New Quay precinct, Melbourne is part of this later body of work.

A teenage Adrian Mauriks arrived in Australia in 1957 from Holland. He went on to get undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the Victorian College of the Arts. Through his teaching at various tertiary institutes, including the University of Melbourne and Ballarat University he influenced many young artists. But it will be his many sculptures that will be his longest lasting legacy, a legacy that is not for an exclusive few but everyone, for people like me have never met him, but who enjoy his art.

Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel

Social Hieroglyphics

WTF in 24-carat gold leaf on a marble tombstone sits on an artificial lawn in front of a wallpaper sky. Local artist, Daniel Worth’s small exhibition, Social Hieroglyphics, ticks so many boxes: contemporary yet reflecting on the ancient history of sculpture, complete with interactive, site-specific, performance elements and a sense of humour.

Daniel Worth, WTF

Carving hieroglyphics has been done since the ancient Egyptians, but Worth has updated them carving the emojis and abbreviations that we regularly use today into stone. This isn’t a cheap stunt of contemporary references there is depth to these works. The ancient Egyptian were communicating information by carving hieroglyphics, whereas Worth is quoting; removing the poo emoji from its original context. The difference between an ancient Egyptian carving hieroglyphics and what Worth is doing is art. That short word; ‘art’ is a significant difference, referring to millennia of history while finding new and contemporary expression.

Worth clearly enjoys the beautiful and luxurious materials that he is using. Yet, 90% of the stone in the exhibition has been found or reclaimed. Some of the stone came from stonemason’s off-cut bins and from an 1840s drainage system at York’s first railway station. Only the Carrara marble for the big Stone Phone, the centre-piece of the exhibition, was bought.

Daniel Worth, Stone Phone

I asked Worth about the ethics of sourcing stone. “I feel it important to use stone that is being discarded because it gives it a second life, it also works with my frugal and resourceful nature. Sometimes that chance encounter with a found stone mixes with an idea that transforms it into something new.”

Some of his carvings only exist in a stone rubbing in crayon and 24-carat gold leaf on paper as the carved stones have been installed in undisclosed locations. One a small brick of marble found along Thames foreshore was carved with LOL, and the Worth threw it back into the river. If future mudlarks along the Thames resemble the present ones, they will research these letters and laugh.

There is an interactive aspect to the rubbing carvings. Wax crayons allow visitors to make their own laughing tears emoji rubbing from one of Worth’s carved stones. Visitors are encouraged to use the back-half of the room-sheet to add a rubbing. So you get your own souvenir piece to take home from the exhibition.

Daniel Worth, stone rubbing table

There is so much potential in this solid exhibition. Worth’s art is infinitely scalable; scalable is what every internet business is looking for. Worth could do more with the ideas in this exhibition, more art, exhibitions, even giant works of public art.

This was the first exhibition that I have seen since the COVID-19 lockdown. I had to make an appointment to see it at Noir Darkroom Gallery, and when I did, I was the only visitor to the shopfront gallery on Moreland Road.


Sculptors Association Annual Exhibition

I felt little for the majority of the sixty-three sculptures on exhibition. It is difficult to be daring when there are so many technical challenges and expenses to making sculpture. Consequently many are like a large piece of jewellery — well designed and made but too boring, slick and trite to be anything other than ersatz art. Stuff so bland that zombie formalism looked thoughtful. There were a few made me wince as their combination of materials was the visual equivalent of ice-cream with pickles. There were, of course, a couple of kitsch pieces and one case of questionable cultural appropriation.

Michael Meszaros, Smouder

Finally there were some sculptures that were appealing for various reasons; not bad for a group exhibition. I was surprised when I checked who was the artist of some of the works that caught my eye: Drasko (who I know from his street art and art transport business) and Michael Meszaros (who has done many public sculptures). Meszaros’s wavy bronze piece, Smoulder, is like curls of smoke. Drasko Boljevic’s Baby is almost a minimal comic-book version of Munch’s Scream.

Drasko Boljevic, Baby

Tahani Shamroukh’s A Labour is one of the few pieces of contemporary art in the exhibition and one of the few that had anything to say. It is realism; it doesn’t look like anything other than what it is and it is life. A cube of used work clothes and boots, the kind that labours wear, is as real as the $5 bill amongst them. It reminded me of Ai Weiwei’s Ton of Tea (2011), a one square metre block of compressed oolong tea. I was not surprised that Shamroukh’s A Labour won the Art Almanac Prize.

The Association of Sculptors of Victoria 2019 Annual Awards and Exhibition is at Collins Square, an enormous multi-towered building in the Docklands with a network of foyer areas almost the size of a city block. The foyer works well as an exhibition space for the sculptures. They need this kind of space for their work, not just because some of it is large and heavy, but because it is impressive semi-formal space with an instant audience. The kind of place with marble floors and a paintings the size of sail by John Olsen hanging at the top of one staircase with a painting of the city by Ricky Kasso above another.

Collins Square is also the kind of place that is professionally managed and this has resulted in a peculiar decision to ban one sculpture from the exhibition. The story of the sculpture’s censorship has legs even if the bust of a man didn’t; from Channel 7 to the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets. I don’t blame the Collins Square management for their crazy decision because Australia’s culture of censorship is arbitrary, inexplicable and the consequences for even minor transgressions can be sever. There has been a censorship controversy over images of male nipples in the past, Del Kathryn Barton’s son’s bare chest in 2011, and it could happen again because in this country the irrational is privileged over reason, ethics and taste.


Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock

Most controversial public sculptures in Australia

Readers in Melbourne might think that this will be about the flat yellow steel planes of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka the Yellow Peril) but it is not. Although the controversy lasted a year, mostly letters to the paper and angry city council meetings. A few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on Vault read my post: And it was all yellow.

Other readers might think that the controversy was the statue wars of 2017 when statues of Captain Cook and Governor Macquarie were vandalised with paint. “No pride in Genocide.” Again a few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on this read my post: Statue Wars 2017.

There are two sculptures that were so controversial that they were actually decapitated and one was completely destroyed.

Robert Hitchcock Yagan 1984 (photo by Nachoman)

The Yagan statue by Robert Hitchcock is located on Heirisson Island in the Swan River in Perth. It was decapitated and the head stolen in 1997 by an anonymous vandal who identified themselves as a ‘British patriot’.

The decapitation occurred the same week that Yagan’s actual head was returned. Yagan was murdered in 1833, shot a point-blank range by an eighteen year old Englishman William Keates was speared to death in revenge. Yagan’s head was taken as a trophy to England; if this had been done today it would be a war crime. After passing through multiple British hands Yagan’s head was eventually buried in an unmarked grave along with the body of another Indigenous Australian, some dried viscera and a Peruvian mummy in a corner of Everton Cemetery in Liverpool.

The statue was restored with a new head only to be decapitated again in 2002 leading to a second restoration and another slightly different head. The pattern of racist attacks only stopped when the area was fenced off. There were no witnesses to either of these crimes although WA Police Headquarters has views across the Swan River to the statues site.

Greg Taylor, Liz and Phil Down by the Lake, 1995 (image gregtaylor-sculpture.com)

However, even the Yagan statue is not the most controversial public sculpture in Australia which has to be Greg Taylor’s Liz and Phil Down by the  Lake 1995. Made of cement fondue coated with iron oxide to give them a rested appearance. It was part of a temporary exhibition for the National Sculpture festival organised by the Australian National University in Canberra.

Seated on a park bench by Lake Burley Griffin were two naked figures. The wrinkly old naked Liz and Phil looked, the very opposite of regal, frail and human; only the crown on Liz’s head reminded the viewer who was being depicted. The fact that Lese-majeste is not in Australian law but that didn’t stop Returned Service League chief Bruce Ruxton calling for Taylor’s execution.

Then the head of Liz was stolen on the night of 13 April. The police log stated boldly: ”The Queen has lost her head and doesn’t know where to find it.” After the beheading a former Sydney policeman decided to dress the sculpture in bedsheets printed with the Australian flag. The following night the Duke’s head was removed along with further vandalism that severed legs from both figures and caved in Phil’s chest. The entire sculpture was was removed on 16 April, two days later.

Taylor told the Canberra Times: “It’s a pretty sad day for freedom of speech and freedom of expression when you can’t even put a piece of art up without its opponents being able to control themselves.”

In a secondary controversy the Australian Federal Police on May 14 issued a denial that the Queens head had been found in home of a right wing militia member who had infiltrated the computer and communications sections of the Defence Department and possessed an arsenal of weapons.


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