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Tag Archives: Southbank

Five September Exhibitions

On Thursday I went to see five exhibitions in the city and Southbank; all are free and in non-commercial exhibition spaces.

detail from Denise Honan Subterranean

The first exhibitions I saw were in the Degraves Street underpass as I left Flinders Street Station; Denise Honan’s exhibition “Subterranean” and Shanshan Li’s “See the light” at the Dirty Dozen vitrines. Both exhibitions might work for other artist-run-space but had no intention of engaging with the general public, a necessity for successful exhibitions in this very public space.

Lionel Bawden Groundwork

Next a visit to Craft where there is an exhibition about doors — knobs, handles, knockers, lights, matts… Curated by Julie Ewington the exhibition has much more than the mundane theme might imply.

Aunty Lorraine Connelly-Northey Stiletto Heels

In Federation Square at the Koorie Heritage Trust is “They Shield Us” a group exhibition by Indigenous women about how “wearing cultural adornments shape their identities”. The shoes by Aunty Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Waradjari) are the stand-out image from the exhibition but this is not to ignore the necklaces by Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba /Boon Wurrung). Clarke has been studying the necklaces in the Melbourne Museum’s collection and creating her own versions; Thung-ung Coorang (Kangaroo teeth necklace) in 3D-printed form. (For more on Clarke see The Design Files. )

Diena Georgetti Barbicon

The Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the VCA has “Conscious Intuition”; a fun but sparse exhibition that pairs two artists who emerged in the 1980s, Brisbane based sculptor Eugene Carchesio and Melbourne-based painter Diena Georgetti. There is a lot of humour in their art as they transition for the modern to the post-modern, from styles of abstract art to referencing abstraction, from minimalism to post-minimalism.

Bauhaus Now! installation view

Finally to Buxton Contemporary where ‘Bauhaus Now!’ is a playful look at the long tail of the great modern art and design school a century after it was established. It is very playful with Bauhaus inspired games, toys, musical instruments, weaving, costumes and parades. There is work by contemporary artists responding to the Bauhaus aesthetic and work by Paul Klee and two former Bauhaus students, Gertrude Herzger-Seligmann and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack who ended up in Australia. Curator Ann Stephen has created a rich visual experience that expanded my understanding of art history.

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Habitat Filter in Southbank

Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.

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Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.

It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.

I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.

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Recent Public Sculpture in Melbourne

There are two recent public sculptures with botanical references: Fruition, 2013 by Matthew Harding and Moment, 2013 by Damien Vicks where the geometry of botany lends itself to contemporary sculpture.

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

The two giant seed pods creates a landmark for the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue are Matthew Harding’s Fruition. The sculptures mediate between the nature of Royal Park, the largest of Melbourne’s inner city parks, and the artificial world of the roads and traffic. Royal Park has, up until last year, been bereft of any public sculpture. Fruition is huge, with an axis length 6.5m and 4.2m, even when seen from the road, where most people will see this sculpture, they are larger than most trucks. Made of corten steel, a favourite of sculptors and designers because it quickly develops an outer patina of rust that protects the steel from further oxidation.

Fruition is not the only public sculpture by Matthew Harding in Melbourne, there is his Mercury Rising, 2008 series of seats in the city, commissioned by Colonial First State. The three cast mirror polished stainless steel forms with inset stainless steel contour banding in the pavement. The contour banding and the title refer to climate change.

Harding studied at the Canberra School of Art and is a regular exhibitor at the Fringe Festival Furniture, Sydney’s Workshopped, McClelland National Sculpture Survey, Sculpture by the Sea and the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment was installed in 2013 at Guild Apartments, Sturt Street in Southbank. Moment is the beautiful flower in the buttonhole of the building. Few buildings are designed with a crest, aside from a corporate logo. This is Vick’s first public commission; in 2011 he won both the Association of Sculptors of Victoria Annual Exhibition and the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show Sculpture exhibition. Vicks has also been a regular exhibitor at Toorak Village sculpture competition.

The number of sculptures in greater Melbourne continues to grow at an increasing rate. There is also William Eicholtz’s sculpture Courage in Fitzroy and the Steampunk sculptures in the city. These are some recent public sculpture in Melbourne that I haven’t mentioned in my up coming book, Sculptures of Melbourne. They have all been installed while I’ve been concentrating on writing the history, not that this is a problem because it is a history and not a survey of the sculptures.


Designland

Melbourne is becoming like Disneyland; years ago John Birmingham pointed this out in his book Dopeland. The spectacle of gas flares outside the casino, buskers, sidewalk artists and sculptures every 500m. I walk along it often; I like pedestrian spaces. I’ve enjoyed meals in the restaurants along it and taken visiting Canadian relatives to this attraction. I’ve also often thought about Birmingham’s “Disneyland” remark.

Following a design trend that has worked for many other cities, Melbourne has been rehabilitating its river and docklands areas. The banks of the Yarra River are a designer public space from Birrung Mar down to the Docklands. The designer city came to Melbourne with the arrival of the Casino and the transformation of Southbank. Melbourne’s rehabilitation through designed environments has extended further including the north bank of the river.

The rehabilitation of the Yarra River’s city foreshore has included a large number of public sculptures. What are these sculptures supposed to do in this designed urban environment? Architecturally the sculptures seem to function only as a way of breaking up the pedestrian spaces. Some sculptures became lost amongst the commercial frenzy of Southbank cafes (see by blog post: Ophelia will return).

Sometimes it is hard to determine in this designed environment what is a sculpture and what are sculptural architectural elements or a marketing design concept like the jocular three fins projecting from the river water or the fake half sunk ship outside of the Melbourne Aquarium. Or something else, entirely like the lighting design.

Some of the sculptures along the Yarra try to recreate a sense of history in a post-modern way while others are just sculptures in a modern sense, independent of history or reason. There is no consistency in taste or style for the sculpture; novelty is preferred in this environment.

Two of these sculptures, “The Travellers” and “Constellation” are about the variety people who have immigrated to Melbourne. “The Travellers” by Lebanese artist, Nadim Karan (on Sandridge Bridge across the Yarra River) and “Constellation” by Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett (between the King and Queen Street bridges). “Constellation” is five large figureheads reflect upon the ethnic and cultural diversity of Melbourne’s settlement. Not that most people would see this in the sculptures; they would merge into the overall design of the area.

Nadim Karan, “The Travellers”

Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett, “Constellation”

The shopping mall mentality of urban planning has created a spectacle that although it attempts some signs of authenticity, like the antiques on the wall of chain Irish pubs, only adds to the feeling of hyperreality. Even when the art attempts to connect to the past they only add to the feeling of hyperreality. Like the old anchors along the foreshore or the giant knot work anchor suspended over a plaza in outside the Docklands Stadium.

I like these many of the sculptures along the Yarra but is this Disneyland the right environment for them?


Ophelia will return

Ophelia hasn’t jumped in the river and drowned she has been removed for a full restoration and will be returning to Southgate in November. Not Hamlet’s Ophelia but Deborah Halpern’s “Ophelia”, 1992, the concrete and ceramic sculpture with the face that was named “the official face of Melbourne” by Tourism Victoria in 1996.

The familiarity of the city landscape comes with a kind of blinkers that limit the number of things that are seen. As we become so familiar with the landscape we forget the past. Change in the city is continuos and there is a kind of social amnesia that most of us suffer from. Most people, including myself, cannot remember/imagine the city without certain public sculptures and so assume that a particular sculpture has been there for far longer than it actually has.

Deborah Halpern, Ophelia, 1992, concrete and ceramic, crowded out by outdoor dinning.

In case you hadn’t noticed Deborah Halpern’s 1992 “Ophelia” has been removed from the Southgate Complex on Melbourne’s Southbank. Bear Brass bar and restaurant has taken over the location with more out door smoker’s sections, it had already crowded the sculpture out when I photographed it over a year ago.

“We have been working extensively with the artist, Deborah Halpern and look forward to welcoming her (Ophelia) back very soon.” Jo Gartner, Southgate’s Events and Marketing Manager told Black Mark. “When Ophelia returns she will be located on the promenade directly opposite our main entrance, creating a natural meeting place for Melburnians on the river, and providing a stronger visual connection with the artist’s other major work Angel in Birrarung Marr.”

This is the second of Halpern’s Melbourne sculptures to have been moved from its original iconic location to a riverside location. Halpern’s “Angel” has been moved from the NGV’s moat to its current location (see my post: More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture). Halpern’s concrete and ceramic tile sculptures were colourful and popular Melbourne icons of the 1980s and 90s. Have they now fallen from favour as tastes change? Or does their new locations give them new life?

 


Nice Fans

“Who the hell’s this Margaret? Nice fans… more art…my shoes hurt. I shouldn’t have worn these shoes. Not today anyway.” I loved Oslo Davis artwork on the A4 card invite to “Margaret Seaworthy Gothic”. It is a great realist view of the gallery experience and the best exhibition invite that I’ve seen for ages.

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a group exhibition by five artists at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Dane Mitchell’s signs made me pause before entering the gallery: “Do Not Enter” but rendered backwards. There wasn’t much else to see in the gallery, it looked almost empty apart from these signs… was the exhibition still being installed? Looking at the other side of the sign it was clear that this was art and not a prohibition. I explored further into the gallery.

A reporter once asked Salvador Dali; if the Prado was on fire and he could take one thing out of it, what would you take? “The air,” replied Dali. Nigel Lendon’s two fan works, “Maquettes for Invisible Sculptures” and “Untitled Invisible Work of Art”, play with the air in the gallery. Invisible unseen forces as a medium for sculpture sounds oxymoronic because how can you see them? You certainly notice Lendon’s sculptures when the motion sensors turn them on full force.

Andrew Liversidge’s molten form of one-dollar coins is a bit obvious. But it fitted in with the tone of the exhibition and the nickel, copper and aluminum alloy blob looked attractively golden on the gallery floor. Also a bit obvious are Colin Duncan’s black silhouettes of Duchamp’s “In Advance of A Broken Arm”, Brancusi’s “Endless Column” and Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” – but that’s the point of them. It is a demonstration of how recognizable these icons of modern art that they can be evoked in a silhouette.

The exhibition is an anti-thesis to “New 11”, the current exhibition across the road at ACCA, with its focus on materiality. “Matter is not banished in the world, but it does take on spooky properties – its scale and identity having been permanently displaced by the network of communications within which it exists.” Matthew Shannon wrote on exhibition invite. Matthew Shannon is an artist worth keeping your eye on (see my review of one of his installations).

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a clever exhibition, perhaps too clever, conceptual and insubstantial for some people, but I enjoyed it. It doesn’t it take itself too seriously from Oslo Davis’s invitation to Matthew Shannon own comic about the artist talking to the white paint on a gallery wall.

Nice fans. I can’t see all the art in this gallery but it is still there. My shoes don’t hurt.


Busker Artists

There are a variety of types of busker artists: the street corner portraitists, the caricature artists, the chalk sidewalk artists, the guys making outer space scenes with aerosol spray cans (using the lids to stencil in planets). There are lots of these guys doing the same routine in all the cities around the world.

The sidewalks of Southbank in Melbourne are covered with the chalk of sidewalk artists. “Screevers can sometimes be called artists, sometimes not.” Wrote George Orwell; I re-read part of his book Down and Out in Paris and London to see what has changed in street art since the 1930s. Orwell classifies all street entertainers as “beggars” even the street acrobats. “As the law now stands, if you approach a stranger and ask him for twopence, he can call a policeman and get you seven days for begging. But if you make the air hideous by droning ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’, or scrawl some chalk daubs on the pavement, or stand about with a tray of matches – in short make a nuisance of yourself – you are held to be following a legitimate trade and not begging.”

There are still the occasional street entertainers who are basically begging, like the guy on Swanston Street with his naïve drawings of buildings, but the majority of buskers and sidewalk artists are proficient and professional. Musicians with paid gigs later in the evening, magnificent chalk drawings (generally copies of old masters) on rolls of heavy paper taped to the sidewalk or little craft stalls full of bicycles made of twisted wire.

Living sculptures as a special type of mime busker artist. Their stiff painted clothes and painted skin. These buskers have been around in since the early 1990s. Maybe Gilbert and George, the living sculptures, and their “Underneath the Arches” performance in 1970, inspired the busker living sculptures (or was it the other way around?). Melbourne and Barcelona have the best living sculptures that I have seen. These artists really put effort into their costume and routine. In other places they are little more than begging with a mask and simple costume.

Living sculptures move in response to a coin being put into their tin. At other times they remain as still as a statue, in this way it has some relation to modelling for an artist. One of the best living sculptures that I have seen is Albert Stone. Albert Stone, as his name suggests, is a Magrittean stone man with platform incorporating roses.  The burgundy baroque lady in Melbourne is another living sculpture of exceptional detail. Perth artist Christian de Vietri has created a sculpture based on living sculptures. Her robot sculpture – “Tim” (2006, aluminium) is in GoMA’s collection. Robots are common image for living sculptures especially as they can combine simple light and sound effects in their costume.

Christian de Vietri - Tim (2006)

Street entertainment is now expected by public, and is licensed, or even funded by local councils. Buskers, sidewalk artists and living sculptures are part of life on Melbourne’s streets; there is more art on the streets than just graffiti. The change in street art may, in part, be due to the romantic focus that George Orwell and other writers placed on them, but there has also been a change in the culture of the street.


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