Tag Archives: Southbank

Art Precincts

“A media release is not a creative precinct,” said the Minister for creative industries, Martin Foley, when he announced plans to spend millions to create the Collingwood Art Precinct centred around the refurbished old Collingwood TAFE building. Arts precincts are a popular idea in urban planning. But is there anything more to a precinct than an official artwash announcement designating an area of a city and repurposing old buildings into studios or performance spaces? How sustainable are arts precincts? And what is their impact on grassroots creative precincts?

Keith Haring mural at the Collingwood arts precinct

In the past local city councils often ambitiously declared an area “an arts precinct” and hoped for the best. The City of Yarra once proclaimed the “Smith St art precinct” on one side of a block with one art gallery, a couple of designers and a community radio station.

If we were to count the Collingwood Art Precinct, then Melbourne currently has several arts precincts, the main one in Southbank centred around the NGV, State Theatre, Concert Hall, ACCA, Buxton Contemporary. Melbourne also has a Sports and Entertainment Precinct around the Tennis Centre and MCG. And there is the Brunswick Design Precinct with the TAFE design faculty and Siteworks in a converted old school building and heritage house. These different precincts raise the distinction between the arts, entertainment and design in the collective consciousness as reflected by city planners and politicians and built into the city’s structure.

The Southbank arts precinct has changed from swampland to an area for popular entertainment. Wirth’s Circus and others used to pitch their tents where the Arts Centre now stands. It was a decaying area of warehouses in the 1980s; the old police horse stables are now part of the College of the Arts, and a brewery has become the Malthouse Theatre.

Southbank only has training facilities and high-end exhibition and concert halls, cutting out the mid-level entirely. There is very little street art, no artist-run spaces, and no commercial galleries. It is a high-end attraction for the urban tourist, full of institutions exhibiting highly finished art and expensive cafes beyond the budget of the arts and music students who study there and must walk twenty minutes to find an affordable place to eat.

Performance artists in ACCA forecourt 2016

Compare this to grassroots locations that spontaneously emerge in the inner city. One such area is around the Brunswick Tram Depot, between Moreland Road and Albion Street. It did not occur due to media releases but available and affordable space. It is light industrial on the edge of inner-city suburbs with lots of warehouse space, some of which have been converted into artist studios and a gallery. Neon Park is the kind of high-end commercial gallery with a stall at the Melbourne International Art Fair. There is no public space, and the closest thing to a park is a planter box. Still, it does have bluestone laneways that are regularly covered in fresh graffiti. And there is live music and cheap cocktails at Red Betty’s in Houdini Lane.

In spooky synchronicity, an artist working in that area sends me this SMS message as I write this. “You should get really topical and investigate how the local council funding of studios in Moreland, such as Schoolhouse and Pentridge, have adversely impacted the homegrown grassroots economies of all the independent studios in the region.”

So much for the guff from the Minister for creative industries. The point of arts precincts does seem to be the media opportunity for the politician. Generally to announce funding to convert the old building (or build new ones) rather than to support the arts where it already exists.


Looking at Urban Design

When I started this blog, I used to write posts like a diary, snapshots of Melbourne’s exhibitions and culture. I would write what galleries I went to, what I saw and what I thought. Now I try to have better-structured posts, but sometimes I miss being able to string together a whole heap of stuff together, like recently when I have been to several events about city planning, urban design and a garden show.

Mike Makatron and Conrad Bizjak’s wall at the Flower and Garden Show

Two weeks ago, I went on a picnic walk and talk led by Professor Alison Young about public space and the arts precinct. This was not a walking tour but an interdisciplinary conversation (music, architecture, criminology and art) about Melbourne University’s VCA and Conservatory as a park-like place with a pedestrian permeable campus. It is a high-end attraction for the urban tourist, with institutions showing highly finished art and expensive cafes. Cafes beyond the budget of the art and music students who study there and must walk twenty minutes to find an affordable place to eat. There are no artist-run spaces or commercial art galleries in the precinct, where even graffiti and street art are rare.

Then, last Saturday, I went to “Can parklets be reclaimed as a form of tactical urbanism?” A live podcast recording by artist Troy Innocent, urban design researcher Quentin Stevens, urban geographer Rachel Iampolski and event facilitator Kiri Delly. It was at Twosixty, a temporary public space on Sydney Road in Brunswick, with a large mural by Mike Makatron of a kangaroo bounding up an overgrown Sydney Road as the wilderness returned.

Before I went to the talk, I had no idea how small parklets are. They are the size of a couple of car park spaces, or during the pandemic, they became a common part of Melbourne’s coffee and dining experience. After the talk, we went to the demonstration parklet in Saxon Street just outside Siteworks. Young people were using it for parkour practice, and then a bunch of urban designers turned up. Good times.

And then, yesterday I went to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Amongst the many exhibits and displays, I wasn’t expecting a wall of painted foliage by Mike Makatron and Conrad Bizjak. Still, given that they have painted so many murals in Melbourne, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Association of Sculptors of Victoria. They have been exhibiting regularly at the Flower and Garden Show for many years now. Several stands were selling sculptural garden decor, but some of the association of sculptors exhibitors were trying to do more. Even if they were carving a Dali inspired giraffe (Peter Saville, Wild Life) or creating a Claus Oldenburg inspired trio of giant blue paperclips (Madi Whyte, Rule of Three). No matter how impressive and popular a kangaroo made from a tractor chain might be, I wonder what these machine parts mean when welded into the shape of an animal or a dragon playing guitar. 

For sculptural elements in gardens looking at the shop window floral designs or RMIT fashion’s display was more aesthetically grounded than any of the garden ornaments. I continue to think about private garden sculptures (see my earlier post). My advice is to go large at home.


Melbourne Art Fair 2022

Melbourne Art Fair has re-emerged in a new location after an eight-year break. The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Garden, the previous art fairs venue, is currently used as a vaccination centre. Now it is in Jeff’s Shed (aka Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre) on the banks of the Yarra. A space paradoxically less cramped than the old location but also somehow smaller. Perhaps because the spaces for the individual galleries was not in long rows. 

I was invited to the press preview on Thursday afternoon just before the fair opened to the paying public. The highlight was artist Sally Smart doing a remarkably concise and coherent explanation of her collage technique and its relationship to the women artists, puppets and dance in Constructivism and Dada. 

The press preview did answer my question about what the Art Fair is doing to decolonise this place. From physical: five Indigenous community arts centres were included in the galleries, a prize-winning work donated to Shepparton Art Museum and three giant necklaces by Maree Clarke. To the symbolic: the location of the galleries is listed with their Indigenous name first and the colonial name second, e.g.  Naarm/Melbourne. (But not as far as being the “Naarm/Melbourne Art Fair”?)

The not-for-profit organisation that runs the Melbourne Art Fair demonstrates that an art fair can be more than just promoting the neo-liberal idea that private ownership of art is the cornerstone of the art world.To disrupt this perception of a trade fair for galleries, the art fair has solo shows and other “works of scale and significance”, where Maree Clarke, Sally Smart and four other artists are involved. Along with a program are events, including the Nicholas Building “Up Late”, an open studio event on Wednesday night, the international video section of the fair, and a book launch for Let’s Go Outside: Art in Public.

On the other hand, the art fair has to be financially successful for the sixty-three participating commercial galleries. The proposed art fair of 2016 never happened because of the withdrawal of several Melbourne galleries as it was not economically viable for them. I didn’t notice or hear about any damage to Melbourne’s visual arts in the years without the art fair, but I’m not looking at art galleries’ books. 

Back to the business of the art fair, bottles of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, the Fair’s official “champagne partner”, are on the desk of every gallery. And at the Glenfiddich Bar, the fashionable designer Jordan Gogos and Ross Blainey, Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador, discuss “the collaboration and the power of artistic experimentation while enjoying bespoke cocktails.”

Gertrude Contemporary had art for sale that parodied the relationship between art and money including the blocks of melted dollar coins by Andrew Liversidge. Ironic take or just another exclusive commodity? Take your pick, but I just walk away when someone mentions NFTs. (I should have asked about the fair’s carbon footprint.)


Something about public space

I went to see two exhibitions. “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and “Re-locate” at Assembly Point.

Mariana del Castillo Re-locate (photo courtesy of the artist)

Assembly Point is almost across the street from ACCA, a series of large display classes in a pedestrian way between two buildings and Sturt and Moore Streets in Southbank. Damien Vicks, Moment 2013 the red geometric flower highlights the building. There are several theatre-related offices and studios on the ground floor of Guild Apartments on Sturt Street in Southbank. A class of drama students were enjoying the fresh air, sitting half inside and half outside NIDA’s Melbourne studios. A place in between public and private space.

Mariana del Castillo is a Canberra-based artist with experience re-locating from her Ecuadorian birthplace. Re-locate creates the feeling of migration, travelling headless, carrying part of their home with them insulated in wool. The glass cases with her Arte Povera influenced tableaux progress to an unknown destination. The contradiction between the private life of an immigrant where your life is alien and public because you are the observed newcomer. Covered in a layer of wool for protection from the emotional toll of moving to another country, details stitched into this second skin.

Detail from “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” at ACCA

I am very into outdoor exhibitions in public space at the moment, for many reasons, including avoiding COVID but also my long term interest in public space. This brings me to “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at ACCA. Riffing on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? The exhibition has as much to do with the theatre as Albee’s play with Virginia Wolfe.

Public space is an important topic. If the exhibition is to succeed in its objective of raising issues for discussion then different questions needed to be asked. Who owns public space? What are the public allowed to do in public space? Who benefits from public space?

Starting with “The Education Space: Creating Art in Public”, which looked back to the modernism of Clement Meadmore and Ron Robertson-Swann and forward to a speculative future with an exhibition of maquettes by younger visitors. Next came “Reading Space: The Common Room”, with a collection of books and magazines on public space. (Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett and Stephanie Pahnis did not include my book on public sculpture, so it wasn’t brilliant.) “Project Space: The Hoarding” brought together elements from an exhibition that spilled out into many public places. Finally, or to begin with, depending on which way you entered, there was “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” in the largest space. It looked impressive with the minimalist repetition of cubes of material, but raised questions unaddressed questions about how the material was gathered, who gave permission and how this fitted with the rest of the exhibition.

Then a walk to the river and lunch. A pleasant day until it came time to go home. Who’s afraid of public transport? I am with good reason. The ticket machine took my $50 bill from me without putting anything on my card; I spent another 20 minutes making the complaint because of the “high volume of calls” they were receiving. They might put the money on my card in 10 working days time. The public transport system has not let me down; it is consistently poor. Public transport is a public space.


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.


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.

DSC01864

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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Habitat Filter in December 2020

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.


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