publication of the International Sculpture Center
by Ken Scarlett
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Red Trunk and Black River, 2003. Finalists for the Helen Lempriere
National Sculpture Award.
After a lapse of
nearly 40 years, prizes, for a variety of reasons, have again become popular
in Australia. In the 1960s, a number of corporations such as Comalco,
Transfield, Alcorso Sekers, and Flotta-Lauro supported sculpture by giving
substantial annual prizes, until growing criticism, from artists and art
critics alike, led to their demise. For, as was frequently stated, despite
great expenditure of money and energy by the sculptors, only one winner
would receive the monetary prize and the resultant publicity.
So why has prize-giving
been resurrected? Big prize money undoubtedly secures publicity for the
sponsors and the exhibiting gallery. More importantly, contemporary sculpture
in Australia is enjoying a period of great activity; gallery directors
and sponsors have seized the opportunity to be associated with a vital,
growing, and extraordinarily diverse area of the visual arts. While sculptors
are still confronted with the formidable costs associated with exhibiting,
they nevertheless welcome the opportunity to show their work in a prestigious
national competition where mere inclusion is recognition of their standing.
And because sales are frequent, there are positive gains for all concerned.
Two years ago, two
major prizes were announcedthe Helen Lempriere National Sculpture
Award held at Werribee Park, near Melbourne, and the National Sculpture
Prize and Exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Fortunately
they are complimentary: one is for works to be sited in extensive parklands
and the other for sculpture within the confines of indoor galleries. Prize
money (by Australian standards) is generous: the Lempriere acquisitive
prize gives a combination of AUS $80,000 cash and a further $25,000 for
professional development, while the Canberra prize offers AUS $50,000,
non-acquisitive. This year, since both exhibitions were on show at the
same time, it was possible to draw some general conclusions about the
current practice of sculpture in Australiaa practice obviously alive
and well, with an astonishing range of possibilities.
Rug, 2003. Finalists for the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture
of materials and processes this year was a constant source of wonder,
particularly at Werribee Park where artists seemed more inclined to installations
than the single sculptural object. Nicole Voevodin-Cash planted a formal
garden of expertly chosen plants and grasses, titled Rug, whose pattern
was as ordered as the nearby parterre in the 19th-century garden. Sam
Collins also used live plants, in some cases incorporating full-scale
trees growing in the park, skillfully made to look as though they had
been boxed and recently transported to the site. The title Transportation
(memorial to the transplanted) aroused many thoughts, not only of exotic
plants brought to Australia by early settlers, but also of the fact that
the first Europeans in Australia were transportedas convicts. It
was a particularly apt concept for this 19th-century garden, which had
originally been filled with European plants in order to obliterate all
views of the surrounding Australian landscape.
Mathieu Gallois also
exploited the parkland setting with Caravan, which was parked on a green
patch of lawn surrounded by trees, an idyllic setting for an Australian
holiday. But this caravan was not quite full scale and was made entirely
of transparent acrylic sheetan immaculately precise, if whimsically
non-functional object. By comparison, the helicopter at the National Gallery
of Australia, constructed by Alwin Reamillo and Roselin Eaton, had all
the characteristics of a do-it-yourself, learn-as-you-go project. It was
a co-operative effort, a helicopter made of bamboo poles lashed together
with strips of rubber cut from the tubes of old car tires, incorporating
found materials such as bones, feathers, beer cans, and a pair of emu
claws. Seemingly light-hearted, the work also carried serious political
content: it was named after Jandamarra who reputedly flew like a bird
and disappeared like a ghost as he led the Aboriginal resistance against
European settlement in the Kimberleys in the 1890s. The discarded, flattened
beer cans delivered a further social message.
Liberty also conveyed a potent political message. Based on the Statue
of Liberty in New York, this work negated the icons longevity. Carved
in carbon dioxide [dry ice], a medium that smokes, snows, and dramatically
vanishes into harmless gas, Liberty diminished over timeunderscoring
for the artist, how the civil liberties of the free world are diminishing
One of the most stimulating
aspects of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia was the
skillful manner in which curator Elanor Taylor counterposed works of totally
different intent. Viewers were constantly surprised and intrigued, for
example, by the irregular rattling, clanking sounds that emanated from
Arthur Wickss Boatmans Unscheduled Crossing. This endearing
image of human persistence and frailty, of mankinds journey into
the unknown, combined a naive homemade boat and rower with sophisticated
high-tech controls. Moving along wobbly tracks suspended high in the gallery,
the boat made erratic journeys back and forth in the sky, before amusingly
disappearing into a corrugated iron boat shed.
In an adjoining gallery,
Peter D. Coles immaculately made and highly sophisticated Red, Yellow
and Black presumed a familiarity with the formal language of abstract
sculpture. Though much of the artists previous work has drawn on
the imagery of the bushland where he lives, this sculpture emphasizes
relationships between solid, flat areas of color and space, between rectangle
and curve, between the strongly stated colors of red, yellow, and black.
untitled, 2003. Winner of the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture
The viewing experience
at Werribee Park, where it is easy to be seduced by the beauty of the
extensive gardens, was quite different. Since the works were dispersed
over a wide area, there was a tendency to stroll casually, discovering
sculpture here and there. Rather than comparing one sculpture with another,
as in the gallery situation, one was more likely to view the work within
its setting, in relation to the surrounding trees and the open sky. The
majority of the artists confidently met the challenge, though for a few
it posed a difficulty: not all were aware
of the change in scale necessary when competing with nature.
Red Trunk and Black River certainly held its own by the sheer simple strength
of the forms. Placed on the edge of a vast area of lawn, against a bank
of mature trees, one wooden form was vertical, the other horizontal, one
black, the other basically white with small touches of red. In both cases,
the surfaces were covered in intricately carved patterns, which animated
the structures without destroying form.
who had shown a very strong work in the second Lempriere exhibition, seemingly
underestimated the size and power of the surrounding trees this year.
His Awakening Desire looked convincingly forceful in the catalogue photograph,
but in actual fact, it was somewhat diminished by the forces of nature.
On the other hand, his work in the Canberra exhibition had a very powerful
presence, even if its meaning was elusive. The Rose, The Bullet, The Window
linked disparate elementsa medieval castle window alluding to the
sculptors recent trip to Europe, a bullet, which brought about radical
change (from bows and arrows to more efficient means of killing), and
the massive burl from a 400-year-old Australian tree. Not an easy work
to read, yet the directly stated composition of two vertical structures
linked by a horizontal gave the work a convincing authority. It must have
been a serious contender for the prize.
Prizes, of course,
are invariably contentious for the simple reason that a different group
of judges would almost certainly have chosen a different winner. Both
of the works selected for the main prizes were indeed controversial. The
Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award was given to an untitled work
by Gary Wilson that consisted of two plates of steel, each forming a semi-circle
240 centimeters high, off-set to allow entrance to the circular interior.
The first reaction on seeing the massive rusted steel structure was to
think of Richard Serra. However, on walking inside, one was forced to
re-evaluate: one surface was painted a brilliant red and the other an
intense citrus yellow. The visual impact was astonishing in its intensity,
so intense as to create vibrations within the space, almost more than
the eye could withstand. This startling dichotomy between the expected
rusted exterior and the totally unexpected vibrant interior was at once
breathtaking, exhilarating, and electrifying.
Bartlett, The Rose, The Bullet, The Window, 2003. Finalist for the
National Sculpture Prize.
The National Sculpture
Prize went to Lisa Roets equally controversial Political Apeseven
bronze busts of seven chimpanzees. Because the artist has been studying
apes for the last 10 years, it is quite possible that her implied meaning
for the installation was different from that assumed by the spectators.
Whereas the casual viewer simply saw seven apes, the artist was undoubtedly
aware of individual differences, a hierarchy, a social order, and even
a political structure. Some viewers assumed that Political Ape was a satire
on our frequently criticized politicians, while many people recalled the
once-popular busts of monkeys that gave visual form to the old warning
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Debate over the relevance
of prizes is bound to continue as awards proliferate. Wineries such as
Montalto and Yerring Station have combined a desire to promote the arts
with a realization that sculpture exhibitions attract additional people
to their restaurants and increase sales: both have recently initiated
generous prizes. City councils such as Stonnington, Darebin, and Woollahra
are also offering prizes for sculpture, and the annual Sculpture By the
Sea will again be held this year at Bondi, Sydney.
Not to be outdone,
McClelland Gallery at Langwarrin, near Melbourne, recently added and
Sculpture Park to its title and announced an AUS $100,000 acquisitive
prize that began in October 2003. After all these years of playing second
fiddle to painters, sculptors are deservedly in the limelight.