Saturday, 23 April 2005

Statuary Friday #5

Ok, here's my project: or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt anything qualifies as a meme if only one person is onto it. Well, anyway, every Friday I do a different piece of sculpture selected from the vast numbers littered around lovely Melbourne. My only criteria are: it must be outdoors, it must be more or less permanent, and it must be in a publically accessible location. (Suggestions, especially for sculpture in the 'burbs, are very welcome.)

Since last week's monument was something approaching sublime, this week I've picked something arguably nearer to the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

#5 The Sun and the Moon

Corner High St and Glenferrie Rd, Malvern

This group stands about 2.5 or 3m high and it's made of cast bronze. It was erected in 1989, commissioned from the artist Paul Juraszek, by the City of Malvern with the help of the Visual Arts & Crafts board of the Australia Council. It represents a pair of mythological figures, standing and facing each other with arms outstretched: a huge, musclebound, aggressively male Minotaur, and a female Diana or huntress figure wearing a kind of feather cloak with a lioness at her feet. The plaque tells us the sculpture is "a symbol of universal human endeavour."

As you can see from the benches next to the figures and the grass around them, the sculpture is intended to be the focal point of a key public open space (it's opposite Malvern Town Hall.) However, it is rare to see people sitting next to these large, strange, detailed, spiky objects, and nobody walks between them, except small children (drawn in by the big cat or by the big penis, which are both placed at kid-eye-level). The nervous tension given off by these two figures is perhaps just a bit too weird for Malvern; at least, it's tension that each figure is directing exclusively toward the other, and walking between them feels a bit like inadvertently stepping between a married couple having some sort of silent but furious argument on the tram or in the supermarket.

However, when the sculptures were installed they did succeed in bringing the Malvern and Armadale community together, temporarily, with residents and local traders joining in a furious chorus of disapproval. In the History of Malvern 1988-1994, (shortly to be published by the City of Stonnington, Alleyn Best writes:

"Two horrible monsters!" denounced an elderly Malvern resident to the press. "Styles out of kilter with the stately dignified face of Malvern," another resident exclaimed. "Satanic sculptures", wrote an East Malvern resident later. "A courageous decision by Malvern Council," countered the art world. The Mayor considered these works of art would make Malvern a tourist attraction, at the same time adding "the female statue was more imposing and that emphasis should be directed away from the male."


Controversy surrounded the statues from the moment they were being installed. There was even press speculation that the male statue’s genitalia would be modified prior to the opening, but in fact no alterations were made. A shopkeeper next door stated that "People reel into my store in shock, partly from focussing on the statues and partly from slipping on the new pavement...using words like totally inappropriate, pagan, evil, rambo, phallic, and a site for a black mass. As a Christian, I feel my whole heritage in the fair City of Malvern is being thrown to the lions daily when passing the statues." Armadale Baptist Church members protested in the Square in July, calling on Malvern Council to remove the statues. "Surely we can celebrate human endeavour in an appropriate way other than raising statues that represent bestial figures of ancient mythology and a goddess of a dead religion," said their pastor.

The art world weren't having none of this. The then Curator of Sculpture at the NGV, reports Alleyn Best, "praised Malvern Councillors for their 'sense of adventure.' Declaring that the statues are 'homogenous to the buildings and complement the town hall', he also considered their importance to local traders, explaining that 'the gestures of the statues pointed to the antique shops one way, to the restaurants the other.'"

(I love that last sentence best of any part of this story.)

Sixteen years later, I have heard that it is not unusual for an upstanding member of the Armadale or Malvern community, paying their rates notice or animal registration at the town hall, to also take a moment to inform council workers that the statues across the road are diabolical objects straight out of the Pit. The sculptures have been on the National Trust Register - the Trust entry is worth looking at if you're interested in this sort of stuff - since 1994, because supposedly for future generations "this work will be seen as the first Post Modern sculpture in Melbourne."

The National Trust don't specify what they mean by "Post Modern." I suspect they have in mind the 1980s fashion for historical pastiche. Whatever. I think it's true that this is a very adventurous piece of public art, but, to be brutally honest, that doesn't make it any less uggerly, or naff.

truly Buns of Steel.

look mummy, a Puddy Tat!

Paris Hilton wears these boots.

Am I being a bit mean, d'ye think?


Zoe said...

I think you've been quite kind.

I'm tempted to take up your meme, as Canberra has some of the most abysmal public sculpture imaginable. But it would be unkind to everyone.

Mel said...

I love your statuary posts. I had to write an article for work about the Helen Lempriere award, and I was looking at the pics you posted as I wrote it.

In answer to your question, I think they are quite ludicrous, but I'm pleased they are in Malvern, because their aggressive naffness is a pleasant antidote to the other naffness in the area.

I want you to do that sculpture on the north-west corner of Elizabeth and Collins St in the city.

Fluffy said...

mel - is that the one with the owl?

lucy tartan said...

I don't know it either. But I'll go check it out.

Handbag Express said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Poor Malvern, These other worldly creatures disturbing their little town of fluff!
Go get 'em.

Pete from sleepy Blackburn said...

Just from a raw visual-impact perspective, I love this sculpture, as I suspect most of the younger (pre- 40yo's) do! I would be surprised if any of the non-hardline Christian vocal contrarians are now under 60! : tells you something about the generation gap. In today's 'Game of Thrones'-style TV environment, the interpretation of this work is becoming less and less contentious.

Unknown said...

As a third generation Malverian, I have always loved the sculpture. It somehow complements the antiquity of the area (including the aforementioned objectors) as well as the antique shops (pioneered by Blamires) that mushroomed out of control in High Street from the 1950's.
The sculpture resides on the spot once inhabitated by motor wreckers (Monza Motors). Trust me, it is a very big improvement on car wrecks and scrap metal. The current city square also previously included two nondescript buildings; a dentist (Dr Williams?), and Ron Palmer's jewellery store.All three premises were demolished for the square.