Sunday, 19 February 2006

Statuary Friday #22

My ongoing blog project: documenting Melbourne's open-air public sculpture in words and pictures. Suggestions for future episodes are more than welcome.

#22 Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch (Batman Swanston & Hoddle)

Corner of Swanston Walk and Bourke Street, City

Let's be clear: I do not like this sculpture. Of the collection of public art commissions the City of Melbourne made in the 1990s this is the least defensible, (except possibly for the brass dog on the edge of the City Square.) Yes I am a killjoy and a snob, all that. Don't worry, I despise many other kinds of art just as profoundly.

So, what have we got? Three flattened elongated and droopy male figures in suits, with small hairless puckered heads and overactive thyroids; the faces are absolutely vacant. Each man has a manbag. They're ponied up in a teetering row, like an anachronistic conga-line of suckholes. They're gawking round at the Big City like hicks. But why? Of all the many many corners in the CBD this is one of the least intimidating.

This sculpture is a very cheap thrill indeed. It's cartoony and bland and once you've glanced at it & maybe let out a small chuckle or two, you've gotten out of it everything that's there to get. Kind of like Soundbite Art. Maybe that's enough on a busy street corner right in the middle of town where everyone is in a tearing hurry on their way to somewhere else. I dunno. Sure, the average spectator is in motion and not hanging about all contemplative-ish; but don't we all pass it over and over and over and over again? It's be nice if there was some idea lurking under the surface that you could think through piece by piece, gradually inching your way downward and inward, uncovering a bit more each time. It wouldn't need to be some uplifting or philosophical message - anything would do. Anything! Anything that you didn't instantly forget about.

I can't even seriously wonder what they are carrying in their cases, because it's obvious they're just decorative. I don't like the name either. Furriners perhaps won't recognise the names as distinctively Melburnian and redolent of local history - one the name of a major throughfare, one is the name of the man who laid out our town and had another major road named after him, and the third is the name of our drunken syphilitic con artiste of a Founding Father. That's way too much random backstory for a silly, simple thing like this to live up to and tie together.


Grumpy said...

I only found you recently Lucy and just love your vitriol.

Lucy Tartan said...

Oh! er, thanks Grumpy (I guess..!) I usually try to be a lot nicer than this.

kate said...

I quite like them. I agree they aren't contemplative and deep - I just don't think they have to be. People interact with them, they laugh, they stick ciggies in their mouths, they walk between them. It is, as you say, the least intimidating corner in the city. This is one of the least intimidating sculptures. We need all kinds of art to make the city interesting, and to speak to different sorts of people.

The dog is also pretty unintimidating, and appeals to all sorts of people. There was a bigger dog by the same artist outside the Shepparton Art Gallery. It was incredibly popular, especially with kids, but sadly it was torched.

elsewhere said...

I wondered if those figures were meant to be in the style of that Archibald Prize winner who painted those very cartoonish portraits of eminent bods...his name escapes me for the moment.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Like them or not - the reality is people interact with them all the time. Apart from the idiots who like to put cigarettes into their mouths, these are one of the most photographed sculptures I have seen in the CBD.

I see it as 'entry level art' - people who have no exposure to visual arts need to begin to engage somehow. You may argue that it is like using comics to teach people to read - but I think it has a place. Art can't be all Richard Larter or Tracey Emmin - you've got to start somewhere.

R H said...

Well said.

David said...

I am into them actually, particularly as they are human scale and you can almost mistake them for human. Is that bronze paperboy still in Hawthorn road en route to Caulfield? Batman's syphilis shouldn't define him, I am sure he had many other awful things about him and who knows? Perhaps some good (he did make a token effort to buy the region from the locals, which is more than most white people did in the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century!).

Grumpy said...

I usually try to be a lot nicer than this. (said Lucy)

So I see Lucy. I was reading back some of your other sculpture crits and a sadly dissappointed that you didn't rip them limb from limb. You must really dislike this piece!

Lucy Tartan said...

I seem to find myself in this position quite often and usually with no idea how I came to be here; I mean slagging off some thing or other, on grounds that it's in some way not as good as it might have been, if only the maker(s) had done their work a bit more thoughtfully. And to make matters worse I don't even have the courage of my convictions & usually back down when someone points out, rightfully and reasonably, that not every aesthetic object in the world needs to be a masterpiece, & that's even truer when the thing is generally liked.

Actually it really gets on my wick when people like this fellow start droning on about masterpieces.


I'm sure Batman did have some very good things about him, indeed I much prefer him to fancy prats like Charles La Trobe; and the merits of this "contract" he tried to enter into with the local indigenous people is very much open to debate; but my feeling is it was a pretty shameful and low thing to do. Hypocritical. If it's in his favour that the gesture acknowledges the sovereignty of the traditional owners, and the fact that they were actually people, with whom he could negotiate, (though he'd earlier enthusiastically joined in the attempt to round up the Tasmanian Aborigines) it emphatically doesn't reflect well on him that he thought he could get away with "paying" a few knives and shirts and mirrors and blankets and bags of flour for half a million acres of land. He only did it this way because he'd never have got so much so cheap going through the Sydney toffs administering the Crown land grants. He'd have had to pay a pound an acre for a pastoral lease. A complete chancer.

Not that this has much to do with the sculptures, except that the sculptures don't have much to do with Mr Batman.

Ben.H said...

I always liked these guys, if only because they appeared to be intentionally created for punters to stick fags in their gobs.

If I remember right, Louise Weaver did this sculpture, and everything else of her's I've seen is pretty much obsessed with the cigs. (Judging from some of her other stuff, her original proposal could well have been three men created entirely from butts.)


JahTeh said...

I only came across these after the last grogblog and was fascinated. I walked, well hobbled, across with the lights and they were right in my face. I was glad it was at night so I could have a really good look without too many people around. They were just so unexpected.

Chris Boyd said...

These are stunning photos. How can you 'dis' the metal men when they've provoked such fantastic images? I love the one with suit & leather shoes facing-off all the bare legs and thonged feet. And the one in which the "skipping girl" in the blue dress looks like she's dancing, hand-in-hand with one. (Hey, maybe you subtly prove your point by showing what a great eye you've got...)

Lucy Tartan said...

Well, thanks Chris. Digital cameras make it pretty easy to take okay pictures, you can just chuck out the rubbish ones. & Photoshop helps too.

Seems I'm just wrong about these guys. Too many people are very much into them. That's a good thing to know. Never mind, one day I will happen upon a sculpture we can all passionately hate together.

Something else I just remembered: I forgot to say in the post who made these. The artists are Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn.

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Ethen said...

what are those things awful looking statues and costumes