Friday, 14 April 2006

Statuary Friday #24

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

#24 Genii

Victoria Gardens, Melbourne

Anonymous commenter writes: "I love these treasures amongst Melbourne streets too. If suggestions are truly welcome, I'd put my hand up for another of Tom Bass' works, 'Genii' in Queen Victoria gardens. It's a work that evokes joy in a way that twee dogs and goggle-eyed businessmen can never achieve." As luck would have it I had plans to write about the sculpture soon, we are.

This sculpture was made by Bass in 1973 for Melbourne City Council. The plaque tells us it is "A fantasy play sculpture for children" and names it "Genie" - most other sources spell the name the same way Anonymous did. It's bronze, about 1.6m high, and stands in Victoria Gardens, on the south bank of the Yarra River, below St Kilda Rd - within sight of the Queen Victoria Memorial.

One of the nice things about outdoor sculptures which aren't placed up on pediments out of reach is that people can touch them. Where the sculpture is bronze, the surface of the metal shows the traces of all those generations of hands and clothed limbs - it is buffed, burnished, brighter than the dark matte surfaces elsewhere. Sometimes the bright parts are just the ones that get brushed against because they're nearest the footpath. Other times, though, they're a visible record of which parts of the sculpture draw in and hold the spectator's attention. The Weary Dunlop statue has a bright hand where visitors have caressed it; Larry LaTrobe's head and muzzle are polished and shiny. (Here's a story about a sculpture where the many-hands-touching effect turned out to be rather unfortunate.)

All this is a prologue to saying that Genii is the most burnished and rich-patinaed sculpture in Melbourne. It is obviously a great success with children - while I was there kids were all over it. Its back, shoulders, haunches, brow, and tail are smooth and glowing, they almost look alive. The creature is alien and exotic but not frightening; it's strange but not unfamiliar.

Last time I posted about Tom Bass, David recommended the sculptor's memoir, Tom Bass: Totem Maker. It's a very interesting book. Here's part of what Bass says about "Genii."

I was asked by the Melbourne City Council to make a sculpture to go in the park immediately opposite the National Gallery, near their famous floral clock. There's a beautiful open space there.

This was a place where people might go for a picnic immediately after taking their children to the gallery on a Sunday. Since the children would come here after spending a couple of hours in a place where they are restricted, where they can't touch anything, I thought how good it would be for them to be released from that restriction and formality and to have a sculpture that they could play with, touch, sit on and stand on.

I went further and thought of particular things that are in the National Gallery and I incorporated references to them in the sculpture. I remembered, for example, a magnificent Sumerian head with a mysterious stylised headdress. It contained that beautiful motif of those tight little curls which they used to render their hair. I carved some of these into the creature which I had made -- a strange little mythical beast which I called The Genii.

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jacqueline said...

Heh. I like the link: 'Lewd rubbing'. Well, it's better than seagulls crapping on you I guess.

Also, I feel the urge to go and climb on this statue. (This statue, not the lewd one.)

Ampersand Duck said...

What a great motivation for designing a statue! It annoys me when something is very public but deemed untouchable.

One informal example here in Canberra is the statue of kangaroos in Commonwealth Park; the baby kangaroo is just the right height to climb (and children frequently do), but the sculptor (Jan Brown) gets very annoyed with them for doing so, because she says she didn't make it strong enough to withstand lots of climbing. I think in that case she should have either made it stronger or asked to have it put it out of reach.

There's no public sign forbidding climbing, so I guess the baby kangaroo will continue to be climbed -- until it breaks. (but that's ok... I like to see it used, a-la Adam Lindsay Gordon's Potter's Clay).

jo(e) said...

This might be my favorite from all of your Friday statue blogging. The design is so cool and the photos just make me want to go and touch it ....

kate said...

I'm so out of touch with The Other Side of the Yarra, that I've never seen this sculpture, but I'm inspired to go and look at it now - thanks

worldpeace_and_aspeedboat said...

oh, that is a lovely sculpture... it's just delicious. the shapes, both positive and negative, and the fact that he conciously thought about children wanting to climb it. bloody bravo!

Anonymous said...

Have you done Deborah Halpern's Angel? It's back (or coming back) after a touch up.

Instead of the gallery moat -- how I hate the fecking fountain spray as I walk up Southbank Blvd on windy days -- it's gonna be at Birrarung Marr and we'll be able to walk around it. Yay. How I love that happy, friendly, womanly thing.