Sep 20, 2014

Mildura Revisited: a beautiful thing

Tom McCullough (center) at the opening of Mildura Revisited

For Australian Sculpture there was an extraordinary series of events running from the 60s through to the end of the 70s called the Mildura Sculpture Triennials (a less extraordinary version of the shows continued into the 80s).

For those that don't know, Mildura is a Victorian rural city located on the Murray River close to the borders of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, i.e. a very long way from anywhere.

It would be unthinkable for a small regional gallery to contemplate having the biggest, best and most comprehensive national sculpture shows, but that's how it was back then. You could argue that it was just a fabulous accident, the curator/gallery director Tom McCullough employed a technique that I'll call democratic curating, which meant that he asked the better known sculptors who they thought should be in his shows and then sent those suggested invitations to exhibit.The slightly unexpected result of this was that the sculptors from all over Australia + their students would go to Mildura to set up or even create their work. This made it unique and as much the wildest art party that could ever be imagined and the place in Australia were most new art ideas were exchanged. Whenever I'd travel overseas, which was quite often in those days, international sculptors would ask about things in Oz and of course I'd tell them about our democratic sculpture surveys in Mildura - put bluntly, they were insanely jealous.

To cut a long story short Tom's relationship with his employers deteriorated so in 1978 he resigned, leaving many sculptors deeply traumatized and Mildura just returned to "normality".

But 40 years on Ken Scarlett, Australia's "Mr Sculpture"now in his 80s, thought that Mildura was so important that he should curate a retrospective celebrating those wonderful times, a very major undertaking - and again many of the now old sculptors made the very long journey back to Mildura for the opening events, including me (8hr drive).

Ken Scarlett partially obscured by woman with dark hair & 
Kevin Mortensen, leather jacket, the sculptor who made made 
the most legendary works for Mildura 

Again I think something accidental occurred, you realise that very few artists ever get to see their youthful exuberance celebrated in this caring and sympathetic way, giving them a really beautiful reminder of their contribution to a nation's culture. Should happen more often - I reckon.

So close to the "outback" I drove further north along a ratty dirt road into the desert and came across this delightful little scene - or was it a truly masterful example of Mildura Sculpture Triennial site specific art?

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