Feb 16, 2016

HARD EDGE Abstract Sculpture 1960s-70s....deja vu NGV

HARD EDGE Abstract Sculpture 
1960s-70s....deja vu @ NGV

C. Elwyn Dennis  Evidence of origin 1971 wood, lacquer

As my title suggests this exhibition has hurtled me back to the time when I was in my 20s and I'm reminded of the great artistic arguments and conceptual battles of my youth - my generation would have questioned the abstractness of Elwyn Dennis, Inga King and Lenton Parr. To me they were always abstracted rather than abstract, the Dennis above is quite organic and seems to defer to the biomorphism of Arp, Brancusi, Calder and Moore. To me this delightful sculpture is a personage, possibly a kind warrior carrying a huge drum stick rather than a spear.

Inge King Winged image 1964 welded steel

This is an abstracted angel or bird, standing on a traditional plinth - it is what happens when sculptors discover a liberating material and process, steel and welding on this occasion - they make the old ideas in the new material. Why was steel so liberating? put simply, it meant that a sculptor could make a permanent large object more quickly and cheaply than ever before. My generation couldn't understand why these steel sculptors had what professional welders would disparagingly call "cocky shit" welds and lousy examples of oxy-acetylene cutting. Cocky shit being a reference to the incompetence of farmer's welding skills.

Lenton Parr  Daedalus 1965 steel, enamel paint
To me this is a more abstracted person than the Inga King work, a kind of skeletal Henry Moore made of steel, interestingly both Lenton Parr and Ron Robertson-Swann spent time as Henry Moore's assistants. And while we're on interesting groupings in the exhibition, Robertson-Swann, David Wilson and I were the 3 sculptors invited by Denton Corker and Marshall to submit ideas for the Melbourne City Square sculpture, won by Ron with Vault. Wilson, Parr and I all lived within a short distance of each other in Hampton/Sandringham and were rudely called by Patrick McCaughey members of the Bayside Mafia. Robertson-Swann and Coleing disagreed so much about what contemporary steel sculpture should be that they once came to blows. 

What we really see in this exhibition is an evolution from abstracted to abstract.

Ron Robertson-Swann Maquette for Vault 1978 synthetic polymer paint on balsa wood

Clearly this doesn't appear to be representing any known thing, it is a group of related shapes that wander around engagingly in space. At the time we believed we were participating in a compositional revolution based on the idea that instead making a sculpture where the parts were subordinate to the whole (as with traditional thinking) our works were made up of parts that remained themselves, like words in a sentence, and were held together by the same kind of logic. 

David Wilson Untitled sculpture 12.71 1971 welded steel, lacquer

See what I mean? Wilson's work is just like a sentence, linear, logical and written on the ground - which in itself was a very exciting discovery for us. There was something very subversive about making flat sculpture, it was a kind of, Q: "when is a painting a sculpture?" A: "when it's lying flat on the floor", moment for us. 

Clive Murray-White Untitled yellow sculpture 1970 spun steel, paint

I've always claimed that this wasn't abstract at all, it is real things, doing real things in real space, one section is flat and just covers up a significant area of floor, the middle section appears capable of having grown up through the floor like a sort of bubble, so maybe there's a hole under it blowing stuff into it and the third section does the unthinkable, it flies. I'm very glad the NGV photographer got it dead right (thanks), perfectly arranged on the perfect white ground which allows viewers to see the other main concept in the work which only comes into view from this angle. From the way I see it, the middle section appears capable of hovering above the flat one, and the flying section hovers over the middle one - so in a sense, visually we have an impossible cone like form where slices fly above each other. 

I hope I'm not imagining this but, I do seem to remember one other thing that excited me a great deal 45 odd years ago, I think there's a little dent in the smallest flying section, it is as if the shape had taken off on its own and bumped into something pretty hard, a bit like an out of control drone.  

All photos courtesy of the NGV

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