Tag Archives: Sculpture

Stop making sense: Remembering Flugelman’s Dobell Memorial

I am not an art critic. I am not an art academic. I have not, cannot and will never wear a black beret in public. I am just a passer-by.

 From my childhood in the early 1980’s to my young adulthood in the early 1990’s, I passed by Bert Flugelman’s Dobell memorial sculpture in Martin place, Sydney. Martin place was once the hub of the Sydney CBD. There was even the urban myth that the construction of the underground railway station at Martin place masked an even more elaborate array of tunnels connecting business with government departments. The banks were there, the politicians were there and for a time so was Bert Flugelman’s sculpture.

Formerly a thorough fare for cars, buses and ANZAC day marches the area was redeveloped into a three sectioned mall during the 1970’s. Like fondue parties, malls were very popular back then. So too was public sculpture, the more abstract the better. For Bert Flugelman, it must have seemed like a match made in heaven. Winning the contract to devise a sculpture for the Dobell Memorial in Martin place in 1979, Flugelman’s work immediately drew controversy. For many Sydneysiders the work involved a fair amount of head scratching. It is a structure, made of metal cubes rising several metres tall.  You cannot squint your eyes and hope to recognise something, unless that something is an elongated reflection of you and your bicycle in the polished metal. But like the Harbour Bridge, and Opera House before it, what the public don’t understand immediately they simply rename. The “Silver Shish Kebab” was born.  

 Slightly less accommodating were those “in the know”. Lloyd Rees critiqued its choice of location as cluttering up the mall space, an ongoing theme echoed later by Sydney Mayor Frank Sartor. But Martin place was the very spot where this work needed to be.  It slowed life down. Like a crest of an iceberg its  multiple levels of polished metal cubes reflected  not only the visible aspects of  city life, but in the context of Martin place’s underground asked you to look under the surface and question how  everything was put together. This self-reflexivity represents the good part of the 1970’s, the spiritual quest part so often blurred by legends of hedonism, Barry Manilow and fondue parties. From the 1980’s onward the world got a lot faster, Martin place changed too. The banks merged and the politicians moved away. Clothing stores and coffee shops moved in.

 There wasn’t time in the city for people to reflect on anything anymore, we had to move forward with the Olympics and the Bert Flugelman sculpture was moved on. It now sits on a traffic island in the shadows of a nearby street. Not a good end to a story. Upon hearing about Bert Flugelman’s death earlier this year I revisited his work. Icon of the 70’s?  Perhaps not. Take a look again, it made sense then, it makes more sense now.

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The medium is still worth three hundred words

You don’t get many rights as you get older. But with age comes great responsibility. It is the responsibility to tell some art aficionado’s that they are full of ….you know what I mean. It seems at times as though humanity is losing the emotional battle of artist versus medium, and trading it for the lesser more unconscious one of which artist has the biggest marketing tag line. Contemporary art is seemingly becoming less about a reaction to the contemporary world and more about artists saying “hey, look at me, I’ve discovered 3d printing”. Artists are not entirely at fault here, in a world now run by marketing departments it is tempting for  to jump to new media at the expense of the old. 3d printing sounds so much sexier in print than oil painting ,water colour or even sculpture. In an effort to encourage and educate the public to the joy of art through many avenues, promoting new mediums seems like  a good way to capture public attention.

I am a firm believer in art for the people. I am not arguing for a return to the renaissance or the banning of photography post 1992. Art needs to be accessible to inspire us all to be more creative. This can include the use of contemporary mediums. However, it seems that arts’ marketing is run more by marketers than art lovers. The focus on the trend level of a medium as opposed to its artistic merit. Doesn’t the artistic battle for the “new” in traditional mediums provide a valid promotional point for the public?  Yes, it does. But tradition is harder to sell to audiences. In an era in which nobody seems to have time for anything except for themselves, old mediums are time intense. They take time to create, consume and market. Meanwhile, the arts is increasingly becoming a numbers game.  But there is a method to my marketing madness. Art changes the world not only through its content but via the way it is constructed. Good art can be found in digital formats, but so can much of our everyday lives. It is the medium that challenges our mindset to focus beyond the distortion. Old mediums take us out of our comfortable interpretation zone .They are no longer the status quo, they relate better to mercury and velum than binary and hi definition. In doing so audiences are forced to actively converse with a work, rather than passively nod in acceptance.

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