Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Art Gallery of South Australia: Part Two

The Sisters (1954) by Arthur Boyd
I thought I'd mainly focus on the sculpture in this post, as there was a lot of it about, including this intriguin piece by a man better known for his landscapes and war art. It confronts the visitor to the gallery, being in the first room in front of a range of Sidney Nolan's portraits.

There were some very fine sculptures and pieces of metalwork in the gallery too. Many silversmiths arrived from Europe and adapted their skills to the Australian environment.

Perfume bottle holder (circa 1875) by Henry Steiner
Steiner was born in Rodenberg near Hanover in 1835. He arrived in Adelaide in 1858 and set up in business on his own account around 1860. Steiner was a very prolific silversmith who exhibited at many of the great 19th century exhibitions around the world.

This is an actual emu egg that encloses two perfume bottles. The egg has been cut in two and is hinged to allow access to the perfume bottles inside. The bottles are made of two very large beans from a Queensland tree, with silver necks and caps added to make them functional as perfume containers. It is an excellent example of the silversmith's ability to combine skills in engineering and design in the production of this visually striking, as well as mechanically clever, work of art - the emu finial activated the locking mechanism.

Detail from Julius Schomburgk's Presentation Cup (1861)
Schomburgk emigrated to South Australia from Prussia in 1850 and soon established a solid reputation for his silversmithing and design skills. A committed exponent of Victorian naturalism, he incorporated in his designs a vast range of sculptural motifs representing Australian flora and fauna in combination with figures of Aborigines.

Curator Robert Reason says, “For me, the work from 1850s and sixties is the most fascinating – you can really sense these European trained silversmiths grappling with their new environment and see them responding with different design solutions to Australia’s unique flora and fauna and Aboriginal people.”

Bishop Augustus Short Testimonial Candelabrum (1876) by Henry Steiner
Table (1878) by Henry Hugentobler and Conrad Sturm

This flamboyant table is an outstanding example of the technique known as marquetry, in which pieces of contrasting timbers are inlaid on a surface in decorative patterns. Reported to contain 30,000 pieces of timber (Australian red cedar; pine; stringy bark; red gum; black gun), it is the most elaborate example of nineteenth century South Australian furniture. It was made as a display piece and exhibited at the Sydney and Melbourne international exhibitions of 1879 and 1880 respectively.

Wreath of hair in a floral design (circa 1880) attributed to Zelma Sobels
I don't know why, but I've always found things made out of human hair a bit creepy. Actually, I suppose I do know why; it's the thought of people being forced to cut or shave their hair for money, or in concentration camps. Piles of hair on hairdressers' floors always makes me shudder as it was attached so recently and now it's lifeless. Hair in plugholes makes me feel ill and I always very carefully dispose of mine - nail clippings too: those things have power in the wrong hands.

Eros (1892-93) by Alfred Gilbert
I'm not really sure what this statue is doing in the Australian section, but I like it, so I've included the picture. And he looks pretty good there too.

Transitional shield (circa 1930) - artist unknown
This early South Australian shield has been carved from a dense hardwood and then burnt and scraped back to create a tortoise shell-like appearance before being incised with delicate decorations. The shield is described as a transitional shield because it combines the traditional form of a parrying shield, used as both a weapon and to parry the enemy away, with decorative elements from a non-Indigenous culture. The inclusion of introduced species such as camels, horses and cattle provide a fascinating and succinct synopsis of European contact. The focus on the kangaroo and emu can be read as both Aboriginal totem or game images and as a reference to the Australian coat of arms.

Caprice (1935) by Barbara Tribe
This glorious sculpture won Tribe a New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship when she was just 22. The scholarship provided £250 per annum for two years’ travel, plus the return fare to Southampton. Not since its inception in 1900 had this scholarship been awarded to a sculptor, or to a woman – an exceptional achievement.

I love the curvaceous warmth and exuberance of this sculpture. It did not surprise me to learn that Barbara Tribe, born in Sydney to recent immigrant parents, was a proficient swimmer and body surfer who represented her state. I can image that Caprice has just emerged from a swim in the ocean and is stretching her body on the rocks.

Transmutation (2010) by Caroline Rothwell
This is from Rothwell's website: "Transmutation, a pre-Darwinian word used to describe ideas of evolutionary change is also an alchemical term referring to the attempt to change a base metal into a precious metal. Both these terms are relevant to Caroline Rothwell’s practice where science, art and perception collide.

"Rothwell’s work revolves around our relationship with the natural world, particularly how the unintended consequences of our past crash into present and future technologies and environmental politics. Her work also explores very sculptural concerns where ideas of monumentality and process are challenged. Form gains a sense of liquidity, what appears light may be tremendously heavy or vice versa, industrial materials are hand-crafted. Things are never quite as they seem."


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