Tony Coleing, installing Happy Christmas, 1978, mixed media, dimensions variable, on the lawn outside the Mildura Arts Centre; 7th Mildura Triennial 1978.
Noelene Lucas, Untitled, 1973, angle iron, plastic, satin and mixed media, 305 x 305 x 183cm; Sculptursape ’73.
Mildura ANNE SANDERS Bert Flugelman, Untitled 1975, six polished aluminium tetrahedrons buried in a 450cm-deep trench, Commonwealth Park, Canberra. Photographs of the process of excavation and burial were exhibited at the 1975 Mildura Sculpture Triennial along with the other sculptures exhibited in Canberra.
ifty years after the inaugural 1961 Mildara Prize for Sculpture, the subsequent Mildura Sculpture Triennials have appeared as a ghostly appendage in the history of contemporary Australian art practice despite their seminal influence on art advocacy and the large-scale international national art exhibition model. The conceptual framework of emerging artists and new definitions of art, selection based upon peer review, and a redefinition of audience as both participants and practitioners were the basis – the ‘Mildura model’ – of the Mildura Sculpture events of the 1970s – the ‘Mildura model’ – well before the advent in 1973 of Whitlam's Australian Council for the Arts. Tom McCullough, the second and key director of the Mildura Sculpture Triennial, literally transferred this model to the metropolitan centre when he was appointed as director of the second Biennale of Sydney, 1976. In undertaking a critical reappraisal of the Mildura Sculpture Triennials, this article focuses on the nexus between rapid changes in art education and the evolution of the Mildura model. It is important from a contemporary 21st century perspective to comprehend the sheer scale and nature, as well as the rapidity of introduction and investment that accompanied www.artmonthly.org.au
these changes in tertiary art education from the mid to late 1960s and throughout the 1970s: the expanded employment opportunities for artists (particularly sculptors), the rapidly increasing numbers of students, the raised status of artists, and the pressure to exhibit new work by the new category of emerging artists were but a few of the manifestations in response to these policy changes.1 During this period, new ideas about artforms, new curricula for the teaching of art within a tertiary rather than technical sector, new ways of viewing and exhibiting contemporary experimental art, new critical theories and political awareness within expanded institutional structures and backed by significant government patronage, came into effect throughout Australia. This change was rapid and interconnected, and specific to the development of the Mildura model was the ‘profound dependence on the education system’ by this new and emergent visual arts profession, which constituted ‘the indispensable means of its [the profession’s] reproduction and growth’.2 The Mildura Arts Centre and its triennials, under the direction of Tom McCullough, became a unique site for the convergence of many significant players within these rapidly sultry summer issue 246 39
1/ 6th Noel Hutchison, Transformations – Mildura Concrete, 1975, concrete, 15 x 30m; Mildura Sculpture Triennial 1975. 2/ Installation shot of Ross Grounds and his student assistants, Untitled [later accounts refer to this as Environmental Well or Ecology Well], 1973, wood, galvanised iron, hessian bags filled with sand, wire, rope, mesh and doves, 610cm (depth), 244 cm (diameter); Sculpturscape ’73. Photograph by Ken Scarlett.
expanding institutions to exchange, discuss, argue, lobby, teach and make art in one place at the same time. Far from being just a provincial centre that offered the Australian art world a sculptural jamboree every three years, Mildura was an integral part of these new institutional processes. It is significant that at the beginning of the 1970s, a public art gallery with sufficient government funding was able to present and commission non-commercial, experimental artworks by an increasing number of emerging artists and students, who could interact with some of Australia’s leading contemporary sculptors at a gathering of major art world figures. The gatherings at the Mildura Sculpture Triennials advanced the identity of a self-defined professional group and McCullough’s insistence on non-hierarchical, encyclopaedic survey shows, inclusive of object to post-object to spontaneous collaborative and performative works, was his trademark. They were mostly characterised by a sincere and radical desire to change the world. His collaborative selection process was based around a core group of increasingly tertiary-based artist-teachers as advisors, and drew on their recommendations of students and emerging artists for invitation. The rapid expansion in the number of art school participants, both as exhibitors and students, at each subsequent 40
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triennial from 1970 onwards was indicative of the expansion in the number of art schools required to cope with the enrolment demands of a new generation. However, what was masked by the rapid increase in the total numbers at Mildura was the beginning of an active peer selection process. The core selectors were based principally in institutions in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland. They were responsible for the production and certification of a new professional class of artists and were a critical part of the coming into being of a ‘field of competition for the monopoly of artistic legitimation’ that developed and gathered momentum in the 1970s in Australia.3 The increasing professionalism of many of the core triennial artists was not based on involvement in or consecration by the commercial market, but through a new economy made possible via government patronage. This is evident in their employment within the new tertiary art training systems, their recognition through Australia Council grants and residencies, their inclusion in international biennales and survey exhibitions of contemporary art at state and regional galleries as well as their participation in various new art organisation boards and committees. The rapidity of the development in Australia of a parallel economic structure for artists, and most specifically for sculptors and emerging new media artists, is remarkable. In less than a decade a new economic system for visual art and artists had come into being. The difference between the Mildura triennial events of the 1960s and 1970s was marked by major changes: from prize format to collection acquisition; from a locally sponsored event to one supported principally through state and federal arts funding; from selections made by the directors of the state galleries of existing work made by established sculptors to invitations based upon recommendations provided by the core group of sculptor/lecturers and advisors in consultation with the triennial director to emerging artists and students for experimental and ephemeral propositions made onsite. These were the precursors to new media in contemporary art practice. Mildura was not the genesis site of the development of new areas of art practice, rather its significance lay in its role as a critical nodal point in and expanding an increasingly complex network of systems of institutions and agents.
1970: The 4 th Mildura Sculpture Triennial The format change for the Mildura sculpture event in 1970 – from prize to invitational exhibition – was driven by a number of disparate needs. The 1967 Mildura Sculpture Prize had faced stiff competition from a number of well-funded, metropolitan-based sculpture prizes that had arisen in 1966. The 4th Mildura event was also facing direct competition from the Adelaide Festival. What McCullough and his Mildura Advisory Council needed was to present a fresh, challenging and ‘festival’type of event. He would have to cast his net wider. McCullough was also aware of the increasing dissatisfaction of many young sculptors towards the arbitrary nature of prizes, which tended to www.artmonthly.org.au
favour particular styles and objects over the emerging reality of a less stable, more discrete definitions of sculpture. The exhibiting opportunities for many recent art school graduates were limited, particularly for works that were ‘virtually nonsaleable experiments with a limited life expectancy’, and competition pressure for selection was also growing, as McCullough observed: ‘artists interested in sculpture are far more numerous than nine years ago.’4 There was also the beginning of a generational shift in key institutions: The Field exhibition which opened the new National Gallery of Victoria premises gave greater control to young curators such as Brian Finemore and John Stringer. The NGV had also appointed the first curator of sculpture in Australia, a young American sculptor, Elwyn Dennis. The Power Institute of Fine Arts opened at the University of Sydney, with the English sculptor and theoretician Dr Donald Brook employed as senior lecturer in Sculpture. Brook took John Power’s bequest to ‘make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts by means of lectures and teaching’ literally.5 Brook had already delivered the 2nd Power Contemporary Art Lecture in 1969 entitled ‘Flight from the Object’, which Daniel Thomas, the young Art Gallery of NSW curator of Australian Art, extended, as well as many artist contacts, to Tom McCullough, who noted: I was made aware of the interdependence of two & (sic) three dimensional art forms in 1970 when, at Daniel Thomas’ encouragement, I invited artists who were not known primarily as sculptors to exhibit at the 4th Mildura Sculpture Triennial. The show was acclaimed and provided a new impetus for sculpture in Australia…6
McCullough was now in contact with some of the alternative spaces that were the gathering places for many younger artists working in experimental formats. He was also in contact with John Davis and the ‘Hampton Mafia’ – a group of sculptors and artists who lived within the same bayside area in Melbourne, nearly all employed as lecturers in Melbourne’s evolving tertiary art school system. In New Zealand, Gil Docking, Director of the Auckland City Gallery, in discussion with Jim Allen from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, provided contacts with New Zealand artists. This shift in control of selection away from the state gallery directors to one where McCullough made direct contact with the artists enabled him to have his finger on the pulse regarding the rapid changes and developments in artistic practice. For the participating sculptors, artists, lecturers and students, there was a dawning recognition of a burgeoning national professional identity. As Noel Hutchison observed, ‘we all met for the first time as a core group’ at the 1970 event, which thus marked the beginning of Mildura’s role as a national think-tank; the first building blocks in what could be called the Mildura model had been laid.7
Sculpturscape ’73: 5 th Mildura Triennial In November 1969, McCullough visited the Christo installation at Little Bay in Sydney, took lots of slides, and gave talks at the Mildura Arts Centre. Following the 4th triennial event www.artmonthly.org.au
1/ (l-r) Chairman of the Biennale of Sydney, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis; Director, 2nd Biennale of Sydney, Tom McCullough; and Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Fraser, at the opening of 2nd Biennale of Sydney 1976, Recent International Forms in Art, 12 November 1976. 2/ Members of the Australia Council’s first Visual Arts Board and staff on tour in Mildura 1975. From left standing: Noella Yuill, James Gleeson, Mary Shaw, Elizabeth Churcher, John Baily, Bruce Le Compte, Ann Lewis, Rie Heymans, Ron Robertson Swann; front: Klaus Kuziow, Katrina Rumley and Richard Lund; 6th Mildura Sculpture Triennial 1975. Reproduced courtesy Leon Paroissien.
in 1970, he took up the prestigious Gulbenkian fellowship for professional development awarded by the Art Galleries Association of Australia and spent seven months travelling through Japan, Europe, England and the USA. Both experiences came together in his development of a feasibility study for a unique, national sculpture park on the disused river flats below the Mildura Arts Centre. In 1972, the Mildura Council granted permission for the Arts Centre to use the site for Sculpturscape ’73; in McCullough’s words, ‘a post-Christo landscape in which an Australian public gallery becomes totally concerned with the outstallation of important works which define, react to … a set environment’.8 It was in the convergence and conflicts of a number of competing needs – those of McCullough, the Mildura Art Centre, its management and Council, the core group of mainly sculptor-teachers, and the new funding agencies (state and federal) – that a more distinctive and complex Mildura model was forged. McCullough was now in direct contact with sculptors, particularly those talent-spotters teaching in the new colleges of advanced education with their access to recently graduated, sultry summer issue 246 41
Jill Orr, Strung Out, timber and rope, 1.83 x 6.10 x 1.83m; 6th Mildura Sculpture Triennial 1975.
emerging artists, and to students as willing assistants. By â€™73, McCullough had broadened his vision to become both an entrepreneurial commissioner-curator as well as a national tour organiser for an exhibition of French sculptures which was to launch Sculpturscape â€™73 at Mildura Arts Centre, and occupy the gallery spaces. Consequently three sculptors from Melbourne and fifteen from Sydney publicly threatened to boycott the Triennial as a political gesture of rebuke to the French nuclear bombing of a Polynesian atoll. However, as John Davis and Clive Murray White from Melbourne stated, what was more important to them as artists was the feeling that the French exhibition would overshadow what they regarded as â€˜theirâ€™ place. They wanted a more collaborative approach to how their work was exhibited, viewed and critiqued. The very concept of Sculpturscape, the fact that participants had to be prepared to work onsite over time and in a challenging landscape, was also a subtle self- and pre-selection process. McCullough had underestimated the importance of his core group who could determine the success or otherwise of his experimental event by their control of the pre-selection process of access to â€˜emergingâ€™ and â€˜avant-gardeâ€™ participants and assistants. The French exhibition was re-routed from Mildura at Triennial time â€“ the sculptors had won the day â€“ signifying that McCullough and his talent-spotters had virtually become equal partners in the collaboration and development of future Triennials. In August 1972 the Victorian government promised to assist in the development of Sculpturscape with a matching dollar-fordollar grant. By early 1973, then NGV Director and active
say hello to 42
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supporter of Milduraâ€™s sculpture events Eric Westbrook was appointed to direct the new Victorian Ministry for the Arts. On Australia Day 1973, the recently elected Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlamâ€™s announcement of a new Australian Council for the Arts, and his brief that the Council provide Cabinet with a budget for national funding of the arts by May, created a nationwide urgency for a peer-review process to designate policies and protocols to allocate money and status in less than six months. Opening at the beginning of April, Sculpturscape â€™73 with its well-regarded network and reputation, provided new agencies such as the Australian Council and the Victorian Ministry for the Arts with readymade peer advisory input into policy issues and funding priorities. It was the largest visual arts gathering to occur after the Australian Councilâ€™s formation, and its Visual and Plastic Art Board had already identified sculptors and â€˜avant-gardeâ€™ art as in need of support. The Mildura Sculpture Triennial events thus began the transition from a principally locally funded, organised and supported national event to a state and federally funded arts event, reflective of some of those agenciesâ€™ policy objectives and delivery expectations.
6 th Mildura Sculpture Exhibition: An opening feature for Arts Victoria â€™75 As the title suggests, the 1975 Mildura Triennial was the launch event for the state Ministry for the Arts year-long celebration of Victoriaâ€™s creativity. Hence the Triennial was moved back one year and McCullough was invited onto the Ministryâ€™s organising committee by Westbrook; both moves translated into extra funding and prestige for the Triennial. There were also significant movements within the core group of selectors. From Sydney University and its Tin Sheds, Bert Flugelman, Noel Sheridan and Donald Brook decamped to Adelaide: Brook as the foundation professor of visual arts at Flinders University; Flugelman as a sculpture lecturer at the South Australian School of Art; and Sheridan, a little later, as the director/manager for the newly created and Australia Councilfunded Experimental Art Foundation. Adelaideâ€™s position in relation to the Mildura Triennialâ€™s core advisors had now been trebled. One of Brookâ€™s first initiatives at Flinders University was to establish a university gallery collection of Australian postobject art, and Sheridan noted Mildura as a kind of proving ground: many of the participating artists and their networks in the 1975 Mildura Triennial formed the nucleus of the Experimental Art Foundationâ€™s post-object survey exhibition in 1976.
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In Sydney, Marr Grounds at Sydney University’s architecture department was a key advisor. McCullough was also in touch with sculptors at the National Art School, and the recently funded and revamped Sculpture Centre became an important network centre. In Melbourne, Patrick McCaughey was appointed as foundation professor of visual arts at Monash University, and at the University of Melbourne’s Ewing Gallery, the exhibition advisory committee included a number of sculpture lecturers who were also some of McCullough’s core advisors. The metropolitan concentration and interlinking of art schools, expanding university art history and theory departments, and university collections with experimental galleries intensified McCulloch’s network which met, literally, on the field at Mildura in March 1975 for this sixth Triennial which represented 105 artists (including 51% first-time participants) with a total of 149 works. McCullough introduced more ephemeral post-object and performance works as well as an increased number of photographic, film and video works. The event sprawled physically: not only did it occupy the gallery, manicured lawns, and Sculpturscape floodplain, it also moved into town taking up residence along Deakin Avenue and in empty premises such as the Ozone Theatre, a disused Deli, an abandoned office building and a petrol station. Staffing levels at the Mildura Arts Centre now totalled nine employees and McCullough could also count on a dedicated local volunteer base. Significantly, the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council with key staff and consultants chartered a bus to visit the Triennial. Clearly the Visual Arts Board regarded its funding contributions to the Mildura sculpture triennials of 1973 and 1975 as visible national successes. Here was a director who was promoting a range of emerging artists and experimental
practices and who had developed a model that was closer to the ‘kind of festivals that [international] biennales represented.’9
1976: The 2 nd Biennale of Sydney Director of the Visual Arts Board, Leon Paroissien, realised the value of the Mildura model as a vehicle to promote the VAB’s international objectives, and brokered an agreement with Franco Belgiorno-Nettis (the founder and principal sponsor of the BoS), which would satisfy Belgiorno-Nettis’s interest in sculpture and desire to continue to support an international biennale in Sydney. What the Visual Arts Board regarded as ‘innovative and experimental’ about the 1975 Mildura Sculpture Triennial, that they were seeking to replicate in the 2nd Biennale of Sydney, was founded in McCullough’s network, particularly his consultative peer-review selection process. McCullough offered the Board both the model and the expertise to realise this project. His 1976 BoS not only included local artists (twenty-two from Australia and New Zealand), but they ‘were presented – perhaps for the first time in Australia – side by side with their international colleagues.’10 Ironically, the successful transfer of the Mildura template to the metropolitan centre established a major competitor to the Mildura event for funds and attention – one that, because of its location, already enjoyed greater symbolic and cultural capital. The fact that McCullough could direct, consecutively, two similar types of events – the 1975 Mildura Sculpture Triennial and the 1976 Biennale of Sydney – is further evidence of a convergence of a national field of professional practice that moved from the margins to the centre with great rapidity.
1978: 7 th Mildura Sculpture Triennial and McCullough’s swansong McCullough’s dénoument from a nationally acclaimed Australian director of the highly successful 2nd BoS to forced resignation, just eighteen months later, as a regional gallery director was brutal and rapid. After the Whitlam government’s demise and the instalment of Fraser’s Razor Gang, there were serious cuts to federal and state government programs. Within five months of the successful delivery of the second BoS, McCullough’s application in 1977 to the Visual Arts Board for funding towards the 7th Mildura Sculpture Triennial was refused. Although after much lobbying, funding for the event and a reconnaissance trip for McCullough to the Paris Biennale and Documenta, was reinstated, damage to the Mildura brand had been done. In August 1977, Westbrook commissioned a feasibility study for a major arts festival in Melbourne to counter the perceived dominance of Sydney as a cultural capital and locus of the Australia Council, creating another potential metropolitan competitor for Mildura. For McCullough, there were also changes in key relationships that contributed to the downgrading of the Mildura events, the Mildura Arts Centre and his position. Both the NGV and AGSNW directors, Gordon Thomson and Peter Laverty respectively, who were well known to McCullough and supported the Sculpture Triennials, departed and were replaced by international directors. Another international appointee completed this restructuring: in 1977, Nick Waterlow was selected
Sunraysia Daily Newspaper headline, Thursday March 9 1978, Mildura; 7th Mildura Sculpture Triennial 1978
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as the director of the 3rd BoS. By 1977-78, many of the core group of selectors were senior lecturers in the tertiary art education system. They had moved beyond emerging status. Many of the students who had attended previous triennials were now lecturers themselves and taking their own students to participate in these events. Selectivity and rigour had become important criteria for the senior group, necessary in order to maintain their symbolic positions as top of their field in an increasingly competitive environment, fighting for shrinking funding. There were local issues as well. Following the 1975 Triennial event, the Mildura Arts Centre Advisory Council expressed concerns that the event’s state and federal funding imposed an unforseen expectation to deliver outcomes well beyond the city’s own rate-payers’ base. On McCullough’s return in 1977, this tension was further exacerbated by the Education Department’s refusal to continue funding two seconded positions to the staff of the Mildura Arts Centre, in response to heavy cuts in the department’s budget. McCullough was in the invidious position of being expected to deliver more with less. By late 1977, opposition from two Mildura City Councillors to the scheduled staging of the nude play Oh! Calcutta at the Mildura Arts Centre was a precursor to the restrictions exercised against McCullough and artists for the 7th Mildura Triennial in early 1978. McCullough’s resignation on 5 July 1978 was forced, following a Council memo which stated that its new policy of ‘introspection’ meant that it would only support arts in Mildura and not the state or the nation. McCullough’s swansong was the largest triennial event yet: 125 selected participants represented by 163 works. Of these, 54% were showing at Mildura for the first time. The premise that Mildura was principally an ‘experimental laboratory’ which encouraged a workshop attitude carried through from the Sculpturscape area to the many socially and politically framed performance works aimed at direct engagement with Mildura and the visiting art audiences. Changes in the selectors and selection process were reflected in the make-up of the participants, with almost 70% under thirty-three years of age reflecting the fact that by 1978 all states had made the transition to art education within the tertiary College of Advanced Education system, which was the product of the post-1965 radical changes to tertiary education policy in Australia. Collectively, the Mildura Sculpture Triennials of the 1970s and the model they offered were much more than just lenses through which to map the rapid changes in government policies, and their impact on art practice. These Triennials were important catalysts that helped to connect the emergent cultural and art educational institutions that would become defining features of the autonomous field of professional visual art practice in Australia.
This article is an edited version of a paper presented at the Mildura Palimpsest symposium ‘(to) give time to time’, held in collaboration with the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, at Mildura, 17 to 19 September 2010. 1. The four Mildura Sculpture Triennials between 1970 and 1978 provide an impact record of this rate of increase in the number of young Triennial participants. The changes in art education refer to the establishment of the parallel tertiary system of colleges of advanced education. 2. Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on art and literature, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 123. 3. Pierre Bourdieu, 1993: p. 252. 4. Tom McCullough, ‘Introduction’, The Fourth Mildura Sculpture Triennial 1970, Mildura Arts Centre, Mildura, 197, p. 5. 5. Bernard Smith, ‘Art historical studies in Australia with comments on research and publications since 1974’, Proceedings 1982-1983 The Australian Academy of the Humanities, 12, 1983, p. 46. 6. Tom McCullough, ‘Preparation for Sculpturscape ’73’, printed information sheet sent out to invited sculptors, October 1972, n.p.14. Leon Paroissien, email message to author, 12 September 2007. 7. Noel Hutchison, interview with author, 25 June 2007. 8. Tom McCullough, ‘Preparation for Sculpturscape ’73’, printed information sheet sent out to invited sculptors, October 1972, n.p. 9. Leon Paroissien, email message to author, 12 September 2007. 10. Margaret Plant, ‘Quattrocentro Melbourne: Aspects of finish 19731977’, in Anything Goes: Art in Australia 1970-1980, ed. Paul Taylor (Melbourne: Art & Text, 1984), 85-6. Of the 22 Australian and New Zealand artists who were selected in the Biennale, only one Stelarc, had not been a participant in any Mildura Sculpture Triennials, although he was the key conduit, along with Terry Reid, for McCullough in terms of contacts in Japan and Korea.
Dr Anne Sanders has worked in the Australian visual arts sector for the past twenty years and is a freelance art historian, writer and researcher who was awarded a PhD in art history and curatorship from ANU for her thesis ‘The Mildura Sculpture Triennials 19611978: an interpretative history’ in 2010 (http://hdl.handle. net/1885/7452). She worked as researcher with curator Dr Christopher Chapman on the National Portrait Gallery’s touring exhibition, Inner Worlds: Portraits and Psychology.
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