22 May 2018

Harold Freedman - Melbourne's artist for the people

Harold Freedman (1915–99) was born in Melbourne and educated at Melbourne Technical Col­lege. Starting his long career in 1936, he worked in all public arts: port­raits, war propaganda, polit­ic­al car­toons, graphic design, ad­vertising, illust­ration, children’s books and large-scale murals.

Harold Freedman: Artist for the People was at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 2017. Freed­­man’s designation as a people’s artist was seen in his democr­atic teaching style, his well-known murals, and his serv­ice as an Official War Artist in WW2. But whereas Christopher Allen (The Australian, May 2017) and blogger Black Mark thought the work was insensitive to modern art styles, Ballarat curator Julie McLaren believed the work was access­ible, democratic and full of honour for the WW2 soldiers.

In WW2, Freedman enlisted and became a war artist attached to the Royal Austral­ian Air Force Histor­ical War Records Sec­tion. He worked during 1944-5, in Bor­neo, Noemfoor and around Australia. Freedman and two other Austral­ian artists, Eric Thake and Max Newton, were all appointed to doc­ument the RAAF because the Army had previously dominated official art assignments. The more famous artist Sidney Nolan applied to be an official war artist, but was rejected. So he operated as an Unofficial War Artist instead. As did artist Albert Tucker.

Men of Service: The Welder, 
1947, 100 x 62 cm, 
National Gallery Aus, Canberra 

Men of Service: Signal Man, 
1947, 100 x 62 cm, 
National Gallery Aus, Canberra 

Freed­man honour­ed a group who felt under-valued by the public - he portrayed these men and women as noble and dignif­ied. Each image comprised of layers and layers of colour, as in magazines. His work was well represented in galleries, including The War Memorial in Canberra where his official portraits sustained the glamour surrounding the WW2 air force (handsome men in smart uniforms etc). His portraits were sometimes moody eg Wing Commander Clive Caldwall (1944) but always showed intel­lig­ent seriousness.

And see Freedman’s portrait of Victoria Cross winner, Pilot Of­ficer Raw­don Middleton. After his cock-pit was fired on over Italy, Middleton flew his damaged bomber over the Channel to allow his crew to safely bail out close to Britain. Middle­ton tragically died.

His portraits eg Alan Marshall (1943) and The Signal Man (1947) demon­strated great ability, works clearly influenced by Austral­ian black and white illustrators Norman and Lionel Lindsay. These qualities become even more apparent in painted portraits eg a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air For­ce, which was reproduced in the Royal Australian Air Force’s wartime pub­licat­ions.

Men and Women of Service was a post-war propaganda programme that emph­as­ised those who had worked in the Victorian Railways during the war. Because they had been required to remain working in essential services, these people had truly made an important con­tribution to the war effort! Freedman made large coloured litho­graphs that were displayed in Victorian railway stations.

Once again each figure was designed as socialist real­ist type. The station­master was stout and paternal, the signalman lean and an­x­ious. The medium and scale of lithography seem to make the feat­ures coarser than they would appear in paint­ing. But did they produce an effect that was readily recognised and much loved, OR profoundly cliched?

Post-war, Freedman taught at the Technical Coll­ege/RMIT, creating bold, colour-blocked pos­ters. In 1951 his work­shop for print­making was established at the College, but open for artists from the National Gallery School as well. Fred Williams, Charles Black­man, Kenneth Jack and Leonard French were the enthusiastic part­ic­ipants who began ex­hib­iting together in 1954. By 1960, Freedman arranged after-hours classes and brought the supplies. The Melbourne Print Group formed the found­ation for printmaking in the city’s art and technical colleges for many years.

Pilot Officer Rawdon Middleton, 
1946, 70 x 55 cm,
Aus War Memorial, Canberra

Murals The last third of the Ballarat exhibition was devoted to Freedman’s murals, beginning in the late 60s. His first large (4.5 x 60 ms) painted mural was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial. This metic­ul­ously researched work marked the 50th anniversary of the RAAF and formed a backdrop for the war memorial’s RAAF section.

An ABC docum­entary focused on the immense mural (10m x 40m) docum­ent­ing the history of transport in Victoria. One could see the work on the mural being completed, with the aid of a team of assistants. The painting studio was soon re­located to an old electricity sub-station where rail­way carpenters built a massive easel. The mural was plan­ned for a large wall at Spencer St Station, specifically left vacant for this pur­pose, and was to illustrate all the modes of transport during Vict­oria’s boom time from 1834 – horses, trains, trams, cars etc. It was unveiled in Jan 1978 with a gala parade of historic vehicles and vintage aircraft.

A large catalogue, written by Gavin Fry, David Freedman (art­ist’s son) and David Jack (another artist's son), noted Freedman enjoyed the chall­enge and made it central to his work, rather than seeing it as an irksome task. Freedman made art to entertain & colour the lives of working people.

Harold produced a series of paintings on the History of Flight for Tull­amarine’s new international terminal, opened in 1971. Freedman was the first and only person to ever serve as Victoria’s State Artist, appointed in 1972. Alas the History of Flight later ended up into storage.

Shop between 'off peak', 
1950s, railway lithograph, 97 x 60 cm 
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Harold’s aim was to create a very Australian ex­perience. See the Cavalcade of Transport mural, commis­sioned by the government for Spencer St railway stat­ion concourse. It showed every type of trans­p­ort used during the first century of Victoria’s European settle­ment. This massive work was completed by a team of artists in a giant build­ing in Brunswick, during 1973-7. The mural was later removed from Spencer St during the retail development of what is now Southern Cross Stat­ion, and only remains on display above shop-fronts in the Direct Factory Outlets. The artist’s pub­lic works had been compromised by prop­erty development.

The Regional History of Geelong was the first major mosaic mural created in the state studio. Harold created the full-size, colour painted cartoon and his assistants finished the mosaics, in total taking 2.5 years to complete. It can be seen today in the Geelong Art Gall­ery.

 The Legend of Fire mosaic, 1982
on the wall of the Eastern Hill Fire Brig­ade, Melbourne
Credit: Harold Freedman Tribute 

mosaic football mural
Waverley Park football ground, 1986
Credit: Harold Freedman Tribute

The Legend of Fire mosaic covers the wall of the Eastern Hill Fire Brig­ade’s headquarters and museum in Albert St East Melbourne. The colour cartoon was created in small and then manually enlarged to the installation size, five ambitious storeys high.

Harold next prepared vast murals for the Victorian Racing Club. The new Hill Stand at the Flemington Race-course was chosen to display the History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing. Midway into the project the newly elected conservative government made a change in arts policy and the studio suddenly became a priv­ate enterprise. At the invitation of the VCR chairman, artists coll­aborated on horses in Freedman's murals, completed in 1988.

Meanwhile Harold negotiated with the Victorian Football League to start a project celebrating the human form and football. His mural and the assistants’ mosaics were installed at the Waverley Park football ground in 1986. He was awarded the Order of Aust­ralia in 1989.

19 May 2018

MoMA New York art exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne

For the 2017 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, the National Gallery of Victoria/NGV put on a fine exhibition called Van Gogh and the Seas­ons. This exhibition featured works lent by intern­ational museums, and attracted a huge number of Australian visitors.

This year the NGV, in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art New York, is presenting MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemp­or­ary Art as the 2018 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces ex­hib­it­ion. From 9th June–7th Oct 2018, the exhibition is providing a unique survey of the Mus­eum’s iconic collection. The key works are arranged ch­ronol­ogically into 8 them­atic sections, tracing the development of art and design from late-C19th urban and industrial transformation, until the global present.

MoMA is dedicated to championing innovative modern and contemporary art. The Museum opened in Manhattan in 1929, with the plan to be­come the greatest modern art museum in the world. This is seen in its inter-disciplinary collection of c200,000 works by c10,000 artists, shared between 6 curat­or­ial departments: Archit­ect­ure & Design, Drawings and Prints, Film, Media & Performance Art, Painting & Sculpture & Photography

This Melbourne exhibition features c200 works from MoMA, in­cluding some never-before-seen in Australia. Starting in fin-de-siecle Paris, the em­ergence of a new art at the dawn of the C20th is repres­ented by some of MoMA’s earliest acquis­itions, includ­ing master­works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne.

Van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889

Cezanne, Still Life with Apples, 1896

Paintings and posters are displayed with objects from MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection, many of which draw out issues common to arch­it­ects, designers and artists — creating a new visual language for the modern era. These include: an archit­ectural model by Le Corbusier that featured in MoMA’s first arch­itecture exhibition in 1932; graphic designs, furnit­ure and textiles by artists involved in the influential workshops of my beloved Bauhaus. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, for example, used metals and indus­t­rial methods not common in fine art then. Josef Albers and Marcel Breuer are also included in the exhibition.

Works by pioneering cubists & futurists eg Pablo Picasso appear next to the radically abstracted forms present in artists like Kazimir Malev­ich and Piet Mon­drian. Then we see the surreal visual language of artists like Sal­vador Dalí and Frida Kahlo, and the spontaneity advanced in works by Al­exander Calder, Jackson Pollock and oth­er prominent Abstract Express­ion­ists. Then see Marcel Duch­amp, Ed­ward Hopper, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Roy Lichtenstein.

Picasso, Architect’s Table, 1912 

Finally, newer developments in art, from Minimalism to Post Modern­ism and into early C21th art, display ideas at the NGV that in­form cultural and nat­ional identity.

The exhibition explores the growth of major art move­ments and represents 130+ years of radical artistic innovation. It reflects the wider technological, social & pol­it­ical movements that transformed C20th society and contributed to the form­at­ion of our C21st globalised world. And it reveals the ways in which art­ists have sought to be agents of change, transforming society and creating new worlds. There is a scholarly catalogue, a prog­ram­me of talks, tours and events, and the curated NGV Friday Nights programmes.

MoMA in New York is the perfect supplier of innovative art because it is the major museum of modern art anywhere, att­ract­ing 3+ million visitors annually. MoMA was the first museum to recognise photography, cinema, arch­itecture and indus­t­rial design as dedicated depart­ments that belong in an art museum.

Kahlo, Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940

The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 is the perfect recipient of inn­ovative art because it is oldest and most visited public art museum in Australia. The collection has 70,000+ art works from many centuries and cultures! Additionally the 2018 Winter Masterpieces Exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the new NGV’s St Kilda Road galleries.

15 May 2018

A very special parliamentary building - the Bundestag in Berlin

When a large parliamentary building was required in Berlin, the Reichstag building was proposed and debated. The fights bet­ween Otto von Bis­marck and Reichstag mem­bers delayed construction so an architectural contest was held. The winner, Frank­furt arch­itect Paul Wallot, was asked to design a building in the Italian High Renaissance style that would feat­ure a very large dome. In June 1884 the foundation stone for the building was laid and ten years later, the build­ing was complete. Located on Platz der Republik, along the Spree River just north of Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag had four 40-meters-high towers.

After it opened in 1894, the Reichstag building housed the German Parl­iament. But in Feb 1933, the dome was ruined along with the rest of the building in a fire. Despite there being lit­tle evidence to blame anyone in particular, it was blamed on the Communists. The remains and the dome were further demolished with the bombings of Berlin through WW2 and the eventual liberation of Berlin by the Soviets in 1945.

With the new Constitution of 1949, the Bundestag was established as the new West German parliament in Bonn.

The Bundestag/Lower House decided to rebuild the Reichstag building in Berlin, this time without a dome; the original had been demolished in 1954 as structurally unsound. The decorative figures that had been dest­royed were not restored, and the façade was simplified. While the Reichstag was part­ially reconstructed in the 1960s as a conference centre, the dome was not. Renovations to the building were carried out according to plans by Paul Baumgarten and were completed in 1972.

The Reichstag in Berlin
transformed by Norman Foster from 1993

With the reunification of Germany and the decision to move the cap­ital from Bonn back to Berlin, it was decided that the old Reich­stag building should be re-built along with a new dome that emphas­ised a unified Germany. The transparent design of the Reichstag dome was intended to symbolise Berlin's attempt to move away from a past of Nazism and turn instead towards a united, democratic Germany. 

The Reichstag in Berlin was the site of German reunification cerem­onies in Oct 1990. British architect Sir Norman Foster was commis­s­ioned in 1992 to trans­form the renovated C19th building into the new home of a unified German Parliament. Foster began to rebuild the Reichstag in 1993, focusing on the glass dome that was constructed on top. The distinct­ive app­earance of the new dome, which derives from a 1988 design by Gott­fried Böhm, has made it a prominent landmark in Berlin.

Foster’s Reichstag was deliberately intended to be viewed from above. His brilliant gleaming glass and metal dome directly overlooked the debating chamber for the Bunde­stag, all­ow­ing the German people to watch their Govern­ment’s Parliamentary proceedings down below. Citizens were now democ­ratic and "above government", as opposed to how German society had existed under National Social­ism.
Inside the glass dome
Note the inverted cone of mirrors in the mid­dle, and the spiralling ramps.

The Bundestag today, flooded with natural light
In the absence of the 709 Parliamentarians, guides can take tourists around the building.

The dome is open to the public and the roof terrace above can be reached by climbing two steel, spiralling, double-helix-type ramps. The dome thus works as a viewing platform with clear panels, from which the public could view the entire city. In fact the 360° view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape includes both East and West.

The glass dome was specifically designed by Foster to be environ­ment­ally friendly. He wrote that the cupola is both a generative element in the internal workings of the building and a key component in our light & energy saving strategies. It communicates the themes of lightness, transparency, permeability and public access that underscore the project.

A skylight, with a significant inverted cone of mirrors in the mid­dle of the opening of the dome, directs sun­light into the building and draws light into the plenary chamber. A large sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electr­on­ically and blocks direct sunlight, thus effectively decreasing the carbon emis­sions of the building.

Foster was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1999 for his work on the building, which has become one of the top tourist destinations in Berlin. It is known for sleek, mod­ern designs of steel and glass, an innovative archit­ectural dome design that was described as a sculpture of light.

Käfer Dachgarten Restaurant

The architect’s final task was to design a restaurant that is pub­licly accessible all year round in the national parliament build­ing. The exterior of this rooftop restaurant is a big box, placed on the Reichstag’s eastern wing next to the crowning glass dome. And the restaurant’s interior is simple. But the views east across the German capital are amazing and the food is rich and very inter­esting eg the beer-and-sausage Bavarian breakfast. Reservations and security checks are essential! Is the German Bundestag the only parliament building in the world to include a fine public restaurant?

The German Bundesrat is the Upper House legislative body that represents the sixteen federated states of Germany at the national level. The Bundesrat meets in a separate Berlin building.