Pago­das, Pavil­ions and Con­tem­po­rary De­sign.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Dr Re­becca Coates

If you travel around Melbourne’s Yarra River and glance across to the sky­line on the Rich­mond side, you can­not miss the arched and glow­ing rain­bow sign spell­ing ‘Our Magic Hour’. It’s the work of New York-based Swiss artist Ugo Rondi­none, com­mis­sioned in 2004, and it graces the roof of Naomi Mil­grom’s fash­ion head­quar­ters for the Sports­girl/sus­san Group which she owns. The in­stal­la­tion is part of Mil­grom’s con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tion, which cham­pi­ons the work of lead­ing con­tem­po­rary artists (both Aus­tralian and In­ter­na­tional) in all their va­ri­ety. The col­lec­tion is dis­played through­out the busy of­fices – as well as on the roof – of a build­ing suf­fused with good de­sign prin­ci­ples and nat­u­ral light (in 2009, the build­ing won the pres­ti­gious Na­tional Award for Com­mer­cial Ar­chi­tec­ture from the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects). The choice and dis­play of the works re­flects Mil­grom’s ac­tive en­gage­ment with both busi­ness and con­tem­po­rary art. Her key tenet is that art, ar­chi­tec­ture, fash­ion and de­sign should chal­lenge, in­spire, (may) be beau­ti­ful and change the way we think, live and work.

Mil­grom has con­trib­uted to these spheres for many years. She has been Chair of L’oreal Melbourne Fash­ion Fes­ti­val, Chair of the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art (ACCA), a trustee of the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, and a keen sup­porter of the Aus­tralian Cham­ber Orches­tra and ACMI (Aus­tralian Cen­tre for the Mov­ing Im­age), to name just a few of her broad ac­tiv­i­ties. Her in­ter­ests ex­tend be­yond the arts into med­i­cal re­search (she sat on the Board of the Howard Florey In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Re­search for fif­teen years), ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives, and cur­rently sits on the Boards of The Cen­tre of Eth­i­cal Lead­er­ship and Melbourne Busi­ness School, both at the Uni­ver­sity of Melbourne. Of course, ac­tive en­gage­ment with es­tab­lished or­gan­i­sa­tions such as these is an im­por­tant role, both to share busi­ness and man­age­rial ex­per­tise, and of­ten to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port. It is a well-es­tab­lished model – but Mil­grom reg­u­larly tran­scends it. Not con­tent to sup­port ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions, she has also been the driv­ing force be­hind new and im­por­tant ini­tia­tives and projects.

In 2013, Mil­grom pre­sented her first in­de­pen­dent ini­tia­tive, an ex­hi­bi­tion by Bel­gian provo­ca­teur of the fash­ion/art world, Wal­ter van Bieren­donck, in part­ner­ship with RMIT Uni­ver­sity. The ex­hi­bi­tion, Dream the World Awake, was pre­sented in the Uni­ver­sity’s new flag­ship build­ing, The RMIT De­sign Hub, de­signed by ar­chi­tect Sean God­sell, which pre­sides in cool mod­ernist­style splen­dor over the north­ern end of Melbourne’s CBD grid. With Mil­grom’s in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tions to the global con­tem­po­rary art world, Tate Mod­ern’s Direc­tor, Chris Der­con, opened the ex­hi­bi­tion (he has cham­pi­oned van Bieren­donck’s work for many years). The ex­hi­bi­tion was only one part of a pro­gram of talks, mas­ter classes, teach­ing mod­ules and other re­lated events to en­gage stu­dents. Its legacy was a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents shaped by a shared ex­pe­ri­ence of cre­ative prac­tice, de­sign and thought.

In 2014, the not-for-profit Naomi Mil­grom Foun­da­tion was cre­ated as an op­er­a­tional foun­da­tion to ini­ti­ate and de­velop am­bi­tious projects across con­tem­po­rary art­forms. This form of ac­tive sup­port for the arts ex­tends well be­yond tra­di­tional mod­els and in­sti­tu­tions. It fits with cur­rent think­ing in phi­lan­thropy and cul­tural pol­icy, crys­tallised by Har­vard strat­egy guru, Michael Porter, that em­pha­sises the cre­ation of “shared value” be­tween gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and phi­lan­thropy. In Oc­to­ber 2014, the sec­ond of these ma­jor ini­tia­tives, Mpavil­ion, will be pre­sented in Melbourne with the sup­port of the City of Melbourne, the Vic­to­rian State Gov­ern­ment and the Aus­tralian Coun­cil.

Melbourne’s Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens are di­vided from the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria and the Arts Cen­tre by a broad av­enue and mega tram stops, and are eas­ily over­looked. They are home to John Robin­son’s The Pathfinder, 1974, (bet­ter known as The Ham­mer Thrower), the bronze ath­lete caught in the act of spin­ning, usu­ally with­out his ham­mer, which is reg­u­larly stolen. Tom Bass’, The Ge­nie, 1973, a form of Egyp­tian cat or lion has an ori­en­tal gaze and a back and mane so flat that it is an im­plic­itly sanc­tioned chil­dren’s climb­ing frame. The flo­ral clock, whose kitsch gar­den plant­ing is changed twice a year, has told the time since 1966 when it was do­nated to Melbourne by a group of Swiss watch-mak­ers. Nu­mer­ous other Ed­war­dian or clas­si­cally in­spired stat­ues are set amongst or­na­men­tal lakes, sweep­ing lawns, an­nual flowerbeds, a trin­ity of palm trees and a va­ri­ety of ma­ture Euro­pean and Aus­tralian trees. Pleas­ant, but of­ten over­looked, the cen­tral lo­ca­tion of the Gar­dens butted up against the city’s main bridge and its prized arts precinct – cries out for am­bi­tious con­tem­po­rary projects that con­nect to the city’s artis­tic net­work.

The Mpavil­ion aims to fit this bill. Her­alded as “a unique ar­chi­tec­ture com­mis­sion and de­sign event for Melbourne,” Mpavil­ion has been con­ceived as a “meet­ing place for cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment - a new type of club­house - to en­hance the lives of all Vic­to­ri­ans” – and, for that mat­ter, the many vis­i­tors to Melbourne from in­ter­state and over­seas. The project’s scope is am­bi­tious: over four years, four new ar­chi­tec­tural pavil­ions will be com­mis­sioned as tem­po­rary pavil­ions in res­i­dence from Oc­to­ber un­til Jan­uary each year. Ar­chi­tects will be se­lected from lead­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional prac­ti­tion­ers whose work re­flects a pas­sion for in­no­va­tive and chal­leng­ing con­tem­po­rary de­sign. In­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed, Melbourne-based ar­chi­tect Sean God­sell has been se­lected to de­sign the first pavil­ion. God­sell’s RMIT De­sign Hub (2012) clearly in­flu­enced Mil­grom’s think­ing on what out­stand­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign can and should do to show­case new and ex­per­i­men­tal art forms and prac­tices, as well as pro­vid­ing a lab­o­ra­tory space to in­spire cre­ative ideas and part­ner­ships. God­sell con­ceived the in­au­gu­ral pavil­ion as a sim­ple steel struc­ture with glazed roof. The fully au­to­mated outer skin “blooms like a flower” each day, open­ing up to cre­ate a semi-por­ous frame­work to hold a range of events and ac­tiv­i­ties, while at night, it ap­pears like a “mys­te­ri­ous box,” it of­fers a unique tem­po­rary space in which a range of ac­tiv­i­ties can be housed.

The site has been the lo­ca­tion for past pavil­ions, such as the much-loved Botan­ica and sim­i­lar events in John Tr­us­cott’s Melbourne Spo­leto Fes­ti­vals (1989, 1990, 1991), the pre­cur­sor to the Melbourne In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val. The Melbourne Fes­ti­val will also part­ner with this new pavil­ion, which will be launched when MIAF 2014 opens, and which will house the Fes­ti­val’s con­tem­po­rary de­sign pro­gram. Where Tr­us­cott looked to his­toric prece­dents,

such as Chi­nese pago­das and gar­den tea-houses, Mil­grom has taken con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign as her in­spi­ra­tion.

Mil­grom is the first to ac­knowl­edge the prece­dents for a con­tem­po­rary pavil­ion cre­ated as a tem­po­rary space be­side a per­ma­nent art mu­seum, such as the Ser­pen­tine Gallery’s Pavil­ion com­mis­sions. Ju­lia Pey­ton-jones, direc­tor of the Ser­pen­tine and a close col­league of Mil­grom’s, has gen­er­ously sup­ported Mil­grom’s de­vel­op­ment of com­mis­sions for Melbourne. The Ser­pen­tine pavil­ions are pre­sented in the cen­tral Lon­don lo­ca­tion of Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens, Hyde Park. Rather than spa­ces to show art, these tem­po­rary pavil­ions are the venue for a range of other ac­tiv­i­ties. Be­gin­ning in 2000 with a de­sign by Zaha Ha­did, sub­se­quent pavil­ions have been de­signed by ar­chi­tects Os­car Niemeyer (2003), Frank Gehry (2008) and Her­zog & de Meu­ron (of Tate Bri­tain fame) (2012); and by artists in col­lab­o­ra­tion with ar­chi­tects in­clud­ing Ola­fur Elias­son (2007) and Ai Wei­wei (2012). The Pavil­ion com­mis­sions have al­lowed the Ser­pen­tine to cir­cum­vent its lim­i­ta­tions as a his­toric tea house turned gallery and ex­panded its of­fer­ing to en­com­pass ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign through an ex­tended pro­gramme of ex­hi­bi­tions and events, at­tract­ing a larger and more di­verse lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence.

There are other vari­a­tions. Some are in­tended to be more per­ma­nent. For ex­am­ple, the Vi­en­nese based Thyssen Borne­misza Con­tem­po­rary (T-B A21) com­mis­sioned a se­ries of ‘Art Pavil­ions’ as stand-alone multi-dis­ci­plinary in­stal­la­tions. Ola­fur Elias­son and David Ad­jaye’s Art Pavil­ion Your Black Hori­zon (2005) was first pre­sented on Isola San Laz­zaro degli Ar­meni, as a col­lat­eral event to the 51st Venice Bi­en­nale and was then per­ma­nently in­stalled on the Adri­atic is­land of Lopud. T-B A21’s founder, Francesca von Hab­s­burg, is an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tor of con­tem­po­rary art and the pavil­ions mar­ried her in­ter­ests in con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture and art. Hans Ul­rich Obrist, pro­lific cu­ra­tor, writer and Co-direc­tor of the Ser­pen­tine Gallery, de­scribed the pavil­ion model in 2005 as an­other form, or new in­sti­tu­tion, to sup­port artists and artists’ projects.

Other per­ma­nent ex­am­ples are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly prom­i­nent, fus­ing art, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign as part of a glob­al­ized con­tem­po­rary art world. Art Site Naoshima, in the re­mote In­land Sea on Ja­pan’s main is­land, presents a se­ries of house projects by con­tem­po­rary artists, in empty ver­nac­u­lar Ja­panese coastal build­ings. On nearby is­lands, there are a se­ries of col­lab­o­ra­tive pavil­ion projects by con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects and artists. These works are char­ac­ter­ized by their re­mote­ness and one of­ten views them alone, rather than as part of an open­ing night crush. In­sti­tuto In­ho­tim, cre­ated by min­ing bil­lion­aire Bernardo Paz in Mi­nas Gerais in a re­mote part of south­east Brazil, is a sim­i­lar model. Com­menced in the late 1990s and opened to the pub­lic in 2006, they of­fer a unique ex­pe­ri­ence of per­ma­nent pavil­ions com­mis­sioned specif­i­cally for solo con­tem­po­rary works drawn from his per­ma­nent col­lec­tion set within a 240 hectare com­plex of ex­otic gar­dens. They are des­ti­na­tion art ex­pe­ri­ences in which the ar­chi­tec­ture, con­tem­po­rary art­work and unique lo­ca­tion play equal roles. Hal Foster, in The Art-ar­chi­tec­ture Com­plex (2011) noted the ‘ex­pe­ri­ence econ­omy’ of art-ar­chi­tec­ture projects of this kind and drew at­ten­tion to the eco­nomic cost of cre­at­ing build­ing-sized art­works and ar­tis­ti­cally con­ceived build­ings. Such art and ar­chi­tec­tural col­lect­ing needs very deep pock­ets.

Mil­grom’s Mpavil­ion is not a sim­ple replica of these mod­els. Its free-form ar­chi­tec­ture aims to foster ideas, part­ner­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tion. The project will work across Melbourne’s cul­tural land­scape, in­volv­ing the Melbourne Recital Cen­tre, ACMI, the Wheeler Cen­tre, the Robin Boyd Foun­da­tion and more than twenty other cul­tural part­ners. New tech­nolo­gies and so­cial net­works con­nect its vi­sion and pro­grams to a wider vir­tual au­di­ence. Such ini­tia­tives can have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on re­gional de­vel­op­ment. Richard Florida, au­thor of The Rise of the Cre­ative Class (2002), noted that “the eco­nomic and tourist im­por­tance of fos­ter­ing de­sign to stim­u­late ‘cre­ative cities’ and en­gage the new ‘cre­ative class’ has been well doc­u­mented by so­cial re­searchers and econ­o­mists,” while the “Bilbao Ef­fect” is now im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able.

Mil­grom is acutely aware of the op­por­tu­nity to boost Melbourne’s in­ter­na­tional pro­file, not­ing that “if Melbourne wants to po­si­tion it­self as Asia-pa­cific’s hub of cre­ativ­ity, cul­ture and de­sign, we need to raise the city’s rep­u­ta­tion as a leader in con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign. I know how much in­ter­est there is in de­sign and I want Melbourne and Vic­to­ria to cap­i­tal­ize on this and share this ex­cel­lence and cre­ativ­ity.” The stakes are high: ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of State De­vel­op­ment and Busi­ness In­no­va­tion, more than 195,000 peo­ple are em­ployed in de­sign-re­lated roles in the State of Vic­to­ria, with the sec­tor con­tribut­ing $7.3 bil­lion an­nu­ally to the Vic­to­rian econ­omy, gen­er­at­ing an es­ti­mated $204 mil­lion in de­sign-re­lated ex­ports. Mpavil­ion part­ner­ships aim to show­case Vic­to­ria’s thriv­ing con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign sec­tor and cre­ate a new legacy of de­sign and cre­ative think­ing.

The Mpavil­ion will leave a ma­te­rial legacy as well. Each pavil­ion is de­signed to be re­lo­cat­able and will be gifted to the City of Melbourne at the end of its year. The aim is that they will be a per­ma­nent and on­go­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the ar­chi­tec­tural qual­ity of the city. In some ways this new form of pavil­ion is the con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of the his­toric pavil­ions that grace the Royal Botanic Gar­dens and the band­stands of many re­gional towns. Once in their new homes, they may con­tinue to in­spire ex­cit­ing pro­gram­ming that fur­ther ex­tends Mpavil­ion’s legacy. Melbourne, Aus­tralia, and Richard Florida should be pleased.

Mpavil­ion will be pre­sented by the Naomi Mil­grom Foun­da­tion in the Queen Gar­dens from Oc­to­ber 2014 to Jan­uary 2015. This ar­ti­cle is based on an in­ter­view with Naomi Mil­grom AO that took place in Melbourne in May 2014. The au­thor was Cu­ra­tor at ACCA dur­ing Mil­grom’s pe­riod as Chair.

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