Clement Meadmore, Up (1997). The Australiana Fund Collection. Purchased to celebrate the centenary of Federation and to commemorate the new millennium in 2000. Purchased with funds provided anonymously. On display, Government House, Canberra. Open Day, Saturday, October 7. During the early 1960s, Melbourne-born sculptor Clement Meadmore became increasingly irritated by the lack of recognition of his work. He believed that in Australia, “even if you did the best sculpture in the world, nobody would know about it.” His solution was to move permanently to New York.
It was a decision that proved beneficial and his career flourished. After his move, his sculpture was acquired for collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was sought after for major public commissions, ranging from the university campuses of Princeton and Columbia to public spaces in Mexico, Canada, and Japan. When he died in 2005 in Manhattan, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times ran substantial obituaries citing his achievements.
But sculpture was not originally Meadmore’s first choice of career. Born in 1929, he studied aeronautical engineering at Melbourne’s RMIT before turning to designing furniture. In the 1950s, while working as a successful designer, he made his first welded sculpture and he was hooked.
After he moved to New York, he was influenced by the colour-field paintings of Barnett Newman and started producing monumental, smooth, black square-sided metal beams that twisted and coiled with a sense of weightlessness. He was known for combining the pure geometric detachment of minimalism with elements of abstract expressionism.
His sculptures have been described as suggesting flight and dance but, as he said back in 1971: “I am not interested in metaphors of infinity or of anything else. I have to start with a real thing, an object, and then try to let it transcend its physicality.”
Numerous Meadmore sculptures are scattered throughout Australia and one of them, perhaps surprisingly, is in the grounds of Government House in Canberra. It is there thanks to the Australiana Fund, a collection started in 1978 by Tamie Fraser with the support of her husband, Malcolm. Based on how Jackie Kennedy set up an art collection at the White House, Fraser’s idea was to raise funds to buy museum-quality objects to be displayed in the official residences of the prime minister and the governor-general.
There are now about 500 artworks in the collection and yesterday a book, Collecting for the Nation, which documents the collection and its history, was launched in Canberra.
Meadmore’s Up was acquired by the fund in 2000 to celebrate the centenary of Federation and to commemorate the new millennium, says Sonya Abbey, fine art adviser for the Australiana Fund. She says it is appropriate that Meadmore, who had a significant influence on sculpture, should be in this collection and displayed in one of the oldest historic settings in Australia.
“Up is a work of international renown and it is fitting to have it on public display in the home of the highest office-holder in Australia, the Governor-General,” she says.
“It works on a lot of levels. It is a very simple piece in that it is monochromatic, it is black, and yet the twisted form and the curves take on such a complex aspect.
“I didn’t realise until I saw it installed how well this very modern piece works in this historic landscape. I’m more used to seeing works like this in a museum or in a sculpture courtyard, but I particularly love it within this setting. Where we have positioned it at Government House is within a group of beautiful gum trees and there is a nice juxtaposition between these beautiful curves of the sculpture and the straight trees around it.”
Up and other Australiana Fund artworks will be on display to the public at the Government House Open Day in Canberra next Saturday, October 7.
Aluminium, black paint; 262.5cm x 95cm x 90cm