fig. 1
Guy Stuart

Guy Stuart is a Melbourne-based artist, born in Canberra in 1942. He was a student of John Brack at Melbourne Grammar School from 1954 to 1960, and was a painting student at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1961–62. He is primarily a draftsperson and painter, and still practises today. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Stuart was engaged in making several series of fascinating three-dimensional works and installations. These were critically very well received, and for a while Stuart was known as one of Melbourne’s most notable young artists. His work, mostly from this period, is included in the collections of Australia’s major state galleries, including seven works in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, twenty-one in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and eight in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. His work is also in the collections of several regional and private galleries across Victoria.

The NGV’s collection of Stuart’s work includes an oil painting, Light violet wall, 1968 (fig. 10), three pastel and chalk drawings of the late 1960s and two gouache and watercolour drawings of 1978. Particularly relevant to this paper, however, is the wall-hung soft sculpture, Lattice full of holes, 1972 (fig. 1), a work from one of the most significant series of Stuart’s career. This work engages directly with the 1960s Minimalist practices of the New York avant-garde, specifically that of Robert Morris.

This essay will discuss a major project of Stuart’s early career, and how it relates to Lattice full of holes and the NGV’s holdings of Stuart’s work. Lock Span: A Large Project for Aluminium Casting, April 1969, was the second solo show of the young Stuart’s career, as well as his second solo show in two months at Melbourne’s prominent Gallery A (fig. 3). The exhibition comprised a model, drawings and photographs, which together proposed an enormous sculpture, possibly for installation in a prominent position in Melbourne’s central business district.

This reading proposes that Lock Span engaged with and critiqued international avant-garde artistic practices, particularly those of American Minimalism, in a way that asserted the critical value and independence of art produced on the periphery. As the exhibition’s main goal was to propose a piece of public art, Lock Span is defined here primarily as the idea of the completed sculptural piece, as well as the works exhibited in the gallery. In its proposed form, Lock Span relates closely to the oil painting and the drawings in the NGV collection, revealing the extent of Stuart’s interest in the bowl and disc motifs, which are used in all the works. However, in intent and significance, Lock Span is most interestingly discussed in relation to Lattice full of holes, which also addresses his interests in the establishment and development of Minimalism in Australia.

A photograph of the Lock Span model that was used on the exhibition invitations, and enlarged and hung in the gallery, is the most accessible image of the model now available (fig. 2). In order to provide an image of the model that would demonstrate the intended scale for the proposed sculpture, Stuart and a friend, John Scott, created this trick photograph showing Stuart standing at approximately one-third of the height of the work, making the proposed work at least four and a half metres tall.1 Guy Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007. Stuart recounted that he and Scott took the model on a trolley into Melbourne’s central business district, to a site on Queen Street. Stuart stood well back from the model, but at a point that made it appear that he was standing under the completed full-scale sculpture. Scott positioned the camera lens against the rail of a nearby tram stop to provide a fade-to-black effect at the bottom of the image, thereby hiding the trolley on which the model sat.

The model was approximately one and a half metres in length. It was made with ten identical, ready-made stainless-steel bowls purchased from a convenience store; a number of flat wooden discs, slightly smaller than the diameter of the lip of each bowl; and several G-clamps of the kind found on a woodworking bench. The bowls and discs were arranged in precarious alignment, forming a haphazard bridge-like structure.2 Alan McCulloch, ‘Question marks?’, Herald, 30 April 1969. Here McCullock noted that the arc created by the two piles of bowls had the quality of ‘an enormous bridge’.

There were other photographs in the exhibition, none of which have survived. Stuart also included numerous drawings, some pictorial, others technical, which he still holds, in original or reproduction. These drawings were complete enough to have acted as blueprints for the execution of the project, had Stuart the resources and opportunity to complete the work (fig. 4).

Stuart had been painting and drawing some of the objects in Lock Span – the bowl or vat, and the disc – for about a year by the time he devised this sculptural project. The NGV’s holdings clearly capture the moment Stuart adopted this signature motif. The drawing Untitled, c.1967 (fig. 5), shows Stuart’s mastery of an expressive style that he explored in his art-school days. Stuart has said that his work of that time was inspired by European artists, including Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and that his studies in this style were looked upon favourably by his tutors.3 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007.

Three works in the NGV collection from the following year demonstrate Stuart’s recent adoption of and experimentation with one or both of his new motifs of the vat and the disc. Vat drawing (fig. 7) is black pastel on paper, and shows a view from above a circular vat with a curved lip and spherical bottom. The drawing is an experiment in surface and depth, rounded volume and flatness. Conical freeze (fig. 6) is a very dark-blue pastel on paper, and shows further experimentation with the bowl shape, this time a repetitious series of eight nested bowls. The drawing is highly reminiscent of the forms Stuart created in Lock Span the following year. The large painting Light violet wall (fig. 10) shows a pleated, or baffled, wall with bowl or disc shapes emerging on the surface as though pushing through from behind the canvas. In the bottom-left corner Stuart created a partial circle of dark blue and black, a void or hole perhaps; a vat to balance the firmest disc in the top right.

As Stuart acknowledged in a letter of 2002, the motifs of vat and disc served him extremely well.4 Guy Stuart, letter to Maudie Palmer, then director of Heide Museum of Art, Melbourne, 9 June 2002. In 1968 his painting Vat, of that year, won the Ballarat Art Gallery’s Crouch Prize for Painting, which at that time was the second most valuable art prize in Australia after the Archibald Prize.5 Anne Roland, Registrar at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, in conversation with the author, 15 March 2007. Stuart’s first solo show, A Five Finger Exercise for Two Ideas and Drawings for Metal Casts at Gallery A in 1969, had experimented in depth with these motifs and earnt him the highest critical praise of his career, from the respected critic Patrick McCaughey.6 Patrick McCaughey, ‘A generation gap in the art world’, The Age, 30 April 1969. Stuart’s first solo show, A Five Finger Exercise for Two Ideas and Drawings for Metal Casts, was held in March of 1969, just weeks before Lock Span, and also at Gallery A. It was subtitled ‘The Bowls, The Walls’. This first exhibition earned Stuart the highest critical praise of his career. McCaughey wrote: ‘Guy Stuart’s first one-man show of paintings and drawings at Gallery A is electrifying. Ambitious in scale and dazzling in execution, he states a compelling new thesis about the picture surface … Stuart has found a credible and exciting alternative to the matt surfaces of the new abstraction’. The same year, Stuart was one of the artists chosen to represent Australia at the 10th Biennale of Modern Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil; his three Vat and disc works were the most prominent of the paintings selected.

At a very early point in his career, Stuart already had a huge amount at stake professionally. He had become widely known as one of Australia’s most interesting and notable young artists.7 In addition to Stuart’s success with his vat and disc works, he was also selected for inclusion in the NGV’s watershed exhibition The Field in 1968, and to participate in Harold Szeeman’s Kaldor Art Project in 1971. See Brian Finemore & John Stringer, The Field, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1968; Harald Szeeman, When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head, Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland, 1969. It was natural that Stuart continued working with the bowls and discs as he moved into three dimensions. The motivations for his shift to three-dimensional work were related to his reaction to and engagement with the international avant-garde, which at that time was so forcefully represented by the reductive idealism of Clement Greenberg’s New York School. Greenberg gave a lecture tour in Australia in 1968, and like almost all artists of his generation, Stuart attended.8 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007. Interestingly, Greenberg’s ambitions were supported in Melbourne most avidly by McCaughey, who was critically supportive of Stuart’s first solo exhibition. In a letter from 1995, Stuart wrote of 1967:

Around this time I was drawing painting and making sculpture one after another. Using the essential difference of these mediums and seeing what light one threw on the other. It was a stimulating way of proceeding. Drawing proceeded the painting. Sometimes a sculpture would evolve from a previous image.9 Stuart, letter to NGV, NGV artist file.

These ideas clearly stand in opposition to those of Greenberg, Michael Fried and other prominent American art theorists of the day, who saw different media entirely separated from each other. Lock Span is exemplary of the development from two to three dimensions in Stuart’s practice of this time, as is the NGV’s Lattice full of holes.

Critical response to the Lock Span exhibition was encouraging, but less effusive than the response to Stuart’s exhibition A Five Finger Exercise a couple of months before.10 McCaughey. McCaughey returned to Gallery A to review this second show, and while he continued to be encouraging, this coverage had not the wild enthusiasm of the previous piece. He wrote that the show ‘indicates again what the paintings showed: an ambitious, eccentric and energetic imagination. The excellent photomontages suggest that it would take more nerve than cash to build it’. While very little has been written about Stuart, or Lock Span, other than reviews,11 McCulloch; McCaughey; G. R. Lansell, ‘Great promise’, Nation, 22 March 1969. in 1970 Margaret Plant wrote a highly considered and very interesting essay for the short-lived Melbourne publication Other Voices in which she made notes on the writings of New York Minimalist Robert Morris, and drew a connection to Lock Span, among other examples of Australian art. She wrote:

Stuart’s play with the object – simulated and unreal in painting, actual and unreal in sculptural three-dimensional projects, may not share any stylistic bond with Morris or indeed indicate any particular awareness of Morris’ ideas; but ideas of spectator participation, the sense of scale and space, the artist-performer in the process of making: these aspects of Stuart’s work are an original parallel with Morris’ procedures.12 Margaret Plant, ‘A Reading of Robert Morris (with notes on Paul Partos, Guy Stuart and Ti Parks)’, Other Voices, Oct./Dec. 1970, p. 41.

It is likely that Stuart was aware of Morris’s work and writings. He, and many of his contemporaries, closely followed the American art journals of the day.13 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007. As Plant noted, the parallels between Stuart’s and Morris’s practices are fascinating. In the exhibition Less is More: Minimal and Post-Minimal Art in Australia at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, in 2012, curator Sue Cramer hung the NGV’s Lattice full of holes directly opposite another NGV work, Morris’s Untitled, 1970, one of the American artist’s heavy felt wall hangings (fig. 8). As Cramer thereby pointed out, these two works addressed similar ideas of materiality that developed on the heels of Minimalism. In each work the artist has allowed gravity to operate on the materials and thus to influence the form of the piece. Stuart has not allowed as much gravitational operation as Morris, but his materials clearly hang in response to a downward pull. The detail in Stuart’s work further emphasises this element, as the scraps of fabric that pepper the surface hang rhythmically from the gridded net behind. As Plant alluded in her mention of ‘spectator participation’, there are also interesting parallels to be found between Morris’s 1964 New York installation at Green Gallery and Stuart’s Continuous Wooden Floor exhibition of 1970. In both cases the artists were interested in determining the viewers’ traverse and experience of the gallery space.

In Lock Span Stuart engaged with and employed some elements of Minimalism but, perhaps more interestingly, he explicitly denied and critiqued other elements, thereby demonstrating a thorough comprehension of the issues at stake. Part of his objective for Lock Span seemed to be the engagement with plural artistic styles, notably Dada and Pop, to undermine a dogmatically defined Minimalism and its New York–centric tendencies to high modernist exclusivity. Dada and Pop were both inclusive and open-ended styles that led eventually to the complete acquiescence of postmodernism.

This paper argues that Lock Span offered a model of the Australian experience of American Minimalism. It provided a critique of Minimalist art’s requisite bodily engagement, and proposed that Australian viewers’ experience of avant-garde art was just as critically valuable as that of American viewers, even if it differed in its non-bodily or non-gestaltian quality. Lock Span can be read as a case for the critical validity of the peripheral response to and interpretation of international avant-garde styles, including other works by Stuart, such as the NGV’s Lattice full of holes.

In the late 1960s, New York Minimalism was having a significant impact on the way in which much contemporary art was conceived and made, both in New York and internationally. Morris and Donald Judd promoted an approach to art that entirely changed the relationships between three elements: the art, the space in which the art existed and the viewer. To understand the art properly, the viewer had to be in the gallery, thereby completing the tripartite circumstance explicated by these artists. Experiential, phenomenological installation and site-specific work emerged more fully over the next twenty years, often in headline-grabbing ways, from Robert Smithson’s Spiral jetty of 1970 to Richard Serra’s Tilted arc of 1981.

From the periphery, of course, it was impossible to properly engage with New York Minimalism or any other art that required one’s bodily presence. In Australia, American art could rarely be experienced in person, but was instead seen in art journals and, even more belatedly, in books. The only elements Australian artists and other viewers could rely on were photographs of audiences in New York experiencing the art, and their own imaginations. What makes Lock Span so interesting is that Stuart did not create New York–style experiential art, thereby re-creating in Australia the experiences of New York audiences viewing New York art. Instead he modelled, and thus made explicit, the distanced experiences of audiences in Australia viewing New York art.

Lock Span demonstrated Stuart’s thorough engagement with three key elements of New York Minimalism: a bodily engagement or experience by the viewer; a strong sense of scale in relation to human size; and an interest in site specificity. It also undercut, or denied, the aims of Minimalism in a couple of ways. First, the work dabbled in a plurality of art styles and influences. Second, and most critically, it completely denied the essence of New York Minimalism by providing an intellectual, but not bodily, experience.

In order to deny the intentions of New York Minimalism, however, Stuart first had to engage with it. One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that Stuart repeatedly included himself in photographic documentation of his art from this period.14 Many of these images were printed in newspapers to accompany reviews, and newspaper photographers have always included artists in their shots where possible. However, Stuart’s bodily inclusions in the records of his practice are more persistent than just these examples. In Graeme Sturgeon’s The Development of Australian Sculpture 1788–1975 (1978), Stuart is the only artist other than three performance artists to be included in any photograph of his work.15 Graeme Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1788–1975, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, p. 185. The three performance artists are Kevin Mortensen, p. 229; Ken Unsworth, p. 230; and Stelarc, p. 231. The one exception is a posed studio photograph of George Lambert and his assistants from c.1925, p. 92. In the media scramble that accompanied the later exhibition Continuous Wooden Floor, in 1970, photograph after photograph captured Stuart in, on and over the structure he there built. Journalists were thus capturing the performance nature of the piece, although Stuart has said he was not particularly interested in that aspect of the work.16 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007. Stuart himself does not consider this pattern of photographic self-inclusion to be significant, explaining that it was solely for the purpose of providing scale, which is an important element of the phenomenon, though not singularly so.17ibid. The experiential implication of these photographs is something he is reluctant to discuss.18 Notably, this refusal to discuss externally offered art theory was a trait of the New York Minimalists, themselves a generation of highly theoretical artists who invited viewers to experience the work individually, but prescribed the meanings of those experiences through their extensive theorising.

The photograph exhibited so prominently at the Lock Span exhibition and used on the invitations provides the most exciting example of this key recurrence in Stuart’s practice (fig. 2). When Stuart and Scott constructed an image of the artist experiencing a proposed experiential work of art, when in fact the work was never realised and therefore never experienced at all, they were writing a fiction, but a fiction based on a true story. The story they wrote with this photograph was one of an artist who experiences art from the periphery, in this case Australia, outside the centre of the art world, New York; a story of Stuart having a bodily experience of a large-scale work that he actually never experienced in body, only in intellect.

For Stuart, the most relevant and perhaps the only viable reading of this work is one that takes interest in the pictorial elements of the three-dimensional project he had, until then, been dealing with in paint and pastel; demonstrated in the NGV’s pastel and chalk drawings and oil paintings by Stuart. There is no doubt of the emphasis in Lock Span on internal formal relationships, namely the tensions and operations that occur between the shapes of discs and bowls, but to read it as an essay on the internal tensions between forms is to overlook several of the work’s most vital elements.19 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007, explained Lock Span using cereal bowls from his kitchen to demonstrate the ways that bowl shapes can sit together in harmony or in tension. When either the experiential or gravitational elements of the work were raised for discussion, Stuart was dismissive. First, Stuart’s reading disowns the prominent presence of the G-clamps in the work, ignoring these central and remarkable forms as simply structural supports necessary to the development of the relationship between the bowls and discs. To dismiss the relevance of the clamps, however, is to dismiss an important element: the dynamics between the forms and the gravity that is in constant operation upon them. These dynamics are far more interesting and were, at the time, far more contemporary than the pictorial tensions between bowl and disc.

The clamps, particularly in the enlarged and massive form they would have taken in the completed work, add strength and force to the piece. Their operation is in resistance and opposition to gravity, thereby highlighting that component of what John Rajchman, in the catalogue for the Richard Serra retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art of 2007, refers to as the ‘sculptural unconscious’.20 John Rajchman, ‘Serra’s abstract thinking’, in Kynaston McShine, Lynne Cooke, John Rajchman and Richard Serra (eds), Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Thames and Hudson, London, 2007. The clamps hold the bowls and discs off the ground, preventing them from assuming the positions they would take if they were left to their own devices. The bowls would fall to the earth, destroying the arched bridge-like structure; they would roll backwards and find their resting point naturally, containing their respective discs without tension. The clamps constantly operate in this work in a way analogous to the operations found in Serra’s Prop pieces (fig. 9).

In reading Lock Span this way, drawing out strands of engagement between art, gravity and viewer, one risks neglecting to focus on the fact that the work never actually existed. It is likely that one of Stuart’s aims for the exhibition was to distract from the unrealised nature of Lock Span, yet it is vital to keep in mind that this work was never made. The relationships here outlined between work, gravity and viewer never happened; rather, like the sculpture itself, they were simply proposed. The exhibition – photograph, model, painting and drawings – inform the viewer of the facts of the proposed work; and the photograph, notably, invites the viewer to appoint those facts imaginatively. But finally we are left informed of the tripartite Minimalist engagement of Lock Span, echoing that of New York Minimalism, without the necessary requirement of taking part in it; without it ever happening at all.

Thus the relationship that Plant suggested, between Lock Span and New York Minimalism, is stretched. If the actual experience of the work through the real engagement of the viewer’s body with the art and the space is necessary to activate the piece, then Lock Span has little in common with the New York style. Stuart had not created for Australian audiences an experience comparable to those created by Judd, Morris or Serra for their audiences.

It could be argued, however, that with Lock Span Stuart instead modelled, re-created or replicated exactly the encounters with New York Minimalism experienced by audiences on the periphery, in this case Australian audiences, in order to critique or question the necessity of bodily experience in Minimalist art and the exclusivity of high modernism of the United States.

The information about Lock Span provided by Stuart was extensive: three-dimensional, photographic, technical and pictorial. Had he managed to acquire the requisite funding and space, the material from the exhibition would have been almost everything he needed to create the work. All that was required of his audience to experience the work was imagination. With Lock Span, Stuart effectively participated in and strengthened the peripheral encounter with experiential art of the centre, which made up a hugely significant part of the body of late twentieth-century art.

Minimalism in Australia, for the most part, was played out in painting. Reductive abstract painting in Australia has been identified, exhibited and discussed as Australian Minimalism, but no Australian art that meets the criteria proposed by the first Minimalists in New York has ever been identified. While both Judd and Morris, the initiators of New York Minimalism, explicitly stated that it was categorically not painting, the genre was taken up around the world, assuming many forms, and Australian artists, writers and curators sit warily in acceptance of Australia’s version. By reading Lock Span as highlighting and demonstrating the fictional peripheral experience and understanding of a fundamentally experiential art, perhaps we can gain further insight into the extraordinary undertaking and interpretation of the movement in Australia, and perhaps in other peripheral sites of artistic production too.

It can be seen that the most significant, or perhaps simply most dramatic, engagement of Lock Span with Minimalist criteria was its questioning the necessity of the relationship that could be developed between the work of art, the viewer’s body and the gravitationally oriented space in which both existed. There were, however, two other ways in which Stuart engaged in the practices and supposed criteria of New York Minimalism, as well as ways in which he undermined and critiqued the movement.

The scale of the work was of primary importance to the Minimalists, and Morris was particularly explicit on this issue, writing concisely on the different experiences to be had when confronted by objects smaller than, larger than, or comparatively sized to the body of the viewer.21 Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, and Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1993. The scale of the proposed sculpture of Lock Span is obviously relevant to these interests. In 1967 Stuart had seen the NGV’s Two Decades of American Painting exhibition, which showed local artists the possibilities of the extremely large scale of American art at the time.  Revealingly, in Stuart’s 2002 letter to Maudie Palmer, he wrote that Lock Span ‘was intended to be realised at the size of the average house, with each bowl the size of a standard bedroom’.22 Stuart, letter to Maudie Palmer. In the photograph, the work accordingly towered above him, and the placement of its parts would require the viewer to walk around and among them in order to properly engage with the whole. As indicated by Stuart’s analogy, he designed this work to be inhabited. Stuart’s ideas of an architectural scale with a very specific relationship to the body were, in 1969, also being considered by artists such as Serra and Smithson. Despite Stuart’s reticence to read the work as gravitationally oriented and engaged, nearly thirty years after the fact he still described the work in a way that unambiguously involved bodily inhabitation.

In addition to its scale, Lock Span was engaged in a certain level of site specificity. This was a keen interest of American artists such as Serra and Smithson, and developed out of the Minimalist concerns with the expanded field.23 Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1985, pp. 276–90. Scott’s photograph was taken on Queen Street, in Melbourne’s central business district, in 1969. That same year, Clement Meadmore’s huge public sculpture Awakening was bought and installed on the prominent corner of Bourke and William streets. Meadmore is the Australian artist whose practice is most closely aligned with those of the New York Minimalists. His large-scale steel works are imposing, weighty and austere, with very few internal relationships, and highly demanding of viewers’ bodily experiences. Meadmore moved to New York in 1963, returning to Australia only twice during the remainder of his lifetime, and was famously scathing about the state of the arts in Australia. It is worth noting that Meadmore, the most prominent Australian Minimalist, was so decisive in distancing himself from Australia.

Stuart’s proposal that his work, which critiqued and offered alternatives to American Minimalism, be placed in the central business district in the same year that Meadmore’s Minimalist sculpture was placed there seems more than coincidental. Lock Span could interestingly be read as a subtle critique of Meadmore himself, his emblematic shift to New York and his subsequent practice that so neatly conformed to and succeeded within the high modernist canons of the United States while simultaneously facilitating the development of a reputable career ‘at home’ in Australia.

While Stuart clearly engaged with the aims of New York Minimalism, the ways in which Lock Span undermined that movement demonstrate his clear resistance to it and other American dictates that arose from high modernism and proponents such as Greenberg. Internal formal repetition, in order to avoid significant or hierarchical internal relationships, was fundamental to the work of the Minimalists. Lock Span, with its three repeated forms of bowl, disc and clamp, clearly acknowledged that tradition, but refused to partake. While the elements themselves were in series, the relationships between them were never the same, and the parts of the work combined to create a differentiated composition. The repetitive composition was more reminiscent of Dada than of Minimalism, and by referring to and incorporating elements of another artistic style Stuart undermined the prescriptive nature of the American avant-garde in general, and Minimalism in particular.

The spare aeroplane parts and other junkyard detritus that Stuart used in his earlier assemblages, as well as the stainless-steel bowls and clamps used in Lock Span, point to an apparent interest in the readymades of European Dada artists. London’s Tate Gallery held a retrospective of Marcel Duchamp’s work in 1966, and it is entirely probable that Stuart either read or owned the catalogue.24 Arts Council of Great Britain, The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, Tate Gallery, London, 1966. Lock Span is highly reminiscent of the work of Duchamp, most obviously in the subject matter of the repeated bowls that echo the rounded shapes of Chocolate grinder, no. 1, 1913, which are repeated in the bottom half of The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even (The large glass), 1915–23 (both Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Perhaps even more interesting than the bowls, however, is the repetition itself in Lock Span. The composition could viably be read as the cinematic-type representation of one bowl tumbling through an arc, rather than as an arc created by a series of multiple bowls. This reading brings to mind the cinematic effects of Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase, no. 2, 1912 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), which in turn relates to the photographic effects created by the Futurists; Giacomo Balla’s painting Dynamism of a dog on a leash, 1912 (Albright-Knox Gallery, New York), for example, or sculpturally in Umberto Boccioni’s Unique forms of continuity in space, 1913 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The 1966 Duchamp catalogue notes that immediately before painting his Nude, Duchamp had seen photographs similar to Etienne-Jules Marey’s studies Human figures in motion, c.1883.25 ibid., p. 79.

Finally, perhaps the most obvious way in which Lock Span denies the stipulations of Minimalism is its use of figurative elements. Minimalism was, above all, non-figurative, whereas Lock Span is decidedly figurative, as is all of Stuart’s work.26 Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007, described his foray into three-dimensions as one of imagined form that is first drawing, and then shifts simultaneously to painting and sculpture. However, those resulting forms are neither imaginary nor abstract, but whole and existing in an actual three-dimensional space, in the case of sculptures, or in a represented three-dimensional space, in the case of paintings. Stuart’s nod to Pop art here arises.27 ibid. Stuart discussed the work of Claes Oldenberg, saying that the American’s artistic practice ‘amused him’ greatly. Two reviews of Lock Span Figuration was of utmost importance to Stuart, and he argues that his move into three-dimensions in the late 1960s and early 1970s was entirely in defence of his position as a figurative artist in the face of American abstraction and the instructional theorising of Greenberg and others. Melbourne in the 1960s was still strongly embedded in the figurative tradition, and it must not be forgotten that John Brack, Stuart’s much-admired mentor, was a member of the Antipodeans, that Melbourne group of artists who had so vigorously defended figuration in the 1950s, a cause that Stuart continues to this day.

This reading of Stuart’s Lock Span of 1969 has proposed that it acts as a partial engagement and simultaneous critique of American Minimalism and the entire prescriptive agenda of the American avant-garde, particularly present in the theories of Greenberg, who had given a lecture tour in Australia in 1968. By exemplifying the non-bodily but critically comprehensive Australian experience of New York experiential art, and by working with gravity, scale and site specificity, Stuart engaged with Minimalism to a point, but undermined and questioned the validity of the movement in his incorporation of responses to other movements, most clearly in his continued insistence on figuration. Lock Span can be read, therefore, as a defence of Stuart’s other forays into Minimalism, including the NGV’s Lattice full of holes.

Robyn Dold, Public Programs Manager, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2014)

Notes

1       Guy Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007. Stuart recounted that he and Scott took the model on a trolley into Melbourne’s central business district, to a site on Queen Street. Stuart stood well back from the model, but at a point that made it appear that he was standing under the completed full-scale sculpture. Scott positioned the camera lens against the rail of a nearby tram stop to provide a fade-to-black effect at the bottom of the image, thereby hiding the trolley on which the model sat.

2       Alan McCulloch, ‘Question marks?’, Herald, 30 April 1969. Here McCullock noted that the arc created by the two piles of bowls had the quality of ‘an enormous bridge’.

3       Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007.

4       Guy Stuart, letter to Maudie Palmer, then director of Heide Museum of Art, Melbourne, 9 June 2002.

5       Ann Roland, Registrar at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, in conversation with the author, 15 March 2007.

6       Patrick McCaughey, ‘A generation gap in the art world’, The Age, 30 April 1969. Stuart’s first solo show, A Five Finger Exercise for Two Ideas and Drawings for Metal Casts, was held in March of 1969, just weeks before Lock Span, and also at Gallery A. It was subtitled ‘The Bowls, The Walls’. This first exhibition earned Stuart the highest critical praise of his career. McCaughey wrote: ‘Guy Stuart’s first one-man show of paintings and drawings at Gallery A is electrifying. Ambitious in scale and dazzling in execution, he states a compelling new thesis about the picture surface … Stuart has found a credible and exciting alternative to the matt surfaces of the new abstraction’.

7       In addition to Stuart’s success with his vat and disc works, he was also selected for inclusion in the NGV’s watershed exhibition The Field in 1968, and to participate in Harold Szeeman’s Kaldor Art Project in 1971. See Brian Finemore & John Stringer, The Field, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1968; Harald Szeeman, When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head, Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland, 1969.

8       Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007.

9       Stuart, letter to NGV, NGV artist file.

10     McCaughey. McCaughey returned to Gallery A to review this second show, and while he continued to be encouraging, this coverage had not the wild enthusiasm of the previous piece. He wrote that the show ‘indicates again what the paintings showed: an ambitious, eccentric and energetic imagination. The excellent photomontages suggest that it would take more nerve than cash to build it’.

11     McCulloch; McCaughey; G. R. Lansell, ‘Great promise’, Nation, 22 March 1969.

12     Margaret Plant, ‘A Reading of Robert Morris (with notes on Paul Partos, Guy Stuart and Ti Parks)’, Other Voices, Oct./Dec. 1970, p. 41.

13     Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007.

14     Many of these images were printed in newspapers to accompany reviews, and newspaper photographers have always included artists in their shots where possible. However, Stuart’s bodily inclusions in the records of his practice are more persistent than just these examples.

15     Graeme Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1788–1975, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, p. 185. The three performance artists are Kevin Mortensen, p. 229; Ken Unsworth, p. 230; and Stelarc, p. 231. The one exception is a posed studio photograph of George Lambert and his assistants from c.1925, p. 92.

16     Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007.

17     ibid.

18     Notably, this refusal to discuss externally offered art theory was a trait of the New York Minimalists, themselves a generation of highly theoretical artists who invited viewers to experience the work individually, but prescribed the meanings of those experiences through their extensive theorising.

19     Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007, explained Lock Span using cereal bowls from his kitchen to demonstrate the ways that bowl shapes can sit together in harmony or in tension. When either the experiential or gravitational elements of the work were raised for discussion, Stuart was dismissive.

20     John Rajchman, ‘Serra’s abstract thinking’, in Kynaston McShine, Lynne Cooke, John Rajchman and Richard Serra (eds), Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Thames and Hudson, London, 2007.

21     Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, and Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1993.

22     Stuart, letter to Maudie Palmer.

23     Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1985, pp. 276–90.

24     Arts Council of Great Britain, The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, Tate Gallery, London, 1966.

25     ibid., p. 79.

26     Stuart, in conversation with the author, 7 Nov. 2007, described his foray into three-dimensions as one of imagined form that is first drawing, and then shifts simultaneously to painting and sculpture. However, those resulting forms are neither imaginary nor abstract, but whole and existing in an actual three-dimensional space, in the case of sculptures, or in a represented three-dimensional space, in the case of paintings.

27     ibid. Stuart discussed the work of Claes Oldenberg, saying that the American’s artistic practice ‘amused him’ greatly. Two reviews of Lock Span referred to similarities with Oldenberg’s oversized domestic objects: G. R. Lansell, ‘Great Promise’, and Patrick McCaughey, ‘A generation gap’.