Clement Meadmore’s colossal red-rusted corten steel sculpture Virginia was commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia for its sculpture garden and is positioned near the banks of Lake Burley Griffin. Meadmore dedicated the work to fellow expatriate artist and geometric abstractionist, Virginia Cuppaidge, whom he had met in New York in 1969 when she moved there from Brisbane.
Having moved to New York himself in 1963, Meadmore’s practice was liberated by the opportunity to produce work on a monumental scale at the Lippincott factory; as a result his work evolved according to an entirely new trajectory. From the late 1960s his sculpture began to appear as a three-dimensional line in space—impossibly heavy in structure and yet gravity defying in the way it is lightly poised on solid ground.
By the time he came to make Virginia the curve in Meadmore’s work had become a fully-fledged curl. Indeed, the power of the work resides in the intriguing paradox it presents to the viewer. It is a fixed and solid form yet also a gestural force pushing into space and rearranging it in a dynamic, fluid movement. The robust physicality of the work is matched by an ethereal quality, which, while immediately evoking the man- made world, has a palpable organic tendency, mimicking the archetypal forms and forces of nature.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014
Clement Meadmore began a career as an industrial designer in Melbourne, before starting to exhibit non-figurative metal sculpture in the mid-1950s. At first glance, Cross appears to be fashioned from precariously balanced heavy slabs of iron or bronze. Yet, what look like solid blocks are in reality hollow, like empty boxes with an exterior shell constructed from thin sheets of welded steel. The dark rough texture of the surfaces is a deliberate effect, an expressive gesture of being wrought by the hand of the artist.
Meadmore moved to Sydney in 1960, left for New York in 1963 and became an American citizen in 1976. He remains Australia’s most prominent expatriate sculptor with major public sculptures in Australia and numerous commissions abroad. Virginia,dedicated to a fellow expatriate, the painter Virginia Cuppaidge, was commissioned for the National Gallery of Australia’s sculpture garden, where it is now located with the work of other notable international sculptors.
In the late 1960s, working in the United States provided Meadmore with opportunities to produce sculpture on an increasingly ambitious and monumental scale. There is an effortlessness with which the single massive form of Virginiahas been apparently twisted in the centre so that its ends float above the ground in defiance of gravity. The genesis for the creation of this visual perception of weightlessness can be seen in Meadmore’s earlier work such as Cross. In fact, Virginia weighs over 8000 kilograms, or eight tonnes, and was fabricated at the pioneering Lippincott factory for large-scale sculpture in the United States, before being shipped to Australia in four parts and reassembled in Canberra.
Virginia is made from a particular brand of steel, known as cor-ten, whichthe artist has intentionally allowed to weather on the surface to a warm earthy rust-red. As is the case with most successful outdoor sculptures, Virginia engages in a sympathetic dialogue with the environment it inhabits.
Steven Tonkin 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002