Stretching across more than 20 metres of ground in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Australia, Bert Flugelman’s reflective steel Cones has assumed an iconic presence. Over the years, the work has become a favourite backdrop and interactive site for taking photographs to commemorate a special occasion or to record a visit with family and friends to the Gallery.
Over more than three decades of work, including numerous public commissions, Flugelman has become one of Australia’s best-known sculptors. In the 1970s, after experimenting with a wide range of materials, he discovered stainless steel. In a conceptual sense, he also found himself wanting to turn away from ‘self-indulgence’, to engage with the outside world. Following The Field exhibition of contemporary abstraction at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, the artist found a clear sense of direction.
At that time, my work suddenly started to make real sense ... I wanted something that was immensely precise and minimal like a cube, but I also wanted to distort the planes and somehow deny the information that the edges gave ... and so this cube looks strangely animated as though there were things trying to get out. 1
As Ian North has pointed out, Flugelman’s works differ from Minimalism in that they are not only about the qualities of surface and volume, but also consistently ‘had the public and the site very much in mind’.*2This is certainly true of Cones. While on one level the impression is of brilliant clarity and geometry, the whole is energised by dynamic interactions of the forms across the space; they reflect sky, ground and eucalypt trees, involving the visitor as an active participant, enmeshed temporarily in the flow of constantly changing possibilities.
1Bert Flugelman, private interview, Adelaide, 29 June 1974 quoted in Ian North, ‘Bert Flugelman, from Heroism to Reflection’, Bulletin of the Art Gallery of South Australia, vol.36, 1978, pp.2-15 (p.6).
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