Isolated from memory

Isolated from memory

By Rhonda Dredge

Vault stands in a proud place in the centre of the Arts Precinct, a symbol of Australian modernism, but has it been forgotten?

The controversial sculpture turned 40 on May 1 this year without a fanfare.

Birthdays celebrations in the COVID-19 era can be low-key.

Charles Nodrum Gallery has come to the rescue by offering a small replica of Vault for sale from an edition of 12 by the artist.

“Almost immediately after its installation, the backlash against Vault was rife,” Nodrum said, who represents 79-year-old Ron Robertson-Swann, the sculptor.

A Tandberg cartoon of the day shows a colour code for Melbourne’s City Square, where the sculpture was first installed, as grey with Vault in brilliant yellow. The work soon became known as the Yellow Peril.

The art world loves controversy and the fate of Vault as a symbol of resistance was sealed by the bad press it received.

“Few artworks have been involved in such a conflict,” Nodrum said. “Eventually, about a year later, the work was removed in the dead of night and re-located to a part of the city few people frequented.”

Now, 40 years down the track, Vault has emerged not just as one of Melbourne’s icons but arguably as the best-known public sculpture in Australia, Nodrum said.

“The now eponymous ‘Swann yellow’ and the tensely balanced diagonals of its hard-edge geometry have been re-called, borrowed and extended by architects and designers across Australia.”

The replica of Vault and other small editions cast in steel by the sculptor in 2012 could be deemed examples of what theorists are now calling recession art.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) will run a podcast on July 13 of a lecture by Peter Cripps that defines recession art as small, replaceable and clever.

“This includes the development of new strategies for the sale of works, the possibility of replacing parts as they sell with replicas,” the blurb for the lecture said.

The works can be viewed on the Charles Nodrum Gallery website •

For information about ACCA’s podcast visit:

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