School of Culture and Communication - Theses

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    Centre Five sculptors: the formation of an alternative professional avant-garde
    Eckett, Jane ( 2016)
    This thesis examines the previously unknown origins of Centre Five, a group of mainly émigré sculptors influential in Melbourne in the 1950s and 1960s, who are widely regarded as having played a key role in the advancement of modernist sculpture in Australia. In part a group biography of the seven sculptors, the thesis examines their little-known backgrounds in order to establish the roots of the group’s collective philosophy, particularly with regards to the integration of sculpture and architecture. Five of the sculptors – Vincas Jomantas (1922-2001), Julius Kane (1921-62), Inge King (1915-2016), Clifford Last (1918-91) and Teisutis Zikaras (1922-91) – were European born, trained and nurtured amidst various cosmopolitan modernities that emerged in Britain, Germany, Hungary and Lithuania between and during the two world wars. The two Australian-born members – Lenton Parr (1924-2003) and Norma Redpath (1928-2013) – derived their outlook from European models and would later live and work in Britain and Italy respectively. As such, this thesis is less a study of Australian sculpture than it is a study of European sculpture directly before, during and after World War Two. In 1953 Kane, King, Last and Redpath began exhibiting together in Melbourne as the Group of Four; later, in 1961, they joined with the other three sculptors to form Centre Five. However, I focus on the years 1935 to 1952, ending just before the group began to coalesce – at which point they effectively enter Australian art history. The thesis departs from most other studies of wartime and post-war modernist art in placing less emphasis on traumatic rupture than on strategies of survival and the adaptation of earlier modernist agendas. Specifically I argue that the émigré sculptors practiced a form of ‘alternative professionalism’, meaning they deployed the strategies of professionalism for anti-academic and essentially avant-garde purposes. They had a concise program of goals, made concerted overtures to architects, and regularly proselytized to the public and the press on the subject of abstract modern sculpture – particularly as it related to the urban and built environment – and, as such, constituted an identifiably cohesive local avant-garde. Tracing inter-tangled transnational histories of exchange between diverse modernities – peripheral and central – the thesis complicates existing Australian, British, German and Lithuanian nationalist art histories and contributes to an ongoing alternative modernities project. It also demonstrates the inadequacies of the old model of Australian art lagging provincially behind that of Europe and North America. Influences do not simply diffuse radially from centre to periphery, but rather occur simultaneously in multiple locales, in different guises. Similarly, the so-called ‘call to order’ of the 1930s is shown to reoccur after WWII, particularly in French-occupied Germany, reflecting a recurrent cyclical pattern of modernist art – looking backwards and looking forwards – rather than the persistent teleological model of canon formation.