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Sculpture coming down to earth

The public enjoy Ronnie van Hout's Fallen Robot, 2012 at Big Day Dowse 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum
Ronnie van Hout, Fallen Robot. Photo by Mark Tantrum
Everyday Fiction. Photo by John Lake
Andy Irving & Keila Martin, Apocalypse Tent, 2011. Photo by John Lake
Dowse Registrar Georgia Morgan takes a look inside Apocalypse Tent. Photo by John Lake
Francis Upritchard, Yellow Grief, 2013, Super Sculptey, bronze. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Francis Upritchard, Yellow Grief, 2013, Super Sculptey, bronze. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Mel Ford, Time and Tide, 2013, ceramic bricks. Courtesy of the artist
Mel Ford, Time and Tide, 2013, ceramic bricks. Courtesy of the artist
Erica van Zon, Melted Ice Cream With Cones (Neapolitan), Super Sculptey. Courtesy of the artist
Erica van Zon, Melted Ice Cream With Cones (Neapolitan), Super Sculptey. Courtesy of the artist
Richard Stratton, Fallen Empire, 2012/ Richard Stratton, Wellington Boots (two pieces), 2012/ Richard Stratton, Memento of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Affair, 2014/ Where are the Cows, 2012
Richard Orjis, Hive, 2009, ceramic. Richard Orjis, Nest, 2009, ceramic. Courtesy of Melanie Roger Gallery
Jim Cooper, Are You Experienced? 2006, Stoneware, clay, polychromatic glazes, glue, plastic, brown wrapping paper, board, paint, crayon, various papers. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Cheryl Lucas, Royal Muntin Ware Ref. No. 6.3/2011, 2011-2012, ceramic. Collection of The Christchurch Art Gallery
Mark Amery considers the place of sculpture today in a visit to the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.


By Mark Amery

As a new icon in Lower Hutt, just what a fallen robot represents in the valley is interesting to ponder on. This giant, boxy minimalist-like stainless steel sculpture by Ronnie Van Hout, complete with a cheeky set of bronze teeth and googly eyes is becoming much loved, and deservedly so.

It lies, planking, in a pool of water in the square outside the Dowse. A veritable Gulliver, children and adults like myself can jump on board and give it a good clang.

Industry - and the robot as representative of its workers - is clearly not what it once was in the Hutt. Yet, both populist and smart Fallen Robot represents even more the no-nonsense and approachable nature of the local area, something epitomised by the Dowse’s dual ethos of quality and accessibility. The robot and industry made human.

In truth, a version of Fallen Robot was first presented in Melbourne. A symbol of global capitalist dreams fallen then. Certainly, it brings the pomposity of all those towering modernist sculptures down to size. Sculpture made involving for all.

Sculpture is losing its loftiness. Getting more grounded and conversational. This suits the Dowse. There’s long here been a treasuring of objects that are part of people’s lives, and art living across disciplinary boundaries. The first exhibition I see on a recent visit is Everyday Fiction, curated by 2013 curatorial intern Emma Ng (now at Enjoy Gallery). It draws out through a sweet, if a little uneven, diversity of work reflection on how art can make us consider the way we arrange our lives.

Andy Irving and Keila Martin’s whimsical ‘Apocalypse Tent’ (first shown at Enjoy) anchors the exhibition. It’s a brilliantly designed DIY-like geodesic hut you can crawl up and into, made from scavenged building and art materials. Amongst the surreal yet resonant objects proposed as necessary to someone’s survival, the tent makes custom-made provision for a potted cyclamen, a beautiful thick hand-knitted rug and, attached as a flap on the outside, a large painting of a greenery-endowed rockface screened to the tent’s inhabitants via a camera. The work playfully considers the essential part art plays in each of our unique, idiosyncratic lives.

An indication of how sculpture has been brought down to earth, quite literally, is the increasing engagement of artists of late with ceramics: hand-moulding collections of intimate things out of clay. This has been recognised smartly by Senior Dowse Curator Emma Bugden’s Slip Cast, boldly but fluidly bringing together the work of such contemporary art darlings as Francis Upritchard and Kate Newby with ceramicists’ with art world cred Paul Maseyk and Richard Stratton, and a pile of diverse, too-underrated artists in the gallery scene. This is a natural show for the Dowse to curate, but one so strong you’d hope it could tour widely.

You might not see a better-looking, more animated exhibition. It’s almost kinetic in the way the works chatter and dance together across the gallery, with intense rhythmic pools of muscular life interacting. Little is static here.

The works are often smartly tuned clusters of elements, with strong internal logics of movement between different elements (nicely echoed in that word ‘slip’ in the title). Some, like Mel Ford’s eroding and diminishing necklace of brick, and Newby’s musical, high hanging pendant of yellow hand twisted rods, powerfully mark in abstraction the turning of time.

Strong conversations are made across spaces – Tessa Laird’s eye-poppingly eclectic shelf of clunky clay books, facing Erica Van Zon’s cabinet of literary props and Lee Houlihan’s generous kete of giant, bent clay nails. Or, in a room devoted to sweet yet spooky devotional figurative work, small pieces by Kate Fitzharris, Suji Park and Upritchard.


With a candy collision of colour, there’s an exuberant yet tender play with the potential of materials in some of the work of this recent artist in residence.

  • A Material Thing, Rebekah Rasmussen, until 10 May, 30 Upstairs

Written by

Mark Amery

8 May 2014

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.