Why "Sculpture by the Sea" at David Jones is a Revelation

Why "Sculpture by the Sea" at David Jones is a Revelation
Rachael Couper & Ivana Kuzmanovska, (NSW), plywood, timber, perspex, 305(h)cmx700(w)cmx700(d)cm

Who would have thought that a group of large-scale sculptures originally created for exhibition outdoors would translate so well to the top floor of a department store.  But they do, incredibly well in fact.  Currently on show at the David Jones Sydney flagship store, the exhibition of highlights from previous “Sculpture by the Sea” events is a revelation.

I must admit that I was a little sceptical about the “Sculpture by the Sea On Seven” exhibition to begin with.  I didn’t want to ruin the grand image I had in my mind of the highly exclusive David Jones Art Gallery that existed from 1944 to 1985.  But as soon as the lift opened on level seven, the scepticism was replaced with elation.  Yes, I had seen some of these sculptures before, but not in this context.  And you need to see them in this context, believe me.


Greeting visitors as they enter the space is Australian artist Hugh Ramage’s fantastic large-scale cardboard sculpture “thinkin’ n’ drinkin”.  The sinuous lines of the reposed figure, perched thoughtfully on a milk crate, beer in hand, are at once a symbol of masculine muscularity while also referencing the fragility of the human mind.  The imposing presence of the thinking giant is a bold but welcome introduction to the exhibition. 

Walking down the grand staircase to the main exhibition space is an unusual experience; the spectacular Palladian windows and luxurious decor evoke feelings of nostalgia.  All that is missing is a gorgeous lady on my arm and a high-society soiree, although mingling amongst the “sunken cathedral” sculptures of Bjorn Godwin is a more than satisfactory substitute.  Covered in a tar-like substance and capped with man-hole covers, Godwin’s tree stumps are a nod to the amazing plants that sprout forth from suffocating city streetscapes around the world in a show of strength and defiance.  Their fibreglass construction does, however, belie their weighty appearance – a comment perhaps on the grandiose facade of big-city success.

Rachael Couper and Ivana Kuzmanovska’s impressive three metre high, seven metre in diameter colander-like plywood dome is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the exhibition.  On the other side of the unassuming exterior awaits a surreal experience that challenges notions of time, space and place.  Lining the inside wall is a mirrored surface that reflects the inside and outside while at the same time allowing the participant to see the outside world through the massive holes cut into the surface.  A clue as to the meaning of the work are the roman numerals etched onto the mirrored surface which are reminiscent of those seen on timepieces across the ages from ancient sundials to modern watches. 

Moving around the space, the organic forms of Alex Goad’s “invasive colonisation” sculptures which hang from the gallery roof are the antithesis of the gallery’s traditional lantern lights, but they work in a Dr. Who, parallel universe sort of way.  The projection of James McGrath, George Evatt and Barton Staggs’ video “ghost nets” onto the ceiling adds another dimension to the experience.  BAM’s sandshoe installation works wonderfully well with the wooden floor while the musically inspired metal assemblage of Orest Keywan shouts out “PLAY ME.” The ten metre long “ghost net crocodile” by GhostNets Australia adds a touch of whimsy to the display and contrasts nicely with the wry humour of Alicia Eggert and Mike Flemming’s “you are (on) an island” neon sign.

Although some of the sculptures work better than others, the harmony of between the exhibition space and the sculptures is a credit to the organisers and curators. The fact that I did not find myself yearning for the Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore sculptures that once graced the grand gallery space is testament to the success of the show.  Far from ruining my imaginary image of the David Jones Art Gallery of old, “Sculpture by the Sea On Seven” has gifted me a real and even more exciting perception of the space that is an actual memory as opposed to a fabricated vision.

If you haven’t been to see “Sculpture by the Sea On Seven” then I implore you to do so.  You could even end up walking out of the store with a new work of art to complement the new outfit you just purchased as many of the sculptures are for sale. “Sculpture by the Sea On Seven” can be viewed daily during store trading hours until January 20 at the David Jones Elizabeth Street Store in Sydney.