June 5th, 2019.
Since opening to the public in mid-2017, Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park has quickly become an iconic ‘destination’ within Victoria’s abundant cultural offerings. We sat down with Geoffrey Edwards, curatorial advisor for the Estate, to find out more about the procurement of the Park’s exemplary collection of Australian and International Sculpture.
OJ: What was the curatorial approach to acquiring pieces for the Sculpture Park at Pt Leo Estate? Did the Gandel’s have suitable pieces in their private art collection that were suitable or was the procurement process established from scratch with Pt Leo Sculpture Park as the intended destination?
GE: A short answer, a slightly contrary one, would be ‘yes’ to both your propositions. In 2016, when Mr Gandel invited me to take on the role of curatorial adviser to Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park, there was no park as such. The early iteration of an impressive construction site and a landscaping plan certainly, but no actual park as we see it now.
But there were some 40 works in the sculpture collection, some having been installed for several years at other family properties. Others were in storage, having been acquired over a period of years expressly for a park-in-prospect. These were mostly, but not exclusively, works by Australian sculptors.
Initially, my brief was to expand the collection of international sculptures. So, to a degree, l did begin from scratch with a search for works by key figures on the international scene. Hence, ‘yes’ also to the second part of your question.
Although Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park is readily accessible to members of the public year-round, it is ultimately a private collection; a private collection very prominent in the public realm. As a private (as opposed to an institutional) collection it should – and it does – reflect the interests, passions, and tastes of the family and it is a distinctive collection in this respect.
All the same, as a recommender of future acquisitions, l must argue the objective curatorial case for each and every new acquisition, as I’d done for years previously as, first, a public gallery (NGV) curator and later (Geelong Art Gallery) director. That is, argue the case in terms of the significance of the artist’s contribution to the development of ideas and directions in modern or contemporary art; and the significance of the specific work being considered within the artist’s oeuvre. I must also argue the relevance and suitability of the work within the landscape context of the Park.
OJ: How does Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park define a new public art destination in Australia and how does it compare on an international stage?
GE: Simply put, and in spite of having opened to the public as recently as mid- 2017, Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park is not only Australia’s foremost sculpture park but it is the only sculpture park in this country to incorporate really significant large-scale works by leading international sculptors.
It is distinctive also – and this is a rarity in terms of sculpture parks worldwide – in that it is located within a notable and magnificent coastal setting where the backdrop to many works is a vast and atmospheric expanse of water. At Pt Leo, this expanse of water is, of course, Western Port Bay with the added interest of Phillip Island on the horizon.
‘Vega’ by Lenton Parr against a backdrop of Western Port Bay Photography by Anson Smart.
There is a global cultural phenomenon that has been dubbed the vine-art movement: a reference to destinations that combine the inimitable landscape vista of an established vineyard with other ‘lifestyle’ offerings, notably cellar doors, fine dining restaurants and outdoor galleries – aka sculpture parks.
Pt Leo Estate has already made its mark internationally as Australia’s high-profile entry into the global vine-art movement. At Pt Leo Estate, fine dining, fine wines, and fine art come together in a landscaped setting. This is a point of difference in Australia certainly.
OJ: What is the future outlook of the Sculpture Park? Is the objective to continue to procure pieces to grow the collection? If so, how will this be managed to control the number of sculptures within the site?
GE: Yes, the Park is definitely a work in progress, both in terms of the current layout and landscaping and the current collection (that will expand over coming years) as well as the possibility in the future of mounting some kind of public program – temporary exhibitions perhaps.
You’ve asked about the mechanism of building the collection. While works will still be sourced as they are now (in line with an agreed and regularly reviewed list of desiderata) from dealers, art fairs and auctions, there is a desire to explore the prospect of more site-specific commissions such as occurred recently with the indigenous artist Reko Rennie whose 7-metre high Mirri is now installed in all its vivid polychrome splendor in a micro-environment so to speak.
It is also envisaged, as with any display of paintings or sculpture in a public gallery, that works will be rotated over time with other works or new acquisitions. Quality is always paramount in a collection such as this – that’s an important aspect of the curatorial role.
OJ: How does the procurement process begin? Do the Gandel’s come to you with a request for a specific piece? A brief? Is the Sculpture Park approached with proposals for finished pieces or direct commissions?
GE: Most of the time, l propose works for consideration but consistent with a shared understanding of the artists we’d like to see represented in the Park over coming years. Of course, as with any collector or collection, opportunities arise to acquire a work that is desirable, suitable and relevant but had not been foreseen as a target for acquisition. And it’s important to be flexible to take advantage, potentially, of good but unexpected opportunities. Mr. and Mrs. Gandel also bring forward specific works they have seen on their travels. And, again in line with most gallery or museum collections, many more works are considered and debated than are actually acquired.
OJ: Are all pieces acquired on completion or have some been commissioned?
GE: The majority have been acquired as existing works from exhibitions or studios. A few have been fabricated on a large scale – expressly for Pt Leo Estate – from maquettes (small scale models). But increasingly, l expect we’ll go down the path of commissioning artists to create works for specific sites in the Park such as occurred with Reko Rennie’s Mirri.
OJ: Do you have a quota of Australian/local art that you aim to include at Pt Leo?
GE: No numerical quota as such. My brief to expand the international collection to better complement the Australian collection is ongoing. But this is not to suggest that new Australian works won’t be sought, as they clearly will be.
In fact, the visual play that exists between Australian and non-Australian works is a big part of the experience at Pt Leo. To observe Andrew Rogers’ Rise in a clearing in the distance just as you leave the cypress-enclosed space where Plensa’s Laura holds court is as much a delight as it is to visually ricochet between George Rickey’s austere kinetic sculpture and the nearby blaze of colour and maze of whimsy that is Deborah Halpern’s Portal to another time and place.
OJ: This is the Gandel’s legacy project. How do you perceive its place as a legacy to the arts landscape in Australia?
GE: You will often hear public gallery professionals refer to a prominent or unusually rare work of art as a ‘destination painting’ or a ‘destination exhibit.’ At the National Gallery, Canberra, it’s often said that Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles is a destination painting. In my last role as Director of the Geelong Art Gallery, when we purchased from Andrew Lloyd Webber the famous and (when it finally came on to the market) eye-wateringly expensive colonial masterpiece View of Geelong (1856) by Eugene von Guerard, it too was described as a ‘destination painting’, such was the intense community interest in the quest for its acquisition and final arrival in Victoria where it had been painted just after the gold-rush.
Pt Leo Estate all told, and not least its constantly evolving sculpture park is already described in lifestyle and art literature alike as a must-see destination. The site adds immeasurably to the cultural offerings in Victoria, and most definitely to those on the Mornington Peninsula. I think it fair to say that Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park offers a visitor experience quite unlike any other in Victoria and indeed in the land. As an ambitious legacy project, it can only serve to enrich the lives of all who venture the hour or so from Melbourne to experience its seductive combination of vines, vista, fine dining, fine wine, and art.
With huge thanks to Geoffrey Edwards and Pt Leo Estate.
Interview composed and compiled by Tiffany Jade.