The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver

‘The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver’ at the TarraWarra Museum of Art is the first comprehensive survey of the accomplished and esteemed artist’s practice from the mid-1980s to her final solo show in 2006 and embraces early paper works, sculptures and maquettes. In 2017, Hannah Fink will release a long-awaited biography on the artist, ‘Bronwyn Oliver: Strange Things’. Ahead of the installation we spoke with Julie Ewington, the exhibition’s guest curator, who is also a writer and broadcaster and has been working in the arts for decades advocating for the value of women’s contribution to Australian art, past and present.

Bronwyn Oliver, Two Rings

What are you hoping audiences take away from their visit?
A kind of stillness coupled with a sense of energy. Great sculpture like Bronwyn Oliver’s gives us a space for meditation, and a moving mediation at that, as we must walk around her works and look at them from all angles. Even the wall-mounted works throw complex shadows in space, so they compel us to move. I hope that Oliver will be recognised for the remarkable artist she was, for the ardent beauty of her work.

Why is ‘beauty’ in art important or of value?
Art does many things for us. The quality of limpid precision and completeness that Bronwyn Oliver achieved in her work is a form of beauty. It is extremely rich and satisfying, something you can return to many times. A place apart in a hectic world.

Bronwyn Oliver, Grandiflora (Bud)   Bronwyn Oliver, Hatchery

How did you approach the curatorial focus, especially as Oliver was so intent on ‘structure and energy, object and action’?
This is the first chance to see Bronwyn Oliver’s work in depth since 2005, so I started in the best way I know – simply by seeing as many works as I could. You cannot know what shape an exhibition will take until you have done that looking, looking, looking. I wanted to show the best works from across her entire career, the public as well as the private sculptures. Oliver herself was very clear that her work was about structure, and the nature of forms. What became increasingly clear to me, as I looked at more and more works, was that Oliver’s complex metal forms were full of a kind of stilled movement, a latent energy. They practically breathe.

What was at the heart of Oliver’s poetry?
That is a metaphorical ‘poetry’, of course, but in Oliver’s case I think poetry is the right analogy: her work has the same compressed energy as poetry, the same decision, and poetry’s way of making refined propositions. It’s a word she used herself, too – in 1995 she said, “I think about sculpture as a kind of physical poetry.”

TarraWarra Museum of Art
Until 5 February, 2017
Melbourne

Hatchery, 1991, copper, lead, wood, 50 x 70 x 60cm
Artbank Collection, Purchased 1991, © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver

Grandiflora (Bud), 2005, copper, 60 x 58 x 58cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Two Rings, 2006, copper, 200 x 260 x 260cm
Private collection, © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria