Menzies Art Brands


Robert Klippels work was always recognised by those with discernment. The late and great Robert Hughes was typically incisive in his judgement. Writing in the national journal Art and Australia in 1964, Hughes delivered the following prodding assertion: Five years ago, it would have been unthinkable to propose that one of the two or three most gifted artists at work in Australia was a sculptor.1

Since that time, Klippels artistic status has been firmly cemented into Australias cultural heritage. His work is rare, perplexingly ingenious, and aesthetically rich. These attributes were more publicly appreciated after the resounding success of Deborah Edwards major retrospective exhibition Robert Klippel at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002 where an example of the present bronze sculpture was exhibited.

It is useful to remind oneself that Klippel always wanted to make sculpture rather than statuary hence there are no portrait busts, no aldermen, no plinths, no narratives and no literary or mythologic narratives in his artistic output. In Klippel, there is just the orchestration of the physical forms of industrial elements and mechanical components that are firstly recognised for their visual properties and then reconfigured according to their sculptural potential. His aim was to build up coherent visual progressions of abstract forms a conversation of shapes in the way that music is a conversation of sounds - that construct aesthetically viable sculptural entities. Put simply, he wanted to truly create rather than to merely re-create pre-existent things in nature.

Like many good ideas, these bracingly fresh thoughts came to Klippel at a quiet time in an unfamiliar place. Perhaps his thoughts arose from the easing effects of train travel or were simply a mesmeric response formed by a flickering screen of images flashed through a carriage window. Whatever the case, Klippels grasp of the aesthetic potential of mechano-industrial objects changed forever on 1 April 1948 during a train trip in England. He was returning to London from Cornwall and during the 400 kilometres journey he noted:

the variety of constructional elements which are before our eyes signals, towers, telegraph poles, chimneys, cranes, masts, radar equipment, street lamp-posts, step ladders, water tanks, windmills, dredges, church spires, lighthouses, ventilators, etc., etc., all vertical, man-made a relationship existing with the organic trees and men I cant see why an artist cant use such exciting elements in his work but no! practically everybody says that the figure is the only thing for sculpture. It is incredible! 2

Klippels mindset was re-arranged during this train trip and thereafter he turned his artistic intentions to a type of assemblage mode - to creating sculptures wherein disparate objects are re-arranged, re-presented or re-configured to be re-fashioned into new artistic wholes.

In many respects, this procedure culminated in his 1982 Group of Eight commission for the National Gallery of Australia. In those bronzes there exist four new aesthetic attributes: objecthood, autonomy, presence and dignity that, without going into distracting details, may be traced back three years to his major photomontage work of 1979 entitled Philadelphia, in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These four attributes coalesce in what may be called his Sentinel series. The 1980s saw Klippel produce a limited number of significant individual cast bronze sculptures that depend upon a range of vertical sentinel formats with cascades of interrelated semi-mechanical parts all of them part of a stream of themes that he sporadically dipped into until 1987. These important works both presage and reflect the visual impact of Klippels Group of Eight sculptures most notably No. 390 1981, No. 412 1981, No. 415 1981, No. 422 1982 (cast silver) and No. 467 1982 in the Andrew Klippel collection; No. 414 1981 in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery collection in Hobart; No. 522 1983 in the Rosemary Madigan collection in Yass, New South Wales; No. 657 (1987) in the Tom Lowenstein collection in Melbourne and No. 661 Sentinel 1987 another example of the present work - La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Klippels bronze No. 661 Sentinel presents as a refinement of this specific turn in the artists development. He had refined the compositions of his bronze cast assemblage sculptures to emphasize a central sense of solemn, almost meditative composure; that is, the type of composure that suggests the ability to stand in an easy relationship with its environment - in fact, with almost any environment.


Dr. Ken Wach wrote the catalogue for the exhibition Robert Klippel: The American and European Years at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zrich in June 2013 the first Klippel exhibition in Europe for sixty-three years. He also gave the address at the exhibition opening in the Baur au Lac in Zrich.


1. Hughes, R., Art and Australia, May 1964, vol.2, no.1, p.18
2. Robert Klippel, 1 April 1948, quoted in Gleeson, J., Robert Klippel, Bay Books, Sydney, 1983, p.45

Associate Professor Ken Wach
Dip. Art; T.T.T.C.; Fellowship RMIT; MA; PhD
Former Principal Research Fellow and Head of the School of Creative Arts,
The University of Melbourne

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.