(Australia 1958– )
317.0 x 470.0 x 57.0cm installed:
a-c - wall frame (3 pieces); 317 x 12cm; left and right sides
a-c - wall frame (3 pieces); 470 x 12cm; central piece
d - left pole (no.B); 244cm; height
e - centre pole (no.C); 202cm; height
f - right pole (no.A); 217cm; height
g-l - tables (6 pieces); 28.5 x 81 x 3.8cm; each half
m-ee - 19 pegs; 21 x 2.5 x 2.5cm; each
ff-hh - 3 spindles; 11 x 4.5 x 4.5cm; each
Roberts’ early work in painting was indebted to Daniel Buren, whose architectural interventions she admired, and the conceptual work of Joseph Kosuth, who juxtaposed forms of representation with the real.1 From stripes that defined walls and architectural details, she quickly moved on to three-dimensional objects but these continued to be attached to the wall. This was a time when the memory of minimalism was still strong in Australia, even though students at Sydney College of the Arts tempered their commitment to concrete forms of abstraction with a keen awareness of the theoretical framework of postmodernism. It was also a time when the United States was becoming less of an influence than Europe, thus artists like Buren, whose work relates to earlier French street-based art and the Italian arte povera, were particularly influential at the time.
Roberts’ interest in architecture extended to design and in a postmodern spirit to decor, which had a subversive sound to it in the early 1980s. Her work then is very much of its time and in ‘Wooden periodics’ we can see this being played out. The clean lines of the wooden form stand out starkly from the white gallery wall. It is at once a formal painting and a flat relief sculpture. It frames a piece of gallery wall suggesting an embrace of the museum context for its display while subverting museum taxonomies. In this it has a clear minimalist history and yet it immediately becomes figurative, suggesting architectural details in the form of a table or shelf and a frame or window. The columns are more complicated since they seem to be something between a hat rack and a forest.2
This ambiguity is a deliberate evocation of the relationship between nature and architecture that is sometimes lost in time. The classical European temple with its rows of columns and the standing stones of earlier times were reputedly inspired by the sacred grove when worship took place in a forest clearing.3 In such ancient rites, objects of ritual importance (including garlands and also more disturbingly sacrificial bodies) were hung from the trees. These objects survived as carved details on the tops of the columns of classical European architecture but became more abstracted and reduced till they lost any ritual or organic significance (for example the acanthus leaf on a Corinthian column).
In this way Roberts seems to be revealing the hidden truth of the tree buried in the classical architectural column as a metaphor for the nature/culture duality that is a central concern of many of the arte povera artists. Although it alludes to similar concepts, Roberts’ treatment is more design oriented (rather than structured around process). And, unlike the arte povera artists, her work also incorporates a conceptual deconstruction of representation in the trajectory of Kosuth, or perhaps from an Australian perspective we should more properly say Ian Burn and the Art & Language group.
1. As for example his ‘One and three tables’ 1965 (AGNSW collection)
2. Duchamp can easily be detected hovering behind this form and quite properly so since this is still very much his legacy that seeks to play with the spaces between real objects and their representations
3. George Hersey ‘The lost meaning of classical architecture’, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass 1988. Roberts references this text in relation to this work. Robert Graves also discusses the meaning of trees in his ‘The white goddess: a historical grammar of poetic myth’, Faber, London 1961
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Anthony Bond (England; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 2006, 370, 371 (colour illus.).
Deborah Edwards (Australia) (Author), Daphne Wallace (Australia, b.1964) (Author), Margo Neale (Australia) (Author), Victoria Lynn (Australia) (Author), Sandra Byron (Australia) (Author), Review: works by women from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Domain, 1995, 15, 25. no catalogue numbers
Ewen McDonald (Australia) (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, Sydney, 1994, 239 (colour illus.).
Art Gallery of New South Wales (Australia, estab. 1874) (Author), Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no pagination or catalogue numbers
Victoria Lynn (Australia) (Curator), Australian Perspecta 1991, Domain, 1991, 86, 87 (colour illus.). no catalogue numbers
Australian Perspecta 1991, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 07 Aug 1991–15 Sep 1991.
Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994.
Review - works by women from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 08 Mar 1995–04 Jun 1995.