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Cripps, Peter - 2015.41 Zan Wimberly

Peter Cripps

Public Projects Mirror Orator 2010
steel, chain and stainless steel mirrors
742 x 486 x 240 cm (overall)
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Peter Cripps in memory of Joy and Charles Cripps 2015

Peter Cripps is an artist, curator, writer and educator. He has been a key figure in Australian art since the 1970s. Cripps’ objects, performances, sculptures and installations are part of the trajectory of minimal and conceptual art that were at the forefront of contemporary practice from the late 1960s onwards. His work has been consistently concerned with the formal, conceptual, phenomenological and ideological relationships between objects and the spaces in which they are located. Modes of display and physical engagement with the viewer have remained central to his work. Cripps refers to his minimalist approach as ‘reductivist’. His elegant forms interrogate the intersections between art, design and museum display, while his installations and ‘plays’ implicate the viewer in an active historical dialogue.

Cripps’ Public Projects Mirror Orator was first presented as part of the artist’s major survey show at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in 2010, Peter Cripps: Towards an Elegant Solution. It was Cripps’ first full-scale realisation of a sculptural series; Public Projects had begun in 1990. His lean, steel ‘looking’ tower mounted with mirrors was installed in the ACCA forecourt, positioned to reflect the Corten steel ‘sculptural’ gallery against which it was located. Seven metres in height, the tower also had varying-sized ready-made convex mirrors placed to capture glimpses of viewers and passers-by. Each of the modules is made from standardised components, with the frames for the work made entirely from black steel piping. Diagonal bars join two or three open rhomboid planes, forming a series of dynamic angles.

The title of this ongoing series is also significant: ‘public’ reflects Cripps’ interest in engaging with an acknowledged social space. Many previous iterations included the word ‘fiction’ in brackets in the title, possibly to suggest the fact that these objects were only ever scaled-down versions for gallery and private displays. This larger version includes the word ‘orator’ in its title, connoting the presence of a narrator or speaker, a figure that has been given a voice in a way that the earlier works perhaps were not.

Cripps’ Public Projects are modelled on the early constructivist work of brothers Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg, who first exhibited Konstrukziia Prosannogo Sooruveniia (Constructions of Spatial Apparatus, or KPS) as part of OBMOKhU (Society of Young Artists) in Moscow in 1921.[1] Two surviving photographs of this series reveal a massed group of a dozen KPSs covering much of the exhibition floor space. None of the original KPSs survived the decades of Soviet communism, but, with renewed interest in constructivism in the west in the 1970s, a number were reconstructed. The National Gallery of Australia acquired a set in 1975.

Cripps’ Public Projects pays homage to a revolutionary modernism repressed by successive Stalinist regimes and Cold War ideologies. His works reveal an interest in deploying exhibition histories to reconsider the present. They are part appropriation and part modification of the originals, and carefully balance closeness with distance from their precedents.

Dr Rebecca Coates is Director of SAM, Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria.

Photo: Zan Wimberley

[1] Ann Stephen, ‘I am torn between white walls and other places …’, in Rebecca Coates (ed.), Peter Cripps: Towards an Elegant Solution, exh. cat., Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2010, p.27.