The Learning Federation
Please refer to Conditions of use (This item contains non-TLF content)

image icon 'Metal sculpture', c1974

'Metal sculpture', c1974
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a metal sculpture, measuring 122.5 cm x 63.0 cm, made in about 1974 by Robert Klippel (1920-2001). It consists of a large number of variously sized metal shapes and rods joined together to form an open, see-through construction. The sculpture consists of a box-form base made from straight metal rods, and two vertical branch-like extensions that emerge from within the box-form. Both extensions are an assemblage of different sized and shaped metal rods and mechanical parts.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a sculpture by Robert Klippel, who is widely regarded as one of Australia's most significant 20th-century sculptors - after undertaking art studies at East Sydney Technical College (1944-46), Klippel travelled to London in 1947; before returning from Europe to Australia in 1950 he lived and worked in London and Paris and exhibited sculptures and pictorial work (London, 1948) in a surrealist style; time spent working as an artist in the USA in 1957 and 1962-63 saw him making open sculptural constructions using at first metal rods and then increasingly 'junk metals' such as welding shop cast-offs and dismembered manual typewriters; he returned to Australia in 1963 and continued to consolidate his work and reputation
  • demonstrates Klippel's imaginative abilities in working with the sculptural assemblage medium - throughout his long working life Klippel's output was prolific and his technical range extensive; in the early years following his return to Australia, Klippel abandoned carving as his preferred sculptural process in favour of assemblage and construction, and began experimenting with aluminium, glass and plastics; he later worked with wood, metals, plastics, junk, machinery parts, oils, watercolours and paper, and used the techniques of casting, assemblage, painting and collage; by the end of the 1990s he had completed over 1,200 sculptures
  • is an expression of an idea that was central to much of his art - many of his sculptures explore structural relationships between organic and mechanical forms; in this sculpture the forms are mechanical in origin (machine parts) and the overall construction imitates the skeletal structure of a machine; however, the box-form base introduces the possibility that this object just might be a vase of flowers; Klippel once said, 'I could imagine the parts growing like plants'; one art critic observed that Klippel's junk sculptures have the same convincing structure as a tree, with large parts relating to smaller parts in much the same way as a tree trunk relates to its branches, leaves and twigs
  • is an example of 'junk sculpture' - this term covers a wide variety of 20th-century modern sculpture built from discarded industrial items or domestic consumables; the philosophy underlying much junk sculpture is that beauty or symbolic meaning can be found in everyday 'non-art' things and materials; this sculpture was made largely from reassembled scraps of an old manual typewriter
  • is a visually entertaining and imaginative sculpture - the way in which Klippel has organised a mass of very diverse shapes and lines achieves an overall sense of design; diagonal lines have been used to link the two vertical extensions and to help create a sense of movement; the suggested upward movement or growth of these units has been given added interest by the sudden changes in direction and contrast that have been created by between the linear sections and clusters of shapes
  • invites a personal response - the recycling of a (now superseded technology) manual typewriter may suggest some kind of symbolic statement; perhaps this object is just fun to look at; as Klippel once said, 'I just see them as shapes … I don't see any meaning in where it has come from … I'm not trying to make any comment at all'
  • references the use of junk and found materials in 20th-century modern art - Cubist artists Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) were among the first artists of the modern era to incorporate industrial and consumer materials within their paintings (such as wood veneer and newspaper cuttings); Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) challenged the art world in the first two decades of the 20th century by exhibiting items such as a bicycle wheel and a urinal as art; a number of American Pop artists (including Robert Rauschenberg, (1925-), Jasper Johns, (1930-) and Andy Warhol (1928-87) based their art practice on taking everyday objects and materials and placing them in new contexts.