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image icon 'FX Holden', 1977

'FX Holden', 1977
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an earthenware clay sculpture designed to resemble an early model Holden car. Made in 1977 by Margaret Dodd (1941-), the work measures 17.5 cm x 42.0 cm x 19.0 cm. The car has a compact, all-over rounded shape with a high, slightly curved roof, a rounded bonnet and pronounced mudguards. The body of the car is black with a chrome-like badge, front grill, bumper bar and tyre hubcaps. The windows are covered in an opaque light yellow glaze that has melted onto the bonnet and sides of the car. The black glaze is highly reflective, giving the entire surface of this sculpture, including the tyre and bumper-bar areas, a very uneven or battered look.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a significant work by Margaret Dodd - after completing studies at the South Australian School of Art (1958-62), which enabled her to teach art, Dodd travelled to the USA to study sculpture and ceramics at the University of California, Davis (1965-68); she has continued to exhibit her work since 1966, both in Australia and overseas; she also began making films and continues to do so; her ceramic vehicle sculptures (particularly the 'Holdens'), first produced in the late 1960s, helped to consolidate her national profile as an artist
  • is a ceramic sculpture in the 'Funk art' style - while at the University of California, Dodd took ceramic classes with Robert Arneson, a key figure in the evolution of this US west coast art style who had unconventional attitudes to the field of ceramics; 'funk' was a term coined by US art historian Peter Selz to describe a particular style of (San Francisco) Bay area art characterised by irreverent, anti-establishment humour and political satire and comment; Dodd was a leading figure in a loosely defined Adelaide art movement of the 1970s which was dubbed 'Skangaroovian funk ceramics' because of its an anti-art, anti-establishment style
  • is one of an extensive series of Holden motif ceramic works produced by the artist - titles of other works include 'Newborn baby Holden', 'Two faced Holden', 'Ravaged Holden' and 'Decaying Holden'; her film 'This woman is not a 'car'' (1977-82) cast a number of ceramic Holdens alongside actors and lifesize cars as players in a horror film about suburban life; a 1987 ceramic work, 'Bridal costume for an FJ Holden discarded' reduced the car body to an empty shell or husk
  • is an ironic comment on an icon of national identity - the Holden motif met the artist's need to identify and use a truly national subject as the basis for her work; by the later 1960s the political activist in Dodd was aware that Australia’s so-called 'own car’, the Holden, was being produced by a wholly-owned Australian subsidiary of the US parent company General Motors, which meant that the capital investment was Australian and the profits went to the USA; Dodd described the Holden as the 'Trojan horse of American imperialism'
  • is a metaphor for deeply held attitudes and values within Australian society - the experience of returning to Australia reminded Dodd of how central car culture is within modern Australian society; it also reflects the masculinity of Australian culture at the time; as one commentator, Julie Ewington, has suggested, Dodd's 'Holdens' could be thought of as transvestites in that they often play with gender identity (such as dressing up a 'real Aussie bloke's car' as a bride); the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Christopher Menz, has observed that 'her black FX Holden, 1977, with its sulphurous yellow windows captures a less respectable, sleazy mood of car culture'
  • demonstrates skillful use of the ceramics process to communicate ideas - the damp surface and sculptural form of the earthenware clay model was manipulated prior to firing to give the object its distinctive bumpy and slightly melted look; the black and yellow glazes were fired a little too high in the pottery kiln and literally started to go into melt-down, creating something equivalent to a 'worn-out teddy bear look', as if this shining symbol of national achievement and identity was coming to the end of the road
  • references an Australian icon, the FX Holden - the Holden automobile company began its life as a saddlery in Adelaide in 1856; in the 1920s the Holden company was contracted by General Motors Corporation to build automobile bodies that were to be fitted to chassis imported from the USA; in 1931 the company merged with General Motors to become General Motors Holden's; in 1948 the first fully Australian-made 'production line' automobile (the 48/215, better known as the 'FX' Holden) was produced at the company's Fishermen's Bend factory in Victoria.