Martin Boyce re-imagines twentieth-century Modernism

 

A hidden gem outside the western precinct of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Martin Boyce’s three Cubist inspired trees are nestled within nature waiting to be discovered. Boyce re-imagines twentieth-century Modernism through his sculptures and installations, which rework and give new life to modernist forms of art, architecture and design. Here we delve into We are shipwrecked and landlocked and its original 1925 form.

As the artist stated in a 2005 interview,

‘By and large what you’re looking at is something from the past, but I want to bring it into the now and see what effect time has had.’

We are shipwrecked and landlocked 2008-10 was inspired by a photograph of a group of four concrete Cubist trees designed by French sculptors Joel and Jan Martel in 1925. More than fifteen feet high, each tree had a cruciform trunk supporting quadrangular planes attached vertically and at angles, suggesting foliage. Created for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts), the Martels’ trees were featured as a collaboration in the Paris garden of influential French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.

The Martel twins work include ornamental sculptures, statues, monuments and fountains displaying characteristics typical of the Art Deco and Cubist periods. Sharing the same workshop, their jointly created works were co-signed simply Martel.

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Maquette for Arbre Cubiste (Cubist Tree) 1925

Jan and Joël Martel, France, 1896–1966 / Maquette for Arbre Cubiste (Cubist Tree) 1925 / Painted wood / 80 x 38.4 x 38.1 cm / Purchase, Gifts of Himan Brown and Adele Simpson, by exchange, 1997 / Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts

The group of four concrete Cubist trees designed by French sculptors Joel and Jan Martel in 1925 for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris
Jan and Joël Martel’s Cubist trees were derided in the popular press

‘We are shipwrecked and landlocked’

Martin Boyce, United Kingdom b.1967 / We are shipwrecked and landlocked 2008-10 / Polyurethane on aluminium / Three elements: 770cm (high, each) / Gift of Kaldor Public Art Projects (Sydney), the artist and The Modern Institute (Glasgow) with financial assistance from the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland 2010 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / Installed for ’21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) 18 December 2010 – 26 April 2011 / © Martin Boyce

Boyce has commented that the trees ‘represent a perfect collapse of architecture and nature’; they are constructed using industrial materials and based on a form that was, in turn, abstracted from nature.

Boyce has installed versions of the Martels’ trees in a range of environments, including a fifteenth-century Venetian palace and gallery exhibitions in Zurich and Edinburgh. The sculpture at GOMA was originally commissioned by Kaldor Public Art Projects for a square at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and was subsequently gifted to the Gallery. Estranged from their original 1925 context, the trees are like characters that the artist casts in different locations, each location suggesting a new narrative.

International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts

The World’s Exposition was held in Paris from April to October 1925, designed by the French government to highlight the new style moderne of architecture, interior decoration, furniture, glass, jewelry and other decorative arts in Europe and throughout the world.

The tallest structure in the Exposition, and one of the most modernist, was the tower of the Tourism Pavilion by Robert Mallet-Stevens, which featured the Martels’ trees. The tower’s sleek lines and lack of ornament stood out above the colorful entrances, sculptural friezes, and murals of ceramics and metal of the other pavilions and was an announcement of the international style that would replace Art Deco.

The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris, 1925 wth the Tourism Pavilion tower by Robert Mallet-Stevens on right

‘We are shipwrecked and landlocked’ being installed at GOMA

Martin Boyce, United Kingdom b.1967 / We are shipwrecked and landlocked 2008-10 / Polyurethane on aluminium / Three elements: 770cm (high, each) / Gift of Kaldor Public Art Projects (Sydney), the artist and The Modern Institute (Glasgow) with financial assistance from the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland 2010 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / Installed for ’21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) 18 December 2010 – 26 April 2011 / © Martin Boyce

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Featured image: Martin Boyce We are shipwrecked and landlocked 2008-10 lit at night

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