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Public Art

In 1962, the Reserve Bank of Australia opened three competitions seeking creative proposals that would enrich its Sydney Head Office building and its surroundings in Martin Place. The competitions sought designs for sculptural installations in its foyer and on its forecourt as well as landscaping for its Macquarie Street frontage. Around 50 entries were received.

Excerpt from ‘Planned for Progress’ relating to the sculpture competitions.

Excerpt from ‘Planned for Progress’ relating to the sculpture competitions. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, AV-000037/3.

The winning entry for the sculpture for the Bank's forecourt was submitted by Margel Hinder. The winning entry for the competition to design the sculptural wall enrichment was submitted by Bim Hilder.

The entries were presented in an exhibition and drew significant attention from the public and the media. The cartoonist, Paul Rigby, remarked on the competition with a drawing that translates the banking environment into abstraction. The waste paper basket, door, telephone, chair and secretary become sculptural forms. Like an overbearing bank manager, Hinder's winning sculpture accuses Lyndon Dadswell's more timid work of having an overdraft.

‘Rigby and the Reserve Bank Sculptures’ cartoon by Paul Rigby.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-001851.

Forecourt Sculpture

View of Margel Hinder's sculpture installed in front of the Reserve Bank of Australia's Martin Place façade, December 1964. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-003949.

Maquette for Margel Hinder's winning entry in the competition to create a sculpture for the Reserve Bank of Australia's Martin Place entrance. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-006779.

Architectural perspective of front entrance of the new head office of the Reserve Bank of Australia, featuring sculpture by Margel Hinder, 1964, watercolour and ink. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PA-000269.

Margel Hinder's sculpture during its fabrication in the artist's garden in Gordon. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-011487.

Margel Hinder working on her sculpture outside the Head Office building, 27 October, 1964. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-003521.

Margel Hinder at work in her studio in 1976, photographed by Richard Beck. National Library of Australia. © Estate of Richard Beck.

Hinder's sculpture for the forecourt of the Head Office building is purely abstract, with no specific banking significance. In this, it marked a radical departure from the visual language established by the existing public art within the city, which was almost entirely figurative and in the form of monuments memorialising notable figures, predominantly men. It was one of the first large scale purely abstract public artworks in Sydney, and the first major public art work by a woman to be installed in the city. Hinder's abstract work, in concert with the International Style architecture of the Reserve Bank building, were a bold expression of modernism.

The sculpture drew attention and provoked diverse responses even before it had been installed. Aspects of Hinder's sculpture for the Bank's building were likened to natural forms, such as bamboo or stalactites. Its overall structure was thought by some to convey ideological symbolism, including the hammer and sickle of communism. Others dryly suggested that it resembled a broken typewriter. What these readings reflect are the preoccupations of these viewer and their times, rather than the intentions of the artist. Hinder herself was adamant that “it depicts nothing and represents nothing”, though also cited the play of moonlight through bamboo outside her bedroom window as an indirect influence.

Watch video: Sculptural wall enrichment, 1965

‘Sculpture: Reserve Bank of Australia’, 1964. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, 21/1241.

The work was created in the courtyard of Hinder's home in Gordon, where it was inhabited temporarily by a family of possums before it was transported to the Bank and installed in December 1964.

Wall Enrichment

The prominent location of the Bank's new Head Office building and the highly visible, light-filled foyer space created not only the opportunity but the necessity for a bold expression of the Bank's identity. For these reasons, it was apt that the winning entry was one of the few proposals that prominently featured the Bank's new logo, designed by Gordon Andrews. This selection also aligned with the design philosophy behind the building, which regarded graphic design, interior design, art and architecture as inseparable parts of a cohesive whole.

Bim Hilder's sculptural wall enrichment photographed in 2014 by Peter Tabor. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, D14/226342.

Bim Hilder's entry in the sculpture competition. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-006781.

View of the sculptural wall enrichment designed by Bim Hilder for the foyer of the Reserve Bank of Australia head office, during its installation in 1965. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, D10/86761.

Hilder stated that the work evokes ‘an integrating and disintegrating galaxy, representative of the manner in which nations and communities come together, and separate.’ The depiction of the logo in multiple variations reflects the Bank's influence in different spheres in Australia's economy and society. Hilder was interested in the interaction between organic forces, saying that

all natural phenomena fascinate me…the flight of birds, wave formation, patterns of erosion, characteristics of plant growth, marine life crystal structure…

The sculpture spans approximately 8 metres in width and 4 metres in height and is composed principally of copper and bronze. It also incorporates a 150mm piece of quartz crystal uncovered by geologist Ben Flounders in South Australia's Corunna Hills, together with other semi-precious stones and minerals.