3. Inge King Forward Surge 1972-74

Inge King Forward surge, 50mm mild steel, paint, 1981. 516 x 1514 x 1368cm. Commissioned by the William Angliss Art Fund, 1976. Courtesy the Arts Centre Melbourne Arts collection. Photographer unknown.

Key Themes: Prolific Female Public Artist; Modernist Sculpture.

Inquiry Questions:

  1. Does this sculptural group remind you of any natural forms that you have seen before?
  2. What are five single words you could use to describe this artwork? Think about how the sculpture looks, but also interpret how it makes you feel.
  3. Like other buildings that you have been in, you can shelter under Forward Surge. So into which category does it best fit – sculpture or architecture?
  4. Analyse how Forward Surge creates relationships between itself and members of the public. Does the sculpture influence how people move in and through the space?


Inge King (1915-2016) was one of Australia’s most prolific public artists. King was known for her formalist sculpture, and has several large-scale artworks situated throughout Melbourne, including at The University of Melbourne and Heide Museum of Modern Art. Significantly, King is one of few female artists to have prominent public artworks in Melbourne. One reason for this would be the values and ideas that dominated Australian society during King’s lifetime. These conditions overwhelmingly sought to keep women at home to look after families and maintain households. Because of this few women attended art school or continued on to sustain careers as artists. Also, art made by women was frequently considered to be less important or ‘serious’ than art made by men. Recognising this, it is especially significant that King’s Forward Surge is arguably the most prominently positioned, large-scaled, widely recognised and best loved public artwork in Melbourne.

In 2018, Forward Surge was classified by the National Trust of Victoria. The classification means that the sculpture has been recognised as culturally significant at the highest level and will now be protected from destructive alteration, relocation or degradation.

Forward Surge can be described as a Modernist artwork for three key reasons. Firstly, due to the absence of the artist’s hand. Traditionally, the sign of the artist’s hand was upheld as a feature of high quality artworks (think of the brush strokes in a painting, or the line in a drawing). Here King’s ‘hand’ is unseen. Secondly, Modernist artwork sought to reflect the technological advances of the Twentieth Century. That goal can be interpreted here in the industrial fabrication methods used to produce the sculpture. Thirdly, because it is an abstracted representation of its subject – waves – rather than a realistic one. The rippled surface of seawater is replaced by the flat surface of rolled steel, and the torn, spraying lip of a wave is substituted with an even, straight edge.

Note: Just a short distance away on Southbank is Shearwater 1995, another of Inge King’s large-scale sculptures. It is another example of King using abstraction to translate a natural form into a geometric one. A Shearwater is a seabird, species of which are abundant in Australia.

Inge King Shearwater, steel, paint, 1994-5. 780 x 670 x 350cm. Commissioned by ESSO Mobil Australia. Courtesy the City of Melbourne Arts collection. Photographer: Robin Whittle.

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