4. Clement Meadmore Dervish 1981

Clement Meadmore Dervish, 6mm cor-ten plate steel (oxidised), 1981. 476 x 992 x 496 cm. Commissioned by the William Angliss Art Fund, 1976. Courtesy the Arts Centre Melbourne Arts collection. Photographer unknown.

Key Themes: Internationally Active Australian Artist; Seriality & Variety

Inquiry Questions:

    1. Dervish is a dynamic, twisted form, can you identify how many sides it has? Can you identify other sculptures or structures that you have seen recently fabricated from the same material? (*See bottom of this page for one possible answer)
    2. If you could untwist Dervish what basic geometric form would it take?
    3. Dervish is situated in the round – so that the viewer can see it from all angles. Walk slowly around the sculpture – sometimes it will be next to you, other times above your head. What words can you use to describe how your experience of the artwork changes relative to your position? Consider both how it looks and how it makes you feel.
    4. Dervish is a static sculpture, yet it can be discussed as having a quality of movement. Do you agree with this statement? Either defend or critique this analysis based on your own observations of the sculpture.

Clement Meadmore was a prolific Australian artist known internationally for his large-scale abstract sculptures. Dervish 1981 is a typical example of Meadmore’s best known series of artworks. These sculptures were generated by twisting and bending a large, rectangular volume into a wide variety of configurations. Examples similar to Dervish can be found in cities across Australia and internationally, including Tokyo, Chicago, New York and Mexico City.

A Dervish is a member of the Sufi religious order, a branch of Islam, who has taken vows of poverty and austerity. The devotional practice for which the Dervishes are popularly known is a distinctive ritual dance called sema that involves devotees whirling and spinning on the spot. The practice originated near Turkey in the thirteenth century and its purpose is to induce a hypnotic trance or a euphoric state in the dancer.

Like Inge King’s Forward Surge, Meadmore’s Dervish is in an abstract sculpture in hard-edged, modernist style. Dervish can be analysed as a geometric abstraction. This is because the subject referenced in the title has been reduced to a purely geometric form. Stripped of all recogniseable bodily features – anatomy, costume, face – all that remains is the sense of a whirling, twisting movement.

In the process of generating this sculpture artist Clement Meadmore created a small-scale painted timber maquette, which is also in the collection of the Arts Centre Melbourne. This model would have been used by fabricators as a primary reference to plan and construct the huge public version in Corten steel. J.K. Fasham, the fabricators who constructed Clement Meadmore’s Dervish, also constructed Inge King’s Forward Surge which is located nearby.


Clement Meadmore Dervish Maquette, timber, paint, 1976. 130 x 260 x 130 mm. Courtesy the Arts Centre Melbourne Arts collection. Photographer unknown.
Meadmore’s Dervish was originally sited in the open forecourt in front of the Art Centre Melbourne. The artist was very displeased when his sculpture was shifted to its current site on Southbank, as he had conceived the sculpture for its original location, and felt that the new site detracted from his artwork.
(Image to come: Dervish in original position)


ACCA architects Wood Marsh wanted its exterior architecture to look like an angular geometric sculpture, so that the exterior appearance of the building would hint at its purpose as an art gallery.

Look up at the Victorian Arts Centre spire. Its design uses the same type of visual strategy – it was designed by architect Roy Grounds to be reminiscent of a ballerina’s tutu. Because the arts Centre hosts many ballet performances (alongside theatre, comedy and dance) the architectural form of the spire also visually communicates the function of the venue.

*ACCA is clad in the same material – COR-TEN steel – which reacts to moisture to generate a richly textured, rusted surface.

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