Does Size Matter? The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize

Posted on August 8, 2010


Mikala Dwyer, Empty Sculpture, plastic, wooden plinth. 2003 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize winner.

I love a good cliché, so quick, so easy, so often true. They say, “Time heals all wounds.” And it does, even those inflicted by the art world. In 2003, I was selected for The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize. I didn’t win. But I’m over it now, honest I am.

I entered the prize another 2 (or was it 3?) times but never got in. This made me just a little bitter I admit, and coupled with the fact that the shows are always a blink-and-you’ll-miss it affair held in deepest, darkest Double Bay, I haven’t managed to see it since. So I was eager to catch up and see all the winning pieces from the last 9 shows in one exhibition, The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize: Celebrating 10 years in 2010.

My excitement was short lived. Together, the winning sculptures from 2001 to 2009 are a bit of a dog’s breakfast. They range from quirky to vaguely offensive, with a few examples of technical prowess thrown in to the mix.

Yvonne Kendall, Passengers, 2007 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize winner.

The wackiest piece on show is the 2007 winner, Yvonne Kendall’s Passengers, a stack of tortoises constructed from 1970s curtains and twine. The one that really sets my teeth on edge is Sebastian Di Mauro’s Snare- Shimmer Suite, which was awarded the inaugural prize in 2001. Made from stainless steel pot scrubbers, Di Mauro’s sculpture, with its fecund female shape and yawning vertical slit, resembles a portable sex toy for a giant masochist. And it places female anatomy, yet again, firmly in the domestic sphere: women belong in the kitchen, one cliché I’m not that keen on.

Sebastian Di Mauro, Snare - Shimmer Suite, stainless steel pot scourers, aluminium, nylon thread. 2001 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize winner.

Ironically, the piece that so vexed me by winning in 2003, Mikala Dwyer’s Empty Sculpture, really stands out now. At the time, I was of course intoxicated with disappointment, but I was also annoyed because I had just seen a work by Dwyer at the AGNSW featuring multiple versions of her winning entry nestled in amongst a bunch of other stuff. It seemed like she’d taken home the cash with a left-over, off-cut…. Whatever, that was a long time ago and context is everything.

In the present company, Dwyer’s piece looks intriguing, mysterious, almost sophisticated. It is the only non representational winner, and it is the largest. My mother, also fond of clichés, used to say, “Nice things come in small packages.” But maybe big really is better.

Tracey Clement

The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize: Celebrating 10 years in 2010 is at the Manly Regional Art Gallery until August 29 and Hawkesbury Regional Art Gallery, September 4- October 17.

Posted in: The Ugly