In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the warrior King of Mycenae who led the Greek armies in the destruction of Troy. For the viewer, Lenton Parr’s title encourages associations with the armour and weapons of ancient combat, such as might be unearthed during an archaeological excavation. The blackened and blistered ‘body’, with its tripod of spindly legs, stands directly on the floor, without a plinth, and inhabits the same space as the viewer. When approached, the sculpture seemingly metamorphoses into an armoured crab-like creature and a menacing adversary.
Agamemnon encapsulates the stylistic precedents and the personal innovations made by the sculptor in his work during the 1950s and early 1960s. Parr studied sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Technical College before travelling to England in 1955, where he worked as an assistant to the internationally acclaimed sculptor Henry Moore. During this time, Parr became acquainted with younger artists such as Reg Butler and Eduardo Paolozzi, whose abstracted welded-metal sculptures were seen by the English art critic Herbert Read as embodying a so-called post-war ‘geometry of fear’.1 Parr returned to Melbourne in 1957 and embarked on a long and distinguished career in art education, which culminated in his appointment as Director of the Victorian College of the Arts from 1974 to 1984.
In the 1960s, Parr exhibited with the group Centre Five, which had formed in Melbourne to foster and promote the public appreciation of sculpture in Australia. Other members included Vincas Jomantas, Julius Kane, Inge King, Clifford Last, Norma Redpath and Teisutis Zikaras. The group sought to facilitate closer working ties with architects, to expand the role of sculpture as public art, and to increase the representation of sculpture in public collections. Perhaps as fitting recognition of this last endeavour, Parr’s welded steel sculpture Agamemnon was one of the first works of contemporary Australian sculpture bought for the National Collection in 1968.
1 The phrase ‘geometry of fear’ was used to describe the post-war British sculpture exhibited in the British Pavilion at the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1952. See Herbert Read ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’ in Exhibition of Works by Sutherland, Wadsworth, Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows, Moore, Paolozzi, Turnbull London: British Council 1952.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002