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Ricky Swallow

Caravan  2008


3 parts: 2 parts 30.5 × 22.9 × 24.4cm, 1 part 35.6 × 25.4 × 27.9cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2011

on display

About the Artwork

Caravan comprises three bronze objects of marine-like form, resembling barnacle-encrusted balloons. We think of a balloon as being light as air, delicate, a captured breath. It is also something ephemeral – it can pop or sag, and eventually fall apart; but not these balloons, which are cast in bronze. Affixed to their surface are clusters of bronze barnacles, sea creatures that live within shell enclosures they build up around themselves over time. Unlike a snail or hermit crab, they are fixed − their shell is no caravan; instead it is a rock-solid home.

Ricky Swallow’s work often builds itself around simple binaries: hard/soft, permanent/impermanent, heavy/light. His work also engages with the traditions of sculpture and the parallel dialogue – another binary – between art and craft. Like other artists interested in bringing together disparate objects, the ‘art’ often exists in the transmutation of something from the margins – in this case, a balloon – into something that could be called ‘art’. Sheer incongruity sits at the heart of this work: what are barnacles, which belong to seawater, doing attached to a balloon, which belongs to air? Why is a balloon cast in bronze, a material more closely associated with public statuary and civic importance? Touching the floor lightly, the barnacles find their new homes on a solid breath and the balloons sit like full and swollen monuments of heavy air.

Caravan represents a sort of hardened or fused time in which an impermanent or temporary set of forms become capable of outliving the people and events they were created to signal. Balloons are formed in a minute of our time and attached to structures, fences, awnings, letter boxes to signal and specify an occasion. Within this sculpture the balloons seem lost or detached from any occasion, moored to the floor by their weight and altered materiality, thus allowing the barnacles the opportunity to populate the surface.

Ricky Swallow, n.d.

Ricky Swallow

– About the artist

Born 1974, San Remo, Victoria. Lives and works Los Angeles, United States.

Ricky Swallow is best known for sculptural works combining contemporary imagery with the still-life tradition. Swallow has also consistently maintained a watercolour practice throughout his career. His current bronze works extend this practice while reflecting the more recent influences of twentieth-century design, studio ceramics and the inventiveness of folk art. This interest is informed by the time the artist spends in flea markets in his home city of Los Angeles, encountering ‘make-dos’. These are antiques which have been ‘creatively repaired or adapted – given an extended life rather than being discarded’. Swallow is also interested in other forms of folk art, stating that the ‘economy of labour and materials toward something that’s a translation of a traditional object, a replacement of its former self, is something I love’.
Swallow’s work is regularly included in solo and group exhibitions internationally. He represented Australia in the 2005 Venice Biennale with the work This time another year. In 2009–10 the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne exhibited recent sculptures and watercolours by the artist in the exhibition Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur. Other solo exhibitions include Ricky Swallow, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London (2013); Ricky Swallow, Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles (2012); Younger than Yesterday, Kunsthalle Vienna, Vienna (2007); and Ricky Swallow, PS1/Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006).
Recent group exhibitions include Made in LA, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014); A Personal Choice, Galleria Il Capricorno, Venice (2013); The Mystery Trend, Wallspace, New York (2012); I Do This, I Do That – Joe Bradley & Ricky Swallow, The Taut and The Tame, Berlin (2011); Almanac: The Gift Of Ann Lewis AO, MCA, Sydney (2010); Lost & Found: An Archaeology of The Present, Tarrawarra Biennial, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria (2008); Effigies, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London (2007); and Getting Emotional, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2005).
Swallow’s work is held in many public and private collections in Australia and internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

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