Important Fine Art + Indigenous Art
29 November 2017


(1920 – 2001)

welded steel

100.0 cm height

$80,000 – 120,000
Sold for $115,900 (inc. BP) in Auction 52 - 29 November 2017, Melbourne

Clune Galleries, Sydney
The Estate of the late James O. Fairfax AC, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1963


[Robert Klippel], Parma Gallery, New York, 21 October – 8 November 1958 (no cat. no.)
Robert Klippel: Sculpture, Clune Galleries, Sydney, 17 – 28 September 1963, cat. 2
Robert Klippel: A Tribute Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 9 August – 13 October 2002, cat. 83


Thomas, D., ‘The art collectors 3: James O. Fairfax’, Art and Australia, vol. 3, no. 4, Autumn 1966, p. 256 (illus.)
Gleeson, J., Robert Klippel, Bay Books, Sydney, 1983, pl. 89, pp. 216, 217 (illus.), 253
Edwards, D., Robert Klippel, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2002, p. 91, (illus.) pp. 96 – 97 (illus.) p. 247
Edwards, D., Robert Klippel: Catalogue Raisonné of Sculptures, (CD-ROM) Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2002, ‎cat‎. 83 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Splendid in its crystalline and stalagmitic structure, No. 83, Metal Construction, 1958, is an imposing expression of the energetic potential of organic and mechanical systems. Growing forth from four spindly legs, welded rods agglomerate in dense thickets to create a complex and dynamic form dominated by vertical, horizontal and diagonal vectors. The balance and tension between its solidity and linear configuration appears to have been developed in a related mixed media work on paper, executed in August 1957, and held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Rendered in three dimensions, No. 83, Metal Construction is free standing and bears no fixed point of view; the viewer’s eye is instead drawn in multiple directions and perspectives.

Completed in August 1958, one year after his arrival in New York, No. 83, Metal Construction was the last work Robert Klippel made there before relocating to Minneapolis to take up a teaching position. It represents the resolution of an aesthetic and stylistic chapter in Klippel’s oeuvre, the culmination of a process of formal reduction of rod-and-plane structures that started two years prior with Opus 69, 1956. Along with No. 81 and No. 82, described by James Gleeson (quoting Shakespeare) as ‘bare ruined choir’ works for their increasingly lighter branched compositions,1No. 83, Metal Construction was built only of metal rods. Klippel removed the planar triangular sections that had characterised his junk works from 1955 onwards, in favour of increased spatial openness. These works can all be categorised as ‘junk sculptures’, created by repurposing the readymade scrap metal the artist scavenged on the streets of the sprawling metropolis. The landscape of this same metropolis inspired Klippel’s series of soaring vertical structures, to which this work belongs. James Gleeson, in his biographic tome and catalogue raisonné of Klippel’s work, identified within the architectural structure of No. 83, Metal Construction, an ‘aspirational character of a lacy gothic spire’.2

With four successive tiers of agglomerated nests, the unpatinated rods of steel create an open netted structure that appears dense and in certain areas, almost solid. The tension created between the negative space between these masses and the structure as a whole adds to the strong directional forces created by the rods as vectors. Exhibited at Parma Gallery in New York in 1958, Klippel’s steel rod constructions were received with critical appreciation, one reviewer describing them as ‘graceful diagrams of magnetic force’3, another as ‘bristling structures [that] probe their surrounding space, rather than enclosing it or displacing it – like the jumbled antennae of multitudinous TV sets of a tenement, the principal effect being linear and static rather than concerning mass or motion’.4 One of Klippel’s clearest expressions of natural forms, No. 83, Metal Construction drew on ideas that he had formulated during the immediate post-war years in London, judiciously studying organic forms in the Natural History Museum, and interrogating the links between organic and mineral structures, image and form, conscious and subconscious expression. No. 83, Metal Construction incorporates all of these disjunctive elements within Klippel’s visual imagery, which come together in a climbing structure strikingly coloured by the raw surfaces of welded scrap metal.

1. Gleeson, J., Robert Klippel, Bay Books, Sydney, 1983, p. 138
2. ibid., p. 214
3. L.L., Art News 57, New York, no. 6, October 1958, cited in Gleeson, J., ibid, p. 217
4. M.S., Arts, New York, October 1958 cited in Gleeson, J., ibid, p. 217