“Sculpture: a Universal Language” – The Sydney Sculpture Conference

Sculpture by the Sea is the largest free to the public temporary outdoor sculpture exhibition in the world, taking place twice a year. The original exhibition set in the magical landscape of Bondi Beach, Sydney, attracts crowds by the hundred thousand.

Every year, towards the end of this breathtaking event, Sculpture by the Sea holds its annual Sydney Sculpture Conference – an event dedicated to bringing together the eager minds of the international three-dimensional art scene. 
sculpture network had the honour to be the partner of last year’s event. This year’s International Presenting Partner was The Sculpture Program at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing) (CAFA), represented by Professor Lv Pinchang,  Dean of Sculpture – quite an interesting and unusual character who, given his liberal mindset, brings a refreshing perspective on the Chinese art scene and the culture of China.
sculpture network’s very own coordinator in Australia and networking professional, Elly Buckley, mingled with the crowd and gives you all the necessary insights.


Sculpture Conference
Sculpture Conference in Bondi, Australia, 2018, photo by Charlotte Curd


When you stand in front of the Sydney Opera as a European, you get this tingling feeling. A place you normally only see on television on the 31st of December when Australians are among the first to celebrate the new year. With the famous harbour bridge in the background and the fireworks above the opera house, a distinct feeling arises within yourself to visit this place at least once in your lifetime. Now this is the setting Sculpture by the Sea chose for its annual conference – it doesn’t get any better than this!

With the growing legend of Sculpture by the Sea and its founding director David Handley, the Sydney Sculpture Conference attracts people from all over the world, embracing the core of sculpture network’s own mission: promoting three-dimensional art to a global audience.

Sculpture Conference
Sculpture Conference in Bondi, Australia, 2018, photo by Charlotte Curd


Professor Lv Pinchang (Dean of Sculpture) and Sui Jianguo (former Dean of Sculpture at CAFA) have been at the forefront of the transformation of contemporary Chinese sculpture – the “new wave” promoted through Public Art projects amongst “tiers of cities”. From large scale cities such as Beijing to the smallest towns, the Central Government funds public sculpture, with local government and large companies ensuring that each city has a high percentage of public sculpture. This has been going on for the past 30 years. 

One such project mentioned was the recycling of old manufacturing equipment no longer of use. Sculptors worldwide were invited to work on this project, to design and weld new pieces of public art by transforming this obsolete equipment. 

Guest speaker John McDonald, art critic, author and former Head of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, described this as a “revolutionary transformation of sculptors in China during the last two decades”. He showcased the works by eight leading alumni and teachers from the CAFA who exhibited this year at Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi.  

The 5 m tall bronze sculpture by Wei Wang named Walking is an example of how relevant and universal sculpture has become. The legs form a “V” from the sides one can see, two Chinese characters meaning “enter”, a broad powerful address which appeals to the people.

Wei Wang
Wei Wang, Walking (2015), Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, 2018, Photo by Charlotte Curd


The following panel discussion revolved around “Tradition and Trajection in Education”. It compared the international delivery of sculpture education from traditional to contemporary methodologies. Chaired by Dr. Michael Hill (Head of Art History and Theory at National Art School NAS, Sydney), members included Prof. Lv Pinchang Artist & Dean (CAFA), David Horton (Head of Sculpture NAS), Wendy Teakel (former Head of Sculpture Aust. National University, Canberra) and Professor Gavin Younge (former Head of Sculpture School of Fine Art, Cape Town).

“Artists want to express the world and where it is going”, was the general agreement of the panel – fitting quite well with sculpture network’s mission to sculpt the world. They have a sense of generosity and an ownership of space. The sculptors are taking responsibility and creating works which are permanent social interpretations on public display. “Public art often is the first level of interaction of any person with art; one can encounter it on the streets, without having to actively make the decision to visit a museum – public art is there and fulfilling a mission.” 
Of interest was the discussion among the educators of the difference in the Degree courses among the various countries. In China where their degree is run over five years, Professor Lv Pinchang said the first three years are spent on traditional training, figurative modelling and casting, in the following two years the artist can then diversify and look to new technologies in developing their practice. In Australia and Cape Town, however, the degree is run only over three years where in comparison the educators felt they could only scratch the surface.
It became evident that Sculpture by the Sea is very keen on pushing the “teaching sculpture” topic ahead, one attendee said. Something very well received within the community of sculpture in Australia! Art is nothing that can be taught in a bachelor’s degree kind of style, so three years are not enough – that was the general conclusion.

Our coordinator in Australia Elly Buckley interviewed two attendees to give you even further insights:

Christine Simpson – Director at Sydney Art Space (sculpture network member) and Britt Mikkelsen:

Why do we need sculpture? What’s in it for society?

Christine Simpson
Christine Simpson

Christine: Being an art form which has an ancient human lineage, sculpture is a vital link from our past to present. It enhances our physical limitations of living on planet Earth.
Sculpture lives on past human existence. As ancient sculptures tell us something about past civilizations – our sculpture will say a lot about us. The question will be: “What do we want to tell future generations?”

For sculpture to be relevant, it will, like language, be a changing dynamic – the only constant is change. 

Therefore, sculptural forms will continue to plasticize into all manner of largely unseen and previously unknown manifestations which may include technology and phenomenal 4-dimensional elements such as light, sound and space. I always found it interesting that the only surviving and continuing art work in the Star Wars series, a projection forward in time, is sculpture. Like positive and negative space, form and non-form will continue to develop and change, riding on the shoulders of what has come before, ensuring the continuing need for the plastic language known as sculpture. Sculpture can heighten our sense of humanity, engage us on multiple platforms as we live in the present. Be they political, social, metaphysical, environmental, cultural and/or technological.

Britt Mikkelsen
Britt Mikkelsen

Britt: It keeps us grounded more so than a picture on a wall which often is more formal. A sense of place in the landscape and space that we occupy. A full explanation of our world and experiences.




Do you think sculpture actually is universal?

Christine: The fact that we all live in physical bodies insures our abiding universal interest and engagement with form and space. As an art form, sculpture is produced globally. It is not privy to a certain section of society nor a particular region, so I would think this also gives sculpture a universal appeal.

Britt: Throughout history, cultures that have developed independently all still share a strong sculptural link.  Whether that be through jewelry and toolmaking, or effigies of gods and kings.  Humankind has an innate ability to appreciate the three-dimensional form, whether in nature, society or in art and an appreciation of beauty as it relates to form. Although not all people would call themselves sculptors, they do have the ability to appreciate the universally understood truths about balance, aesthetics and beauty.  If this were not universally true, we would not have a universal understanding of what is beautiful in nature.


Elly Buckley

Author: Elly Buckley

Elly is our australian coordinator. She connects sculpture network with her contacts in Australia and networks on events like the Sculpture Conference.

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