Maria Kozic Birth of Blue Boy exhibition
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
29 October - 22 November 1992
Curated and project managed by Peter Thorn

Maria Kozic Blue Boy 1992 artist's multiple, injection molded polyethylene plastic 150 x 80 x 50 mm

Blue Boy

I met Maria Kozic in the early 1980s when she was establishing her career as a major artist of her generation. Maria's artwork is zany and graphically very strong, often directly engaging with popular cultural icons and audiences, which I find compelling. She often collaborated with artist theorist Philip Brophy including performing in the art band tsk tsk tsk. Art Network magazine, of which I was Publisher, ran reviews of their work and even published a vinyl EP of contemporary sound art selected by their colleague David Chesworth as an insert in Issue #10. We would catch up if I was in Melbourne or Maria and Philip were in Sydney, during that time.

In 1991 I contacted Maria as part of my then job at the Museum of Contemporary Art, seeking permission to publish her work held in it's collection. In conversation she mentioned that she was developing a series of works on mutants and mutation. I suggested that the series would make an exciting project exhibition. We shared a keen interest in artist multiples and commercial 'products' the legacy of the likes of Moholy Nagy and of course Duchamp, and in inflatables which US artist Jeff Koons had more recently used. I wanted to expand the mutants theme into these formats to embrace a popular cultural thematic within a fine art context. With Maria's energy and support this became the exhibition Birth of Blue Boy.

My exhibition proposal to the MCA curatorial department comprised three components: the series of paintings of mutant characters, a large scale inflatable sculpture of the main character Blue Boy which would be installed on the roof of the MCA building and an edition of artists multiples of Blue Boy which could be sold to the general public and collectors. It was an ambitious proposal that I believed would go a long way toward bringing the MCA into the public eye and would expand the notion of the consumption of art beyond the interior of the gallery spaces. The MCA had completed its refurbishment of the former Maritime Services Board building at Circular Quay, a premier location and now had a firm opening date of 11 November 1991 then several months away. The idea of the birth of Blue Boy dovetailed nicely with the birth of the MCA and its opening celebrations.The clear reference of Blue Boy to Thomas Gainsborough's painting was a way of contemporising art history, which broadly speaking was part of the Museum's mission. In the end with the support of the Director Leon Pariossien and the Chief Curator Bernice Murphy the proposal was accepted for the following year to co-incide with the MCA's first birthday. The exhibition of paintings would be located in an area of the George Street entrance way and whilst the MCA would generously pay for the construction of the inflatable, an exhibition catalogue, and publicity material, it could not provide funds for the multiple. I readily accepted these terms and got to work.

The exhibition

In essence the exhibition was about mutability and the relativity of values and identity. Other themes were the relationship of popular culture and fine art, the categorisation of art forms, the role of the artist as auteur and the body as a vehicle for social/cultural values. The works included were six paintings on paper of mutant characters and the marquet of the multiple. It was a project show as originally intended no more no less. The paintings formed a 'family' of mutants and I wrote an essay for the catalogue which in part drew on a comparison with a 19th century public sculpture that was located within walking distance of the MCA, in the Sydney central business district. This bronze sculpture stood over 3 metres high and was a personification of 'commerce' as a grecian goddess who held sheafs of wheat and symbols of transportation (perhaps a globe adorned with shipping). I thought the comparison interesting for the way the human body has been used as a purveyor of quite disparate values, determined by ever changing contemporary perogative. As a provisional character, by comparison Blue Boy always looked startled as if to say "don't apply your values to me" or "I'm normal you are the one who is strange". Indeed the more familiar you became with Blue Boy the more normal this mobility of values was.

The inflatable sculpture

I found a business in Balmain which made large scale inflatables for commercial products. It wasn't state of the art but the guy who operated the workshop appeared to have a lot of experience and with practical constraints in play I decided to proceed. Maria provided a drawing to scale and the fabricator basically redrew it actual size in pieces to be sewn together into a 3-D shape, much like a tailor would with a shirt or trousers. As he was to be several times through this project, Blue Boy underwent reinterpretation by another's hand.

A make or break situation arose in that the MCA had concerns about placing anything on the heritage listed building so I had to convince the building's landlord, the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority that it wouldn't damage any part of the facade or roof membrane and in addition there was concern that Blue Boy would break his moorings and be blown away potentially injuring people or damaging property. Circular Quay can be a particularly exposed location and September through October, the exhibition period, are Sydney's windy months. The fabricator came up with a solution which was to have Blue Boy fitted inside a harness. This would enhance his structural intergrity and meant that the figure had some flexibility of movement which suggested animation, and the harness and in particular it's collar would anchor him securely to existing infrastructure, namely the building's original flag pole. Blue Boy was 10 metres tall, designed so that his neck was level with the top of the pole. His head was above this level and this gave the impression that he was freestanding. Blue Boy was kept inflated by air pressure provided by commercial air blowers fitted to the bottom of his feet. He also had a 1,000 watt lamp fitted inside his torso to provide illumination at night. He was to glow in the dark.

Maria Kozic and I outside the MCA on opening day. Note the Sea Eagle circling Blue Boy.

The multiple

Maria made a marquet of Blue Boy as a prototype of the multiple. She located a firm in Melbourne with the skills and equipment required do the job. They would make a mold in four separate parts carving each out of stainless steel - two outside and two inside parts molding a front and a back that when assembled would make a hollow figure. The company couldn't mold an object that was as complicated in form as the prototype and Maria had to adapt and simplify the design for the purpose - a further mutation.

Maria Kozic Blue Boy 1992 marquet synthetic clay, acrylic paint 150 x 80 x 50 mm approx

The injection moulding was only part of the construction process. Blue Boy arrived in two pieces of blank blue plastic which had to be individually glued together. He then required his eyes, eyebrows, nostrils and mouth to be painted in. Because of Maria's time constraints and distance, she supplied the paint and we painted in the facial features in an initial sitting to get the look right and she then handed it over to me to paint the rest as required which she would approve by signing the reverse 'MK '92' at subsequent visits or by shipping them to and from Melbourne. Only those approved and signed by Maria were released. Once the figurines were completed they still had to be packaged in a plastic bag and stapled to a header card I had printed for retail presentation.

The cost to cast the multiple was $10,000 - a daunting prospect. This was the minimum the company would undertake the job for, and we would receive 1,000 front/rear pairs. Maria and I were both prepared to put our own money into the fabrication however we needed a third 'investor' if it was going to be feasible. The plan I devised was to sell the multiple at the MCA Shop during the exhibition and so I decided to try and get the shop manager to agree to a presale agreement whereby the shop purchased 150 multiples in advance at $20 wholesale which they would sell for $24.95 retail. He generously agreed to this arrangement. Maria and I each contributed $3,500 of our own money which we would progressively recoup once the shop started to order further quantities. Although I was optimistic of success, the risk of loosing money on the venture was far outwayed by the thrill of having successfully produced it. In the end we broke even which was something of a triumph and a fantastic result.

The outcome

Blue Boy was an instant hit. The inflatable could be seen day and night from city office blocks, from the Opera House, from the Bradfield Highway, Cahill Expressway and across the harbour at Kirribilli. The exhibition and Maria received front page headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald with an illustrated article by arts reporter Peter Cochrane. This was unprecedented publicity for the MCA. The exhibition was well patronised, and the multiple achieved consistent sales from the MCA Shop. The time frame was extended by a couple of weeks the exhibition finally closing on 3 December 1992. For a second time the show received front page coverage in the SMH, this time in the high profile 'Column 8' on 5 December 1992.

Front page coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald 22 October 1992 and subsequent coverage in Column 8

In the following years the Birth of Blue Boy exhibition and inflatable toured regional galleries in NSW and Victoria and the inflatable also appeared above one of the main stages at the 1995 Big Day Out music festival in Sydney. The MCA retained ownership of the inflatable and the paintings were donated to the MCA by Maria. She retained ownership of the marquet and the remaining molded plastic components of the multiple which I shipped to her studio in Melbourne.

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