First Commission Themes
Emerging artists give new life to the themes that inspired history’s great works
Throughout history, artists have received commissions that have led to some of the world’s most influential works. In 2019, the University of Melbourne gave 30 emerging artists their first commission. This commission was inspired by themes found in works by the likes of Michelangelo, Frida Kahlo and Bob Dylan. At the time of receiving the commission, the artists had no knowledge of its origin.
Create a work that represents the idea of human physical perfection.
Five of these young artists received arguably the most iconic commission, the inspiration for Michelangelo’s David, a vision of human perfection carved from a mammoth and flawed slab of marbled stone. Through each of their five disciplines, from interactive composition and visual art to classical music and contemporary dance, their responses explore the nature of human perfection in contemporary society.
Create a work that rails against social injustice through it's clarion call to freedom.
In the early 1970s, adman George Lois approached Bob Dylan with the autobiography of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, an American-Canadian middleweight boxer who was convicted of triple murder in 1966. In 1975, Dylan released an eight-minute protest song, Hurricane, about ‘the man the authorities came to blame, for somethin' that he never done.’ In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne were commissioned to also create a work that rallies against social injustice through a clarion call to freedom. Their responses form a commentary on such modern injustices as treatment of asylum seekers and misogynist behaviour.
Self-Portrait with Monkeys
Create a work that divulges a deeply personal, yet unattainable desire.
In 1938, Frida Kahlo received one of her first commissions, a self-portrait from industrialist and philanthropist Anson Conger Goodyear. According to source material, the monkeys featured in the painting symbolise the children that Kahlo was never able to bear.In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne received a commission inspired by Frida’s Self-Portrait with Monkeys. Each of their works divulges a deeply personal, yet unattainable desire. In response to this commission, the artists comment on their desire to end existing cultural brutalities and more internalised conflicts such as grief and loss.
The Sleeping Beauty
Create a work depicting an extravagant political figure, alive or dead, using fantastic characters, settings and ideas.
In 1888, despite the poor response to his only previous ballet Swan Lake (1875–76), Tchaikovsky accepted the commission to adapt the Charles Perrault fairy tale La Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty). He composed the music in an elaborately elegant style inspired by Loius XVI.In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne were commissioned to depict an extravagant political figure, alive or dead, using fantastic characters, settings and ideas. The commissioned artist responses both celebrate and villianise today's political landscape, from the reaction of Jacinta Arden to the terrorist attack on Christchurch, to the environmental victims falling foul of political self-preservation.
The Age of Maturity
Create a work that examines the inevitability of the passing of time, as well as the desire to hold onto youth.
In 1913, a cast of Camille Claudel’s The Age of Maturity, from a sculpture originally commissioned by the French state, was made for a private client, Captain Tissier. Often interpreted as an autobiographical work, illustrating her muse Auguste Rodin being drawn away from his young lover by his ageing mistress, the sculpture can also be read as an allegory – the central figure turns his back on youth as he moves towards ageing and death.In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne were commissioned to create a piece that examines the theme of inevitability, as well as the desire to hold onto youth. Their responses analyse our relationship with time through the themes of nostalgia, memory, love and death.
The Great Petition
Create a work that examines debates in your society about an ongoing struggle to give voice to the powerless.
In 2008, the 20 metre long sculpture The Great Petition was unveiled near the Victorian State Parliament in Melbourne to mark the hundredth anniversary of the women’s right to vote in Victoria, Australia. Artists Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee were commissioned by the State Government to design a large-scale piece to commemorate the once-dubbed ‘Monster Petition’ signed by 30,000 Victorian women over a period of six weeks in 1891.In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne were commissioned to create a work that examines societal debates that represent ongoing struggles to give a voice to the powerless. Their collective responses form a commentary on current Australian and American political ideologies, in particular the ensuing refugee crisis.
Create the impossible in a work that pushes the boundaries of your discipline to the extreme.
In 1907, one of the world’s largest shipping magnates, chairman of White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, proposed the commission of a new class of ocean liner – one that would compete on size rather than speed and become the ultimate statement of comfort and luxury. The result was RMS Titanic.In 2019, emerging artists from the University of Melbourne were commissioned to create an ‘impossible’ work that pushes the boundaries of their discipline to the extreme. The artists have responded with complex and intricate pieces delving into themes such as rape culture and climate change.