Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

Author: Peter Marquis-Kyle

Do you have a photo of Mephisto?

A note from the editor:

The Queensland Museum is the custodian of Mephisto, the only First World War German tank left in the world. The tank was captured in France by Australian soldiers in 1918.

Most of the troops who captured the tank came from Queensland. They campaigned for Mephisto to be brought to Brisbane, where it was put on display at the Queensland Museum in 1919.

A group of museum curators are writing a book about Mephisto and are appealing for your help to find old photographs of the tank.

Have you got a photo of Mephisto at the old museum? If you do, the museum curators would love to hear from you. And please, share the story here too.

The German First World War tank 'Mephisto' on display outside the entrance to the Old Museum in the early 1920s. John Oxley Library

The German First World War tank ‘Mephisto’ on display outside the entrance to the Queensland Museum. The photo was taken before 1921 when an open-sided shelter was built to give it some protection from the weather. John Oxley Library

Fixing the balls

The two ball-shaped finials on the tops of the two domes outside the exhibition hall wing of the building were damaged by the severe hail storm in November 2014. The finials have been repaired, and I was on hand the other day to inspect them after they had been re-installed. From the cherry picker I had this wonderful view of the building, its garden, and the RNA show grounds nearby.

Looking north over the garden beds of the old museum garden, with the RNA showground beyond.

Looking north over the garden beds of the old museum garden, with the RNA showground beyond.

Marcel Duchamp at the Queensland Art Gallery

I dimly remember visiting the Queensland Art Gallery at Bowen Hills in the 1950s, but my strongest memory is from a little later. As high-school students in July 1968 Bev Parrish and I went to the gallery to see a Marcel Duchamp exhibition.

I think I already knew about Duchamp’s 1913 classic modernist paint­ing Nu descendant un escalier n° 2, with its references to Eadweard Muy­bridge’s sequence of photographs Woman walking downstairs. And I knew that Duchamp had caused a fracas when he tried to exhibit an ordinary porcelain urinal, with the title Fountain in New York in 1917. But that’s about all I knew about him.

I thought the exhibition at the art gallery was terrific. I don’t remember where the exhibits came from, and I don’t recall a catalog—I certainly didn’t buy one, though there could have been one available but beyond my budget. Many readymades were included. These were recent reproductions, produced in limited editions au­thor­ised by the artist. I have fond memories of these in particular:

  • Fountain—the porcelain urinal
  • Fresh widow—a model of a pair of French doors fitted with black curtains
  • 50cc of Paris air—a glass ampoule filled (we were told) with air from Paris
  • With hidden noise—a ball of string captured between brass plates, containing a small loose object (of undisclosed identity) which made a noise when the object was shaken (or so we were told)
  • Why not sneeze, Rose Sélavy—a little bird cage, containing marble blocks in the shape of sugar cubes—I think this was my favourite

These items were full of stories, jokes, multi-lingual puns, and cultural ref­er­ences—a marvelous delight for a schoolboy in the backwater that was Brisbane in the 1960s.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. SFMOMA

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. SFMOMA

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