University of Melbourne Magazine

Create a work that …

  • Esther Stewart installs her work at the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze | Picture: O’Rourke & Gates


    Represents the idea of human physical perfection (David – Michelangelo)
    Divulges a deeply personal, yet unattainable desire (Self-Portrait with Monkeys – Frida Kahlo)
    Pushes the boundaries of your discipline to the extreme (RMS Titanic)

    These are some of the briefs 30 emerging artists received from the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music for their first commission.

    At the time, they did not know that these briefs were inspired by some of the most iconic art and cultural pieces currently in existence. In response, these young artists created a wide range of contemporary works, addressing issues from current global crises, such as climate change and refugee treatment to age-old themes of love, grief and loss.

    While the brief Michelangelo received in 1501 led to the creation of David, an iconic symbol for physical perfection, its interpretation by Melbourne visual artist Esther Stewart and Australian Indigenous artist Ashley Perry challenges traditional understanding of being perfect. “Human physical perfection is whatever you want it to be, not what you are told it is,” said Perry.

    Beyond visual art, the commission inspired by David has also been interpreted by choreographer and dancer Jack Riley, interactive composer Samuel Kreusler and classical composer Danna Yun.

    University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell, who launched First Commissions in Florence, believes in the power of art in the 21st century.

    “As our world becomes increasingly automated, our creative artists and musicians have the ability to work together to solve problems and meet the challenges that we face in society,” said Professor Maskell. “A fine arts and music education is transformative, and encourages confidence and a strong sense of self-belief. It gives students the courage to think independently and critically. It fosters collaboration and creative risk-taking, passion, determination and resilience.”

    You can find all the artists’ responses to their commissions here: