Shaun Tan on Robert Klippel

Part of a series of new perspectives on portraiture commissioned for Archie Plus

Robert Klippel

No. 981 Diorama

circa 1968–2001
steel and bronze construction, incorporating part of No. 119
Purchased 2001
© Estate of Robert Klippel

What are we looking at here? A miniature landscape? Or a psychological portrait? If not of an individual, then perhaps a society, one raised on the promise of industrial miracles, all too hastily wrestled from the smelted earth, a little garden of metal dreams gone awry. There is both seriousness and humour here, a sense of objects in fractured conversation, a hint of violence, and something like stargazing. Perhaps it’s an observatory? A mechanical array built to answer a few profound and beautiful questions about material existence, since fallen into disrepair. Or blasted to bits. Perhaps not an observatory after all, but something equally human: a weapon. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. In any case, all that remains on the plinth is this curious piece of cultural shrapnel, intriguing and amusing to both artist and audience, no less than our own earthly ruins might be to a future archaeologist.

Shaun Tan is an acclaimed artist and writer whose books include The lost thing, Tales from outer suburbia and The arrival

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