Vault (Yellow Peril)

An interesting location to consider as a backdrop for wedding day photographs, is the highly famous public sculpture: Vault (or you may know it according to its nickname: Yellow Peril). This canary yellow sculpture today sits nestled at the far end of Soutbank, between the Victorian College of the Arts and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. This area of Southbank whilst boasting the convenience of easy proximity to City Link on one side and St Kilda Road on the other, absorbs none of the bustling action or traffic noise, and is instead a peaceful and expansive space. We at Serendipity consider the harmonious blend of the gorgeous brick façade of the art school, the grand trees lining the street, the sleek lines and red rusted exterior of the gallery, is an ideal setting for the striking sculpture. Although it is at home now on this corner of Dodds and Grant street in Southbank, the history of the Vault, is loaded with controversy.

In 1978 the Melbourne City Council opened a competition to design an artwork for the newly built Melbourne City Square. An artist by the name of Ron Robertson-Swann was awarded the commission, and plans went under way to construct and install the work within the square. However, the sculpture was not even built before it began to attract criticism from various media and council factions, on the grounds that its modern form was felt to be unsympathetic to the location. This prompted much consideration amongst the panel of architects responsible for the City Squares planning, yet in the end construction went ahead as planned. As the work had met the all the requirements of the brief ; as a ‘grand interlocked sculpture’ with bold, visually simple aesthetics, and overall a strong focal point, which would contrast against the formal character of the square. In May of 1980, the sculpture was finally installed in the City Square. Whilst admired by many for its bright colour, striking geometric lines and bold simplicity, Vault (which by this stage had earned the derogatory title: Yellow Peril) received overwhelmingly critical responses from the wide community, as being a little too abstract for public taste. Councillor Osborne tabled a survey showing Melburnians’ lack of support for the sculpture’s prominent position, based on the opinion that it was not sympathetic to the nearby historic St Paul’s Cathedral and Town Hall. Council resolved to relocate the work, thus less than one year later, in December 1980, Vault was dismantled.

The sculpture was re-erected at Batman Park in 1981, where it almost faded into obscurity, before being lovingly restored (under the guidance of Robertson-Swann) and relocated to its current Southbank location. In 2002, Vault was unveiled at its new home outside ACCA, where most consider it in keeping with the surrounding built environment. The flat polyongal sheets of prefabricated steel of this abstract minimalist sculpture, are assembled in a way that suggests dynamic movement, a charming contrast in such a tranquil area. Today Vault is seen as a key work in Melbourne’s public art collection, and of considerable historical importance to the city. Juliana Engberg– the Artistic Director of ACCA– says of Vault:  “Melbourne’s much loved, often maligned, never forgotten sculpture Vault by Ron Robertson-Swann, was commissioned in 1980 to stand in Melbourne’s City Square. After a much publicised public outcry against this Yellow Peril which had descended upon the greyness of Melbourne’s civic landscape, the sculpture was removed to Batman Park, where it languished for years. Vault came to the ACCA precinct in 2002, where, we hope it will remain in perpetuity for all Melburnians to love.”

At Serendipity we feel that despite the 25 years of controversy, Vault is a definite draw-card to the Southbank area. The striking contrast of the yellow against the muted tones of the surrounding buildings, and expansive gravel walkways can provide a dramatic backdrop for impressive wedding day photographs. A charming landscaped garden is directly opposite the work, here you will find quaint Japanese style bridges, dry river beds, smooth stones and leafy foliage, all surrounded by a lush expanse of vibrant grass. If you haven’t already explored this distinct venue, the Serendipity recommend taking a leisurely stroll, you might discover it is perfect as a location for wedding day photography.



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