When Sydney University commissioned The Student from Tom Bass in 1953, it became the university’s earliest modernist public artwork. Since then, students and visitors have been greeted by the cubist-style, figurative sculpture as they enter the university’s main gates off Parramatta Road. It stands in the sun, positioned amongst trees, lawns and tennis courts.
Current Sydney Uni students may recently have noticed the work has been relocated to a new site on the university’s Botany Lawn. This is a temporary arrangement pending its move, in 2020, to grace the entrance to the new Chau Chak Wing Museum, presently under construction inside the Parramatta Road gates.
The Student was carved in sandstone at Minto by Tom at the age of 37. It was an early work and one of the few carved sculptures Tom made in his extensive career as a public sculptor. The sandstone came from Saunders (Bondi) Quarries P/L.
The rhythmic lines of The Student enhance the feeling of internal reflection and the viewer unconsciously reimagines Rodin’s The Thinker. Bass wished the sculpture to express the idea the university is a place not just for teaching but also for learning.
The Chau Chak Wing Museum is intended to provide centralised accommodation for the existing university collections and an innovative cultural and intellectual space for the university. It is named after Dr Chau Chak Wing, a Chinese-Australian businessman and philanthropist, whose generous donation has enabled the University of Sydney to embark on this ambitious project.
Also at the university are Tom’s sculptures of “The Arts and the Sciences” on high in the niches on the front wall of the Great Hall, a work commissioned by Dr Lloyd Rees in 1984.