Why so angry, Sydney ? It’s only public art.

 

So, the City of Sydney is going to spend $9 million dollars on three pieces of public art, and the townsfolk are in a tiz. The outcry of negatives is strong, that the government should spend money on public health,housing or a myriad of other things; not art for goodness sake, not culture.

There is  an even bigger outcry of disgust on the sheer lack of artistic merits of the chosen pieces of said art-what’s worse, a crime of spend or a crime of aesthetics?

Junya Ishigami’s “Cloud Arch” -image courtesy City of Sydney
Junya Ishigami’s “Cloud Arch” -image courtesy City of Sydney

It seems the least disagreeable piece is Junya Ishigami’s ‘Cloud Arch’ planned for the Town Hall square on George Street. At 50 metres high, the sinuous steel plated arch construction will see curved lines in two directions  to create an archway  over George St that will change shape depending on the viewer’s perspective.

Ishigami describes the background to his design; ”Green, Global and Connected are the characteristics of the new Sydney, and this new public space about to be created in George Street will be the exact manifestation of these qualities…The Cloud is that new symbol, comprehensible to all. The Cloud evokes comfort, openness and freedom. Through freedom, it is connected to cloud computing which, in turn, links to the quality of ‘Connected City’ so important to Sydney.”

How ironic then that the next piece  is called The Distance of Your Heart by Tracey Emin, based on the premise that, unlike Ishigami and his focus on the connected city , Emin sees Australia as very distant from the rest of the world.

‘’As my artwork I would like to make a counter site in Sydney for the young, the old, the backpackers, the tourists and the businessmen and women; somewhere else they can have their image taken to send back to the loved ones that they miss, that conveys the feelings of distance and homesickness. This I would see as the other place to be photographed to let the people you love know you are missing them.’’  In fairness Tracey we’re not all lost tourists here at the ends of the earth, but we get the point.

Tracey Emin -bird figure from The Distance of Your Heart
Tracey Emin -bird figure from The Distance of Your Heart

Emin’s 60 handmade bronze bird sculptures  will perch on doorways and awnings on Bridge Street, Grosvenor Street and the Kent Street underpass.Described by Emin”s as, “simple, straightforward and accessible to everybody- it is the opposite of monumental and overpowering.” The good news is that these birds are perfect nick-able size for those lost and lonely tourists and backpackers to take home as pocket-size souvenirs-far better than any postcard.

Emin’s work is probably not the ace in our public art hand,and  it’s hard not to see this one as tokenist at best. Let’s face it- the birds will survive about a month on the doorways if they’re lucky.

Yet it’s not Emin’s work that’s really got the Sydneysiders rocked, by far the most controversial piece in Moore’s collection is the Hany Armanious piece Pavilion.

Hany Armanious Pavillion -image courtesy of City of Sydney
Hany Armanious Pavillion -image courtesy of City of Sydney

The Pavilion will  be installed in Belmore Park and is essentially an oversized , upside down,  bright blue milk crate which bought guffaws of shock and horror from many Sydneysiders. Guffaws of shock and horror from a country that brought us the Big Banana , The Big Pineapple and The Big Merino……now we’re outraged?Are we really in a position to take the artistic moral high-ground on this one? At least Armanious is taking a concept and giving it some greater meaning than its over-sized counterparts.

Armanious means the work to be tongue in cheek: “It speaks to the ‘every man’ in its familiarity in our lives and it’s demarcation of territory. This is a bold interpretation of a public meeting space, a pavilion for all, a place for contemplation and repose, but also performance, community gatherings, and ceremony- ‘nothing fancy’, while remaining quite special in its own unique way.’’Measuring 13.7 metres high by 15 x 15 metres at the base the piece is planned to be a grandiose and extravagant public oasis.

And lets look at the upsides RSVP has just found its new meeting point for blind dates, inner west lefties will now know exactly where to meet as they prepare for their next protest March, and children of the inner city have now got themselves a great new playground.

Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate, 2006 Image courtesy of ChicagoArchitecture.com
Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate, 2006 Image courtesy of ChicagoArchitecture.info

Anyone who knows Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (2006) will remember how much the Chicago public hated it when it was first installed, yet now it is a valued part of the city. Remember too Jeff Koon’s Puppy sculpture outside MCA in 1995-1996 –it bought 1.8 millions viewers into Sydney just to see it. There’s always value here if we chose to see it.

Invariably the public art debate is  an argument with no winners. There are always the supporters and always the detractors and there are always those who think that government money could be better spent. And of course they are all quite right,but as Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” and that’s got to have some value too, no?

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso

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