No one objects if is beautiful

By Lorenzo

Public art periodically generates controversy about, sometimes cast in terms of “ratepayers paid how much for that?” Sometimes public art is unexpected and whimsical. Such as this giant spider hanging off a bridge in the Rocks area of Sydney. My brother and I came across it while walking from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.  (About a 6km walk, and rather fun.) It appears that ratepayers may not have actually paid for that effort. Perhaps just as well; I can see arachnaphobes might have had views about their rates being used to create such a large fear object.

Melbourne has public art ranging from the whimsical to the silly. The giant concrete “eagle” that looks to me like a puffin is one of the more irritating pieces. I don’t mind primitivism, but failed primitivism, not so much.

The public art in the Melbourne CBD, such as the flying pig, the corner of a submerged building, the startled men bronzes and the large public purse, can be rather fun. (A list of CBD public art is here.)

The tollways and motorways of Melbourne  have various bits of public art. My favourites are the house in the sky at the junction of the Westgate freeway, the Western Ring Road and Princes highway and the bird eating a chip on Eastlink.

Discussing controversial public art with a friend, I enunciated the principle that no one objects if it is beautiful, which he thought had something going for. Which is a good lead in to the Maribyrnong reading chair. Here is it being blessed by the Wizard of Footscray–for Kerry Greenwood fans, yes, that registered wizard.

For Lord of the Rings fans, there is some Elvish on the chair, composed by said Wizard. (Does that make the spider on the right a child of Shelob?)

This is also the Saturday chit-chat post.


  1. Posted February 16, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I think Melbourne does it well, and particularly like the fake small Hotel on Eastlink, which I look for every time.

    In general, we need some toleration for what we don’t much like. Now as it happens I don’t have much toleration for people who complain that they don’t like a particular piece of public art, as though their views must prevail. But I restrain myself.

    Sydney has some big pieces of heroic statuary, including one of Sir Henry Parkes, the so-called father of federation. In his day he was much disliked, and though they are all now dead, his foes who would enjoy the fact that his statue is well spattered with bird droppings… Sic transit gloria mundi.

  2. John H.
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    The Creation of Psychopharmacology – David Healy(Review)

  3. davoh
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    OK, will throw in this thought bubble. If ‘nobody’ objects to “beauty” – why is there so much anger among the females around this planet?

    Thinking backwards – female “beauty” should be revered (as it was, many, many years ago .. when different goddesses were part of village life) .

    (and yes, am thinking of the legal ramifications of a “flawed” male on trial against a dead “beautiful” female).

  4. Posted February 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I like a lot of the stuff around Melbourne – it’s not beautiful but it is funny and clever in the way it plays with its surroundings.

    But I wonder if we’re at the end of something here. Seems on almost every corner there’s men waiting for a tram or a flying pig or a cow up a tree or a building disappearing into the pavement or a statue of a navigator standing on its head. Okay, art can make fun of its surroundings and the architecture of a city. We get it.

    Everything is based on a gimmick, a trick of perspective – and once you get the trick, sometimes, that’s all you need to know: there’s nothing more to think about or ask or look for.

    Maybe we’ve had enough gimmicks. Beautiful stuff in the public? Maybe some more of that now. please….

  5. Posted February 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Maybe in a way the gimmickry is a sign of the speed of development in Australia.

    We haven’t had many centuries in which public art and architecture have been able to build up, in response to the varying requirements and desires of different generations of people. It’s all happened in a short space of time of about a century and a half. And two thirds of that time has happened smack bang in the middle of a period of vast artistic and technological change, ie modernism and what came after.

    No matter that modernism in the old world was a very different phenomena to modernism in the colonies – since the European and UK modernists were consciously responding to the huge weight of tradition. Australian artists wanted in – with the results we see today.

    I think there’s no substitute for tradition. But maybe that hasn’t always seemed necessary to the various planners and modernists and so on that have been making work for themselves in Australian cities, predominantly Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

    But wise sorts have probably discerned this problem for many decades, for instance Robin Boyd in his book on Australian ugliness – ie, featurism – was on to part of this.

    Good ol’ cultural cringe, eh?

  6. Adrien
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    The giant concrete “eagle” that looks to me like a puffin is one of the more irritating pieces.

    I had a difference of views with a Greens Melb. City councilor on that bird. In response to my expressed opinion that it was ‘a fascist bird’ he was incredulous and proceeded to tell me how not fascist art but…

    I didn’t mean it’s some kind of stiff kitschy neo-classicalism (it’s pretty stiff tho’) I just meant the bird was a fascist. It looks like it’s lording it over everyone with its chest puffed out and its beak in the air.

    There’s a thing at the moment where the trees are wearing woolen garments in various patterns and colors. That is beautiful. Whoever’s responsible for that cow up a tree thing should be shot.

  7. Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    The artist responsible Adrien is John Kelly and you’re not the first one to think that.

  8. Adrien
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    An artist with a fetish for cows that have swallowed a Soviet minivan!

  9. Posted February 18, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Beautiful perhaps to some but not objectional as the toaster apts.

  10. kvd
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Public art turned private enterprise. Or something…

  11. David J H
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Interesting editing of comments. Would you believe that i actually had conversations with Bert Flugelman (now deceased).. Some of his “public art” still exist.

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