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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Is public art meant to create controversy?

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People writing to support the roundabout sculpture justify it by repeating the mantra that public art is ‘meant’ to create controversy as if that were set in stone, and the only criterion for its acceptability; that the degree of artistic merit or how well it satisfies the EOI guidelines are not important, and that people who express criticism should ‘take a cold shower’.

The implication is that the more confronting the work, then the more avant-garde it might be, and those who disagree with it will just have to learn to love it!

This seems a little condescending, not to say contradictory. If the value of the piece lies in the discussion it has provoked, then why try to stop people discussing it? Why not engage with the criticism, and argue more convincingly that even though we didn’t get what we thought we were getting – and this was not entirely the artist’s fault – we have instead a Dada-esque piece that will be an asset to the town! And it’s a copout to compare it with other famous public artworks that were also initially disliked. Surely each case is different and should be examined in context. The Eiffel Tower for example began as a gateway to the 1889 World Exhibition and from the beginning was meant to celebrate technology and modern progress and was popular with the general public, if not the artists and intellectuals. It is also an elegant blend of art and engineering, and this cannot be said of our shiny metal thing.

So, Eiffel Tower it is not; and considering the work done on Council’s Public Art Policy and Strategies I think it’s fair to ask why go to the trouble to draft policy, write guidelines, invite people to give time to sit on the panel, and ask artists for submissions to end up with something that has not done justice to that effort? So let the discussion bubble on I say.

And anyone interested in supporting Jan Hackett’s motion to consider the future of the project could apply to speak at Public Access at the coming Council meeting on 28 February.

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