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Byron Shire
October 6, 2022

The Eiffel Tower, Blue Poles and Byron’s other Lighthouse

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Once-upon-a-time we hated Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’. Photo Tree Faerie.

Oliver Dunn

It’s saddening to once again watch Byron Bay show its dark side in rejecting the Bayshore Drive roundabout sculpture.

Our town appears to be thick on the ground with philistines, wowsers, and Facebook trolls who appear to take a visceral delight in savaging a hapless artist and his work.

The local Facebook pages are littered with faux outrage, the ‘step aside I’m an art critic and I know good art when I see it’ types, which has seen trolling of this artist taken to an absurd, vicious, and hurtful level. I’m amazed they haven’t placed him in stocks and organised a ISIS-style public stoning.

In the past two decades, the world has watched in horror as first the Taliban and then ISIS dynamite and tore down millennia-old works of art from depths of our civilisation. Hey Taliban, come on down, your cousins live here.

They say that Guy De Maupassant, the 19th century French writer, had lunch every day in the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower. He famously remarked that he hated the structure so much, it was the one place in Paris where he could safely dine without having to look at it. Today, 130 years later, it remains one of the world’s most loved public sculptures and the symbol of Paris.

Ditto those naysayers who hated Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles when Australia’s National Gallery acquired it in 1973 for $3m but now it’s worth an estimated $350m.

Back in 2001, I thought we had reached a low point when we drove Bob Dylan out of town and into the welcoming arms of Ballina. Bob had stayed in Byron Bay before and had specifically requested to play here. But no, our evergreen nimby hippies have to be in bed by 8pm and couldn’t bear even the noise of an electric razor within 20 metres, never mind allow a performance from an iconic 60s rock legend.

As a community, do we really want to be famous for banning Bob Dylan and tearing down a work of art after a Facebook pile-on? Could we not even wait one year to see if we could fall in love with this sculpture, just one year, just a little bit?

Not satisfied with publicly shaming and defaming this poor unfortunate artist to within an inch of his life, some councillors propose to do an even better job of destroying the man: break his art up into little pieces and flog it off by the kilo.

This is truly shameful. At the very least our community should show some regard for the moral and artistic ownership that still lies with this artist.

This work has an intrinsic artistic value and therefore some commercial value. In my view, if Council has no further use of it, it must be disposed of in accordance with standard local government procedures for the disposal of any valuable property including works of art.  This should include disposal in its entirety by public tender or expressions of interest.

C’mon Byron Shire, we can do better than this. I beseech Council to desist with its removal for three months or at least until such time as other parties can tender for the sculpture or pay for its removal as an entire work of art. You never know; after its enormous success with the Bob Dylan concert, Ballina Council may even buy it.


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17 COMMENTS

  1. I couldn’t agree more with Oliver Dunn. Every time I heard the sculpture crudely referred to as The Dong my heart sank and I felt sick.
    Putting your art out there in the public view always takes courage and for everyone who loves it there will be some who hate it.
    My heart went out to the sculptor. The mob reaction to his creation was chilling.
    Pulling it apart and selling of little bits of it is a further assault on the artist and the work.
    There must be others who feel the same, how about some support for freedom of expression?

  2. Well said, Oliver. We have become a community quivering with anticipated outrage, waiting for the next offering to feed our misery about the world.

  3. Personal attacks on the artist are appalling and unnecessary—that mob mentality is definitely chilling.
    However, regarding the more civilised negative feedback, the public were given no say in which sculpture was chosen, so they had their say anyway. And fair enough too in a democratic society.
    At the moment the sculpture is a collection of pop-riveted ‘ninja-stars’ and ‘razor-wire’ on a tall, climbable structure. It is dangerous and looks nothing like the proposal, since it is only half finished. To finish it, the final price tag would be around double the original budget, or so we are told. $100K+ is unjustifiable, especially when local artists could use that. The other problem is the location. Tourists crossing the busy road to take selfies is a serious safety and litigation issue. Any future sculptures need to be located off the road.
    As for selling the birds individually, I believe the artist should get a say in this. If he is happy for it to be dissected then I guess there is no issue. But I agree, it should be tendered as an ongoing concern. Someone might want to buy the (now famous) work for $52K+, pay for removal, and invest the remainder to have it finished. It may find its place somewhere (else) and be adored by the public as a completed piece. I hope it gets that chance.

  4. While I feel for the artist and his suffering… I was never thrilled with a design that “echoed” the lighthouse. It was never going to be interesting and once I heard it had suddenly been changed to aluminium…I was worried.

    Aluminium corrodes fast in a coastal environment. When you pop rivet razor sharp bird shapes to such a structure, it will loosen and become a tower of dangerous flying objects in very little time.

    Whatever the reasons, be it too little time or money or expertise involved in the process…the end result is a mistake.

    We can all argue endlessly about artistic merit and aesthetics but the real call is…its dangerous. Take it down.

  5. Once again….the art work is OK…but it’s about safety. It’s in the wrong place.
    Most drivers don’t know how to indicate correctly on roundabouts…. making them not as safe as they could be. Drivers don’t need further distractions.

  6. Its ahead of its time beautiful its free its happy and yes it suits the place peaple that dont understand that need to get into the ocean get intouch with nature look at the big dirty poluting servos just to the left of it and the damage the car your drive around that peace of art does to the earth like killing kids and adauts with asthma excetera and go on about real s4!t yeah thats right time to home in on true problems lets fix the earth i no how that is beautiful leave it xx

  7. What a fantastic article. Its so refreshing to see comonsense and compassion, two things extremely lacking in this community. I have lived 5 different countries, on 5 continents, and visited countless others, and in all honesty, Byron Bay is the most conservative place i have seen.

  8. Well Dunn, Oliver!
    So the philistines and their troll mates on social media have won and Byron Shire, once a beacon of tolerance of diversity, alternative thinking, and cultural awareness, takes another turn in its inexorable spin towards the bottom. Byron’s Lighthouse Sculpture is to be dismembered and sold for scrap. As if abusing the artist while he constructed it wasn’t enough! Firstly, I strongly urge Corey Thomas to assert his moral rights as the author of this artwork and take legal action to immediately prevent the destruction of his original production. Secondly, if another site can’t be found for the work intact I’d urge that it be stored until its real value can be assessed and the mob cease to have control of the asylum. Did someone say DADA !? The whole point of public art is precisely to invite a reaction. When Jackson Pollock’s seminal painting Blue Poles met with similar outrage it took a politician of the stature of Gough Whitlam to push aback against the barbarian hordes of the gutter press and endow this country with an art object now worth many hundreds of times its original purchase price. Alas our Byron Councillors appear to be made of lighter metal (aluminium perhaps?). Council may have ownership of the physical structure but they don’ own the intellectual property. Irrespective of what people think of the sculpture (and so what if cognitively challenged numbskulls attempt to scale it – it’s not the sculpture’s fault!) -nobody has the right to pull the thing to pieces without consent from the artist himself. And oh well, yes lucky us, we still have the Big Prawn, the Big Rusting Surfboard, the Big Red MotorBike and the Modest Wooden Pelican.

  9. Thank you Oliver and Paul Davies, the level of intolerance shown in the Shire over this issue is both frightening and very sad.

    • I have no pretence of any great artistic sensibility and have never commented on the artistic merits of the sculpture. To my personal tastes tho I think it was doomed as soon as the material was changed to aluminium which looks like tinsel, or tinfoil, and tacky. Maybe it would look better when aged somewhat. The finished design concept may have been great.

      It’s location tho was never a good idea in terms of its audience’s ability to stand back and take it in. The real nails in the coffin however were about engineering, safety, litigation and ongoing costs (I dare say not factored into the original budget). Without these concerns I dare say it would have survived for the life of this Council so it’s not all down to the ‘philistines’.

      There is no excuse for the abuse this artist has suffered and it would be good to get his blessing for the outcome. Do we know however, that the on-site abuse and trolling was all down to the locals? We have a lot of passing traffic! Regardless, your rather sneering and superior tone lets you down. Is this any different from the attitudes on which you unleash your lofty judgement?

      While there are doubtless many examples in history of spurned artists being posthumously revered, not every unappreciated art work turns out to be a Blue Poles or an Eiffel Tower. It’s rather pretentious to hint at an elevated capacity for such predictions.

      Yes the chilled out laid back town of peace and love is very capable of venom. It’s also very capable of smugness.

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