From colonial edifices, grand fountains and murals by Indigenous artists, to kinetic sculptures and neon buildings, the preservation work of our public art collection has our City Art team up to its elbows. The work involves around 250 individual pieces and covers everything from polishing the bronze on the Queen Victoria monument, to replacing a bent bayonet on our Cenotaph, to revisiting the original artists and architects to ensure the repairs uphold the integrity of their work.
The preservation starts with daily cleansing, dry brushing and reporting damage – taking into account a unique set of instructions developed under the guidance of a conservator. Secondly, we have a meticulous conservation program that individually tests and assesses the condition of each work. It’s been running for six years and involves particular care as many of the works are very delicate and there are usually various people and groups interested in the conservation. The upkeep requires the expertise of traditional and often rare trades – masonries, foundries, specialists in lead lining.
To illustrate, the Obelisk of Distances, which is located in Macquarie Place Park on Bridge Street, is the oldest piece in the collection, designed by convict architect Francis Greenway as an official point for measuring distances in New South Wales. The Obelisk underwent conservation work in 2009 and among other specialists, involved a geographer who assessed environmental decay and a geologist, who conducted petrographic testing on sandstone samples.
It also sparked a discussion around the most appropriate approach to its restoration and how intrusive this process can be – are we touching up or introducing new material? The work can be both practical and philosophical and always involves lots of dialogue.
Where possible, we always consult with the artist or their descendants to ensure the artistic integrity of the artwork is not compromised. The El Alamein Memorial fountain in the Cross underwent an extensive restoration process that took around 9 months to complete. This State Heritage-listed fountain was originally opened in 1961 as a memorial to the Australian Imperial Forces 9th Division and commemorates the Battle of El Alamein, Egypt, in World War II. We were lucky enough to discuss the project with the late architect Robert (Bob) Woodward and continued the work together with his family after he passed.
Our Sydney Culture Walks app is a good place to start if you’re keen to learn a bit more about the City Art collection. It’ll lead you along curated walks as well as tell the tale of over 400 points of interest.