In thinking about what the future of public art in Sydney might look like, we revisits notable public projects around the world.
Over the past couple of weeks, a 50 metre ribbon, an oversized milk crate and a flock of bronze birds ignited a debate not only about the artworks themselves, but about the role of public art in society and the value of investment in it.
Cities gain immeasurable value through public art. It’s a distinguishing part of our collective history. It’s a way for people to better engage with their environment. It’s often aesthetically pleasing, regularly thought-provoking and sometimes controversial. It creates a conversation and provides an opportunity for free expression.
Here we revisit some big scale public art favourites from around the world:
Les Deux Plateaux (The Two Plateaus) 1986, Daniel Buren
Les Deux Plateaux at the Palais Royal in France was Buren’s first permanent public art project. The project elicited considerable controversy at the time, it was attacked for its cost – 1.5 million Euro in 1986 equivalent to $AU2,025,255 in 1986, as well as its perceived unsuitability as a historic landmark.
To some, it symbolised an unwelcome new ‘open-minded’ France, to others it was absurd over-intellectualism. The work was commissioned during the time of left-wing president Franois Mitterrand and became a bitter battle ground between the left and right, spurring graffiti, a media debate, committees for and against and parliamentary discussions.
Despite the unanimous rejection by the ‘commission on historic monuments’, the culture minister decided to proceed anyway. Today, Les Deux Plateaux is embraced as an important landmark and a popular spot for skaters and a jungle gym for kids. A work that caused a bitter ideological divide now holds its place as a National Monument.
Cloud Gate 2004, Anish Kapoor
The artist responsible for a 2012 MCA exhibition that produced one of the biggest epidemics of art selfies in Sydney, is behind the colossal Chicago sculpture fondly known by locals as ‘The Bean’.
Cloud Gate is 110 tonnes of polished stainless steel which sits majestically in Chicago’s Millenium Park. It lures people with trickery of light, distance and proportion and has become an icon in the nine years since it was installed, receiving more visitors than any destination besides Navy Pier.
The work cost a rumored US$23 million and research confirms the cost has been made back many times over in tourist dollars – public artworks can become a major attraction.
Endlessly photographed, lauded by critics and embraced by the public, Cloud Gate has become the city’s chosen mirror, even if it bears resemblance to one you would find in a fun-house.
Angel of the North 1998, Antony Gormley
Installed in February 1998, Antony Gormley’s The Angel of the North has become one of the most talked about works of public art ever produced. Rising above the earth near the A1 motorway in Gateshead, Angel dominates the skyline with its 20 metre stature. Made from 200 tonnes of steel, it has a wingspan of 54 metres.
Angel of the North aroused controversy when it was proposed, including a ‘Gateshead stop the statue’ campaign. From proposal until its construction in 1998, it was called an ‘eyesore’ by locals, politicians and the press. There was even concern it would distract drivers and interfere with television reception.
Since then, many people have come to love it, the work has been listed as an icon for the city and considered a landmark for North East England. Gormley himself describes the project as such,
The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.