Art Essays

Newsletter 265

Published December 15, 2018
Ishigawa's proposed 'Cloud Arch'. The one on the right is $18.5 million more expensive

This week the spooky apparition named Cloud Archwas sighted once again in the Sydney press. In case you’ve forgotten, this is a proposed public sculpture by Japanese architect, Junya Ishigawa, that the Sydney City Council envisages straddling George Street in front of the Town Hall. The first version of this piece, which resembled a wiggly outline of a ghost made from a single strip of metal, was priced at $3.5 million. To the unenlightened masses this seemed a bit pricey, but three years later a new version of the sculpture – now a simple arch, one third smaller than the first design – was set to cost $11.3 million.

It seems the price tag has been revised again, to a mere $22 million. At this point even the resolve of Mayor, Clover Moore, has finally begun to crack, and the Cloudhas been put on hold. Considering that up to this point the Council has spent $2.25 million on “redesigns, artist fees and project management and approval fees”, as Jacob Saulwick reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s highly likely that Cloud Archis already Australia’s most expensive public sculpture, although it remains a phantom.

The Council is blaming the NSW government’s light rail fiasco for the cost blowout, which is a nice try. The so-called “light” rail project has turned Sydney’s streets into an obstacle course. It has caused the failure of numerous small businesses along the route and the destruction of a set of much beloved fig trees. It is an ongoing debacle.

Cloud Archis another form of debacle, and the spiralling costs have exposed the Council’s bloody-mindedness. When the price leapt by two thirds it was time to pull the plug. To keep spending money while the costs redouble is sheer waste. If ever the thing gets built – and Council is still holding out hope – how much it will eventually cost? $30 million?

The $2.25 million already spent on Cloud Archmight have been invested in more feasible arts projects. The $2.5 million (and rising?) that the Council is still proposing to spend on an overscaled milk crate by Hany Armanious is an embarrassment-in-waiting. If Cloud Archwas a cute idea that went wrong, the milk crate is a dumb idea that will draw widespread derision. I’ve no qualms about an artwork that challenges the public, but one that insults its collective intelligence is a worry. Does the Council really want to expose itself to the ridicule that will follow? There’s nothing brave or noble about making a poor decision and doggedly sticking to it.

The only public sculpture project completed so far has seen a bunch of little bronze birds by Tracey Emin installed in obscure locations in Bridge Street. It’s a trivial, non-descript work, but at a tick over $900,000 it suddenly seems like a bargain!

This week’s art column is far from Sydney and its woes. It’s time for another Asia Pacific Triennial of Comtemporary Art at QAGOMA (an acronym that doesn’t get any better over time). The show has brought the world to Brisbane for over 25 years and is one of the most consistently engaging events on the Australian art calendar, although it’s changed enormously over time.

I thought at first that the 9th APT was a little too low-key, but after a second day’s viewing I began to read the show more sympathetically. It’s a very grass roots affair, with a lot of craft-based works, but it still manages to take the pulse of a series of rapidly-growing contemporary art scenes in which progress and tradition, the secular and the sacred, battle for ascendency.

The film being reviewed is the new bio-pic of iconic French writer, Colette. Keira Knightley does her best to capture the fearless nature of the lead character but it’s not an ideal piece of casting. Colette is another one of those not-bad films that will probably be adored by those who have never read the books. For those who have, it’s a good excuse to read Colette again, if only to recall all the subtleties that the movie leaves out.