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Controversial Artworks in Brisbane

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by Debra Lidster (subscribe)
Debra, a stay-at-home mum of three, loves experiencing and sharing all that Brisbane has to offer; especially southside secrets.
Published January 13th 2013
Waste of money or weird and wonderful?
Great art is often emotional, inspirational, thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial; as is the case with three of Queensland's recent artwork acquisitions. Commissioned by the former state government, two artworks in Brisbane and another in Conondale National Park have caused quite a controversy with the current state government, the Liberal National Party.

The World Turns, located between the Brisbane River and GOMA, was described by the Liberal Arts Minister, Ros Bates, as a shocking misuse of taxpayer's money. The five metre high, five and a half tonne, bronze sculpture was unveiled at GOMA in December 2012, in time for the opening of The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. It was commissioned to commemorate the fifth anniversary of GOMA (2011) at a cost of $1 million dollars. While the Minister of Arts was quick to add that she was not critical of the artist or the artwork itself, she questioned why an international artist had been chosen.

Created by New Zealand artist, Michael Parekowhai, The World Turns is an upside down life-sized elephant staring at a native water rat or kuril (the statue is located at Kurilpa Point, named after the kuril). The elephant and the kuril represent cultures coming together. The Arts Minister has since described the artwork as "really interesting". The installation also features a chair for contemplation, but on my visit the chair was missing.

Celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was commisioned to create an artwork for the brand new Brisbane Supreme Court and District Court building (415 George Street), along with two Australian artists. Unveiled in August 2012, Thousands of Eyes features three-hundred and fifty steel and enamel eyes floating along a sloping, curved wall in the public plaza. Described by the Justice Minister, Jarrod Bleijie, as "wasteful" and "unnecessary", the ninety-metre mural cost taxpayers $970,000. Thousands of Eyes, also known as Eyes Are Singing Out, is representative of a watchful public. It is Kusama's first permanent public artwork in Australia. The Justice Minister was also unimpressed with an artwork featuring coloured geometric shapes on the ceiling of the court's foyer by Brisbane artist, Gemma Smith. He is quoted as saying "White paint would have been good for me."

Strangler Cairn, Andy Goldsworthy, Conondale National Park, Queensland
Photographer: Omar Bakhach

Strangler Cairn, created by English environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, has also received criticism from the Liberal State Government. Commissioned by the Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Division, this egg-shaped sculpture cost $684,000. Thirty tonne of granite and slate, from a local quarry, was airlifted by helicopter to the remote location in Conondale National Park, a two hour drive from Brisbane. The artist planted a small strangler fig in the sculpture, which in time will grow and 'strangle' the cairn. Strangler Cairn is located on the Conondale Range Great Walk; fifty-six kilometres of rugged terrain, ancient rainforest, and flowing waterfalls. For more information on this controversial cairn, including how to get there, click here.

All of these projects were funded or partly-funded by art place, a public art fund which was initiated by the former Labor government. It promised to invest $10 million over four years, 2010 to 2014, towards high quality public art. It was announced in the 2012-2013 Liberal Budget that the Queensland Public Art Fund would finish, with no further funding available. All agreements in place for existing projects under the program would be honoured.

What do you think; waste of money or weird and wonderful?
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Why? Thought-provoking public art
When: They're permanent
Where: Brisbane and Conondale National Park
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Public art is supposed to make people stop and ponder -- like or dislike. It is never a waste of money. Always make a city more interesting, Good story Debra.
by words (score: 1|17) 3606 days ago
Awesome. Love them. Funding the arts is essential. And how is getting a NZ artist to do that GOMA piece really that controversial? He's not from Russia! Better than spending the money on boring white paint on a roof, or cocaine hookers and trips to Thailand by ministers and their wives.
by cstub (score: 0|6) 3606 days ago
What was so controversial about 'Strangler Cairn'?
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12626) 3608 days ago
This article represents a great achievement in the eyes of the artists connected to the art works as they have promoted discussion and responded to the environment. Governments need to be very cautious about deciding what is creatively effective or successful. They have a responsibility to allocate some tax payer money to support the arts within the community. I think it is fair to question cost and location. I would not quesiton the relevance of a Kusama or Goldsworthy work in australia which may well become a gift to the nation. There should possibly be more transparency concerning the decisions made and how the money is spent. It is very sad to loose the budget allocation altogether and an insult to the notion of community.
by julie (score: 0|6) 3606 days ago
Strangler Cairn was considered controversial because of its remote location (not many will see it) and because it will eventually be overtaken by the strangler fig, reduced to a pile of rubble.
by Debra Lidster (score: 2|851) 3608 days ago
I think this is fabulous for it's vision. Not only because it is by the world renowned environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy but that the Govt had the will to undertake such a project. The fact that you have to walk to get to it is brillant ....
by Leste (score: 0|4) 3607 days ago
I, too, cannot understand why the artwork is controversial and think that artwork is an important part of any city. I can appreciate and enjoy it even though not all of it is to my personal taste. I also think we need to have a mix of international as well as local artists - that's what makes it interesting.
by jillr1 (score: 1|48) 3605 days ago
Great article!
by Jane Street (score: 2|438) 3608 days ago
I was hoping this would be a list of artworks controversial for the subject matter, not just because some wrinkled conservative oxygen-thief considers them a waste of money
by youan (score: 0|4) 3606 days ago
Engaging, provocative and intriguing that's what art is. However, I detest the fact that these public art commissions were awarded to artists who weren't Australian. Why not Australian artists? NB: I'm a New Zealander.
by brzos (score: 0|4) 3598 days ago
'Thousands of eyes' is no doubt representative of the 'all seeing eye' of Horus. A Babylonian symbol that is now featured readily in pop culture and corporate logos, and you always see one, sometimes within the unfinished pyramid, in movies current and old!! Just like on the American One Dollar bill, it is a Jesuit/Masonic/Babylon symbol representative of those in power who are readying us for their One World Government rulership!!! A repeat of Babylon the Great!! That is what the UN's agenda is, with the support of the Vatican and Monarchy, and American Government!! Watch You Tube: The Holy Roman Empire Rules Today, to have your 'eyes' opened!!
by olila (score: 0|8) 3607 days ago
There go the Libs - cut cut snip snip 'till there is no art anywhere and we are all miserable.
by susem (score: 0|2) 3602 days ago
I hate contemporary art. It's just a biiiig wank.
by alex. (score: 0|2) 3592 days ago
The prices are ridiculous. Next time try giving 10 good local artists 100k each and see what they come up with.
by jimos (score: 0|2) 3275 days ago
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