|"Bright Prospect" painted steel 1979.|
This type of public sculpture were placed in most towns.
Unfortunately they do not have the life or humor of that great American sculptor David Smith.
Alcibiades rampage through Pericles’ Athens in the fifth century ,after a heavy night’s drinking set a pattern. His lopping off the genitals of sacred statues, and general defacement of public sculptures seems to have repeated itself in various formats ever since. My first contact with this past time took place in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, were the statue of a Roman Governor’s wife appeared to have been stoned. It would appear that she was greatly disliked to say the least, and on her death the citizens literally stoned her bronze likeness. Not that the Romans were the only targets. A statue of Demetrius [The Besieger] was also torn down during what became known as the smashing period around 200BCE. The Athenian simply were fed up with Macedonian rule.
The general public has taken this idea to heart and continued to take out its vengeance on statues of overthrown rulers ever since. Over the last few decades, we have seen such activity directed towards the portraits of Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot among others, as well as sculptures of a non-political kind. Why the public take such personal views of public sculpture has many reasons. Often they did not like the politics, ideologies expressed, or simply the aesthetics of the work. I don’t pretend to be a sociologist, so am unable to offer any definitive answer, but history abounds with the wholesale destruction of public sculpture. Often every time there is a change of government certain members of the public go on a rampage,
A local Australian example of this attitude was the removal of Ron Robertson-Swann’s large painted steel sculpture in what was to have been Melbourne’s city square. Standing some 5m high, it allowed the public to traverse under the vaulted canopy. Painted yellow it was quickly christened Yellow Peril . Council opponents felt it “would turn small children blind and would provide a place for sex-perverts to hide”. The sculpture did not last long and was removed in pieces to become a “artistic heap” on the banks of the Yarra. The example of this type of works is illustrated above in the steel sculpture of Ian McKay. Why people should feel so strongly is hard to fathom.
What interests me is why do the public react so strongly towards 3deminisal art work. Generally they don’t [well not in recent times], react in the same way to paintings in Art Museums, well not in more recent times. Art exhibitions do not have the same political clout as they did in the 19th cent. Over the centuries public sculpture has been used for political and religious purposes, so we must assume that people view sculpture work displayed in public areas as propaganda. Have you noticed how often public art has a hidden meaning. Often the subject is such, as to suggest that a Government really cares about the subject. It may be the environment, or the claim to territory, or simply the grandiose claims of political masters. I have included a couple of local examples we have here in Hobart. One concerns Australia’s claim to large areas of Antarctica, while another records the discovery of Tasmania .
Lastly, there are war memorials about which there is universal respect, and images of Kings and Queens, Public Figures and so on. Often these are also defaced for no real purpose, other than one assumes to express a person’s disagreement with the message being conveyed, and make them feel good! It is little wonder that sculptors feel the need to use materials of substance, for such works must withstand the full gambit of human emotion and response to something foreign in public “space”. It is impossible to please everyone in matters of ideas, and taste, after all the public sees public areas as extensions of their homes, and as such feel at liberty to remove, alter, deface, or destroy sculptural works as they see fit.
Abel Tasman's ships, on the discovery of Tasmania.