Adelaide City councillors have derided the artwork – donated to the Art Gallery of South Australia – as hideous, phallic, unattractive and “something out of Alien v Predator”, with one suggesting it be palmed off to a suburban council.
The $2.35-million “Uniting a Nation” sculpture by New South Wales artist Terrance Plowright was commissioned in 2013, after a handshake agreement between philanthropist Basil Sellers and then NSW Arts Minister George Souris.
The four-storey high, five-tonne artwork was meant to be placed near the Sydney Opera House, one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks.
But the plan faltered when former state Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned, and Souris was dumped from his ministry.
NSW government agencies responsible for the land surrounding the Sydney Harbour were also understood to have opposed the sculpture being placed on the foreshore.
Three NSW councils then bid for the piece, but Sellers instead donated it to the AGSA.
Adelaide City Council, which is working with AGSA to present the artwork, last year decided its new home would be astride a podium in the middle of the River Torrens.
But moving the piece from Plowright’s Blue Mountains studio to Adelaide has been delayed, due to its size and freight costs.
At last night’s ACC meeting, it was revealed the council and AGSA were eyeing a new “high-profile” location for the sculpture at the corner of War Memorial Drive and Montefiore Road, near Tennis SA headquarters.
“This (new) site meets the original intentions of the project – high visibility (and) regular visitation,” Adelaide City Council Associate Director of Community and Culture Anne Rundle said.
“In this location, the sculpture will provide a spectacular entrance to the sporting and venue spaces in the centre of the city.
“In addition to being a high-profile site, it’s anticipated that there will be a reduction in the magnitude of required adaptions to the sculpture.”
Rundle estimated the sculpture’s ratepayer-funded maintenance cost at around $30,000 a year.
Confirmation that the sculpture was still on the cards for Adelaide drew groans from some councillors, who described the piece as “phallic” and “hideous”.
They also questioned whether the corner of War Memorial Drive and Montefiore Road was indeed “high-profile”.
“That seems like a very unusual choice of location in terms of the prominence,” said south ward councillor Helen Donovan.
“I go past there three times a week at least and it’s busy when there’s a game and things like that, when there’s certainly a lot of traffic, but it’s not a really… high-profile place by any means.”
Rundle said a number of other locations were considered by the council, AGSA and Sellers.
“The donor’s desired intention and the Art Gallery’s desired intention was that it would be a connection between sport and art, so it would be near the sporting complexes and so it would highlight such things as the development of the tennis centre, the fact that the oval’s there and have it more as an entrance to the city,” she said.
Area councillor Anne Moran questioned whether the council could revoke its support for the sculpture, given what she described as its “unattractive” look, but she was shut down by council’s CEO Mark Goldstone.
“I think council has committed to the project for quite some time and I think it would be difficult to withdraw our support at this time because the arrangements were put in place,” he said.
Moran then attempted to dissuade support for the new proposed location, saying it was “not prominent” and the sculpture’s placement could cause traffic problems.
“It (the sculpture) is very shiny and reflective and that is a big sweep of six lanes or four lanes going down the hill,” she said.
Rundle said from initial investigations the sculpture would not pose any traffic safety issues.
South ward councillor Alex Hyde then weighed in with his artistic critique of the sculpture.
“This thing is hideous,” he said.
“Have we tried to foist it off to another city in the metro area?”
Central ward councillor Jessy Khera also expressed dislike for the piece, saying after the meeting he was glad it would no longer be placed in the River Torrens.
“It looks like something out of Alien vs Predator, only they would both run away from it,” he said.
Rundle said the artist was very well-respected in Australia.
“The donor, actually, when he originally landed in Australia came to Adelaide and he has a very strong connection to Adelaide and he sees it as a very great gift to the state.”
She said the sculpture would arrive in Adelaide once investigations had been completed and key stakeholders – including Tennis SA and the State Government – had been consulted.
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