Docklands 1% Sculpture

There is an abundance of public sculpture in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct because the Melbourne City Council required the developers to commit 1% of its capital works program to art. The sculptures in the Docklands include some work by notable Australian sculptors but this post is not about all the sculpture, although I will mention some of them. This is about the commissioning process for these sculptures.

There are endless complaints about the Docklands, from almost everyone who speaks or writes about it. Except in Waterfront Spectacular – creating Melbourne Docklands – the people’s waterfront ed. John Keeney (Design Masters Press, 2005). This huge coffee table book is a puff piece of colour photography, hopelessly compromised with an editorial board that includes representatives from VicUrban and various state government departments. It has very little about the sculpture but lots of photographs of them. However, in one chapter, “State of the art”, Sue Neales gives details about the commissions and funding for the sculptures at Docklands.

There was a 1% contribution to public art from all construction. Of that 1% half would be spent within the public space of the developer’s building, 30% for artwork located outside of developers building and the remaining 20% went to fund commissions of large-scale sculptures and artwork for public spaces across the whole of Docklands. The art spend by the developers had to “involve the direct commissioning of an artist to design and construct a specific artwork”. A variety of commissioning processes were used in the Docklands from direct to open competitions.

Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” 2004 is a stainless steel and aluminium sculpture above reflective pool with a path through the middle of the A frame support for the boat structure. Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” on Navigation Drive was a result of a limited competition. Six selected artists were invited to submit designs and maquettes (models of the proposed sculpture) for a competition with three winners selected to create artworks along Harbour Esplanade. New Zealand artist, Virginia King’s proposal was chosen. This work clearly fits with the Dockland’s themes.

The selection criteria for the sculpture included meeting Dockland themes of indigenous history, maritime, water, industrial history and urban interface. The themes are a way of the city council manipulating the memory of the area exploiting a desire for the authentic amid the completely constructed landscape.

Obviously not all of the sculptures do meet these themes. Emily Floyd “Signature Work (Rabbit)”, 2004 a large black painted aluminium toy rabbit on Waterview Walk and John Kelly’s “Cow Up a Tree” 1999 on Grand Plaza have little do with any of the themes in the selection criteria (except for, maybe “urban interface” what ever that means). Kelly’s “Cow Up a Tree” sculpture toured the France, Ireland and the Netherlands, making it completely non-site specific.

The art needed to be made for durable materials not prone to corrosion, able to withstand vandalism, with no small parts that could be stolen, “and be safe for people to touch and move around without any public liability issues” (p.118) For years temporary fencing has surrounded “Shoal Fly By” by Melbourne-based architect/artist partnership, Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo on the
Harbour Esplanade. And now the sculpture has gone. Maybe there is a health and safety issue with the sculpture?

There are lots of new public sculptures in the Docklands development but I’ve been finding it hard to get around all of the industrial scale development. I ended up looking at Virginia King’s “Reed Vessel” on Google maps.

Has the 1% for the arts improved Docklands?

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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