Public sculptures are often gifts exchanged between governments. It is an ancient tradition; Emperor Hadrian gave a statue of himself to the Greek cities, like Corinth that he visited (like the reverse of tourist photo leaving his own image in locations he visited). There are some great statue gifts but like all gifts there are some that make you question the taste of the giver and wonder what you will do with the gift. In the City of Melbourne’s storage depot there are shelves of small object d’art that it has been given as official gifts.
Melbourne does not have an international gift equivalent to NYC’s Statue of Liberty, a gift to the USA from the Republic of France. The Three Businessmenwho brought their own lunch; Batman, Swanston and Hoddle is a gift from the small island nation of Nauru. It was presented as gift celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the City of Melbourne unveiled on 20 April 1994 by his Excellency, the President of Nauru Hon. Bernard Dowiyogo M.P. How exactly this statue became a gift and why was it made by two Melbourne sculptors, Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn, remains one of the secrets of international diplomacy.
The Three Businessmen… on Swanston Street broke the drought of sculptures in the city brought on by the controversy over Vault (aka “the Yellow Peril”). And heralded changes to Swanston Street as the pedestrian areas were expanded, traffic reduced and more sculptures were added. Three Businessmen… is arguably the most significant public gift sculpture in Melbourne and is a firm favourite amongst locals and visitors.
Less significant but certainly still greatly appreciated is Tianjin Gardens, the Chinese garden above Parliament Station. “Presented as a gift by the Municipal Government of Tianjin People’s Republic of China 1999”. With its traditional Chinese lion sculptures gardening the entrance and a wonderfully weathered rock standing in the middle of a pool it creates a serene urban garden. The essential feature to this garden’s popularity is that it has plenty of places to sit.
All that I have been able to find out about the reciprocal gifts that Melbourne has given other cities is that The City of Melbourne did give a tapestry by Adam Pyett to the City of Tianjin. (If anyone knows anything more please comment).
Other cities in the Melbourne’s greater metropolitan area that have acquired some sculptures as official gifts include:
Antonio Masini’s Man of the Valley from Italian cities of Viggiano and Grumento is at Coburg Lake Reserve (see my post).
Petros Georgariou’s King Leonaidas from the Greek city of Sparta is in the mall at Sparta Place in Brunswick (see my post).
The oldest of these diplomatic sculptural gifts are the two busts that were given to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics. The marble bust of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri was a gift from the Dante Alighieri Society of Italy. The Italian government also give an unlikely companion for Dante, a statue of Italian radio pioneer Marconi. Both these busts are now at the Museo Italiano in Carlton.