Tag Archives: kitsch

Worst of Public Sculpture Around the World

Here are some worst public sculptures that I have photographed. My examples may not the worst of the worst but they are, each in there own way, bad. There are some terrible public sculptures around the world, monstrosities imposed on the public by mad dictators and inept city councils but I haven’t seen them, except in photographs. These sculptures are not just bad art, but they have also been badly conceived, installed or located.

Bear fishing Ottawa

Bear Fishing in Ottawa, the sculpture isn’t that bad and nor is its location but the plinth is rubbish. It really is rubbish, a collection of rocks and broken concrete held together with some more concrete.

Dali in Singapore

I had to laugh at the statue of Dali in Singapore, this sculpture and its strange assortment of companions trying to add class to an up market apartment complex are a series of bland realist sculptures of an unlikely collection of heroes.

Bronze gold nugget Brunswick 1

Sure, it is fun to laugh at foreigners but Melbourne has some of the worst public sculptures. Top of the list is the “gold nugget” in Melbourne, this sculpture is both badly conceived and located. Didn’t anyone in the process of making this memorial that a gold nugget modelled in bronze would look like a lump of bronze? The next problem is that it is stuck on a bit of curb on the edge of a parking lot along Sydney Road.

Robert Delandere, Statue of Meditation, 1933

Robert Delandere white marble, Statue of Meditation, 1933 outside the conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens is at least in a pleasant location. It was declared by a contemporary sculptor, Paul Montford as one of the worst sculptures in Melbourne. The smooth sentimentality of Delandere’s sculpture is bad and was out of date even when it was made. Imported from France to memorialise the father of Madam Gaston-Sant in the town of Rheola in Victoria’s gold fields. Why it ended up in Fitzroy gardens remains a mystery as does much about the sculptor Robert Delandere. Delandere is the one known sculptor in this list of bad sculpture. We know so little about the truly bad artists, it is a great hole in art history.

June Arnold, Dolphin Fountain, 1982

Sentimental is one problem but June Arnold, Dolphin Fountain, 1982 in Fitzroy Gardens is complete kitsch, with dolphins,  starfish and other marine creatures.

Worst of Fed Square

“Paparazzi Dogs” was specially commissioned and made for Federation Square. It was intended as a backdrop for more selfies (photos of yourself). “Visitors can go there to take their own photos with the paparazzi, allowing them to become their own celebrity.” (Gillie and Marc’s website.) Do tourists really measure their enjoyment of a place in photos? Is a photo opportunity the best function for a public sculpture?

Gilles and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

Gillie and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

The street artist CDH subverted “Paparazzi Dogs” by replacing the plaque with his own notice using the same layout and font as the official Federation Square notices. (See his website under reviews.) CDH’s notice read:

“The sculpture equivalent of ‘dogs playing poker’, the work is symbolic of the culturally vapid public art commissioned by Melbourne’s civic institutions. / The dog/human mutations in suits reference the base and deficient character of a bureaucracy as a system of selecting art. / The cameras pointing outward invite the viewer to go into Melbourne’s laneways in search of the authentic and organic street art culture that the city is internationally renowned for.”

Instead of committing to a single image for Federation Square it keeps on changing with temporary sculpture. Instead of committing to a single public sculpture when tastes will change in another decade or two Federation Square has decided to have a series of temporary sculpture exhibitions. Now this might be a good strategy and some of these sculptures have been good, like Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” in 2012, but recently the sculptures have been kitsch, like Gillie and Marc’s “Paparazzi Dogs” or Xu Hongfei’s “Chubby Women” sculptures.

Xu Hongfei series of fat women sculptures is currently in Federation Square. Xu Hongfei is the president of the Guangzhou Academy of Sculpture and the Chinese government sponsors his sculpture tour of Australia. His “Chubby Woman” series was exhibited earlier this year in Sydney and at the National Art Museum of China. In this case the bureaucracy of selecting sculpture for Federation Square has gone for diplomacy over taste.

As Xu Hongfei said about his sculptures on Radio Australia: “Many people enjoy this type of artwork very much, it’s very direct, not very deep nor complicated.” (Girish Sawlani, “Chinese sculptor brings ‘Chubby women’ exhibition to Australia”, Radio Australia 16/7/2013)

Deep and complicated do not preclude being enjoyable to many people. Theo Jansen’s walking machines was fascinating to all ages. And Jansen’s work can lead to deep and complicated thinking about kinetic art, engineering, wind power and biology as well as being enjoyable aesthetic experience. Xu Hongfei’s work leads to nothing but more selfies, BBW sculpture porn and filling Federation Square.

Kitsch functions as a cultural gap-filler, ersatzes culture filling the spaces instead of work that might lead to thought. In filling the gap it excludes better work.


Clocks & Kitsch

Gog and Magog, Melbourne’s floral clock and the giant animated fob watch at Melbourne Central – these clocks, from three different eras, show changes in public taste, however kitsch. All of these kitsch clocks are created as a kind of public sculptures, as local tourist attractions. They range from Anglophile to international to Australiana.

In 1870 the first arcade in Melbourne, the Royal Arcade officially opened. In 1892, two of the Royal Arcade’s most attractive features were erected. Gog and Magog are the bell ringers on Gaunt’s Clock located at the end of the arcade above the Collins Street exit. This extravagant clock was installed in 1892 a year before the Australian banking crisis of 1893 when several of the commercial banks and the Federal Bank collapsed. The figures are modelled on the figures from the Guildhall, London in 1708 that are based on earlier medieval sculptures. The two legendary British giants are depicted with large beards, staring eyes and heavy limbs standing in stiff poses. Carved from pine and painted in multiple bright colours these figures refer to the gothic medieval tradition.

Melbourne’s floral clock is the most boring of the three clocks but they were fashionable for many decades around the world, especially in former parts of the British Empire. The first floral clock was installed in Princes’ Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 1903. The first floral clock that I saw was at Niagara Falls in Canada, built in 1950, so I was never impressed by Melbourne’s floral clock. There is a degree of intercity rivalry with floral clocks – the first and the largest – Sydney installed a floral clock at Taronga Zoo in 1928. Melbourne’s floral clock was donated in 1966 to the City of Melbourne by a group of Swiss watchmakers after it was used at an international trade fair in the Exhibition Building.

The last of these three tourist attraction clocks is the giant fob watch at Melbourne Central. It was installed in 1991, when Japanese company Daimaru opened its department store in Melbourne. This Seiko clock plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour with mechanical Australian parrots and musician figures. The nativism and Australiana was intended to appease Australians to the presence of the foreign store. Although Daimaru has now closed the giant fob watch plays on.

Over a century after Gog and Magog Melbourne shopping arcades still use large animated clocks as marketing attractions. Although such animated clocks have been used in Europe for centuries as civic attractions they were also demonstrations of civic technology, what makes modern giant clocks kitsch is because the technology has become commonplace. In explaining the taste for floral clocks it is worth noting that Michael Jackson had a floral clock at his Neverland Ranch.

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