Rugby has not been kind to the visual arts. There is something about the physicality of the game, the heightened passions and the hero to zero trajectories of its players that has compelled artists (and sculptors in particular) to create some of the most bizarre sculptures on the planet. OK, that might be over-stating it, but certainly some of the most bizarre sculptures in the countries that play the game. Most are men-in-action jobs who are usually reaching towards the heavens, hands outstretched.
There has always been something uncanny about people making sculptures out of bronze (which is achingly heavy) to represent sportsmen intended to look as though they are in some kind of leaping weightless flight. It is the same paradox that has some people in spasms of anxiety as they lose faith in the ability of a large passenger jet to lift off and stay up in the air. Still, suspending one's disbelief in bronze’s ability to float like a butterfly is usually offset by the stolid realism of most footy player tributes.
In New Zealand we are about to break out of the realist mould which has been the standard way of representing rugby in bronze since the early twentieth century (you can check out some examples here on OTN Stuff). In Wellington WETA workshop are revolutionising the field with their Rugby World Cup tribute by boldly mashing two wildly different genres: the Gothic and Chinese Social Realism.
Head of the WETA Workshop Richard Taylor was too modest when he told reporters, “Not every New Zealander is into rugby but I hope that we've designed a sculpture that is not too abstract, not too contemporary, that celebrates figurative art and will hold its own place in the eye of the general public.” The aesthetic daring it takes to put two such chalk-and-cheese genres together will do much more than hold its own in the eye of the general public; it will radically recast figuration without being either abstract or contemporary.
But why should this lavish tribute languish in Wellington with its puny population, a city already bulging with ranks of harbour-side sculptures? Auckland has laid claim to being the cultural capital of New Zealand and it is certainly the Capital of the Rugby World Cup. If Auckland is to stand up and be culturally counted, it needs to pay the price and step up to become the permanent home of New Zealand’s largest, heaviest and bronziest Rugby sculpture.
Images: Top left, Social Realism Chinese style, bottom left, classic Late Gothic, bottom right, classic modern revival Gothic by Frederick E Hart. Right WETA's Rugby tribute (click on images to enlarge if you dare)