Monday, November 19, 2012

Still life

The Wellington Sculpture Trust has just announced the completion of its 27th public sculpture, a set of pale blue-green Kina by Michel Tuffery that lean against a bank (sea-shore variety not commercial) partly submerged in water in the downtown wharf area. This commission has no moving parts which is doubtless a relief to the Trust. 

Mobile sculpture is a major maintenance problem and one that won’t ever go away. In fact, it just gets worse over time. Still, no one ever said it would be easy having sculptures that moved in public spaces, particularly in a salt-laden city like Wellington, and it isn’t. 
Over the years practically all Wellington's moving sculptures have had to be overhauled. Leon van den Eijkel's Urban forest has rarely spun on all 15 cylinders and there are always few of the boxes frozen in place. There are also signs that the spinning cones of Phil Dadson’s Akau tangi are going to suffer ongoing seizures with at least one not spinning this weekend. Same with Phil Price's downtown work Protoplasm whose movements are becoming increasingly arthritic. 
Back at the harbour Len Lye’s Water Whirler has the indignity of a semi-permanent ‘not working sign’ that itself is starting to rust and chip. And as if all this were not enough, one of the latest public sculptures (Shane McGrath’s Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds 2012) is not even a year old and is already needing a makeover with large patches of varnish gone and nail rust bleeding through as weathering takes its toll. This work came to the city courtesy of the Wellington City Council, City Gallery and Massey but the fragility of its unpainted wooden structure was always going to test any Civic idea of permanence.
The need for maintenance on kinetic sculpture is not trivial real and it must be a concern that the City Council already stretched financially will downgrade their regular maintenance. The result of that would be a slam dunk. Salt 1 - sculpture 0.
Images: Top to bottom left to right, Price's Protoplasm, McGrath’s Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, Len Lye’s Water Whirler, Leon van den Eijkel's Urban forest and Phil Dadson’s Akau tangi. (click on image to enlarge)