L’Affaire Dimopoulos: ‘copy’ of ‘difficult’ N.Z. ‘artwork’ installed at Federation ‘Square’

Following the controversy, in 2005, about the Melbourne City Council’s sensible rejection of Kon Dimopoulos’s ‘Sacred Grove’ project, the Minister for the Yarts in Victoria, Mary Delahunty, announced that the AU$73,000 odd dollars ear-marked for the blue trees would be spent instead on a “site-specific” sculpture “similar in concept” to ones already installed at a Toyota facility here and outside an airport in New Zealand.

The new “site-specific” sculpture has now been installed at Federation Square in Melbourne. An Age editorial mentioned that the sculpture had arrived (7 June 2006), and an article by Jonathan Green, a senior writer at the same newspaper, extracts some comment about public art from notable persons:

Vault eventually moved to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, while Sacred Grove was recreated in miniature for the Hotel Sofitel in Collins Street, a small gesture towards artistic tolerance that was opened by the director of the National Gallery, Gerard Vaughan, a man who had been saddened by the demise of the original elm paint plan. Red Centre is part of Federation Square, standing between its bars and the Yarra.

It seems that little raises the ire of a certain section of the community more than “difficult” public art. “Some people don’t like to be challenged, I suppose,” said Dr Vaughan.

In the mind of art critic Robert Nelson, the clamour that greets work such as Vault and Sacred Grove points to a fundamental difficulty in introducing serious art into public places.

“The natural air of contention around any art work reaches a hysterical pitch in a public space, so there’s an incentive to go with work that is decorative and not particularly challenging,” he said.

“You are left with symbolic neutrality … like all those little bronze dogs in the city, they’re just slightly pompous garden gnomes.”

Quoted from Jonathan Green’s article, ‘Will Red Centre be the new Yellow Peril?’, The Age, 7 June 2006.

“‘Difficult’ public art”? I wonder whether Gerard Vaughan is kidding. Here is the “difficult” public art in question …

This detail of the Age photograph accompanying Green’s article shows ‘Red Centre’ in daylight. It is lit at night. The Herald Sun photo, published on the same day, shows that the reeds are red, black and yellow. The interesting thing, though, is that this “difficult” work by Dimopoulos looks very much like other equally “difficult” installations. Make up your own mind:

… The ‘Firebird’ installation at a Toyota facility.

… The ‘Pacific Grass’ installation at a New Zealand airport.

(The last four images from the Dimopoulos website.)

… Two more versions — ‘Yellow Carex’ (top) and ‘Grassland’ — in parks and on private properties in New Zealand. And there are others. (Actually, some of the others are better!) You get the idea.

Someone might like to explain to me (please) what’s “difficult” about these installations. When you see them it’s difficult to understand what Minister Delahunty’s press release meant when it promised a “site-specific” sculpture “similar in concept” to others already installed elsewhere.

Robert Nelson’s comments are, ironically perhaps, right on the money. Dimopoulos’s installations are not art at all, in my view: they’re pure decoration. Prêt-à-porter urban design; one-concept-fits-all intellectual laziness where the only things that change from one site to another are the dimensions, the colors, the title and the price tag. Could you imagine New York settling for tripe like this? ‘You mean Wellington and Melbourne have them!? OK. We’ll have one, too… Make ours just like the others.’

Worse is that the whole enterprise — both the installation and the commentary on it — lacks imagination, directness and rigor. In the intellectual vacuum of corporate art it is a positive value to exhibit no imagination, and to repeat, by rote, tricks performed elsewhere; to copy oneself shamelessly.

A writer, by contrast, would not be permitted to abscond with public moneys after having left behind them an already published novel — no matter how good — that had been re-typed and only the title changed.

Dimopoulos is not the only ‘artist’ who behaves this way. John Kelly’s remarkable, and deserved, success with his many images and sculptures of cows has led him to repeat the trick maybe more than a few times too often. But Kelly, at least, was for the most part putting his hands in the pockets of the rich to pay the poor (himself). It is a different matter to strike a pose of artistic intention with a title like ‘Red Centre,’ when uncannily similar objects have different titles elsewhere.

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