Public art

If public art is meant to provoke, then Harbour Mouth Molars, the sculpture taking shape by Portsmouth Dr, Dunedin, achieves this aim.

The photograph of the giant teeth published, as it happened, on April 1 had many readers of this newspaper thinking it was a joke. The teeth have drawn strong comments in letters to the editor and they are, at best, bewildering.

To be fair, the artist, Regan Gentry has responded with valid counter points to some of the criticism. Public art does have to connect with everyone from small children upwards and the teeth, each the size of a Mini car, will elicit responses.

It is difficult to condemn an art work when it is far from finished, and the state of the harbourside where the work is placed was disgraceful. Nevertheless, despite the boldness (but not the beauty) of the installation, it is hard to see it ever winning popular favour or even, one suspects, special merit as "art".

There seems to be a need to blot our gorgeous vistas, like the harbour view, with human statements.

The same phenomenon is found in Wanaka, where visitors contemplating the pre-eminent glory of nature's mountains and lake are jolted by foreground sculptures, like the incongruous huge hand by the playground. Surely, public art can embellish public spaces not already so munificently blessed.

The teeth, in soft Oamaru stone, are designed to decay, and one wonders if that will, in fact, make the matter worse.

Dunedin, while showing remarkable resilience and while continuing to grow, albeit slowly, does not need reminders of what could happen to parts of the city should its economy stumble.

The human psyche will not be nourished by mouldering molars in a location that could inspire and uplift.

The council's advisory committee recommended in Mr Gentry an artist with experience of what might be described as stimulating contributions to public art in several New Zealand centres.

In backing this particular idea, it would seem that deliberate public incitement might well have been part of their goal. But, long-term, public art needs to do more than just that.




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