JAMES MORROW
JAMES MORROW

Plop art: the movement nobody needs

IT'S one of those hard truths of life that anything public is bound to be lousy.

Public transport is never great, unless you have a thing for armpits and delays.

Public toilets? Even worse.

And that's before we even get to public art.

This week The Daily Telegraph reported that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is on another of her periodic public art jags, offering up to $85,000 to self-styled "artists" from around the world to come up with "installations" for a temporary art exhibit next year.

Other councillors were worried because of what sort of artists the money might attract.

As the paper noted, similar efforts around the globe have produced bizarre efforts, including Paul McCarthy's infamous 2013 Hong Kong work, "Complex Pile".

Which, as the name hints, turned out to be nothing more than a stack of inflatable turds so large it would put off even the most seasoned Emma Husar staffer.

As the exhibition's website stated at the time, "Complex Pile … uses its massive size to disrupt perceptions of space, instilling a sense of uncertainty in the viewer and destabilising the pastoral setting of a public park."

Of course it does. I've heard preschoolers make fart jokes more original.

'Complex Pile', the 2013 public sculpture by American artist Paul McCarthy. (Pic: Jessica Hromas/Getty)
'Complex Pile', the 2013 public sculpture by American artist Paul McCarthy. (Pic: Jessica Hromas/Getty)

The big lie in all this is that somehow goofy public art projects boost civic pride and tourism dollars, when really all they are about are big cities and big name arts types conspiring to put one over on the public with their money.

It might be different if any of the art that shows up in these sorts of shows shined a light on the human condition or was even (to use a very unfashionable word in the art world these days) beautiful.

But a pile of poo is an exercise in juvenilia no different than the great excretion machine at Hobart's MONA - though to its everlasting credit, MONA is a privately-funded affair, not paid for by residents and businesses who'd rather have rubbish picked up and the graffiti scrubbed, thank you very much.

And as far as tourism goes, no one ever plans a honeymoon or a holiday thinking, Gee, wouldn't it be great to Instagram ourselves in front of a turd balloon?

Back in 2008, after Tourism Australia launched its bizarre Baz Luhrmann come-to-Oz campaign, Paul Hogan said, "If I go to your house to visit and I want to come back, it's because I enjoyed your company not the furniture … we should be saying this is a wonderful country, the people are really laid back and friendly."

That goes double for a country like Australia which doesn't have the great, ancient built architecture of Europe or Asia to draw crowds.

Skywhale took to the skies above Canberra. (Pic: Tait Schmaal)
Skywhale took to the skies above Canberra. (Pic: Tait Schmaal)

Yet cities persist in imagining these sorts of municipal novelties will pull the punters (Canberra's infamous Skywhale may have been the pinnacle of this delusion).

Think of all the great public buildings and monuments and statues around the world that people do travel to see and take selfies in front of.

Firstly, they are all old.

And secondly, they weren't designed to "destabilise the pastoral setting" or whatever it is that poo sculptors say to sell their work.

Instead, they were all built to glorify God or military wins or the local rich guy in town.

But these days rich guys satisfy their vanity in glass curtain wall skyscrapers, not marble.

No one wants to commemorate battlefield wins anymore because nowadays war is considered icky.

And the closest thing we have to an official religion these days doesn't even have a figurehead to worship, just an ever-shifting judgey sanctimony and followers quick to "call out" blasphemers. The only way you could turn that into art is by putting a giant blue bird of Twitter in every public square as a reminder not to commit the sin of wrong opinions in 280 characters or less.

Yes, yes, I hear you saying, there's a lot of crap - pardon the pun - out there, but even the Eiffel Tower was controversial in its day.

The difference is that was built back when a monument to progress meant a monument to human skill and technology and achievement - not human waste.

James Morrow is Opinion Editor of The Daily Telegraph.



A dream 25 years in the making

premium_icon A dream 25 years in the making

An extensive career in hairdressing has led one Gladstone woman to grab her dream...

VOTE NOW: Best child care centres in Gladstone

premium_icon VOTE NOW: Best child care centres in Gladstone

Voting open now: Winner to be announced later this week

First female skipper makes history

premium_icon First female skipper makes history

VMR’s new skipper is marking her spot in the organisation’s history, working hard...