It’s the million-dollar mammoth that’s sparked a fresh debate over arts funding.
Queensland Arts Minister Ros Bates has taken a swipe at the cost of a specially-commissioned elephant sculpture set to be installed outside Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art next month.
We're talking about a five-metre-tall upside-down elephant looking at a water rat.
The $1 million piece by New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai depicts a large bookend with an elephant tipped on its head and a native water rat looking the larger animal in the eye.
The small “kuril” is the rat after which Kurilpa Point is named.
Former premier Anna Bligh announced the commissioning of “The World Turns” late last year to coincide with GOMA’s fifth birthday.
She argued the bronzed artwork “successfully draws connections between the river, GOMA and the adjacent State Library of Queensland and is simultaneously contemplative and humorous”.
But Ms Bates smells a rat.
At a budget estimates hearing last night, Ms Bates questioned the wisdom of the elephant decision and attacked the Bligh government over “shocking misuse of taxpayer dollars”.
“We’re talking about a five-metre-tall upside-down elephant looking at a water rat,” the Liberal National Party government arts minister said.
“More than a million dollars was spent on this single piece of art, commissioned by an artist who doesn’t live in Queensland or Australia for that matter.”
Ms Bates insisted her comments about government waste were “not a smear on the artist or the sculpture” but argued the state funding would have been better spent helping the Queensland arts sector.
The sculpture was funded by the state government’s art+place Queensland Public Art Fund and the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation.
Parekowhai was one of three internationally acclaimed artists shortlisted to produce a sculpture to be located between GOMA and the Brisbane River.
The Queensland Art Gallery argued the proposed sculpture responded to the cultural and historical significance of Kurilpa Point.
“A life-sized bronze elephant, which on closer inspection is revealed to be a bookend, is flipped on its head. Its eyes gaze directly into those of a kuril, the native water rat that gives Kurilpa Point its name,” the gallery said in a statement to the ABC earlier this year.
“As the artist explains, ‘The Kuril is the real elephant in the room and the real animator of the spectacle we see before us. It is the Kuril who is the caretaker and who is responsible for upending this elephant with all its cultural and intellectual weight.’
“A bronze chair invites visitors to participate in the work, acknowledging the central role of the audience in any encounter with art.”
Selection committee chair Tony Ellwood, who recently left his post as director of the Queensland Art Gallery, said Parekowhai’s “representation of cultures coming together” was at the core of what art galleries aimed to do.
“The committee looks forward to seeing this major public sculpture realised and feels sure that it will become an enormously popular emblem for GOMA and a destination art work for Queensland,” he said at the time.
Ms Bligh had described the $1 million sculpture as a “special birthday present to mark 20 years of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art”.
But Ms Bates last night argued the state's high borrowing levels were the elephant in the room.
She said it was “this kind of reckless spending that drove Queensland into a spiral of debt”.
The sculpture is expected to be shipped from New Zealand later this month, with transportation and installation “estimated to cost taxpayers more than $200,000”.
A spokesman for Ms Bates said that cost was included in the total $1.06 million price tag.