Public art – in any city – is a notoriously fraught business. No matter how hard you try to make everyone happy, every work will have its detractors. Some more than others, of course. Notable spats in Sydney’s public art history include the time residents threatened to dismantle Ken Unsworth’s ‘poo on sticks’ sculpture in Darlinghurst (it still stands); the time NSW Parliamentarian Helen Sham-Ho said Lin Li’s ‘Golden Water Mouth’ sculpture in Chinatown “looks like a penis”; and the time Oz editor Richard Neville ran a cover photo of himself and two others peeing into Tom Bass’s P&O Wall Fountain.
That said, who could possibly argue for a city without public art? It’s (mostly) good for the eyes, good for the soul, and improves even the most uninviting locations. It’s also good for business, which has been part of the drive in Sydney over the last decade to revitalise laneways and commercial precincts with commissions from contemporary artists, architects and designers. In 2007, the City of Sydney appointed their first Public Art Advisory Panel – a mix of artists, curators and architects that currently includes Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah and installation artist Janet Laurence. Now you know who to thank/complain to.
While there are some permanent, long-standing works, there are also pieces coming and going almost every month. Here are some of our favourites that you can seek out throughout the city.
Reko Rennie's latest public installation features 1500 square metres of large feathers stencilled over several major buildings and rooftops at Barangaroo South. It speaks to Rennie's identity as an Aboriginal Kamilaroi man, and the significance of the crow in Indigenous cultures, using just two colours: bright cobalt blue and the neon pink that appears in many of his works. Rennie said: “The feathers mirror a congregation of people – a meeting place of diverse individuals, philosophies and histories – coming together, reflecting the hive of activity that is unfolding in the redevelopment of Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct.”