QAGOMA Director Speaks Out Over Controversial Kiwi Elephant Sculpture

QAGOMA Director Speaks Out Over Controversial Kiwi Elephant Sculpture
Michael Parekowhai / The World Turns (artist’s impression) | Premier of Queensland’s Sculpture Commission | This project has received financial assistance from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation and the Queensland Government through art+place Queensland Public Art Fund

Suhanya Raffel, Acting Director of the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern ART (QAGOMA), has spoken out in support of a controversial sculptural commission awarded to New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai by the Queensland Government saying that “Good contemporary art will raise discussion, and The World Turns is clearly already doing that.”

When Parekowhai was originally awarded the Premier of Queensland’s Sculpture Commission in 2011 for his proposed sculpture The World Turns, many people questioned the government’s decision to pay $1,000,000 for a sculpture by a New Zealand artist that is meant to be an emblem and a drawcard for an Australian gallery.

As the December 2012 installation date for the sculpture draws near, the relevance of the work and the appropriateness of the commission has once again come into question as government officials, art experts and cultural commentators put in their two cents worth.

Initiated by the former Queensland Government to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (2011) and 20 years of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2012/13), Parekowhai’s The World Turns certainly couldn’t be called boring.

The commission consists of three separate but interrelated life-sized sculptural elements cast in bronze: a massive bookend in the form of an elephant tipped on its head; a chair; and a kuril (the local native water rat, which gives Kurilpa Point its name), which looks the elephant directly in the eye.

An official statement from the QAGOMA highlights the selection criteria for the work which basically required that the commissioned sculpture be by a leading artist contemporary from the Asia Pacific region, enhance Queensland’s profile nationally and internationally as well as be large enough to be visible from the Brisbane River and the city.

 “Michael Parekowhai’s bronze work The World Turns was chosen unanimously by a selection committee from three shortlisted artists and it meets these criteria completely,” Suhanya Raffel said in the statment.

The Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, also weighed in on the debate during a recent interview with the 4KQ Radio breakfast show.  Newman commented that “this is a sort of decision of the previous Government and my Arts Minister is pointing out that over a million dollars right now is probably money that we could have spent more effectively on other things.

“I reckon a whole lot of struggling local artists probably could have benefited from a whole lot of micro grants of $10,000 / $20,000 from that one million dollars to their own artistic and creative things in Queensland. But having said that, it is coming. The elephant is on its way.”

Chaired by Tony Ellwood, the former Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, the sculpture commission Selection Committee praised the work for its responsiveness to the site of Kurilpa Point and its cultural significance.

Before his departure from the QGOMA, Ellwood stated that “The World Turns successfully draws connections between the river, GOMA and the adjacent State Library of Queensland; and is simultaneously contemplative and humorous. The artist’s representation of cultures coming together is at the core of what art galleries aim 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.”

Michael Parekowhai is a major internationally recognised artist from the Asia Pacific region. He represented New Zealand at the 2011 Venice Biennale. His work has also been featured in the Sydney Biennale, the Gwangju Biennale and the São Paulo Biennial, and is held in the collections of leading museums including the Queensland Art Gallery. Parekowhai showed in ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, which marked the opening of GOMA in 2006.