Sculpture beauty in the eye of art trust chairman

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Everyone’s no doubt got an opinion on the expansive The Wolves are Coming sculpture that occupies the run up to the 18th at The Hills golf course near Arrowtown. 

It’s a serious installation and one that garnered national media attention when it first arrived. 

When wealthy jeweller Sir Michael Hill imported the 110 snarling cast-iron wolves and the Chinese warrior in their midst into his backyard from Beijing, he didn’t ask what the district thought about it. 

Nor should he have. 

Hill was spending his own money and sticking the whole shebang on his own property. That’s his right. 

So it’s curious that the public is going to get roughly the same amount of say – as in, none – on the commissioning and siting of a major public art work downtown that’s likely to sting ratepayers to the tune of six figures. 

As revealed on Mountain Scene’s front page today, the Queenstown-Lakes District Cultural Trust – set up and funded by Queenstown Lakes District Council – has quietly gone about getting consent to put a sculpture of, in simple terms, a big leaf and some poles, at St Omer Park by Steamer Wharf. 

Have a look on the cover at what is the only visual of the planned installation that we’ve managed to find – and go online to scene.co.nz and let us know what you think. It’ll be your first chance to share your opinion of it. 

For whatever reason, the trust chaired by local art dealer Gary Mahan has been keen to keep its plans for the piece by noted Kiwi sculptor Virginia King to itself. 

When Mountain Scene tried to get some information out of Mahan back in May last year – in the same month the trust got its consent – he said they were working on commissioning a major sculpture by a significant NZ artist but he had nothing to announce at the time. 

“In the past there have been too many loose lips and then we couldn’t get funding from the trusts and the like. I’m not going to comment,” he said. 

And now it seems it’s a done deal –and the arts trust has made the decision for you to spend upwards of $100,000 on a piece of its choosing that it’ll place at a site it now has consent for. 

To be fair, Mahan is someone who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to art but shouldn’t council at least require the trust has some sort of responsibility – and the confidence – to gauge public reaction to such a large installation that will be with us forever? 

Queenstown’s council has form in this regard – foisting publicly-funded works of art in public spaces on an unsuspecting public. 

Back in 2001, controversy erupted when then-mayor Warren Cooper – without public consultation – commissioned a $60,000 2.4-metre-high statue of civic founder William Gilbert Rees for downtown Queenstown. 

Howls of protest at the time came from then-Commerce Queenstown executive director Clive Geddes who was rightly frustrated at the lack of discussion around the decision. 

Ironically, Geddes had been on a working party planning downtown streetscape improvements and was never consulted. 

“Why should anyone bother doing anything when if it suits council they will do exactly what they want?” he fumed at the time, before dubbing the site as “most inappropriate” for a statue which would block an “absolutely critical view corridor”. 

Geddes was joined by several nearby retailers peeved at the council’s unilateral decision-making. 

No need to tell you who won that argument – you can wander down The Mall and see the Cooper brainchild occupying pride of place down there. 

I appreciate it can be a difficult thing to throw yourself at the mercy of public opinion, but when you’re spending public money on something you’re sticking in full view of everyone, it’s the least you can do.