With 19th century origins, Hobart is blessed with its fair share of weather beaten figurative bronzes set atop sandstone plinths. Generally found in well-clipped public parks and gardens, these statues tend to commemorate leaders, be they monarchs, governors, premiers or generals, or to wars and their victims.
Additions to our public art during the 20th century reflected developments in art and stylistic forms, while still often being cast in bronze. The range of people and events commemorated similarly grew in breadth, with a particular focus on exploration and our island’s proximity to Antarctica.
Some of these installations have had a nomadic life, moved on from their original locations, when the areas they were originally located in changed ownership or purpose.
In the 21st century, Hobart’s oft-praised artistic tendencies are being celebrated as never before. MONA has made Hobart a destination for arts cognoscenti from around the globe, and local government agencies around the Derwent have put in place some progressive programs and made interesting commissions, which are adding incentive, interest, meaning and reward for those willing to take the time to explore the urban environment.
I’ve taken a few strolls recently, exploring some of the more high-profile public art installations around Hobart, visiting the ones I could recall off the top of my head. A little research has reminded me of many more, including entire trails through various suburbs, and I intend to continue my explorations and will document these further.
The process also got me thinking about the various purposes of public art and indeed what defines it as art. The purposes are many, and often involve multiple objectives and outcomes – commemoration, interpretation, wayfinding, recreation, street furniture, and just occasionally, pure whimsy.
The very nature of what constitutes public art has been explored, tested, questioned and celebrated, with ephemoral installations and the questioning of limitations of what can be done by residents in private properties that increasingly ajoin significant public spaces (this essay by John Vella, Hobart artist and Program Director of Art at the Tasmanian School of Art makes fascinating reading). I’m sure that artschool types among my friends and followers will be able to offer definitions, but I think that creative minds are necessary and will add value to any public installation.
Please consider this post as simply a taster for more detailed explorations to follow. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from readers about your favourite public art, and what are the boundaries of public art? Is the experience of the artwork more important than the endurance of the tangible object? What artworks have been relocated? Please get in touch via the comments below.