Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney: a Hipstamatic view

For a few weeks each year, outdoor and monumental sculpture by a wide variety of artists takes a star turn against a dramatic backdrop of tumbled sandstone rocks, ocean and sky. Sydney’s annual Sculpture by the Sea is always a photo opportunity.

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with the Hipstamatic camera app for iphone. In Hipsta pics, people appear cool, as if they’ve stepped out of a Jean Luc Goddard film, a seventies road movie, or Poolside with Slim Aarons. A touch of John S lens with a Blanko filter and seascapes are mood indigo, sky is hyper real. The series of interchangeable “lenses” and “filters” (just shake for a random combination) give contemporary scenes the atmosphere of faded analogue photographs, Kodak holiday snaps, fashion test-shots or old Polaroids, tinged with the evocative dimension of memory, or the saturated colours of heightened imagination, wistfulness & dreams.


Top row from left: Ken Unsworth - Look This Way, Nick Horn -Everything That Happens Doesn’t Mean Something Else, Simon McGrath - Who Left the Tap Running. Middle row from left: Byeong Doo Moon - I Have Been Dreaming to Be a Tree … II, Keizo Ushio - Moebius in Space Planet, Jane Gillings - Provenance (a gilt frame). Bottom row from left: Bjorn Godwin & Jette Geji - This is One of Those Things That Hopefully Will Just Go Away Over Time, Julie Collins & Derek John - Save Our Souls – Shared Journey, Alan & Julia Aston - Simply Black & White 2010

Not everyone is enamoured of the Hipsta shot, but nearly every punter who takes the time to walk or jog the Bondi-Tamarama coastal path in late spring falls under the spell of Sculpture by the Sea.

SBTS plate2

Clockwise from Top: Steve Croquett – Heads Up, Jane Gillings – Provenance (a gilt frame), Alan & Julia Aston – Simply Black and White 2010, Michael Purdy – Tectonic, Corey Thomas - The Midget Attacks, Poul Baekhoj – Screwing by the Sea.

Sculpture by the Sea is the now the largest free-to-the-public outdoor sculpture exhibition in the world. Over half a million people visit the Bondi exhibition each year and there are also exhibitions annually in Cottesloe, Perth Australia (since 2005) and Aarhus, Jutland Denmark (since 2009). Brainchild of David Handley, the inaugural exhibition in 1997 (put together on a shoestring budget and relying on volunteers, but with the support of Ron Robertson Swan and other major sculptors) caused a sensation, was popular amongst artists and the general public alike, and undoubtedly raised the profile of sculpture as an art form in Australia. Now, with Handley still at the helm, works are chosen by committee from a large number of applications and the exhibition attracts extensive sponsorship and some government funding. Many works engage with specific aspects of the site, inviting the viewer into a dialogue with the ocean, or the rocks, or beach, or history, or the inflated prices of today’s waterfront real estate. It’s a selling exhibition too, and has an extra component “Sculpture Inside” – smaller & tabletop sculptures by the invited artists housed in a marquee at the top of the hill at Mark Park.

As critic John McDonald writes in his introduction to the handsome coffee table book Sculpture by the Sea: the first fifteen years 1997-2011 (just released – it includes brilliant stories by David Handley on how he got the show off the ground), “SxS exerts a phenomenal hold on the public imagination”.

For me, SxS functions equally well on a number of different levels: as a gorgeous day out with friends (or even lovelier, sundowner – grab a beer at the Icebergs afterwards - or sunrise and go for brekky and a swim at Bondi); as a joyful community experience (the works seem to spark random conversations with strangers, plus you’ll undoubtedly run into someone you know); as a thought-provoking overview of Australian sculpture now; as an introduction to new young artists; as a chance to see some wonderful international sculpture (the exhibition now attracts the likes of Sir Anthony Caro); as a daily visual treat (if it’s your regular routine to jog or walk along the cliff path); as a research or shopping opportunity if you collect art; and, overwhelmingly, as a invitation to discuss and celebrate the diversity of contemporary sculpture.

Highlights this year include Balnaves Foundation Prize award winner Paul Selwood’s “Paradiegma Metaphysic”, Ken Unsworth’s skeleton up a ladder “Look This Way”, Alan and Julie Aston’s herd of zebras “Simply Black & White”, Simon McGrath’s enormous “Who Left the Tap Running”, Helen Lempriere Scholarship award winner Marcus Tatton’s “The Ruin” on Tamarama beach, Byeong Doo Moon’s wistful stag “I Have Been Dreaming to be a Tree ..II”. This year’s impressive international field also includes Hioyuki Kita, Zero Higashida and Keizo Ushio from Japan, Hyong Kwon Kim from South Korea, Peter Lundberg from the USA, Keld Moseholm and Poul Baekhoj from Denmark, Wang Shugang and Chen Wenling from China, Georg Mayerhanser from Germany, and Britain’s Sir Anthony Caro.


Clockwise from Top: Simon McGrath – Who Left the Tap Running, Chen Wenling – Childhood Horizon, Alison Lee Coulsand – 11.11, k.m.s.e – The Best of Perth, Faith Semiz – Isometric Trinity

- Susie Burge, all rights reserved.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi to Tamarama Coastal Walk, Sydney until 20 November, 2011.