MELBOURNE’s reputation as a city possessed by the arts was strengthened yesterday as the EastLink Freeway’s $5.5 million public art collection was unveiled.
Motorists may well have to pay to use the freeway, scheduled to open next year, but as they career along it they will be privy to a free roadside sculpture gallery. And we’re not talking easy-to-digest, namby-pamby art. Four enormous art works have been deliberately chosen to provoke.
Designed by some of Australia’s most collectable artists, the four giant sculptures will be located along the 39-kilometre stretch of road linking Donvale to Frankston. Among them are a fake hotel, a huge blackbird about to eat a hard-edged yellow worm, a massive metal object that looks like a fallen rocket or a tower, and a 30-metre chain of blue, green and white ellipsoids that have already been nicknamed the smarties.
If you think that sounds weird, perfect. The people behind the project are eager to court controversy.
“Not everyone will like it, and that’s what contemporary art is about. And that’s what distinguishes Melbourne as a city, pushing the envelope, and always exciting,” said Tony Shepherd, chairman of ConnectEast, the private owner and operator of EastLink.
Perth businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court, Melbourne architect Roger Wood and ConnectEast director Yvonne von Hartel were appointed to choose works for the project.
“These are major works by major Australian artists. There is absolutely no doubt that we’ve got good value (for money), but I don’t like talking about money and art in the same sentence,” said Mrs Holmes a Court, chairwoman of the John Holland Group, part of the consortium building the freeway.
There’s a fine tradition of public art creating controversy in Melbourne. Eight years ago, architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall transformed the entrance of the Tullamarine Freeway and divided opinions with its Melbourne Gateway, commonly dubbed the cheesesticks.
The toy-like yet authoritarian row of red and yellow pylons was unloved by those who saw it as a reflection of former premier Jeff Kennett, his quiff, and his fondness for neo-fascistic architecture featuring half-salute blades.
Yet today, the Melbourne Gateway is widely considered a spectacular portal to a city that prides itself on being Australia’s cultural capital.
“You know you are entering a city where aesthetics matter, it’s a sense that you are entering a cultural zone,” said Elizabeth Grierson, the head of the RMIT University’s School of Art.
Professor Grierson welcomed the EastLink public art collection as the latest example of a city that took its art seriously.
Architecturally designed sound walls are already a common feature of Melbourne freeways, but the EastLink sculpture project was taking freeway art to a new level, she said.
She singled out the work of Callum Morton, an RMIT alumnus, who was one of the artists representing Australia at this year’s Venice Biennale.
Morton has designed a fake hotel, which Professor Grierson said alluded to the “failed utopia of modernism” — a potent message on the side of a freeway bustling with carbon-emitting cars.
Sculptor Emily Floyd’s playful work Public Art Strategy consciously alludes to the controversies of the past: the yellow worm about to be eaten by the blackbird evokes the much-maligned Yellow Peril (correctly titled Vault, by Ron Robertson-Swann) as well as the Melbourne Gateway.
Postmodern allusions aside, Floyd has a simple desire for her blackbird and worm: “I do hope that children enjoy it. They’re in the back of the car.”
A trip on EastLink will cost, but it’ll be a cultural experience
Gabriella Coslovich | TheAge
November 28, 2007