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Big Cat Controversy

A giant 3m bronze cat by Melbourne-based sculptor Dean Bowen at the Wyndham Vale Community Learning Centre has become a petty controversy because of costs.

It is such an easy political beat up for a local councillor to complain about the cost of a recent sculpture. It is the same kind of petty council politics that plagued “Vault” (aka “The Yellow Peril”) and other public sculptures. It is such an easy controversy to run in the media because most people don’t buy sculpture so they have no idea of realistic costs. It is easy because there is never a break down of the costs, just a big lump sum. It is easy because there is no comparison to other budget items. It is so easy that any local councillor who pulls this kind of stunt is the kind of stupid scum of the earth who should be replaced at the next election. And an intelligent journalist should spike such a story or get more facts.

Look at the facts not the lump sum. Wyndham Council has a policy of spending 1% of public building budgets on the arts. It is a policy that is employed by Melbourne’s Docklands and many other organizations. (See my blog post: Docklands 1% Sculpture)

The money for the sculpture is not simply going in the pocket of the sculptor. The costs for a sculpture quickly add up. Foundries can take anywhere from 15 to 60 per cent of an artist’s budget for a sculpture depending on how much casting is involved. Bronze ($5 per kilo for scrap bronze) and a large block of marble for the base are not cheap. Transportation and installation of the heavy statue and the plinth is another cost that the public might not expect.

The use of the foreign labour to sculpt most of the Queen Victoria monument (1907) ruined the reputation of its sculptor, James White (1861-1918). White was in a bind as he depended on the skill of the Italian stone carvers to work the Carrara marble for the multiple figures on the large monument. Now that’s a real political controversy about a sculpture considering how strong both nationalism and the local stonemason’s union was at the time.

When the public can get over the petty politics of cost we can move on to discuss the artistic merit of this quirky cat sculpture.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

3 responses to “Big Cat Controversy

  • Helen

    Right-wing media beat-up, nothing more. Rather boring actually.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Yes, I’m sure that we have both read this kind of story before but I thought that I’d use it to write something about the costs involved in public sculpture.

  • Tethya & Public Art | Black Mark

    […] One of the worst things that the media can do with a new public art is report on how much the art cost. It is misleading to the public as a figure in dollar terms fails to explain the breakdown of costs involved: materials, transportation, equipment rental, etc. In thanking the whole team of people involved in Alex Goad had to note that he was the lowest paid worker on a per hour basis. This is not unusual for a sculptor, a hundred and fifty years ago Charles Summers had the same experience making the Burke and Wills Monument. (For more about why reporting the costs is misleading see my post about another public sculpture: Big Cat Controversy.) […]

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