The vibrant red and blue surface colours were to ”energise” the new workout space but Sculpture by the Sea is not the only local to protest that the bold finish clashes with the natural landscape.
Mr Handley said the gym colours were selected without regard to the international sculptural works to be placed on a rock platform in front and behind.
”Waverley Council is acting as if we are a Sunday school egg and spoon race, with all great respect to Sunday schools,” Mr Handley said. ”This is about the artists, what inspires them and what they give to the rest of us at their cost. If we take away what inspires the artists as night follows day the artists won’t submit major works or want to exhibit next to things like the gyms.”
Since 1997 the free exhibition has transformed the coastline from Bondi to Tamarama into an outdoor gallery showcasing local and international artists bringing in about 450,000 visitors and contributing almost $40 million annually to the NSW economy.
But 12 significant sculpture sites in Marks Park have been compromised or removed by an all-access concrete path that Sculpture by the Sea says council could have built along an alternative, much-improved route.
Exhibiting for the fifth time at Bondi with a work made of steel and plastic trash cans, a commentary on environmental pollution, Slovak artist Lubo Mikle said he was perplexed.
”I don’t know anything of the local politics because I’m from the other side of the world but my first impression when I saw Marks Park was, ‘Why they do this, why they want to destroy Marks Park path and Sculpture by the Sea?’ ”
Artist Jane Gillings’ sculptural field of pedestal fans is located near the gym. The placement of work was important to scale and aesthetics, she said.
”Having other distractions by way of paths or gyms and toilet blocks, it all brings it back to reality and what we are trying to achieve as artists is art; it’s artifice and it’s magic and it’s spoiling that magic,” she said.
”I think sometimes progress is great but it can also be a vandalism of sorts, especially when there is no consultation, as it seems, and that irks me. It’s not a two-bit art show and it brings a lot of business to this county. I know people who live overseas and come to see Sculpture by the Sea every year and it’s the only reason they come.”
Sculpture by the Sea has long struggled to secure financial support to cover the most basic of artists’ costs such as fabrication and freight. On average artists exhibit at Bondi at a loss of $18,000, Mr Handley said.
Australia Council funding covers heavy equipment costs of installation but that multi-year funding lapses after next year’s event.
Organisers said they had been informed by the Australia Council it would not provide the exhibition with multi-year funding in future and that they should not apply for the next round funding from 2021.
Two of the event’s major sponsors have backed a changed venue. A scoping study, a precursor to a feasibility study, has been commissioned by an interstate rival and an alternative Sydney location.
”’To stage an exhibition of any note you need the wholehearted support of those who manage the venue and to work hand in glove understanding each other’s needs and aims,” Mr Handley said. ”We are experiencing this with these potential new venues.”
Waverely Council has indicated it is willing to negotiate and says its support for Sculpture by the Sea has been unflagging and significant since the event’s inception 23 years ago.
Mayor Paula Masselos said council contributed approximately $150,000 towards Sculpture by the Sea comprising of in-kind and grant support.
The amount included the cost of remediation works to return Marks Park to its original condition, as well as traffic control.
Direct funding included $5000 for the Mayor’s Prize and $15,000 for various community grants.
”We would like Sculpture by the Sea to remain in Waverley given our collaborative relationship over the past 23 years,” Ms Masselos said.
”If that occurs, a new license agreement will need to be negotiated and signed for next year’s event and beyond. We will negotiate terms of that license with Sculpture by the Sea directly, rather than speculate through the media.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald