‘Underwhelming’ $300k North Adelaide artwork benched

Adelaide City Council has delayed approval for two “retro futuristic” LED benches proposed for North Adelaide’s Melbourne Street at a cost of $300,000, after councillors said the public artworks were “not a lot of bang for buck”. See the pictures

May 03, 2023, updated May 03, 2023
The concept designs for two sculptures proposed for Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. The Adelaide City Council has allocated $300,000 for the artwork. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

The concept designs for two sculptures proposed for Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. The Adelaide City Council has allocated $300,000 for the artwork. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

The council last night discussed concept designs from South Australian artist Sam Songalio for two permanent glass fibre reinforced concrete sculptures to be installed on the western corner of the Melbourne and Jerningham Street intersection in North Adelaide, opposite the Lion Hotel.

The public art proposal includes a 2.5-metre diameter circular structure and a 3.7-metre-long bench. Both will be fitted with LED panels for internal lighting displays.

Concept designs for the circular LED bench. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda

Adelaide City Council has allocated $300,000 for the artwork within a $900,000 commitment to install “legacy illuminated public artwork for the City” as part of the Illuminate Adelaide arts festival.

According to the designs presented to council, the two Melbourne Street sculptures “will play the role of artwork whilst also acting as a piece of furniture, meeting place, marker or way finding device”.

“I would describe the aesthetic of the concepts that I have developed as ‘retro futuristic’,” Songalio said in his concept rationale.

“They are looking towards the future yet acknowledge the past. I feel these values are strongly aligned with the history and sentiment of the Melbourne Street area while being aligned with my working practice as an artist.”

The location for the public artwork display. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

The concept designs for two sculptures proposed for Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

But North Ward councillors Phillip Martin and Mary Couros argued at a committee meeting on Tuesday night that a decision to approve the project should be deferred.

Martin said he discussed the design with Couros prior to the committee meeting and “both of us are of the view that what is proposed – and I wish to cause no offence to the public art roundtable or anyone else – is slightly underwhelming”.

“It is not a lot of bang for buck,” he said.

“That is $300,000 worth of project there and my feeling is that – I’m not a mathematician nor am I an art critic I should be making clear – it is not something which our ratepayers will be delighted.

“My guess is that given these difficult times in the city where it seems we have trouble sweeping the roads and cleaning the footpaths and patching the footpaths, to present them with two pieces of sculpture… which are underwhelming, invites the kind of criticism that councils so often deserve.”

Committee chair Janet Giles asked Martin if he wished to put a timeframe around deferring the decision, to which Martin responded: “No, I don’t.”

Couros made a similar argument as to the value of the public art proposal, saying: “Obviously… the cost of the artwork would be a discussion point.”

“We do need to defer it to come to a place where we know that our constituents will appreciate and take ownership of artwork that is on their street,” she said.

“We don’t want to have them hating it.

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“And I know that art is subjective, and I know art is there’s no right or wrong, but I think the Deputy Lord Mayor (Martin) and I know our constituents quite well, and we know there is something other than this that they would probably appreciate.”

InDaily sought comment from Songalio about the council’s decision and criticism of his proposal.

The sculptures are proposed to be fitted with LEDs for lighting displays. Image: Sam Songalio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

Council members present at the meeting unanimously voted to “note the report and defer consideration of the matter”. The committee chair said this meant the council administration could bring back a revised proposal.

According to a report prepared by the administration, the Melbourne Street sculptures were reviewed and unanimously endorsed by a public art reference group. They were also seen by Illuminate Adelaide.

The reference group determined the sculpture proposal “best responded to the site and area” and the “scale, cost and ability to deliver was more realistic against the budget”.

They also said Songalio had “more proven experience in delivery of public artwork”.

Ilia Houridis, Adelaide City Council director, city shaping, said the council was “not under any formal contractual agreement with the artist” yet.

“The funding is capital in nature… so it would carry forward into future budgets if it were the will of council that it proceed,” he said.

“In terms of it then lying on the table, we would, I suspect, get to a crunch point come 30 June about how we deal with the funding being carried forward or lapsing.”

The Melbourne Street LED sculptures are not the first public art proposal to get the cold shoulder from council.

In March, councillors decided not to proceed with another $300,000 project for an 8-metre high illuminated ring in the CBD’s Light Square.

The rejected proposal for an 8-metre tall illuminated ring in Light Square. Image: Ouchhh Studio via Adelaide City Council agenda.

The administration said the proposal from Turkish-based firm Ouchhh Studio had “significant merit” but “the project budget was not viable in its current form”.

The unspent funds on the Light Square proposal were returned back to the council budget.

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