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Denial art delayed to avoid poll pain

Date

Megan Doherty

Street art unveiled at Woden. A sculpture entitled "Culture Fragment" by artist David Jenz graces the forecourt of Government buildings in the town centre.

Street art unveiled at Woden. A sculpture entitled "Culture Fragment" by artist David Jenz graces the forecourt of Government buildings in the town centre. Photo: Graham Tidy

The ACT government says there was no conspiracy to delay the release of the final artworks in its controversial and now-defunct public art scheme until after the October election.

ArtsACT director David Whitney and the office of Arts Minister Joy Burch confirmed two major works commissioned under the scheme by former chief minister and arts minister Jon Stanhope had been in storage in a warehouse but the delays in displaying them had nothing to do with avoiding fallout before the October 20 poll.

A spokesman for the minister said the release schedule had been in place for more than a year.

Ms Burch unveiled the whimsical $187,000 work The Other Side of Midnight by Melbourne artist Anne Ross in City Walk on December 4.

Mr Whitney on Friday officially launched a large work in copper, Culture Fragment, by Murrumbateman artist David Jensz, among the office blocks of the Woden town centre.

The work cost $118,510 and is the third Jensz has completed for the government. A similar work, Fractal Weave, is outside the Canberra Theatre Centre. The third, Life Cycle, is in Bunda Street.

Two companion pieces by acclaimed Japanese artist Kozo Nishino, called In the Stream and Breezing in Canberra, were commissioned under the former Stanhope government for $775,701 and have yet to be unveiled.

The kinetic works were proposed as roadside entry works for Pialligo Avenue and Morshead Drive but Mr Whitney said that plan had been affected by federal funding of the Majura Road upgrade, which meant the artworks could affect sight lines on the new roads.

''So we may have to find other locations for them but we're hoping that will be some time in the early part of next year,'' he said.

Mr Whitney confirmed the works had been completed and were in storage but could not be displayed until their locations were confirmed. The artist had also been busy with a major installation at the World Trade Centre site in New York.

The four works were funded by the government's Percent for Art scheme, which committed 1 per cent of the new capital works program each financial year to public art projects.

The scheme was axed in 2009 after a raging debate on public art during the 2008 election.

The government had also paid for another two artworks as part of shop upgrades. A $100,000 piece would be unveiled at the Scullin shops on Thursday. Another $100,000 piece was due to be unveiled at the Red Hill shops by mid-2013.

Mr Whitney said while the government's public art scheme was no more, there were signs that the business sector was picking up the slack, with private commissions at New Acton, the airport, new suburbs such as Crace and a major piece commissioned for Northbourne Avenue for the centenary by Canberra CBD Limited.

There are also clear indications that the public is embracing the street art that has already been displayed. While he was launching the work on Friday, Mr Whitney received an ''all power to you'' comment from a passer-by.

And in Childers Street, the sculpture Relic had been draped with a graduation gown in honour of graduating Australian National University students who happily posed with it throughout Friday.

''I think we've absolutely enlivened the city [with public art],'' Mr Whitney said.

Jensz, whose latest piece in Woden was a comment on the social fabric and connectedness of communities, said he was disappointed the scheme had ended.

''The more public art we have, the more alive our public spaces will be and the more interesting they will be,'' he said.

''And we'll be richer for it if we continue to develop that … For those people who think it's a waste of money, I just feel sorry for them.''

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