ACT News

Skywhale draws huge crowds in Brazil and Ireland

Skywhale is turning heads overseas.

Patricia Piccinini's​ famous Skywhale, Canberra's most talked about hot-air balloon, continues to draw huge crowds on her latest overseas tour. 

Commissioned as part of Canberra's Centenary celebrations in 2013, the artwork is known for making headlines and catching public attention wherever she flies. Latest stops in São Paulo, Brazil and Galway, Ireland, have been no different, and planning is under way for visits to Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2016. 

Crowds view Skywhale in São Paulo, Brazil.
Crowds view Skywhale in São Paulo, Brazil.  Photo: Supplied

Overseas commitments mean Skywhale will again miss Canberra's Balloon Spectacular in March, but her private owners say the balloon will remain linked to the national capital. 

Global Ballooning director and chief pilot Kiff Saunders said Skywhale and exhibitions by Ms Piccinini had made the front page of newspapers in Brazil.

About 250,000 people attended the exhibitions in South America's most populous city.

"We had her up in the centre of São Paulo in October and I went over and have done this leg of the journey in Brasilia. It's yet to be confirmed, but we expect Skywhale will be in Rio in April and then to do another exhibition in San Francisco in May," he said. 

Skywhale at the Galway International Arts Festival in Ireland

"Skywhale was in Ireland in June last year and that was incredibly successful. The exhibition in São Paulo was one of the highest rating contemporary art exhibitions they've ever had." 

Last year, the ACT government moved to correct reports Skywhale had flown her last flights, after tours in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Japan. Events ACT said the balloon's owners applied too late to be part of the 2015 ballooning festival. 

Mr Saunders said Skywhale's latest tours showed she "was a complete rock star overseas". 

"This thing was built with a view of promoting and raising cultural awareness of a local artist throughout the world and that has been happening. 

"We had the opportunity [to come to Canberra] last year but there wasn't a budget for it. It's been off doing what it's made to do: supporting the art world."

Skywhale outside the Cathedral of Brasilia, designed by Oscar Niemeyer

"Canberra is heavily featured in all the talks. It is very clear to audiences and the media that it was created as part of the Centenary of Canberra," Mr Saunders said. 

Skywhale's flights often involve tough conditions for hot-air balloons, including flying on tethering and during the day when wind levels can be higher. After about 90 hours of flights and transport to new locations, Mr Saunders said the balloon's special fabric remained in good condition. 

"There is nothing to indicate it is showing any signs of ageing," he said. "It's got some dirt and dust and a few scuffs but we do all our inspections on it and it passes the tests." 

Created at a cost of more than $300,000, Skywhale has had her critics but remains popular at events and on social media. 

"Once it is overseas, it is obviously very expensive to ship it back to Australia," Mr Saunders said. 

"Stringing these exhibitions together makes it far more attractive to events and galleries because they don't have huge overhead costs.

"The response in the art world has been sensational. Skywhale is just such a hit that it is bringing art off the back pages and on to the front."

The 2016 Canberra Balloon Spectacular runs from March 12-20 on the lawns of Canberra's Old Parliament House.