Damien Hirst swims with the sharks in Sculpture by the Sea
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Damien Hirst swims with the sharks in Sculpture by the Sea

Damien Hirst's shark is considered one of the most iconic works of British art in the 1990s and helped make its creator the darling of the British postmodern art movement.

The massive tiger shark was caught off Hervey Bay in Queensland to the artist's specifications and then preserved in a formaldehyde solution. It sold in 2004 for a rumoured $12 million.

An inflatable Damien Hirst head with mask and snorkel remarks on the commercialism of that earlier artwork, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,  and is bound to become one of the more arresting images of this year's Sculpture by the Sea.

Damien Hirst Looking For Sharks by Cool Shit at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe.

Damien Hirst Looking For Sharks by Cool Shit at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe.Credit:AAP

''Considering the shark was captured on the same coastline as Sculpture by the Sea, we thought it would be both fun and funny to imagine Hirst with his snorkelling kit searching for his first mill,'' says artist David Glass, who goes by the nom de plume Cool Shit.

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''The Damien Hirst head is 98 per cent air. The outer membrane is a complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle made of hundreds of hand-painted pieces of fabric. When assembled in the correct order, you get uncle Damien.''

To be anchored at Tamarama Beach, the Hirst head is also a practical answer to Sydney's heavy swells and east coast storms - it can be easily moved up the beach in case of a king tide like that which smashed works in 2016.

''We don't want Damien Hirst looking for sharks among the sharks,'' founding director David Handley said. ''You never know what [the weather will be] like. A full moon is a week away Tuesday. it could be calm as and just a high tide or if we have storms, it could come a little way up the beach. We have our fingers crossed.''

Sculpture By The Sea, the world's largest annual free-to-the-public outdoor sculpture exhibition, celebrates 22 years this year.  Works, both monumental and soft and subtle, come from artists in Australia as well as South Korea, Japan, Slovakia, South Africa and Canada.

Lair by Britt Mikkelsen.

Lair by Britt Mikkelsen.Credit:Janie Barrett

Most, but not all, the 107 sculptures have been installed along the foreshore walk between Bondi and Tamarama.

Sydney's drenching rains are good news for farmers but have left some parts of the south Bondi headland soggy. Installation at Marks Park may need to continue after Thursday's official opening, though a crane on Wednesday put the fleshy obese figure by China's Mu Boyan, Horizon, in situ.

Viktor Freso's Niemand (2015) shows a Napoleonic figure with a disproportionately large-headed figure on a naked, small body. Fresco describes the angry man as someone at the ''boundary of ridiculous, foxy and complex. 'A self-important, arrogant bastard.''

The tallest is Wei Wang's 5.5-metre high walking man. The most personal and sombre is Matthew Harding's Antithesis which grew out of the artist's grief and despair of losing his eldest brother.

Viktor Freso's Niemand: ''A self-important, arrogant bastard.''

Viktor Freso's Niemand: ''A self-important, arrogant bastard.''Credit:Janie Barrett

Tragically, Harding took his own life in February and Handley has dedicated this year's Sculpture by the Sea to the life and career of the renowned sculptor.

Harding's stainless steel chrysalis or shroud reflected his questioning,  reflection and search for real and moral purpose.

''When approached it invites you to enter and become contained, to reflect on your own mortality and transformation,'' Harding said in an artist's statement. ''However, the fluted mirror interior only reflects itself and the aperture of the outer world and, from a central standpoint, the host is conspicuously absent.''

James Voller's photographic homage to the fibro holiday shack is also likely to be a crowd favourite, Handley says, examining beach culture and architecture in a part of the world where the modest fibro house has been superseded by cliff-top hugging show homes.

Self-taught artist Sue Corbet drew inspiration from her beach memories for her bronze, After the Swim, on the south side of Tamarama Beach, which shows three children shivering together wrapped in a beach towel after a cold swim. ''I love watching the children - we have 11 grandchildren - swim in our pond, the surf, the river or swimming pool,'' Corbet said.

''Even though they are freezing, they will eventually get out, grabbing their towels, wrapping up, huddling together, teeth chattering and bodies shivering. Exhilarated and happy, just waiting until they are warm enough to do it all again. Actually, there is a bit of me in it. I remember that feeling of exhilaration myself.''

Deborah Halpern's The Face recalls Gaudi and Picasso with a glass, stainless steel, aluminum, and fibreglass representation of the false faces we present to the world.

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The Face in Marks Park, moves in the wind, moves with touch. ''However, we look, we are human and we belong together,'' the artist said.

The celebrated artist is best known as the creator of Melbourne’s Angel (1987), commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria.

For the second year, a collective of 11 Aboriginal women elders - all members of the Stolen Generation - from Bankstown are represented with a ceramic and metal panel creation, Gateways to our Culture.

Friendly Terror by Danni Bryant.

Friendly Terror by Danni Bryant.Credit:Janie Barrett

From 60 kilometres of biodegradable cotton twine, stainless steel wire and holographic dust Britt Mikkelsen has fashioned a funnel web spider's lair replicated on a human scale, the perfect height for children to crawl through.

Although the funnel web is a spider to be feared, its web and nest is an object of intricacy and beauty, says the artist, one of two Helen Lempriere scholarship recipients. If laid out, the cotton string would reach from Marks Park to the foot of the Blue Mountains.

On seven public seats located along the foreshore and sculpture walk, Iranian artist Hossein Valamanesh has interwoven Persian carpets. A postcard with a poem in Farsi by Rumi on the back explains the idea of the work and asks the viewer to find someone to translate the poem.

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Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.