Drawn to Archer vision, artist cut fee
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Drawn to Archer vision, artist cut fee

Artist Patricia Piccinini has revealed she designed Skywhale for the bargain basement price of $8800 and hopes the giant hot air balloon will travel the world.

The Skywhale project will cost ACT taxpayers $300,000, with an additional $50,000 from the Aranday Foundation to meet other costs.

Eye to eye ... Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer with <em>Skywhale</em>.

Eye to eye ... Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer with Skywhale.Credit:Jeffrey Chan

Piccinini revealed on Thursday she had only accepted a small, GST-inclusive, fee for designing Skywhale because she had been so impressed by creative director Robyn Archer’s vision for the centenary of Canberra.

“This is actually substantially less than an artist would normally ask for a work of this kind and scale. It would not be unusual to receive 20 to 30 per cent of the production cost of the work as a fee,” Piccinini said.

Imaginative responses ... Patricia Piccinini with her work <em>Skywhale</em>.

Imaginative responses ... Patricia Piccinini with her work Skywhale.Credit:Jeffrey Chan

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“I made the decision to request such a low fee because I was really impressed by Robyn’s vision for the festival and felt it was a unique and extraordinary opportunity. For me, the pay-off is seeing her fly.”

Weather permitting, Skywhale will take to Canberra’s skies again on Saturday and Sunday.

Piccinini hoped Skywhale would travel widely outside the national capital.

“I would love her to go anywhere that she is wanted, and we are already getting requests and inquiries from a really broad range of places – from contemporary arts events to community events,” Piccinini said.

“I can’t say what at this stage because we are still talking but I can see her travelling the world.”

Piccinini said she had not set out to shock anybody and the controversy over the floating artwork had surprised her. “However, when you make an artwork you have to have a commitment to an idea. If you tried to take away every aspect that could possibly upset somebody, you would be left with nothing at all.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said on Thursday that, in retrospect, the government should have revealed the full cost of the artwork when it was unveiled last week.

When first asked last week by Fairfax Media for the total cost of the balloon project, Jeremy Lasek, executive director for culture and communications at the Chief Minister’s Directorate, said the balloon had cost about $170,000.

“The balloon itself was in the vicinity of $170,000. We’ve also created a website, educational kits, piloting, a bunch of other things that were on top of it. So, I don’t have the total number, but the balloon design and construction and the testing was around $170,000,” Mr Lasek said at the time.

The next day, it was revealed the balloon would cost at least $334,000.

Ms Gallagher said there had been no deliberate attempt to hide the cost. “With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been helpful if the total project budget was outlined on the day the story broke,” she said.

Mr Lasek said he had been clear in the interview that there would be additional costs on top of the $170,000.

“I didn’t have the breakdown of all the other costs with me at the time so I wasn’t in a position to provide that at the time of the interview,” he said.

Centenary organisers had been overwhelmed by the level of national and international interest in Skywhale, most of which had been positive, Mr Lasek said.

Ms Archer has defended the controversial balloon and criticised “parochial” reactions and superficial social media commentary since its unveiling. Writing in a national newspaper on Thursday, Ms Archer described the enormous creation as a “monumental” achievement in hot-air balloon technology, adding “the connections to Canberra and its centenary year are obvious”.

“Many have applauded the risk-taking as an indicator of signs that cultural sophistication is on the rise in the national capital,” Ms Archer said.

She blamed “leaked” photos of the balloon, published on canberratimes.com.au on May 9, for negative public reaction. The photos were taken by a member of the public during the balloon's first flight in country Victoria and published in a country newspaper.

“The public was goaded to treat this new work of art as if it were part of a beauty or popularity contest,” she said. “This raises serious questions for those who champion the arts: when did the public start insisting that all art be ‘beautiful’?”

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Ms Archer said people who had seen the Skywhale take flight outside the National Gallery of Australia last Saturday had been won over by its “sheer size, workmanship and the creature’s benign maternal presence”.

“To the dwindling few who reveal so little capacity to rise above the parochial, politicised, media-driven culture of complaint, I encourage them to get out and see Skywhale next time it appears and try to recover the precious power of imagination that allows wonder and curiosity into our lives,” she wrote.