There is sudden, welcome public discussion of the shy, stagnant state of public art in our nation's capital.
It prompts me to remember how, slap bang in the middle of the city of Oslo a giant and magnificent tiger prowls, scowling, cranky, looking as if it is about to maul and eat pedestrians in the way in which a cat chomps on mice.
Elena Engelsen's 4.5-metre bronze tiger is a ripper piece of public art, commissioned in the late 1990s to mark Oslo's 1000-year anniversary in 2000. Oslo's ancient and enduring nickname is The Tiger City and so it comes to pass that Engelsen's bronze beast is just what the city needed.
Oslo is in any case a sculpture-rich city but I mention the tiger (beside which I have posed for flattering selfies) because it sets a good example of what public art can be. Superbly imagined and made, populist without being crass and generously huge and prominently displayed, it is something impossible to ignore. To see it is to go "Gosh!"
Last Saturday's Canberra Times piece ("Keeping Canberra's art beating") looked, using the thoughts of former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope, at how the commissioning and installing of public art has faltered and withered since the Golden Age of his of his art-full chief ministership.
This is a subject very dear to your columnist's heart. As a globe-trotting aesthete I notice how much more bold and fun-loving some cities are about their public art than we are about ours. Then, too, ripper public art somehow, mystically, lifts and enhances the places and the people where it is enabled to strut its stuff.
In the Times piece, Stanhope says that ACT governments need to become more ambitious in the public art space if Canberra is ever to become a truly great, recognised world city. I'm not quite sure what that means, but it somehow gropes for something poetically true of art's services to cities and their citizens.
The Times pieces and the ensuing discussion of Canberra as a "public art space" contain an underlying moan about the city being somehow public art impoverished.
But some of this perception of art poverty has to do with far too many of our public art works, while exquisite, being shy and niggardly in their sizes and apologetic in their sitings. So much of our public art is seldom glimpsed. On Tuesday I took a walking tour of the inner city's artworks to test this impression, for example struggling to rediscover Qian Jian Hua's fine but only chicken-sized Young Eagle, lost in its anonymous Garema Place possie. All this niggardliness says some things unflattering but true things about our city.
Those things include, alas, how arts-illiterate and unsophisticated our city's movers and shakers are (does the present arts minister Gordon Ramsay know his arts from his elbow?). Then there's how cowardy-custardy ACT governments have been anxious not to offend noisy philistines (including cunningly bean-counting Liberal oppositions and their unattractive core voters outraged by generous money being spent on mere art).
So here we are in 2019, so unOsloesque a city that we don't boast a single piece of public art big and wondrous enough to truly amaze, startle or (just as valid) to shock.
Bruce Armstrong's biggish and prominentish Powerful Owl on Belconnen Way is a brave installation in the cautious Canberra context. But it has always rattled philistines' cages, and has always been much snarled at by people who say it reminds them of a penis. Our governments and artful oppositions have paid far too much attention to these sorts of troubled voters who, (like Freud's most troubled patients) imagine they see penises everywhere.
Jon Stanhope, perhaps subconsciously agreeing with me about so much of Canberra's public art being shy, says he dreams of having Antony Gormley, sculptor of the famous and gigantic Angel of the North, make us our own equivalent Angel of the South to stand high on an Arboretum hill where all will see it.
I'd love that too (although I'd want something gigantic that refers to Australia, our history/folklore) but shudder to think of how the very idea of it would bring out the philistiney worst in Canberrans, some quick to accuse that the suggested design (whatever its shape) reminded them of a penis.
Would Canberrans' inevitable gauche over-reaction to such a visionary artwork hold a mirror up to our young city's face, reflecting, figuratively, the pimply face of a pubescent Goliath, the best-known Philistine of all?
Does a city perhaps need to be grown up, like mature-age Oslo (where Elene Engelsen's displayed design for her tiger didn't remind anyone of a penis) before it has a heart that rejoices at public art?