Controversial public art plan in Auckland

Auckland Council has found itself at the centre of a heated debate about a planned public sculpture on Queen’s Wharf.

The public sculpture is being planned by New Zealand artist, Michael Parekowhai, made possible by a generous donation by local Auckland Real Estate company, Barfoot & Thompson.

The controversy relates to a range of issues including budget over-runs, subject matter and location.

The Council is requesting a budget top-up of over $500,000 to fulfil the plans (Barfoot & Thompson donated $1 million to fund the work, but the planned work is going to cost in excess of $1.5 million).

The subject matter focusses on the issues and challenges facing state house tenants in New Zealand (the Government is currently selling off a significant number of properties to developers). Many people, including state house tenants and artists, believe the price tag to create the sculpture is “insulting” and “in poor taste”.

Queen’s Wharf is the location of the new Cruise Ship Terminal in downtown Auckland and has a long and interesting maritime history. In recent times, it has become very difficult to advance development on the wharf given the complex relationships that exist between the various organisations involved. These organisations include Waterfront Auckland, Auckland Council, Ports of Auckland, Auckland Transport and ATEED.

Will the project proceed?

More than likely it will, but at this stage, it will be within the $1 million budget provided by the sponsor in a different location.

Albert Park would seem to be a sensible alternative given the natural setting, close proximity to the Auckland Art Gallery and existing public sculptures, but sensible and these types of projects don’t seem to go hand in hand!

The brief provided to Parekowhai and the resulting detailed plans have not yet been released to the public.