Last month, we learned from Bernard Orsman of the NZ Herald of leaked proposals to build two, three-storey office and car park buildings at the Quay Street end of Queens Wharf. This month the news is that Auckland Council art bureaucrats, with the support of the Mayor, are trying to impose a $1.5m artwork at Queens Wharf’s northern, seaward end.
The work by Michael Parekowhai is a two-thirds sized sculpture of a state house. A state house? People of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations would be intrigued to learn that this ‘state house’ will cost over $1.5m. $1m will come as a gift from Barfoot and Thomson, as a birthday present to celebrate the real estate agent’s 90th birthday. The balance, it appears, will be coming out of your rates. For the life of me, I just don’t get the logic of an oversized sculpture of a state house being plonked at the end of Queens Wharf. The artist himself seems to have in mind an entirely new role for his ‘state house’, ‘signalling a safe harbour, welcoming to all.’ But why not then sculpt a lighthouse? It gets even more bizarre. To provide lighting for this ‘state house’, there will be a 45-tonne, Venetian, hand-blown, crystal chandelier costing $750,000. Such extravagance may be artistic but it’s rather insensitive given real state house tenants find it hard to pay their light bills, and many currently are under threat of eviction. This is also completely out of keeping with the maritime environment and history of Queens Wharf.
The view of the Waitemata Local Board is that it was a case of ‘good art but in the wrong place.’ To be fair, I can’t comment on its artistic merits because I have never seen it. But it is certainly in the wrong place. Public art should be relevant and in harmony with its setting. Most of all it should be democratic and have the support of the people who will be paying for it. Obviously the executives of Barfoot and Thompson who presumably know more about location, location, location than public art, are happy to take this prime spot on Queens Wharf, though the idea of the location apparently came from council bureaucrats. But what about the other funders, the people of Auckland, who are once again to be shut out of the process?
Queens Wharf was purchased by the former Auckland Regional Council and the government for all Aucklanders. Maximising views out over the harbour from the city and leaving space for future generations for their ideas and their needs was a key consideration at the time. We should resist Queens Wharf being cluttered and privatised by present day opportunists with more money than taste.
Queens Wharf is also for future generations, which we hope and pray might regain the civic-mindedness and good taste of Auckland’s earlier generations.
Versions of this article have been published in the July issue of Ponsonby News, Verve Magazine and 10 July issue of Gulf News.