In 2008, Hamilton City Council looked to local artist Gaye Jurisich to deal to the eyesore that was created when established trees were butchered to create a space to be used annually for Hamilton’s misguided and debt-producing foray into V8 car racing. The sculpture was required to cover a huge footprint, while being easily taken apart so the area could be used annually for the V8 pits. It must have been a challenging brief.
When Passing Red was installed, it attracted the kind of invective that said more about the ignorance of those commentating than about the sculpture. A couple of weeks ago a driver crashed into Passing Red, badly damaging himself, his vehicle and the sculpture, with one end of it now being potentially too costly to repair. The Waikato Times saw fit to publish another rush of hate mail, with some correspondents indicating that they thought the accidental demolition of part of the sculpture was good news. This was followed by the more measured suggestion that, with the V8s event now onsold to that more appropriate location – the City of Cars up the road – Passing Red could be relocated in a park where people could interact more readily than they can in its current site on a busy street.
Local art commentator Peter Dornauf hit the print media with an opinion piece, lambasting the Passing Red critics, labelling them and nearly everyone else who lives in Hamilton as Philistines. Journalist Denise Irvine, usually easy-going, responded strongly, saying that attendance at the recent Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival proved that “Hamiltonians aren’t yokels and bogans”. “We may not all be card-carrying members of the city’s literati but we love, celebrate and support this place in all its colours and idiosyncrasies,” she says.
Gaye Jurisich herself has remained quiet. Perhaps she has decided not to dignify her most vicious critics with a response. In his book “How to look at a Painting”, Justin Paton offers a definition of art – that it should provoke discussion. On this basis, Gaye Jurisich’s Passing Red meets the criteria. Or does it? With the exception of Denise Irvine’s article, the artistic qualities of the piece have barely rated a mention. The focus has been on vitriole rather than consideration of form, colour, line, texture and shape – a starting point from which to consider the artist’s meaning.
“Public art and public debate are inextricably linked,” says Denise Irvine. It would be good to hear more from those who value creativity and imagination – which by its very nature cannot please everyone.