The Passing Red debate

Gaye Jurisich's Passing Red.

Gaye Jurisich’s Passing Red.

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Passing Red debate

  1. Iggy says:

    Well, Gaye Jurisich’s “Passing Red” has got the debate going again! It may be a contender for being relocated, but within Hamilton please. There will probably be debate on what might happen to the V8 pits area now that the V8s have gone. Maybe Passing Red will be better in a different area where it is more accessable to the casual walking/passing people. On the other hand, I wonder what it look like in its current position if that area is returned to grass and trees as it was before? Plenty to ponder – all discussion and debate generated by a piece of artwork. Great!

  2. Sarah says:

    So many cities around the world don’t have the luxury of such debates. Public art is awesome!

    • Yes – it is brilliant the extent to which arts patrons, local developers and the council are investing in art. I am with Denise Irvine – there are many people here who are prepared to think about and engage with our public art, even if they don’t necessarily like it. Unfortunately, our local newspaper focuses on those for whom public art is not of value.

  3. KOA says:

    Really well written article.

  4. Emilio Askin says:

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