The best public art in Sydney you may have missed

The world’s best cities are filled with outstanding public art – large scale, durable pieces of art that are commissioned and sit (or stand or hang) prominently in public spaces.  Well, here’s some of the best public art you may have never seen – or perhaps you walked past them for weeks, months or even years without noticing them properly.  I know I did.

These two pieces by Sydney architectural glass designer and artist Marc Grunseit hang in Sydney’s “The Galeries”  – a four-storey shopping complex located at 500 George Street in downtown Sydney (in part under the Citigroup Centre office building) that takes up a significant part of the block bounded by George, Pitt and Park Streets.

The Galeries art shots April2013 007

This is prime real estate, almost sitting on top of Town Hall Station, just about one of the best locations you can get in Australia.  (It also contains one of my favourite Australian bookshops – Books Kinokuniya, but that’s a different discussion.)

The Galeries art shots April2013 005

The Galeries Marc Grunseit

The Galeries art shots April2013 010

I have been walking under Grunseit’s two great architectural glass designs since they were first installed in October 2000 (including each weekday for the past thirteen months).  So how is it that I only really noticed these great works of art a few weeks ago?  It seems astonishing that I somehow have missed them for so long.

But yet I have.

Part of the reason is that they are located in narrow hallways and positioned quite high, so that the daily pedestrian traffic – so used to negotiating the downtown Sydney crowds and examining the up-market shop windows – may not have looked up to see them.  Another reason is that the two pieces are not easily visible from the street, partly obscured by the Sydney Monorail, which, thankfully is due for closing on 30 June 2013, with total removal by mid-2014.  The pieces are located at the two Pitt Street exits (entrances) to The Galeries.  The best (and in fact the only) views of the works are as you walk out from the shopping complex onto Pitt Street.

These are impressive works, filled with bright colours and deeply Australian in their themes, reminiscent of Aboriginal paintings.  In his website, Marc Grunseit describes them:

The first design [“The Song of the Magpie Dawn”] was inspired by the lyrical calls of the Magpie, heralding the Australian dawn. The colours of the rising sun progress from seashore to desert, presided over by the spirit of the songster. It is very much a companion piece to the larger installation, being at once a map of the land and its spirits. The larger design is of a serpentine landmass surrounded by ocean, simultaneously viewed from various perspectives and levels of magnification, referring to a range of Australian environments populated by surreal fauna.

Grunseit artwork The Galeries Syd far

Grunseit artwork The Galeries Syd close

The larger one is my favourite, and can be interpreted in so many ways.  It’s called “This Land”; according to the artist, it was named after the Woody Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land”.  I have found the small plaque (see photo above) describing “Magpie Dawn”, but the plaque for “This Land” unfortunately has long since disappeared or been hidden so well that I have not found it.  What a shame that these two pieces are not given their full due: they are two of the greatest works of architectural glass I have ever seen.  They are good enough to become one of the required “photo op” stops in Sydney, along with the Archibald Fountain  and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

Postscript on 7 August 2013:

I have heard from the artist Marc Grunseit, who does not appear to be bothered by the lack of awareness that most people have about these two works.  He writes:  “You and many people walk under the work without seeing it is actually a compliment. There is a concept, known in my game as ‘Civic Inattention’. It is reckoned that if the artist’s ego is in proportion, the artwork will not leap out of the architecture waving it’s arms about calling ‘look at me’. The aim is to blend it in so it looks like it should be there. Maybe I succeeded.”

It’s unusual to find an artist who does not want to scream to the heavens “here I am!”, but it seems we have one.  How unique.  But the pieces are still worth looking at, for the scope, the size and the colours, as well as the deeper meaning of the landscapes that they portray.

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