State house sculpture in 'poor taste'

CONTROVERSIAL SITE: Queens Wharf is the proposed home for a sculpture of a state house by Michael Parekowhai.
CONTROVERSIAL SITE: Queens Wharf is the proposed home for a sculpture of a state house by Michael Parekowhai.

State tenants slamming a $1.5 million sculpture proposed for Queens Wharf say it's ironic and offensive.

The artwork designed by Michael Parekowhai is a model of a state house with a $700,000 hand-blown Venetian glass chandelier inside.

It's two-thirds of the size of a state house and early design images leaked to media are drawing serious criticism.

Leading the charge are state house tenants under threat of eviction as Housing New Zealand sells off some of its stock. The extravagant work was commissioned after a $1 m donation from Barfoot & Thompson in 2013. A further $500,000 is needed from Auckland Council to make up the shortfall.

Westmere state tenant and artist Gael Baldock said the sculpture is in "very bad taste".

The cost of the chandelier alone could help build two new state houses, she said.

"With the amount of homeless we have, particularly in Auckland now, the whole thing is insulting."

Glen Innes state tenant Sue Henry said the idea is appalling.

The Housing New Zealand Northern Glen Innes redevelopment project is in full-force in her suburb, moving 156 tenants and families out in the process.

"It's almost like a trophy for developers and real estate agents that they've got rid of the state houses, that's the way I see it."

Councillor Mike Lee says the sculpture is not in keeping with the maritime elements and history of Queens Wharf.

He said the council should scrap the project or move it elsewhere.

"There's an irony - and the state house tenants have picked it up perfectly. There are a lot of state house tenants being evicted in Auckland right now. It seems to be in poor taste . . . especially when we're trying to reconfigure our budget to reduce rates increases."

Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers says donations for public art should be encouraged but the scale and site planned for this piece are not appropriate.

"The issue is the scale, which clearly has an impact in terms of site plans and views to the harbour. Is it the right place to put it at that scale?"

Councillor Cathy Casey said she voted against the sculpture in an Arts, Culture and Events Committee meeting on June 18, largely because of the cost of the chandelier and the chosen site.

"It's a hugely generous offer, I just wish we had capped it in our brief. What did we say in our brief to the artist? I don't support secrecy. I want everything out on the table - we need to put all those questions to the art team and to the artists."

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer said the subject of the work is controversial but his "big beef" is with the ratepayer contribution.

"If we can't get a fabulous sculpture on Queens Wharf for less than $1m of privately funded money we should forget about it," Brewer said.

"Let's stick to the budget. Let's not throw ratepayer money on top."

Auckland Council Art and Culture manager Kaye Glamuzina says the artist has not completed designs for the sculpture but they will be made public when ready. The cost is consistent with other public art projects in recent years, Glamuzina said.

The sculpture will be a wharf "lighthouse" to signify a safe harbour and welcome, she said.

Artist Michael Parekowhai said the project is not at a point where he can comment.

East And Bays Courier