National $15,000 art prize goes to bus stop

ART: Michael Parr, left, and Blaine Western with their award winning bus stop, entitled 'Parallel of Life and Art'. Centre is judge Caterina Riva.
ART: Michael Parr, left, and Blaine Western with their award winning bus stop, entitled 'Parallel of Life and Art'. Centre is judge Caterina Riva.

People will look at the winning work at this year's National Contemporary Art Awards and say it's just a bus stop.

It is, after all, a bus stop. But judge Caterina Riva will tell you it's more than that. It's art. And, according to her, it was the best of more than 200 entries from across the country.

Miss Riva announced the winner during a ceremony at Waikato Museum last night, and the artists, Michael Parr and Blaine Western, of Auckland, were awarded $15,000 in prize money.

Their creamy-coloured, deadpan shelter sits, fixed in concrete, on a patch of grass outside the museum, facing away from the street.

Like winning works before it - a pile of rubbish in 2009 and a giant QR code in 2011 - the bus stop is sure to cause controversy. Although, Miss Riva said, it wasn't her intention.

"I wasn't necessarily going for the controversy and I don't think this is necessarily controversial, but I think if people do talk about art that something positive is happening."

It has already been used by the city's homeless, and others use the shelter as a place to have a chat, to read, or to simply sit and question its purpose.

The artists even welcome tagging. It's a blank canvas, open for interpretation.

Miss Riva, director of Artspace Auckland, agreed that the work would attract criticism, but defended her decision to name it the winner.

"It's not just a bus stop, because if it was a bus stop it would be turned the other way around."

She said removing the work from the context of an art gallery, and separating it from its usual purpose, forced people to engage with it differently.

"I was very excited by this idea of having something outside of the gallery, but also being open to people's comments and also criticism of the work.

"Because if something is not inside of an art gallery it is, I guess, more fragile and it doesn't have the protected status of art and anyone can say or do anything to it."

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker gave her approval during a speech at the awards ceremony, saying the artwork was "absolutely outstanding".

Parr and Western were inspired by the brutalist architecture popular in Hamilton during the 1950s and 60s. They built it from scratch, and laid the concrete foundation.

Of the 230 entries, Miss Riva whittled down to 19 finalists. The runner-up artworks received merit awards. One, by Roman Mitch of Auckland, is a mock studio space littered with materials to symbolise the beginning of the artistic process, rather than the finished product. Auckland artist Oscar Enberg created f coffee mugs inspired by RoboCop.

Works by all finalists are open to the public from August 17 to November 18.

Is it a bus shelter or is it art?

Waikato Times