Everything looks good by the sea. There’s something about the colors and contours of the waves, the shore, and the sky that provide a fantastic backdrop to any object. Even Cor-ten steel—a material that I have always found unwelcoming—takes on a certain poetic quality when juxtaposed with sky, sea, and sand. This phenomenon has undoubtedly played no small part in the success of Sculpture by the Sea over the past 15 years.
An annual temporary exhibition of public artwork, Sculpture by the Sea brings sculptors from around the world to the Bondi and Cottlesloe beaches of Australia (and now to Aarhus in Jutland, Denmark), and their works attract thousands of
visitors every year. The sculptures themselves vary greatly in materials and message. While most sit on the shore, some take to the sea—a large ball floating in the water, a steel whale tail, and my favorite, a giant red-and-white drinking straw. Interpreting the term “sculpture” in its broadest sense, Sculpture by the Sea has also included aerial works created by airplane exhaust, knitted sweaters for trees, and a performance piece in which a couple of ladies have tea on the rocky shore, accompanied by slumping mannequin-like figures sitting in the chairs across from them.
One aspect of Sculpture by the Sea that sets it apart from similar projects is the interactive nature of the exhibitions. Viewers are permitted not only to touch many of the sculptures, but also to climb on them. In fact, Sculpture by the Sea has introduced a Kids’ Choice Award, which includes climbability as one of its most important criteria.
The catalogue Sculpture by the Sea: The First Fifteen Years covers the most notable contributions to this exhibition over the years. It includes quotations from artists and organizers, as well as a brief history of how it all came into being.
Sculpture by the Sea: The First Fifteen Years 1997–2011
Edited by David Handley
Sydney: 21 Media Publishing, 2011
232 pages, AUS $59.95