Montefiore: There’s money in local art!

It’s a poorly acknowledged theme in Adelaide city circles, but as Sir Monty has discovered, there’s money in local art.

Uproar has broken out on the third floor of Sir Monty’s 1864 North Terrace Club, as his stone-sculpting efforts have consumed space around the Steinway Grand and edged out the lingering barflies who once leaned against it, sipping Singapore Slings and swaying to the music.

Sir Monty’s emergence as a granite-carving ‘creative’ talent has come as a shock to many of the Club’s ageing members, given that the acquisition of money through the practice of ‘investment’ until now had been his sole career focus. Town Hall might have a budget of $230.2 million and devote endless months annually deliberating on how to spend it, but the big moral question is not focused on Filthy Lucre. It is not even focused on the philosophers’ dilemma — What is Truth? It is focused on the more profound: What is Art?

And as usual when Adelaide moral matters arise, Sir Monty has turned his mind (as his barrister friends like to say) to exploring it. You don’t find anyone using that term among bricklayers (‘let us turn our minds to getting the mortar mix right’). But you do find them pondering about the nature of fired clay, or stone, and it is to this end that Sir Monty has encouraged the movement of a five-tonne block of granite up many flights of stairs because it wouldn’t fit in the tradesmen’s lift.

“Public artworks are more than just iconic sculptures or monuments,” Town Hall advised in its Adelaide City Council Moral Rights Guide, following up with the usual barb at any beret-wearing, goatee-bearded resident, generally years behind in rates payments – “Is this an artwork… or just a pallet of boxes?” Provocation indeed. But many South Australian city-dwellers are unaware that there’s been a city Public Art Plan 2014–19 in existence, and many ratepayers haven’t known that some of their hard- earned was going towards it.

Sir Monty did, because just detectable behind the volatile pungency of acrylics, or the oily sniff of just-welded steel, he sensed the faint whiff of money — $100,000 on a ‘major public art sculpture commission’ for the period 2016–17/2018–19. Hence Sir Monty’s new-found passion for the hammer and bolster, assuming 50 per cent of the third-floor space and leaving the Club’s deep chintz sofas peppered with stone chips, their cushions powdered by our layer of dust.

Some city dwellers aren’t having any of it. “Significant funds are being spent to buy horrendous ‘art works’ which are a blight on the public landscape,” one wrote to Town Hall during the May 2017 discussion period on the draft 2017–18 business plan. “The ‘art works’ in Hindmarsh Square are an eyesore and should never have been built,” he said. “The Plan promises one more such eyesore every year.” The writer also noted that $65,000 would be spent on ‘decal art murals’ for public toilets. “People don’t go into public toilets to look at the art. They go to answer the Call of Nature [his capitals].” He also noted “Sculpture Hire Program $25,000 a year, increasing to $30,000, plus $40,000- plus per year for a temporary ‘Interactive Sculpture by the River Display’.”

These opportunities are all now worked into Sir Monty’s business plan and if he has to work by the river — or in the river — he will. But in the Opportunities SWOT-segment of his plan, he’s noted Town Hall’s discussion about Moral Rights: “… the personal, legally enforceable rights of the creators of copyrighted works. … These prevent creators’ works from being acknowledged, used or altered in ways they didn’t intend.”

Sir Monty’s intention is classically simple — to create artwork paid for by Town Hall for as much as Town Hall can afford. Very clearly, Town Hall can afford a lot. “Artworks should not be treated in a derogatory way,” Town Hall noted. “That means doing anything that may compromise the intention of the creator… Even simple things like moving a work to a different location or using lights to highlight an artwork … could be a moral rights issue.”

Sir Monty intends to consult the Club’s solicitor about this, because he prefers that his brilliant sculpture, now dominating the third floor, stay where it was created. Besides, no-one has worked out how to get it back down the stairs, since the addition of a two-tonne base, and three Town Hall flagpoles inserted in the top. Now it won’t pass through the door. “Notice is also required if modification or demolition of buildings, locations (or infrastructure) on which works are displayed is planned, or the work is to be relocated, sold or scrapped if contrary to the commissioning agreement,” the Town Hall document noted. Such Town Hall notice would have to be sent to the Club’s manager, but if 153 years of Club Policy is any guide, the sculpture won’t be moved in a hurry. Anyway, the Town Hall cheque could still easily slide under the Tradesmen’s Entrance door. There really is one.

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