There are 108 pieces of public art in Adelaide’s inner-city, from behind the Zoo in the north to the south parklands near Greenhill Rd.
I didn’t personally count them, that’s just how many are tagged on the excellent (but slightly dated) walking guide to public art published by Adelaide City Council.
It’s dated because it doesn’t include the 11 additions on the Bike Art Trail, which Talking Adelaide has posted about previously here. Among the other 108, the oldest dates from 1923; it's in the Art Gallery’s northern courtyard, the bronze sculpture La Vierge a l’Offrande (Virgin of the Offering) by Emile Antoine Bourdelle (a prolific French sculptor).
Impressive is just how many women feature on this list of 108. My attention to the gender split was inspired by this year’s London Art Audit – which found that in east London, only 14 per cent of public works of art were created by women, while in the boroughs of Westminster and the City of London it's just 8 per cent (of 386 public art works). The Guardian’s story about the audit by East London Fawcett (ELF) is here.
Reading this prompted me to carry out my own unscientific audit by counting how many women appeared on the City of Adelaide public art walking guide.
Of the 51 pieces listed as being in the Riverbank, Adelaide Zoo, Festival Centre and North Tce precinct, there are 15 by or co-credited to women. That’s 29 per cent.
Of the 57 found across the rest of the inner-city and parklands, 20 are by women – that’s 35 per cent. A lot better than in London, but still under-represented when it comes to men.
The earliest piece of public art by a woman is the rather lovely modern looking sculpture in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, by Ola Cohn for landscape designer Elsie Cornish.
It appears the next work by a woman didn’t appear until 1963 – Norma Redpath OBE only died in January this year. Her Immortal Warrior bronze is outside the former Reserve Bank building (now part of Flinders Uni) in Flinders St, near Victoria Square.
Then it was a gap of another decade, until 1973 when the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust acquired Ultimate Form, by legendary UK sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth. I’ve seen this piece dated 1970 and 1971 – either way it didn’t appear hear until the Festival Centre was opened (this year is its 40th anniversary). Bronwyn Watson writing in The Australian last year quite rightly says this piece “graces” the AFC’s lawns. It does.
Watson wrote: “The sculpture, Ultimate Form, is from Hepworth's Family of Man series, which was completed not long before the artist's death in a fire in her studio in 1975.”
Arguably the most popular piece of public art in Adelaide is by a woman – the four pigs in Rundle Mall. This work unveiled in 1999, is actually called A Day Out, by artist Marguerite Derricourt. Angela Valamanesh, partner to fellow artist and husband Hossein, has several credits as does Margie Patrick (in the Westpac House foyer); while just three indigenous women (Eileen Karpany, Pantjiti Tiyangu McKenzie and Chetana Andary) also make the list.
Two of my personal favourites are by the same artist: Catherine Truman. Slate Pool Walking – known as “the fish gates” in my family (and pictured at the top) are at the back of the Art Gallery and her Way of Seeing – those beautiful perpetually autumnal leaves that hang off the north face of the David Jones building.
Have you got a favourite piece of public art in Adelaide? Share.