Making art public: 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects

Christo directs workers and volunteers to create Wrapped Coast - One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia (1968 - 69) - photo by Harry ShunkFifty years ago the cultural landscape of Australia was transformed forever with the staging of Wrapped Coast – one million square feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia (1969) by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

It is considered a milestone international public art project and is one of 34 Kaldor Public Art Projects that will be surveyed in the major exhibition Making art public: 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Part of a year-long celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Kaldor Public Art Projects, Making art public is created by acclaimed British artist and Kaldor Public Art Projects alumnus Michael Landy.

Reflecting on half a century of ground-breaking art, Landy employs artworks, archival materials, performance, audience participation and reprisals of elements of past projects to revisit some of the most significant public artworks ever presented in Australia.

A billboard-sized drawing by Landy referencing all 34 projects will welcome visitors into the exhibition. Making art public is the 35th Kaldor Public Art Project and the second time Landy has been commisioned for a project.

John Kaldor AO, director of Kaldor Public Art Projects, met Landy in London in 2001 when the artist famously destroyed his personal belongings in the monumental performance work, Break Down. Kaldor invited Landy to produce a work in Australia and a decade later Acts of kindness (2011) was realised as the 24th Kaldor Public Art Project.

In 2018 Kaldor approached Landy again, this time with an invitation to develop a concept for the 50th anniversary exhibition of Kaldor Public Art Projects. Landy said that while Making art public takes inspiration from the extensive archives of Kaldor Public Art Projects, he has not approached the exhibition from an archivist’s perspective.

“Instead of reproducing the experience of witnessing each of the 34 Kaldor Public Art Projects, this exhibition takes form in what is left behind – the remnants that are stored and archived,” said Landy. “My role in Making art public is to animate these remnants by treating them as physical material to sculpt with.”

Dr Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW, said the exhibition draws on the ambitious achievements of the 34 preceding artist commissions. “The first intiative of its type anywhere in the world, Kaldor Public Art Projects has continued to redefine the boundaries for public art in the 20th and 21st century by assisting contemporary artists with the realisation of projects that are truly the stuff of their dreams,” said Dr Brand.

Brand said Kaldor Public Art Projects is responsible for so many breakthrough moments due to John Kaldor’s determination to facilitate the vision of commissioned artists.

“Whether it’s the 60,000 cascading plants in Jeff Koons’ monolithic Puppy (1996); Gilbert & George singing for five hours a day in the Art Gallery of NSW entrance court; the 20,000 square metres of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden transformed by Jonathan Jones’installation of 15,000 gypsum shields or the large-scale participatory performance of Marina Abramovi?; John Kaldor and Kaldor Public Art Projects have supported the staging of transformational works of public art.”

John Kaldor AO said that Making art public is a culmination of the 50th anniversary celebrations, following the launch of the Kaldor Public Art Projects Living Archives and the documentary It all started with a stale sandwich, which premiered at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival.

“Christo once said to me that a project is a success when it is larger than the imagination. This idea continues to be my motivation in supporting the creative processes of artists,” Kaldor said. “I’ve always wanted to share my love of contemporary art with the public. It’s very rewarding to reflect on all our past projects and showcase our 35th project.”

“Doing so reminds us of the significance of contemporary art in our community. We have always sought to awaken interest in contemporary art by offering free, ground-breaking experiences for the public. Michael Landy’s vision for Marking art public creates fresh opportunities for reflection and inspiration. I hope that visitors will enjoy experiencing each project in a new light or even discover our projects for the first time,” added Kaldor.

Nicholas Chambers, Art Gallery of NSW coordinating curator for Making art public, said Michael Landy’s drawing for the exhibition provides insight into the artist’s approach.

“A kind of mental map or guide, Landy’s drawing prepares audiences for an imaginative, non-linear and surprising response to the history of Kaldor Public Art Projects,” said Chambers. “Despite the dramatic shifts in scale between the 34 artist projects, Landy has reimagined each in the uniformly proportioned architecture of an oversized archive box.”

“Visitors will encounter very different experiences from box to box, project to project. Landy’s interpretation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast, for example, dives deep into the archives; while projects such as Marina Abramovi?’s residency or his own Acts of kindness use the internal walls of the archive box to reprise performative elements that invite audience participation.”

“Others work differently within the architectural parameters: Gilbert & George’s archive box is completely sealed off and plays a recording of their original endurance performance of the song Underneath the arches, whereas Jonathan Jones’ barrangal dyara (skin and bones) is represented by a new configuration of a group of the artist’s gypsum shields, which were donated to the Gallery by John Kaldor and the artist after the project,” said Chambers.

Making art public: 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects 
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain (Sydney)
Exhibition: 7 September 2019 – 16 February 2020
Free entry

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Image: Project 1: Christo directs workers and volunteers to create Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia (1968 – 69) – photo by Harry Shunk