Wherefore art thou? Five years on, no word on multi-million-dollar public artwork

Wherefore art thou? Five years on, no word on multi-million-dollar public artwork
David Schout

Local government remains tight-lipped about a key piece of artwork destined for Southbank.

As construction on the much-anticipated Dodds Street linear park began in January, public announcements from the City of Melbourne included a glaring omission.

With the landscape works set to feature new trees, decorative walls and mounded grasslands along the stretch of road between Southbank Boulevard and Grant St, the pièce de résistance of the northern Dodds St transformation — a multi-million-dollar public artwork next to the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) — is still being kept under wraps.

“A public artwork has been commissioned for this area. Planning and design for the work is under way,” a footnote of the council’s media release announcing the Dodds St works noted.

The “planning” for this project, however, began five years ago. In February 2018 the council approved a “Public Art Strategy for Southbank” and said that by August of that year, the commission would be awarded, artist selected, and publicly announced.

Except since then, locals have heard next to nothing, and any details about the public piece next to the VCA, or the selected artist, have not emerged.


Southbank News has since reported that when appointing the artist, the council chose to significantly increase the scope of the project and opted to invest more than the $2 million figure originally announced for the showpiece work.


Details of this, however, are yet to emerge and it is unclear how much ratepayers will contribute to the work promised to be “ambitious in thought and form”.

A councillor confirmed with Southbank News that there was no significant update on the project.

Back in 2017 the City of Melbourne considered a number of different sites for the major piece, including Melbourne Metro, University Square and the Queen Victoria Market renewal space.

However, it landed on Southbank — specifically the northern section of Dodds St — as the “most profound, imminent opportunity”.

Visions for the “destination” piece, the first of four major public art commissions in Southbank, was that “it is to be visited over and over”.

A report by SGS Economics and Planning released in 2021 found that a $1 million investment by the City of Melbourne in public art would generate an increase in visitation and subsequent tourist spending of $4.2 million.

When announcing the public art strategy in 2018, then Acting Lord Mayor Arron Wood said the council was “a little bit nervous” about large public artworks ever since Vault — popularly known as the “Yellow Peril” — was erected at City Square in 1980 and is now housed in Southbank.

The abstract, minimalist yellow sculpture by Ron Robertson-Swann received widespread criticism at the time, including by city councillors, and was re-erected in Batman Park in 1981.

In 2002, it was moved again to a position outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art where it remains today.

“To see us getting back into the public art commissioning I think is a good thing,” Cr Wood said in 2018. •

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