Sculpture by the Sea Bondi 2019
I’ve always thought that the coastal cliffs of Sydney, particularly those between the beaches Bondi and Coogee, are some of the most scenic parts of the city. This stretch of coast is a natural piece of art, a creation of nature’s hand, sculpted in a form more beautiful than a human could imagine.
Which is why it is the perfect setting to display some of the best artistic works that we humans can create. I’m sure this is one of the main reasons that Sculpture by the Sea has gone from a small one-day exhibition in 1997 to one of the world’s biggest arts events.
This year, in 2019, there are 111 sculptures on display, made by 140 artists from 18 countries.
There’s a swirling gold Statue of Liberty; a pink tank; a car becoming a bird; enormous chewing gum wrappers; a mirror down to the crashing waves; a stargate on the sand.
Each sculpture is thought-provoking in its own way. Perhaps it seems to represent something but actually has a hidden meaning. Perhaps it is intentionally ambiguous. Perhaps the meaning is obvious but the unknown is how you react to that.
As I walk along, taking in each piece, these are the things I wonder to myself.
When I visit, some of the artists are at their sculptures. I chat with Rima Zabaneh and Berenice Rarig, creators of a piece made out of zip ties.
“They look like anemones – is that right?” I ask.
“Yes… Well, maybe,” is the answer. “They are what you want them to be.”
I guessed anemones not just because they look like them, but because they were growing out of the grass on the edge of Tamarama beach.
And you really can’t look at the sculptures at Sculptures by the Sea without considering the sea. Their placement is part of the story, part of what makes this such a special event.
Some of them are designed specially for where they’ll sit, like the awesome work by Joel Adler that just looks like weathered steel until you get in the right position and realise there’s a mirror system that’s reflecting up the waves crashing onto the rocks below.
Or there’s the striking creation by Katie Stewart who has ‘thrown’ ceramics into the natural grooves of an enormous rock to create an effect where earth fits back into earth.
But there are other sculptures that were created by the artists without the exact position in mind, but are nonetheless transformed by their location. You look differently at an upside-down wooden horse supported by four faceless men when its background is the Pacific Ocean, and not the white wall of an art gallery.
The Bondi to Coogee walk is now a tourist attraction at any time of the year. But during Sculpture by the Sea, it is more popular than usual.
Last year, during the 18 days of the exhibition, there were about 490,000 visitors. I imagine it will be just as busy, or more so, this year.
Interestingly, about 30,000 of the visitors last year were from overseas. I’m not sure how many would have come specifically to Sydney for Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi, and how many would have been walking this coastal path regardless, but I tend to think it is getting some international attention.
It’s funny, in some ways, because this is the part of the world where I grew up. I spend most of my time these days travelling internationally, seeing natural wonders and artworks in foreign countries. Yet here, at home, is one of the best examples of both. It’s nice to be able to share it.
Regardless of whether you’re coming from overseas, visiting from interstate, or a Sydney local – I want to share some practical information for visiting Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi in 2019.
What’s new for 2019 at Sculpture by the Sea?
Obviously each year is different at Sculpture by the Sea Bondi, with a new collection of artworks and some new artists. (Although it’s worth noting that quite a lot of artists come back each year with fresh pieces – only 33 of the sculptures in 2019 are from new participants.)
But what is particularly special for Sculpture by the Sea in 2019 is a showcase of 10 artists from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who were invited to submit sculptures to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Even if you didn’t know the background, I think these works would stand out anyway. They are some of the most distinctive ones on display this year.
In particular, look out for ‘Pinktank Wrecked’ by the controversial artist David Cerny, who has created a tribute to his actions in 1991 when he painted the Monument to Soviet Tank Crews memorial in Prague pink.
There’s also ‘Angry Boy’ by Slovakian Viktor Freso, which is hard to miss. How can you not notice an enormous white child with an outsized head having a tantrum?
And I think one of the most popular sculptures this year will be the large steel and fibreglass work by Lukas Rittstein and Barbora Slapetova of a bird emerging from a car, which symbolises an optimistic vision of the future of humanity.
Most of the Czech and Slovak works are in Marks Park, so I would recommend you make an extra effort to find them.
When is Sculpture by the Sea?
Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi 2019 started on October 24 and will go through until November 10. The exhibition usually gets busier later on during this period (people are so good at procrastinating) so you are better off going as soon as possible.
Obviously weekends are particularly busy and it’s best to avoid them, if you can. I would also recommend going in the morning because it gets busier as the day goes on.
How long is the Sculpture by the Sea walk?
Sculpture by the Sea goes between Bondi and Tamarama. The Sculpture by the Sea walk is just 2 kilometres, but that doesn’t take into account the detour you’ll need to take through Marks Park to see all the artworks.
If you’re a bit confused about where Sculpture by the Sea starts, don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter. Most people start the walk at the Icebergs and follow the coastal path to Tamarama. But you can go the opposite direction and it won’t make a difference.
Is Sculpture by the Sea free?
Yes! How cool is that?
You get an amazing exhibition of world-class sculptures, in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Australia, and it is all free.
You may wonder how that’s possible, so I’ll give you a bit of inside information from the organisers.
About 28 per cent of the money to fund Sculpture by the Sea comes from corporate sponsors and another 17 per cent comes from private donors.
Government agencies and grants cover another 20 per cent, and there’s about 12 per cent from the commission of sculpture sales.
Then there is about 10 per cent that isn’t funded by the organisation and is picked up by artists and other individuals individuals.
An then there’s about 5 per cent that comes from visitors. I’ll explain.
How can I get more information about the 2019 sculptures?
When you visit Sculpture by the Sea, you’ll notice a few booths (at each end and a couple of spots in the middle) where you can buy a catalogue and merchandise. The proceeds from these items make up the 5 per cent of the funding that comes from visitors.
The 2019 Sculpture by the Sea catalogue costs $12 and it’s a great little book. It’s 112 pages long, has a map of all the artworks, information about each of them, and a whole lot of other information about the event.
The catalogue really adds to your visit – and it adds to the sustainability of the event. If more people bought one, they would probably be able to cover the shortfall in funding that the artists themselves are covering.
Who won Sculpture by the Sea?
Well, I wouldn’t really say there is a winner of Sculpture by the Sea, but there is a major prize given out each year called the Aqualand Sculpture Award.
This year, it went to New Zealand sculptor Morgan Jones for his work called ‘The Sun Also Rises’, which is on display on the sand at Tamarama Beach. You can see it in the foreground my photo here.
The award is worth $70,000 and that includes a purchase of the artwork. So, it now belongs to North Sydney Council’s public sculpture collection, so you’ll be able to see it even when the exhibition finishes.
What should I do (and not do) at Sculpture by the Sea?
And, finally, a few bits of advice based on my own experiences at Sculpture by the Sea.
Make sure you bring sunscreen and/or a hat. It gets really hot and there is very little protection from the sun. You’re likely to spend an hour or two on the coastal path and you will get burnt if you don’t take precautions.
On that note, bring along a bottle as well. There are free water refill stations along the path so you can make sure you’re always hydrated.
Each artwork has a little sign with the title and artist – and a symbol about whether you can touch it or not. Please respect the wishes of the sculptors and don’t touch them if you’re not supposed to.
And please be aware of all the other people who have come to see the exhibition. Consider whether you really need that photo posing with the artwork, for example. People want to see and photograph the works without you leaning against them.
Other than all of that, walk, enjoy, look, and contemplate. You’re surrounded by natural and manmade art, with plenty of perspectives to inspire and provoke.