People from Melbourne will recall the saga of the “yellow peril” (Vault by Ron Robertson Swann) a series of large steel slabs leaning together and painted yellow. The work cost $70,000 and, commissioned by Melbourne City Council, it was also greeted with general outrage when it first appeared in the centre of the city in 1980. Dubbed “the yellow peril” by a hostile press, the sculpture was shifted, like an unwanted foster child, to a more obscure location in Batman Park before finally finding a home in the Centre for Contemporary Arts on the Yarra’s Southbank. It’s now regarded as an important local icon.
The point about site specific sculpture is that its meant to evoke a reaction. (Did some one say “Dada”?) Irrespective of how it came about, Thomas’s work has already guaranteed its place in our local cultural history simply by virtue of the passionate public response generated. And, appropriately for Byron, it has provoked a typically articulate and energetic pushback. Indeed, reports of some of the birds being stolen and a large plastic phallus making a brief appearance in a pot at the base of the sculpture, indicate that local people haven’t just verbally reacted to the “silver peril” but are actively taking part in its ongoing physical evolution – through acts of addition and subtraction. This is terrific stuff. And something any public artist should be proud of.
Let’s remember that Gustave’s “Eiffel Tower” evoked similar outrage when it first started appearing over Paris’s strict five storey height limit with demands for it to be immediately torn down. And where would France’s economy be now without it’s major tourist attraction ? And what about the hostile reaction to Gough Whitlam’s purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, now worth many tens of millions more than what we paid for it.
Mullumbimby has a wooden pelican sitting on an old telegraph pole. Ballina has an immense plastic prawn (where was the protest when that went up!?). Ross Lane has a rusting Giant Surfboard, even Mooball has the Big Red Motor Bike. Let’s all just chill a bit and celebrate our wonderful new Silver Peril for the classically provocative municipal totem that it is and maybe one day look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.