A six metre (20-feet) high stainless steel representation of a barstool could soon be installed on Grattan Quay; stunned Waterford City Councillors were informed on Monday night.
And no, this isn’t a Munster Express wind-up – that remains the domain of our April 1st issue alone.
The majority of City Councillors, meeting for the first time since the June 5th election, were left dumbfounded when a graphic illustrating the proposed artwork was unfurled during Monday night’s meeting.
The proposal, which is understood to be titled ‘The Throne’ (heightening the sense of farce in the view of some Councillors), has been commissioned to renowned steel sculptor Denis O’Connor.
‘The Throne’ (itself a slang term used by many regarding a toilet!) is a public artwork that was originally earmarked for a site in The Glen in front of The Forum, following Diageo’s redevelopment of the Grattan Quay brewery.
With Diageo (the owners of Guinness) putting up most of the money for the artwork, the piece was incepted with the commercial history of the local area in mind, namely brewing.
It’s worth pointing out that the remainder of funds for the piece were sourced from the central arts scheme and, to quote City Manager Michael Walsh “other sources of funding”.
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The barstool itself, at least in terms of the graphic briefly displayed on Monday, would be topped by a shelf, featuring beer bottles at either end. It genuinely left Councillors aghast.
“I don’t like it,” said an irate Cllr Mary Roche (Ind). “This decision totally excluded the members [of the City Council] and in turn the people of Waterford when it came to its design.
“We, the elected members have already suffered ridicule for various installations around the town and we’re the ones who’ll get in the neck if this goes ahead, despite the fact that we had absolutely nothing to do with it. I certainly don’t think it’s going to be welcomed.”
A group of eight people, believed to include the city’s art officer, planner and heritage officer, were part of a committee that met to discuss the artwork in question. During that process, several pieces were presented to the group before consensus was reached.
That Councillors were excluded from the process left many deeply frustrated, given the likely public reaction to ‘The Throne’.
A reader who was ‘vox popped’ on The Quay after Monday night’s meeting, was as stunned as the elected officials when informed about ‘The Throne’.
She said: “Oh my God, this sounds awful. If Diageo wanted to put up money for a sculpture near their brewery, why not go for a 20-feet high stainless steel harp which would represent Guinness as well as Waterford’s musical tradition?
“In my opinion, a big barstool represents alcohol and nothing else and would give visitors the impression that we’re a city of heavy drinkers. And the name itself, the throne? Well that just makes me think of a toilet. Dreadful.”
Cllr Davy Walsh (Workers Party) acknowledged that much art is, by its very nature, intended to be controversial, but that this proposal really took the biscuit, questioning “what was the thinking behind it?”
He said a transcript of the piece detailing its description and its intended representation would be helpful.
Cllr Pat Hayes (Labour) echoed Cllr Roche’s views, said that he and his fellow Councillors were “the people that the public will face”. He added: “We have a dearth of traditional art pieces in this city and we need to look at this type of art, and by that I mean traditional bronze pieces.”
A bemused Cllr Tom Cunningham (Fine Gael) said he didn’t regard himself a philistine when it came to public art in the city but couldn’t conceal his disgust at what was being proposed.
“It looks like a barstool and it looks like we, the City Council, should this piece get the go-ahead, are promoting drink and I think that’s what the public would say.”
Cllr Seamus Ryan (Labour) who also said the connotation with alcohol was clear, claimed that the monument ignored “the story of the dock” given the proposed piece’s location.
Senior City Engineer Frank Roche said that it “was unfair to say that it’s a glorification of drink” during a vigorous defence of ‘The Throne’. Rebutting Cllr Ryan’s claims that an opportunity to genuinely reflect the heritage of the area had been lost, Mr Roche stated: “I think it’s an opportunity seized.”
While the piece has been commissioned and with certainly materials for it already purchased, work has yet to begin on ‘The Throne’.
Cllr Gary Wyse (Fianna Fáil) aptly queried that the relocation of the artwork from The Glen to Grattan Quay made the recommended suggestion null and void.
Following the intervention of Director of Planning Paddy Power “art is not about liking or hating – it’s about expression”, Cllr Cunningham stressed that the proposal was “wholly inappropriate – we can’t just bulldoze things through like this”.
Michael Walsh rejected the accusation of bulldozing, adding: “there is always a difficulty with art pieces.” Mr Walsh acknowledged the Councillor’s concerns and promised to look at the processes used to date by City Hall regarding public art installation.
Not good enough, retorted Cllr Cunningham. “Some members of the Waterford public should have been represented [in the eight person selection group].”
Described as “crazy” by Cllr John Cummins (Fine Gael) and “disgraceful” by Cllr David Cullinane (Sinn Féin), Mr Walsh said he would revert to the Council “within a week” to see if ‘The Throne’ could be modified.
Despite the image being displayed publicly on Monday night, Waterford City Council declined to forward an image of the proposed work for publication.