Take a tour of Bendigo public sculpture and tell us which one you like best

A half-hour walk around the Bendigo CBD reveals a lot of things: out-of-town tourists, road works, yet another new cafe. 

Also striking is the volume of public artwork on display, with more than two dozen sculptures found between the top of View Street and Hargreaves mall.

From Romanesque nudes to war monuments, abstract glasswork to community-laid mosaics, nearly every nook of the city’s public space is adorned by sculpture.

Some are austere, others whimsical, but putting art in public spaces is a move La Trobe University visual arts senior lecturer Vincent Alessi said was a sign of a “cohesive and robust” community.

“Societies and communities are much more interesting and exciting when you get the capacity to reflect on what we do as humans, and that's what art has the capacity to do,” Mr Alessi said.

He rated Janet Lawrence’s glass and steel The breath we share and faux grass gazebo Folly by Sebastian Di Mauro as two of the city’s most significant outdoor works.

Both stand on the grounds of the Bendigo Art Gallery.

The academic and artist said the most successful works were ones that did not exist merely for the purpose of decoration.

To do that, he said commission briefs should ask for work that reflected the character and purpose of the space in which they would be installed. 

His comments follow debate about a pair of glass artworks procured by the gallery for Bendigo hospital’s healing garden. 

Readers of the Bendigo Advertiser polled about Louis Pratt’s Alchemy were torn, with critics claiming the figures inside the glass looked like they were drowning.  

But contemporary sculpture was not meant to be easily understood, Mr Alessi said.

“Art's not meant to be universally loved, it's meant to challenge. 

“There'll be some people who love the artwork , and take friends to see it, and there'll be others who don’t.”

Nor did it come cheap, he said, believing people should consider a work’s cultural value before lamenting its price tag.  

Responding to another common criticism – that public artwork was a beacon for vandalism – Mr Alessi said “it was a given” a new object would attract vandals but the sentiment was quick to dissipate. 

Whether it was stopping on-lookers in their tracks or being clambered on by children, community engagement was a measure of public art’s success. 

“What you want to happen with public art is that it really becomes part of that place and people take ownership of it,” he said. 

But even though it was the wider community that had to coexist with the artwork, Mr Alessi defended the role of experts in procuring sculptures, saying they were the ones best placed to pick.  

“Community consultation is always wise, but there is an level of expert knowledge that's required to make these decisions.”