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Geraldton’s Zephyr II demands payment for public artwork City let “decay”

The artist who designed a controversial art installation on Geraldton’s foreshore is asking the city to pay him $25,000, claiming it let the public sculpture fall into disrepair and resulted in his professional reputation being damaged.

NSW-based sculptor Dr Nigel Helyer is the brains behind Zephyr II, installed in 2012 at a cost of more than $160,000.

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Last month the City of Greater Geraldton council voted to decommission the sculpture due to corrosion at the base of the pole, with repairs estimated at $20,000-$30,000. Cr Mike Reymond was the only councillor to vote against the proposal.

Mayor Shane Van Styn labelled Zephyr II a “failed art piece”, while CEO Ross McKim said the installation had “tainted” community opinion against public art.

Corrosion has made the Zephyr II sculpture a safety risk.
Camera IconCorrosion has made the Zephyr II sculpture a safety risk. Credit: Geraldton Guardian

However Dr Helyer has hit back, saying the city failed in its obligation to properly maintain Zephyr II.

“It’s halfway through its lifetime. The way it works with public art projects is that the artist supplies the work and a guarantee for 12 months,” he said.

“I supplied the city with a manual for maintenance and a contract which binds the council to maintain the work in a proper condition throughout its life.”

Dr Helyer wrote requesting that the city pays him $25,000 in compensation for leaving the sculpture to “decay”, which had the “potential to seriously damage” his standing and reputation as an artist.

“I’m not doing this out of a malicious motive,” he said.

“This is an extremely common thing that happens to artists who do public art works, especially councils. They let the works become damaged.

“It makes the artist look bad but it’s also a stupid waste of time and money. I don’t want to see this repeated for other artists in other towns.”

Sculptor and sound artist Dr Nigel Helyer
Camera IconSculptor and sound artist Dr Nigel Helyer Credit: Supplied

The letter also requested the city issues an apology in local and State press and removes any reference to Dr Helyer’s involvement in the project.

Dr Helyer said he wrote to the city asking for condition reports and maintenance schedules related to Zephyr II, but hadn’t received anything back.

“I’d be surprised if they’ve done much at all,” he said.

It’s a very inhospitable site — it needed maintenance. They knew that.

“If you have a house you don’t leave it for 12 years and do nothing.’’

“They’ve acquitted their responsibilities.”

The council voted in favour of offering the decommissioned piece back to the artist at an unspecified price, but Dr Helyer said it was a ridiculous proposition.

“It’s a crazy situation. I’m not going to drive from regional New South Wales with a loader and take it back to my backyard.”

The City of Greater Geraldton was contacted for comment.

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