6 March 2020

Canberra's iconic Skywhale returns home

| Lachlan Roberts
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The famous Skywhale hot air balloon was designed by Patricia Piccinini. Photo: National Gallery of Australia.

Canberra’s world-famous Skywhale balloon is returning home and this time, it’s for good.

Thanks to an anonymous donation to the National Gallery of Australia, the gigantic hot air balloon will call Canberra home and will reappear in the capital’s skyline in March.

Commissioned by the ACT Government to mark Canberra’s centenary in 2013, the balloon has attracted its fair amount of love and controversy due to its bizarre design and exorbitant price tag.

National Gallery director Nick Mitzevich said the balloon made its way home thanks to its creator Patricia Piccinini after it was donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

“We are currently working with Patricia on a major commission and during our discussions with her, she suggested that she could help us bring Skywhale back,” Mr Mitzevich told Region Media. “I, of course, agreed and the work was donated to us with Patricia’s assistance.

“I am very pleased to now have the work in the National Collection, back to where it was initially commissioned. I think it is the perfect work for the National Collection because we are not bound by geography. It is our job to share the national collection here in Canberra and around the country.

“So we are the rightful place for it to be.”

Mr Mitzevich was ecstatic that the balloon was finally home.

“I love the Skywhale,” he said. “I am a huge fan. When I was the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia some years ago, I brought it to Adelaide. Over the last few years, it has toured around the country and also around the world and it has been loved by hundreds of thousands of people.”

Having featured around the globe, the airborne creature will grace Canberra’s skyline during next year’s balloon festival in March, before beginning a national tour for “her valedictorian lap”.

“We are really excited to show it over the Canberra skyline and then take it on a national tour around Australia,” Mr Mitzevich. “The brilliant thing about it is that we can take her to towns and cities that don’t have galleries so that is exciting.

“We are working with Patricia at the moment to develop an online education and learning facility, so when people see the Skywhale they can learn more about it online and learn why Patricia made Skywhale.

“Hopefully, they will learn a bit more about humanity and nurture.”

Skywhale will fly again in Canberra after being acquired by the National Gallery. Are you happy to see her back at home?

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Skywhale is a disgrace! Its an embarrassment for Canberra. Why bring it back? Was pleased to see the end of it. Stupid titty balloon!

It was revolting and embarrassing. It encapsulated the disaster known as the Centenary of Canberra. The disastrous day at Lake Burley Griffin, Dugan and Ferguson drunk on the roof which greeted us on the front page of The Canberra Times on the day instead of a wraparound with historic photos headed “Happy birthday Canberra”, and this “public artwork” which we were not consulted about, didn’t give permission before it was commissioned and which cost us plenty. The achievement and pride of establishing a national capital and growing up in the city was washed away in a flurry of plastic boobs and ridicule from people interstate which made us a national laughing stock.

I can’t think of anything more inappropriate to symbolise Canberra than this monstrosity. Rather than going on display at the NGA, it should be burnt, the people who made it billed for the cost of making it, and the former Chief Minister who commissioned it, the Penis Owl and the other costly artworks should issue a public apology and the ACT Government should give an undertaking that anything similar will never happen again.

It may well be intended to ‘Illicit a Response’, but, for me, that response is nausea.

rationalobserver7:57 pm 20 Oct 19

I’d pay (even more) money for it to stay away.

HiddenDragon7:38 pm 20 Oct 19

There was that other up-high NGA artwork which was struck by lightning, so perhaps a spectacular Hindenberg-style ending awaits this one.

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