NOTE: This article has been modified from its original form at the request of the family.
THE family of a sculptor whose $100,000 statue was destroyed during preparations for next week’s Fremantle Biennale say they’re so worried about how the news will affect him they’ve not been able to tell him the news.
Greek-Australian sculptor Arthur Kalamaras’ 3.5-metre Donnybrook stone monolith Athena had been a feature at Arthur Head for more than 30 years since he led a campaign to save J-Shed from being demolished; he was one of the first tenants when it was instead converted to artist studios.
But on Friday a council staffer in a bobcat toppled and broke the statue into fragments while Biennale staff jumped for joy nearby.
Biennale director Corine van Hall told the Herald her jubilant star jumps had an element of shock about them as well, as the statue’s collapse hadn’t been anticipated.
Ms van Hall said they’d wanted to check how Athena was anchored to the ground, with aims to later move it out of the way of a marquee needed for the Biennale’s First Lights – Kooranup drone show.
“The aim was to tilt it slightly on its side,” she said, but council staff turned up with a bobcat fitted out with forklift prongs and no strapping or padding to protect the statue from damage.
“We did discuss it, but we didn’t realise how unstable the statue would be,” Ms van Hall said of the unsatisfactory equipment.
“I assumed, or you would expect there to be, some sort of footing for a statue of that size.”
Biennale artistic director Tom Muller said the council had to wear responsibility, and any compensation, for the damage.
“The negligence was around the machinery,” Mr Muller told the Herald.
“Without shirking that it was a collective task, this is a City action; I was not there and I was not informed.”
Natalia Kalamaras said while council staff had contacted her and sister Vassa to offer an apology, she was still waiting to hear back about the events that led up to the statue’s destruction.
“There was no proceeding communication from the City of Fremantle for the piece to be moved leading up to the Biennale so we could inform them on how to move the piece,” Ms Kalamaras said.
“I don’t understand how due process was not followed.
“The correct way to move that piece is to use a crane.”
Ms Kalamaras said when her father’s lease at J-Shed ended, “it was arranged together with the City of Fremantle for Athena statue to remain in situ as she was a long-standing and loved presence there and an integral part of the story at J-Shed and Bather’s Beach arts precinct”.
But Ms van Hall was Fremantle council’s public art co-ordinator from 2011 to 2022 and says Athena was not on any of her registers and its presence on the beach seemed somewhat “clandestine”.
She believes it was an unfinished work, as other examples of Mr Kalamaras’ sculptures such as a bas relief in Kings Park and wooden figures in the City Beach Catholic church were more defined.
Fremantle Council CEO Glen Dougall said it was a “regrettable incident” but the artwork had been moved previously when Sunset Events ran concerts on Arthur Reserve in 2016.
“The artwork is unfinished and not on the City’s public art register,” Mr Dougall told the Herald.
“Despite several attempts, we were unable to contact Mr Kalamaras before moving the artwork.
“We have reached out to the Kalamaras family to apologise and find a suitable resolution.
“We are also reviewing our internal processes prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.”
The incident has also sparked a war of words between Ms van Hall and several current J-Shed artists, who had opposed any move of the statue when they met.
Ms van Hall says the damage may have been preventable if they’d been more forthcoming about what they knew about the statue and Mr Kalamaras during a planning meeting some months ago.
But photographer Peter Zuvela said he provided all the information he had during the meeting and in subsequent emails, while sculptor Greg James was more blunt: “It’s a pretty pathetic attempt to blame someone for something they’re responsible for,” he said.
Mr Muller said any friction with the J-Shed artists was regrettable as one of the aims of the Biennale had been to engage with them and the community on an important site in the city.
by STEVE GRANT