Protecting public art from vandals

Reclining figure, a sculpture by artist Henry Moore located outside OCBC Centre

Should a work of art worth big bucks be protected, even ringfenced?

Or should the public have free access to it, risking damage?

The Kinetic Rain display at Changi Airport Terminal 1 is a case in point.

Changi Airport Group (CAG) previously declined to say how much it is worth, except that it was part of the $500 million price tag for Terminal 1's overhaul.

On Saturday, a visitor climbed onto its one-storey-high metal safety netting and picked off the sculpture's metallic raindrops.

It is back in working order, but CAG would not say how much it had to pay to repair the damage.

The group said it did protect the display with glass railings 1.1m high which surround the sculpture. A gap between the railing and safety net deters access onto the safety net, its spokesman said.

Like Kinetic Rain, some other public displays have been damaged recently.

Should access be limited, perhaps Protecting public art with a barrier so it's clear that it's "See, no touch"?

No, said CAG. There are other displays there, including Flora Inspiration by Han Sai Por, Vessel by Iskandar Jalil, Saga Seed by Kumari Nahappan, and Coming Home by Han Mei Lin.

"We strike a balance between giving airport visitors a good viewing experience, and strongly fortifying the artwork from mischief and theft," a spokesman said.

As for other displays out in public, who should protect them?

Private owners

The private owners of the sites where the artwork sits on, said the National Arts Council and National Heritage Board (NHB).

Both said public artworks are privately owned by venue owners. They are responsible for maintaining and monitoring the works.

For example, said the NHB spokesman, security officers monitor the public art found around the National Museum of Singapore.

Over at Millenia Walk, six sculptures comprising Six Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein are cordoned off by ropes and are regularly patrolled by security guards.

A Millenia Walk spokesman said they have never experienced vandalism.

Over at UOB Plaza, two valuable sculptures - Fernando Botero's Bird and Salvador Dali's Homage to Newton - are displayed proudly.

A security guard kept watch of the Dali sculpture, which was not barricaded.

Beside the Singapore River, Bird was unguarded; visitors went up close to take photos and were not stopped.

A spokesman declined to comment on security for the two sculptures at UOB Plaza.

But at the Orchard Parade Hotel, Far East Organization said no special measures were needed to protect Ng Eng Teng's Mother and Child sculpture.

Mr Charles Liu, fine art insurance manager and fine art specialist at AXA Insurance, said owners of such expensive public art pieces usually insure against accidental damage.

Some of his clients own works by Botero and Taiwanese sculptor Li Chen.

Woman climbs over railing at Changi Airport

Insurance

"Clients may insure based on market value, or their purchase cost. If the work is totally destroyed, they can claim up to the value they insured for. If there's a partial damage, we pay for restoration and any depreciation after the repairs," he said.

So, ring-fencing that artwork may be an overreaction to the Kinetic Rain incident.

Most people respect the works and the risk of intentional damage is low, said Ms Grace Low, assistant director of programming at Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

She said the Esplanade has rarely had damage to or removal of artwork at spaces open to the public.

"Through the years of our exhibiting art in our public spaces, the public visiting Esplanade has come to enjoy and respect the exhibits," she said.

Art attacked

Nov 2, 2013

A Vietnamese woman climbed over the railing and onto a netting underneath the Kinetic Rain installation at Changi Airport Terminal 1. She destroyed about 50 of the 1,216 droplets that are part of the moving sculpture.

August 2013

Everyday Aspirations by Karen Mitchell at this year's Singapore Night Festival had more than half of its pocket-size panels taken. The exhibition had been set up in the alley between The Substation and the Peranakan Museum. In all, 188 out of 365 pieces of her artwork had disappeared by the end of the festival.

November 2011

A painted baby elephant statue by Malaysian artist Hamir Soib displayed outside the Asian Civilisations Museum had part of its paint stripped off by vandals.

The statues were part of Elephant Parade Singapore, a public art exhibition to raise awareness of the endangered Asian elephant.

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Woman climbs over railing at Changi Airport