Insults fly in crate art scandal
“I’ve never heard of him. I’ve never seen his work. End of story.”
So goes Sydney artist Hany Armanious’s response to Jarrad Kennedy, the Melburnian who claims that Armanious’s Pavilion – the three-storey milk crate sculpture unveiled by the City of Sydney in July – is a copy of his large-scale milk crate from 2005, Courts.
“His is virtually a plywood cubby house,” says Armanious. “Mine is a cathedral.”
It may be some time before the scandal some are calling Crategate reaches a peaceful resolution.
But that’s exactly what Kennedy, speaking for the first time since the story broke, says he is after. The Melbourne artist, construction site assistant and volunteer at 3RRR community radio, shot off two letters on Tuesday under advisement from a Melbourne-based lawyer, escalating the situation.
The first was to Armanious, seeking an out of court resolution that would include acknowledgement of his original work.
The second was to the City of Sydney, drawing attention to “distinct similarities” between Courts and Pavilion that include both works being exact replicas of “a generic milk crate that has been scaled up”, both being “sited on grass” and both being “a place for contemplation and repose”.
The letter also asks how the City of Sydney’s City Centre Public Art Evaluation panel – which selected three artworks to form part of the transformation of Sydney’s CBD, including the 50-metre tall Cloud Arch, bound for Town Hall Square – could be unaware of Courts, which was a finalist in the prestigious McLelland sculpture prize.
“For me in a way it’s a bigger faux pas by the City of Sydney than the artist himself to miss that,” says Kennedy. “It puts the integrity of their selection process into question.”
In the letter Kennedy also asks for written confirmation of the City’s selection criteria and process within 21 days.
The City of Sydney has defended its method of selection, in which a panel including City Centre Curatorial Adviser Barbara Flynn joined luminaries such as Lisa Havilah of Carriageworks and artist Janet Laurence to whittle 687 submissions from artists from 25 countries down to the final three works.
“[The panel] are all highly respected and renowned in their field,” said Flynn. “They made a unanimous decision on the winning artworks.”
“The City is confident that Hany Armanious’s Pavilion is an original work consistent with his practice of artistic excellence.”
Kennedy, who studied at the Victorian College of Arts before doing a master of art that focused on art in public space at RMIT, says he knows “I’m kind of the little guy” – Armanious has represented Australia at the Venice Biennale – and that “quite obviously there is a little bit of money behind the project”. The sculpture will cost the City $2.5 million.
But he intends to fight the matter as vigorously as he can. “What I am asking for is reasonable.”
Since Fairfax Media reported Kennedy’s initial claims in July, people in the art world have lined up on either side of the debate. On his Facebook page, which Kennedy kept public to encourage debate about the issue, some expressed support, others accused him of money-grabbing.Artist Mary Teague, a former girlfriend of Armanious, was particularly aggressive, asking Kennedy in the comments section of his page to publish a letter he had sent Armanious after the City made its announcement. “JK – were you making a demand for $$??? Certainly looks that way…”
Teague also asked Kennedy to publish an image of the two milk crate works to scale and, when another commenter defended him, wrote: “If you play in the cesspit of the mainstream media you have to expect some pushback.”
Kennedy said he had to eventually block Teague so she could no longer comment on his page.
Armanious, who says he was not aware of the Facebook back-and-forth, says he has forwarded Kennedy’s most recent letter to his lawyer.
“To have your credibility brought into question would be damaging to anybody,” he said.
“But I guess that’s to be expected in the public domain. You’ll have opportunists always coming out making ludicrous claims.”
“The two works are worlds apart,” he says, arguing Pavilion is “a one-to-one exact replica of a specific milk crate turned into three-storey edifice”; Kennedy’s three-metre high piece is a “plywood cubbyhouse”.
Kennedy rejects the claim that he is being opportunistic and only after a payout.
“It’s about my artistic integrity. It’s my signature work and I felt miffed when it was brought to my attention. I just want some acknowledgment … just some acknowledgment.”