Katherine Mansfield Sculpture – Art Review

art in context Mansfieldrugby image

Midland Park, Lambton Quay, Wellington City
Unveiled: 8 September 2013
Artist: Virginia King

By John Fuller

The first time I set eyes upon KM in late 2013, it finally dawned upon me what an important piece of Wellington’s history this tragic yet immensely gifted young author is and it is a little surprising that it has taken nearly 100 years for her to be recognised in this way. I had some business in the Vodaphone building on Midland Park and I literally stumbled upon her (no pun intended). Since that first encounter, KM “The Sculpture” has been close to the top of my list of the best public art in Wellington. Auckland artist Virginia King is a very well established and highly regarded sculptor. King has worked predominantly in metal (KM is stainless steel), but is not so well known for figurative works, tending to favour abstract interactive pieces. Despite this, with KM King has succeeded in so many ways. KM is not a particularly large work at three metres tall, but her presence is immense. The form is overtly feminine, yet the polished silver finish perforated with laser cut lettering, somehow creates a feeling of isolation or distance, that I would associate with a male persona. For me this just adds a layer of mystique and makes me want to go away and learn more about Mansfield’s life. The lettering all relates to Mansfield’s literature and one can spend time walking around the sculpture deciphering it. As you do this the, sun and the surroundings cause all the colours of the city to reflect off KM, creating a constantly changing kaleidoscope. Come night time KM lights up triggering a dramatic change. She takes on a warmer personality, almost coming to life, as golden light radiates from the perforations in her surface. I am speaking about an object here, not a person, yet I feel this sculpture has interacted with me in a way few artworks have. It has set up a dialogue which for me means it has achieved its most important purpose as public art. KM has something to say and I have responded. When talking about public art in Wellington, it is difficult not to draw comparisons with other contemporary sculpture. Figurative sculpture in particular has its risks in my view. For example where King has created a very imaginative and contemporary take on this genre, at the opposite end of the scale we are lumbered with works such as Richard Taylor’s Rugby World Cup Sculpture, which fails in almost every way KM succeeds. Yet somewhat perversely, KM celebrates an historical figure, but relates brilliantly with contemporary society, whereas Taylor’s work arguably celebrates the modern game of rugby, yet oddly it ended up looking like it would not be out of place on a plinth outside a Borgia Pope’s Vatican. Go figure.