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August 11, 2022

‘Cheeky’ and ‘subversive’ stricken from council public art policy

The Adelaide City Council has slashed two weighty words from the city’s upcoming four-year public art strategy, after opposing elected members engaged in a debate about why the streets should have "beautiful" rather than edgy art.

  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

Late into the council meeting on Tuesday night, elected members voted 4—3 in favour of removing the words  “cheeky” and “subversive” from the City of Adelaide’s Public Art Action Plan, instead to be replaced with the word “beautiful”.

Councillors Helen Donovan, Keiran Snape and Anne Moran had left the chamber before the matter was discussed and voted on.

If you have the very first words in your public document ‘cheeky’ and ‘subversive’, you’re going to get the dogs cocking their legs on Melbourne Street.
—Jessy Khera

The proposal was spearheaded by Central Ward councillor and art gallery owner Jessy Khera, who said his “problem” with the words “cheeky” and “subversive” were that they were the document’s first instructive adjectives and invited certain kinds of works.

“We keep the words ‘fun, playful, thoughtful and unexpected’ but replace ‘cheeky’ and ‘subversive’, which means undermining,” Khera said on Tuesday night.

“That’s the political meaning of subversive – to subvert.”

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor – a former arts executive and partner of graphic designer and artist Gregg Mitchell – said she liked the idea of “cheeky” art being included in the plan.

South Ward councillor Alexander Hyde said “cheeky can be fun” but the word did not need to be explicitly mentioned in the policy.

“It’s the combination of ‘cheeky’ and ‘subversive’ at the start,” Hyde said.

“[If] those are the values we expect our public art to be able to cater for, then I think that’s quite a negative start to that list.

“Public art should be something which is there to be enjoyed by the public.”

The Gawler Place Pigeon being enjoyed by the public


North Ward councillor Phillip Martin said “very conservative values” were being shared in the chamber and that subversive work was at the “core” of good art.

He used Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and anonymous UK street artist Banksy as contemporary examples of challenging art.

“[Subversive art] has the power, when it’s done well, to change attitudes, to change perspectives,” Martin said.

“To replace it with ‘beautiful’ is akin to one of those cheap landscapes that you see in the top art shops that are $10 a canvas. That’s what ‘beautiful’ is. It looks just sweet.”


Read a two-part exploration of Adelaide’s public art from InReview here.

Khera closed the debate saying he did not have a problem with rebellious art, and that he was a “big fan” of the famous photograph ‘Piss Christ’ by American photographer Andres Serrano, which depicts a crucifix submerged in urine.

“I actually think it’s a very important, very powerful question as to whether religion is big enough and strong enough to handle such a thing and to handle that sort of subversion,” Khera said of the work.

“The problem here is that we’re talking about public art, and if you have the very first words in your public document ‘cheeky’ and ‘subversive’, you’re going to get the dogs cocking their legs on Melbourne Street.”

Bert Flugelman’s ‘The Spheres’, known colloquially (subversively?) as the Malls Balls


Administration staff updated Adelaide city councillors last week on the funding allocations for Illuminate Adelaide’s light-based public art commissions.

The 2022 Illuminate Adelaide public artwork will be designed by emerging Melbourne-based artist Carla O’Brien and delivered in December 2022.

Some councillors took offence to one example of O’Brien’s work included in the report, which was a structural neon-light piece showing a dog relieving itself on a tree.

Khera referenced the work this week during the public art debate, saying if ‘cheeky’ and ‘subversive’ were included in the upcoming plan, “there are going to be many more dogs across the entire city”.

Formerly CBD-based ‘Old Dog’ by Craige Andrae. This image: Wikipedia Commons

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