Sydney’s famous melting ice cream truck is back for Sculpture by the Sea

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Key points

  • The 25th year of Sculpture by the Sea opens October 20 and runs to November 6.
  • The outdoor sculpture walk runs 2km from Bondi to Tamarama and is said to be world’s largest annual, free-to-the-public, outdoor sculpture exhibition.
  • It opened as a one-day event in 1997, and temporarily closed in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID.
  • This year’s event will host 105 installations this year including six artists who originally showed in the inaugural exhibition.

A melting Mr Whippy truck, which became an iconic installation of Australia’s largest free-to-the-public outdoor sculpture walk, is making a comeback to Sculpture by the Sea for the event’s 25th birthday.

James Dive’s Hot with a Late Chance of a Storm, complete with distorted Greensleeves refrain, is returning to the Tamarama beachfront where his commentary on hot Australian summers first became a pre-Instagram sensation.

It’s back: Sculpture by the Sea’s iconic melting ice cream van.Credit: Flavio Brancaleone

Last seen on the two-kilometre coastal walk 17 years ago, the oozing beach sculpture is lone among this year’s installation of 105 artworks to be back by popular demand.

It’s been restored, repainted, and recast in more durable fibreglass after Dive’s original artwork, which he completed as part of the Glue Society creative collective, had become somewhat “loved to death” on its first public outing.

“It wasn’t in a state to be exhibited again after that first Sculpture by the Sea, so it went off the radar for a time until we could restore it and build it even stronger than the first time around,” Dive said. “It was so popular being on that beach for four weeks.”

Sculpture by the Sea’s founder David Handley nominates Dive’s work for Glue Society, Lucy Humphry’s Horizons – an inverted lens orb that turned the Tamarama headland view upside down – and Marcus Tatton’s 2011 entry The Ruin, among his favourite sculptural works of the last quarter of a century.

“It’s ingenious, light, and inclusive, as are all three,” enthuses Handley.

Sculpture by the Sea began as a one-day event in 1997, quickly expanded to a four-day exhibition the following year, and went to nine days the next. That year, 1999, three and a half of its four weekend days were a wash-out.

“If we had been washed out in year one, we would have suffered, but by then, there was enough momentum. The sculptors had jumped on board, and we already had international sculptors exhibiting,” Handley said.

A trained lawyer, Handley, originally had the idea of staging an outdoor Art by the Sea, until he cottoned on that lightweight canvasses would never survive the blustery coastal conditions.

“I loved the idea of artists as dreamers and helping to facilitate artists’ dreams and free to the public arts events,” Handley says. “Growing up in the 70s and 80s I had a chip on my shoulder that the rest of the world didn’t think of Australia unless they played sport against us, except for roos, a rock and a reef, so I wanted to create something that brought all that together.”

In the year 2000, Handley intentionally delayed Sculpture by the Sea until after the Olympics to catch the post-Olympics bounce: “That was the year that Sydney really fell for Sculpture by the Sea.”

In 2015, two artworks were destroyed, and three were damaged by a storm surge that hammered the sculpture walk.

Four years later, Handley and Waverley Council fell out over a new concrete pathway intended to assist disabled access, which Handley thought compromised artists’ key sites at the end of the headland. The ridge was eventually widened to be large enough for both the path and sculptures.

The Ruin by Marcus Tatton.Credit: Samantha Burns

Then, in 2020 and 2021, COVID shut the trail down.

The lowest point for Handley over 25 years has been the year-on-year scramble for government funding.

Federal COVID support money of $1 million shared between Sculpture by the Sea Bondi and Cottesloe Beach in Perth runs out at year’s end, and then there is no more. Handley introduced entry by voluntary contribution for the first time last year, with the public contributing $60,000 to artists’ costs.

“No other major free-to-the-public cultural event in Australia, indeed in the world, has as little secure government funding as Sculpture by the Sea,” he says.

Damien Hirst Looking For Sharks by Cool Shit at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe.Credit: AAP

Dive thanks Sculpture by the Sea for the kick-start it gave him. “If I go to any barbecue and someone wants to know what you’ve done, and you say the melting ice-cream truck, everyone knows it. Sculpture by the Sea did put a stick of dynamite under my career.”

Dive has since ventured out on his own from the Glue Society and now co-owns a creative production company to bring bold creative projects to life.

In 2017, he returned to Sculpture by the Sea with What A Tasty Looking Burger, a giant hamburger anchored to the rocks near the Icebergs.

“Everyone appreciates different types of creativity but what I always love is the type of creativity that interrupts someone’s day,” says Dive. “As a kid, I vividly remember coming to the city and seeing Jeff Koon’s Puppy, made of flowers.

“We didn’t come into the city to see art or creativity. We were there for something else entirely. I like the kind of creativity that pounces on you.”

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