I don’t know what’s more remarkable: the fact that there’s a sculpture exhibition on the edge of a continent or that the exhibition has happened 25 times in Sydney, and another 20 times on the country’s west coast.

Today, people from across WA will flock to the natural amphitheatre of Cottesloe Beach to see the 68 large-scale works (three additional pieces have been held up in the shipping process and will round out the exhibition in coming days) that will make up the 20th anniversary of Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe. More than 70 artists from 14 countries have contributed works to the mammoth exhibition, which is breathtakingly backlit by what Sculpture by the Sea founder David Handley admits to Broadsheet (freely shunning his native Sydney) “is the best sunset of any major city in the world”.

I was born in 1997 and grew up in Sydney, and for me the city and Sculpture by the Sea have always been inextricably linked. But, as Cottesloe mayor Lorraine Young told guests at the exhibition preview last night, the kids of Cottesloe and I have had the exact same experience. “There’s an entire generation of kids,” including her own 20-year-old, Young said, “who have come to expect that this transformation every March is perfectly normal.”

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So as a long-time Sculpture by the Sea fan – who’s admittedly come late to the Western Australian iteration – here are 10 things I learnt about Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, 2024.

1. Not all the work comes from trained artists.

One of my personal favourites, Standing Tall, Strength in Numbers, was made by students from the Yirri Yaarkin Indigenous program at Prendiville Catholic College, alongside their mentor, former student Kade Wheelock. Much more impressive than the art projects most of us churned out at school, it’s a collection of 60 glass ants with three multicoloured segments adorned by 9000 glass dots. The ants crawl over low-hanging tree limbs and through the dirt, around chips of bark arranged into songlines and meeting circles representing the different paths students have taken in their lives.

2. Artists love a metaphor.

WA-based Dutch artist Tom de Munk-Kerkmeer has a piece on the sand called Dear Mother. The work is both an ode to his mother, Francine, who passed away in the Netherlands two years ago, and to mother nature. It’s made from bamboo, grown by the artist himself, secured with grass and recycled bicycle tires. “It’s shaped like a vagina,” he tells people at the preview event. “You can pass through [the sculpture] and maybe you’ll come out better on the other side.”

3. Intervention from nature is welcome.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the piece is an ode to mother nature, when I asked de Munk-Kerkmeer if he was worried a bird would make a nest in his twiggy piece he said, “No, I’d be honoured.”

4. Dadbod has been embraced both by sculptors and everyday blokes.

Michelangelo’s statue of David is safely ensconced in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, but on the sea wall in Cottesloe, you’ll see COADY’s Dave – a balding guy in board shorts with a colourful unicorn floaty around his expansive middle.

5. I’ll never be cooler than Japanese sculptor Keizo Ushio.

Keizo Ushio has exhibited in every Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe, exhibition since its inception. His large stone works play on continuous lines, which he says are inspired by a Mobius strip. His studio is in a quarry in Japan, where he has a pet goat. I have neither a quarry nor a goat and am hugely envious of both assets.

6. You can knit with metal.

I should clarify, I cannot knit with metal, you probably cannot knit with metal, but WA artist Tania Spencer can. Her work Gumnut Cap Quintet hangs like a chandelier between two tall pines on the edge of Cottesloe’s foreshore. It was made over five weeks and wasn’t – as I foolishly posited – built on a big knitting Nancy but on a large jig before being carefully strung up between the trees.

7. Always read the work descriptions.

I saw Professor Leonardo Cumbo’s Enfant Prodige in the Sydney exhibition and basically dismissed it as a big egg in a slingshot. It wasn’t until I visited the Sculpture Inside exhibition, which houses the small-scale maquettes the artists use to pitch their works to the selection committee, that I learnt the true story. The artist statement reads: “The sculpture is inspired by a news story recorded in the Canberra Times of a prehistoric Madagascan elephant-bird egg that washed up on the beaches of Perth, where it was found by a nine-year-old girl. The egg was given to the Western Australian Museum after a ‘tug of war’ between several parties who were competing for it.” I had no idea it was so political.

8. Sean Henry’s work is a little too lifelike.

The famed British artist is exhibiting his work Seated Man. When I pointed out the lifelike seated figure to someone yesterday they asked, “Is that a performance artist?” – which drives home how much detail is packed into the bronze and corten steel work.

9. For one artist, the return to Cottesloe is particularly significant.

When Chinese sculptor Chen Wenling – known for his Red Memory sculpture series – showed at Cottesloe in 2012, his work was stolen and vandalised. Handley noted at the preview event that Wenling bore no ill will to the boys who destroyed his sculpture, and in fact worked with Sculpture by the Sea to keep them out of jail. (A replica of the piece was later bought and donated to the Art Gallery of WA.) His contribution to the 2024 exhibition – a smiling red man with a mirrored ball balanced on his head – is already proving a fan favourite.

10. Parking is a problem no matter which coast you’re on.

As I walked down Marine Parade, I heard four different people complain that parking would be “a nightmare” over the weekend because of the exhibition. Whether you’re at Bondi or Cottesloe, people love the sculptures and hate parking in equal measure.


Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe is running from March 1 – March 18. Head here for more information including the audio guide to the 2024 exhibition.