The coastal walk from Bondi to Tamarama has once again been made even more beautiful: the annual outdoor exhibition Sculpture by the Sea opened today, with 111 sculptures by artists from 19 countries installed along the route, which overlooks the ocean and the coastline’s rugged cliffs. The much-loved free event – this year celebrating its 23rd anniversary – attracts upwards of 450,000 people each year.

“It’s where sculpture is meant to be seen. If you go back to [ancient times], the temples – which are like architectural sculptures – were positioned above the ocean, on rocky promontories, in river bends on the Nile, and they look stunning in those locations,” founding director David Handley tells Broadsheet. “It resonates exactly the same way today. Sculptures are meant to be seen in the outdoors, not within four walls.”

New Zealand sculptor Morgan Jones was announced the winner of this year’s prestigious Aqualand Sculpture Award for his piece The Sun Also Rises. With a $70,000 prize, it’s one of the richest art awards in the world.

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“I’ve really enjoyed [Jones’s] sculptures over the last few years,” Handley says. “This is the fifth time he’s been in the exhibition, but this year and last he was certainly on my personal shortlist [of favourites].”

The piece, featuring large metal interlocking shapes, is being gifted by Aqualand to North Sydney Council for its public sculpture collection, one of three that make up the Sydney Harbour Sculpture Collections. It’ll be given a permanent spot when Sculpture by the Sea ends.

Another of Handley’s highlights this year is Viewfinder by Sydney-based artist Joel Adler. The work features a rusted reverse periscope that’s perched over the edge of a cliff near the south Bondi headland. Looking into the sculpture shows you the ocean below.

Installation of the piece involved working closely with engineers and Waverley Council to ensure its stability. Handley points to this as an example of the festival’s mostly positive relationship with the council. That relationship looked to be on the rocks earlier this year following the installation of a concrete path around Marks Park on the Tamarama headland, which compromised confirmed locations for a number of the artworks.

“We set the stage for the artists to play upon, and they do an extraordinary job of that. But if the stage is changed and we don’t know what we’re able to provide the artists, then we are not able to do our jobs,” says Handley.

Though he says they’ve looked at other locations for next year’s event, nothing is set in stone. Discussions have been held with a number of councils, with some progressing as far as the feasibility study stage, but decisions aren’t being made until February or March next year.

Sculpture by the Sea has grown to be one of the most anticipated arts events on Sydneysiders’ calendars. It’s vastly different today to the debut that Handler oversaw 23 years ago.

“The first-ever show was put on in just 10 weeks by a team of volunteers working in my lounge room. It was a one-day exhibition and we had 64 submissions [installed], shown, then taken down again within a single day,” he says.

“It’s all about getting people to come down here and enjoy this extraordinary location and work by artists from around the world. That formula has really resonated with Australians,” he adds. “I thought it would back in 1997, and happily that gut instinct has proven right.”

Sculpture by the Sea runs until November 10.