It’s being billed as the world’s first underwater art gallery, and you’ll need an oxygen tank and snorkel mask to see it, but the new Great Barrier Reef exhibit is so much more than just a dazzling display; it’s a small art show with a big message about a natural wonder that could be lost within our lifetime.
Six playful, reef-inspired pieces by internationally renowned Australian artist B.J. Price went on display Tuesday near Reef Magic’s Marine World platform on Moore Reef, about 90 minutes off the coast of Cairns in the northern Australian state of Queensland. Set on weighted easels in front of a wall of living coral, the exhibit offers a provocative take on the notion of life imitating art.
Price, a respected abstract expressionist painter, noted that the Great Barrier Reef had long served as his muse, and has become the sole inspiration behind his growing body of work. “When I dive on the Great Barrier Reef and become part of it, the reef speaks to me,” he gushed. “Through my art I answer its call, so others may hear its evocative voice.”
Price produced each colorful work in Australia using a printing process that infuses dyes into specially coated aluminum. Divers will plunge into the Coral Sea each morning over the course of the exhibition to place the art on the seabed and return to remove it by nightfall, ensuring the exhibition has no harmful environmental impacts.
Price worked closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure that his work wouldn't only inspire visitors, but also call attention to the problems the UNESCO World Heritage site faces at the hands of industrial Australia and a warming planet.
“We’ve all seen [the reef] on TV, but to experience it in person can be a life-altering event. It certainly was for me,” he said. “I am convinced that when you encounter the extraordinary majesty of one of the world’s great natural wonders and the largest living organism on the planet, you will fall in love with it [too].”
Some 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands make up what we know as the 1,680-mile Great Barrier Reef. UNESCO anointed it with World Heritage status in 1981, but has threatened to put it on its “danger list” next year if the Australian government doesn’t address five pending port developments, largely associated with the booming mining industry.
But the reef’s threats go far beyond the ports and their associated effect on water quality, ranging from a warming planet and increased natural disasters to uncontrolled blooms of coral-gobbling crown-of-thorns starfish thanks to contaminants in agricultural runoff. The harsh reality is that more than 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s hard coral cover -- its building blocks -- has disappeared over the past 27 years.
This is the message behind the first underwater art gallery at the Great Barrier Reef, which, as if to prove how fleeting this wonder could be, will last just four days. Those hoping to view the gallery should look for a giant floating turtle sculpture emblazoned with Price’s black-and-white painting “Alpha,” which is moored above the art as a beacon for divers and snorkelers.
For more on the “world’s first underwater art gallery,” check out the video below.