A “terrifying” five-metre tall sculpture of a hand with a face has been flown in from the South Island to perch on top of a contemporary art gallery in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.
It fixes passers by with a disapproving expression. Meant to liven up the Civic Square that was damaged in a 2016 earthquake, the work has instead alarmed and terrified locals, who have described the work as “a Lovecraftian nightmare [that] has come to life”.
The work, called Quasi, is by Melbourne-based New Zealand artist Ronnie van Hout, who made the “partial self-portrait” to sit in his home town of Christchurch following the devastating 2011 earthquake.
It was installed on the roof of the Wellington City Gallery via helicopter on Monday and is scheduled to remain for a three-year residency.
Despite an apparent resemblance, the gallery says the statue, which was first unveiled in 2016, is not intended to depict US president Donald Trump.
“The giant hybrid face-hand is based on scans of the artist’s own body parts,” reads a description of the work on the gallery’s website. “It’s as if ‘the hand of the artist’ has developed a monstrous life of its own.”
The polystyrene and resin sculpture is also a reference to Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It has been labelled a “nightmarish fever dream” or “some hideous malevolent being” by some locals on social media, while others said it would be a “fantastic talking point and drawcard” for the gallery.
Quasi spent the past three years atop the Christchurch Art Gallery, where it enraged a local art critic into writing a scathing manifesto listing 10 reasons why the sculpture “must go”. Reasons listed included that the sculpture’s ring finger “appears to be inappropriately and belligerently pointing at pedestrians and office workers”.
Some Christchurch residents have said they want the artwork back, saying “the gross hand belongs to Christchurch”.
Wellington was impacted by the 7.5 magnitude Kaikoura quake that killed two people in the South Island and caused building damage and power outages in the capital.
It is, the gallery said, a common thread for the artwork which is “no longer required” in Christchurch.
“It will haunt City Gallery’s roof this season, presiding over a Civic Square largely abandoned in the wake of our own 2016 quake,” the statement said.