Rubber Duck and the cathedral of joy

‘Rubber Duck’ in Darling Harbour in January. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski

Over the summer, Sydney had an unusual visitor to Darling Harbour: a big yellow duck, as cute as it was large, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. Hofman visited the Museum on Sunday 6 January to speak about his work.

‘Rubber Duck’ is one of many large-scale installations that he has worked on over the years. Since he first imagined ‘Rubber Duck’ in 2001, it has appeared in various locations all over the world – each one a unique response to its site. The St Nazarre duck in France was installed in front of a contentious former World War II submarine bunker built by Hitler, which has since been transformed into a cultural centre. Hofman says that by ‘getting squeaked or quacked the work interferes with the environment and creates new meanings.’

The Video Dutch Art, Design + Culture by Dutch TV compiles some of the interesting facts Florentijn Hofman covered at his Powerhouse Museum presentation.


Some of his other giant installations include ‘Steelman’ in Amsterdam – an 11 metre bear clutching a pillow. This colossal engineering feat, made of steel and spray-on concrete, took five years to complete by an army of specialists and volunteers and was inspired by local schoolchildren.

Florentijn Hofman at the Museum on 6 January. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski

Florentijn Hofman at the Museum on 6 January. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski

Inspiration for the ‘Big Yellow Rabbit’ in Sweden was a little closer to home – the endless search for his children’s beloved ‘cuddle toys’, which were often found flung into obscure corners of the home. Incredibly, ‘Rubber Duck’ was inspired by a milk advertisement and a museum visit to see a Dutch Masters painting.

While the duck is both enchanting and nostalgic, there is a serious side to the work. Hofman says: ‘It’s about one family and you have to take care of each other in the world … and our global waterways. They’re our bathtub and we have to take care of them [too].’

‘I always go inside these rubber ducks’, he said, ‘… and I will lie down for five minutes and see this beautiful cathedral of joy, the yellow colour, giving you energy and happiness.’

Hofman’s talk at the Museum was part of the Sydney Festival. The Museum also hosted a series of films on Dutch designers in partnership with the festival.

The next design event is on 14 March when Professor Marcia Pointon will join us to talk about the fascinating history of the  diamond engagement ring. For information about future design talks at the Museum visit the Powerhouse Museum website.

This article was originally published in Powerline Autumn 13 edition.