Canberra's Skywhale hot air balloon could end up costing ACT taxpayers up to $300,000.

Former Canberra artist Patricia Piccinini was commissioned by the ACT Government to design the balloon for Canberra's 100th birthday, but the design and its relevance to Canberra have been questioned.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says Skywhale cost $172,000 to construct, but she says there will be additional costs over the year.

"The total project cost for the balloon that's been allowed within the Centenary program is $300,000," she said.

"That includes the licensing [and] all of the associated costs with flying the balloon throughout the year."

At 34 metres long and weighing half a tonne, the Skywhale is at least twice as large as a standard hot-air balloon.

Hanging from its giant whale-like body are ten huge pendulous breasts.

Piccinini says she understands the artwork will challenge public opinion.

"I think that's confounding for people because they don't know what the creature is, but secondly they don't know if it's an artwork or what it's trying to do," she said as the Skywhale took to the skies yesterday.

"My question is what if evolution went a different way and instead of going back into the sea, from which they came originally, they went into the air and we evolved a nature that could fly instead of swim.

"In fact coming from a place like Canberra where it's a planned city that's really tried to integrate and blend in with the natural environment, it makes a lot of sense to make this sort of huge, gigantic, but artificial and natural-looking creature."

The Skywhale will be tethered near the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) on Saturday as part of the Sculpture: Space and Place symposium.

On Monday it will make its first flight over Canberra.

The Skywhale will travel to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania in June and the work will be presented at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne later this year.

The Centenary of Canberra also hopes the balloon will appear at galleries and festivals throughout Australia, acknowledged as being commissioned for Canberra's centenary.

The balloon was partly funded by the Aranday Foundation.


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