Tag Archives: Damien Hirst

On Sculpture in the City….and my favourite House of Cards 97/100

DSC_6239 (2)I love public sculpture. The quality of a city can be judged by its sculpture, I believe. I was once lured to Chicago on the promise of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud. London, the best city in the world, is filled with sculpture. Some of it awful, but much of it fantastic. And for the last 7 years, the City of London has filled its streets with work by famous, ultra-famous artists, in 9 month rotations. Sculpture in the City, as the programme is called, apparently came about as a gentlemen’s bet by the head of Hiscox, the art insurers, at a industry dinner. Could he get artists to donate work to the City? No way, was the reaction. Watch me, was the response. And the rest, as they say, is history.  Not only do artists and galleries willingly donate the work, the selection committee gets more than a hundred offers every year. And why not? The chance to have your work showcased in the busiest part (Monday-Friday anyway) of the greatest city, to be admired by millions of sympathetic eyes…..an artists dream. Mine too. I love this programme. I look forward to the unveiling of the new selection each summer. Last year, I was fortunate enough to take a tour with one of the selection committee members. What a fascinating insight into the work, chosen at times for its potential reaction to the buildings around it as much forP1030307 (2) the work itself. The City is an incredible mix of the old and the new. Beautiful post great fire (1666) buildings up against brand new shiny towers with unfortunate post WWII construction in between. Stone and glass and cement, all under London’s changeable sky. Add some contemporary sculpture and this is for what Instagram was made.

P1030308Another of my favourite things is the morning after the night before in a city. Early  morning, streets empty of people but with the debris of nighttime fun still in evidence. An eerie calm with traces of raucous frivolity. The perfect atmosphere in which to admire art. With a rather vague map from the City of London downloaded on my phone I set off, with only the ubiquitous packs of builders as company. I found all 18 pieces, and dare I say, the overall affect was a little disappointing. Two of the works were part of last year’s group, Gavin Turk’s Ajar and Recycle Group’s Falling into Virtual Reality. I adore the Turk piece, photographed my children in it on our New Year’s Eve day outing, would be happy for it to live in the churchyard of St. Botolph’s without Bishopgate forever. Not sure, however, that is P1030318can be presented as part of a new series. Some of the others I just didn’t like as much as what had come before. For me, Paul McCarthy’s Apple Tree Girl Apple Tree Boy just wasn’t as engaging as Giuseppe Penone’s Idee di Pietra of last year, and with the Gherkin as the backdrop, you do want something rather fabulous. But fabulous is what Nathaniel Rackowe’s Expanded Black Shed looks like against the iconic building.

DSC_0049_4Sarah Lucas’s Florian/Kevin phallic vegetables, last year,  were such a pleasure on the eye and funny as well, but to everything  a season and the current season offers its own brand of humour. Not sure I was all that taken with Mhairi Vair’s Support for a Cloud, until I read that TimeOut (which did like them) suggested the Lloyd’s building had contracted a fungal infection or grown testes, depending on ones angle. This made me laugh out loud. Artist as interpreter of public opinion, surely. Similar wink and nod to Damien Hirst’s Temple, a giant medical model torso of a man. The worship of self has gotten more than one city boy in serious trouble over the decades.

Martin Creed’s plastic bags in the tree on Bishopsgate weren’t nearly as charming as LiziDSC_0007_11 (2) Sanchez’s party rings in the same tree (and Leadenhall Market), but then they weren’t meant to be. Creed may be making a big statement with his glorified rubbish, Sanchez was P1030306just having a bit of fun. But perhaps I am being too harsh. And a walk through the city is always worth doing, regardless of what you find. It was in this spirit that once finished with the sculpture trail I walked back on myself, to Broadgate. Because it is there that one of my most loved pieces of public art stands, permanently. Richard Serra’s rusty wedges with a gorgeous view of the sky from inside. P1030356 (2)Its official title is Fulcrum, but to me it is House of Cards, these big pieces of metal not quite leaning on each other, precariously defying gravity, unstable.  The perfect symbol for the financial capital of the world, upsetting as that truth may be.  Now that is great public sculpture. P1030358

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On The Frieze and the Sexiest of Staircases….29/100

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Tracey Emin

I am on rather an art binge at the moment. October is always the best month for art in London, in large part because of the Frieze week. Like London Fashion week, the Frieze, a world-famous art fair held in Regent’s Park, has a knock on effect throughout the city, so related and unofficial events pop up everywhere…..simply a matter of time and tolerance for over-stimulation. This year, my wonderful art loving friend Sara scored us some VIP (!!) passes for the Frieze, through her wealthy Texan Uncle, so we were able to flash the blue card about town and absorb as much as we possible could manage. The Frieze itself is, for me anyway, the least interesting part of the whole affair. Galleries from all over the world showcase new art and artists, much of it completely unintelligible. Some of it, may I say, utterly ridiculous. A favourite from years back was a collection of dirty traffic cones with sharpie drawn faces on them….have since fantasized often of putting my children to work and finally affording that mansion on the sea in Spain…..

Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley

But this year nothing made me laugh out loud with incredulity. Nothing particularly moved me either…except a Tracey Emin neon sign. All that vulnerable romanticism speaks to me. And a stunning Anish Kapoor Sky Mirror. Better yet, him.  Another moment with the fabulous man himself. Of course he FullSizeRender(2)remembered us (fancy that, ha ha) and was just as charming as he was in Stratford. More kissing. More photos. How divine. The neon Emin and Kapoor, both the art and the flesh, were the stand out highlights for me. Though neither could be considered new or up and coming.

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Louise Bourgeois

But never mind because the smaller Frieze Masters is what we had really come to see. A collection of galleries with superb, beautiful, recognizable things. Antiquities, medieval religious art, names we love and covet. A Picasso? A Matisse? Perhaps a Calder sketch? A small Henry Moore, one of Louise Bourgeois’s spiders or a Bridget Riley? An enthusiastic Yes to all. I “discovered” the hauntingly beautiful work of Austrian Alfred Kubin.  I was so enthusiastic the gallery gave me a book, which I am still pouring over.  Always a pleasure to learn more. Masters shows the art that if money were no object I would buy in bulk. Masters is also where they serve the champagne, on the dot of 6, on opening night. Needless to say, it was THE place to be. Terrific art. Terrific fun.

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With Penny and Sara

The real joy of the VIP pass, however, is the extra art….so it was that Sara and I found ourselves 3 mornings in a row willingly experiencing the special kind of hell that is the Northern Line at rush hour. Wednesday, an early morning view of Goya:Portraits at National Gallery. A treat of artistic and historical reward. Friday was a lecture and private view of the V&A’s new, glorious Fabric of India exhibition. But Thursday was extra special, not least because it featured the sexiest of all staircases. Damien Hirst recently opened his Newport Street Gallery, on Newport Street in Vauxhall, near Lambeth Pleasure Gardens. A former Victorian scenery painting factory, Hirst began buying it in sections, using parts as his studio. Now, with the help of architects Caruso St John (who are also doing the Tate extension), he has created a visually stunning gallery in which to showcase his 3,000 piece strong personal art collection. The gallery is so new it still smells of fresh paint. And for this very first show, Hirst chose John Hoyland, an English artist deeply influenced by American Abstraction in the 1960s. Certainly colourful and his paintings from the 1960s are a delight, less so in the subsequent decades. But it didn’t really matter; John Hoyland couldn’t compete with the space itself. Large, airy rooms filled with natural light. The kind of rooms that make you immediately think “I want to have a party here,” and we were all roaming round oohing and aahing and chatting to strangers, including the wonderful Penny from New Zealand on the Grand Tour of European art fairs. We were all full of admiration for the building itself, taking photos from above and below.

IMG_0075Then we found the staircase. Oh, oh, oh the staircase. Suddenly all the women were in the staircase. Smiling and laughing and saying “fantastic” and understanding why the security guard in the stairwell was so unusually cheerful….because it is quite clearly, well, a woman. Nice to see we are still very much in style. Poor John Hoyland. But really, can any artist compete with a spectacularly vulvic staircase? I think not. Just wait til the champagne starts flowing there…..oh London, please, please get me invited to that party!

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