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 for 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.
Another 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 can 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.
Sarah 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 Lizi 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 just 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. 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.