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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Loving Angels Instead

Why is so much of public art so bad? This is not something that has bothered me in the past. I look at the statues of the great and the good (and the not so) scattered around the streets and squares of London and they don't cause me any undue discomfiture. Queen Victoria is over-represented to my mind as are the military. Although since until recently we seemed to spend quite a lot of time beating up the rest of the world I shouldn't be surprised if Field Marshals and Generals on or off horse back look down on us all across this great capital of ours.

No, what's sparked off my indignation is the new Lennon "memorial" in Liverpool. I'm not sure how I feel about Lennon. If it started and ended with his songs and the Beatles I'd die happy, but so much more has accreted around the man. But, this tacky piece of nonsense is no way to celebrate a word-smith of genius.

The Lennon mishap is the most recent in a long line of public art disasters.

An even bigger blot on the landscape is Anish Kapoor's dysfunctional dna piece which suggests that an alien has defecated on the 2012 Olympic site. My main criticism is that it's just so old hat. It is neither forward looking or invoking a great past, it's just a large piece of rusting metal.

It's big, I grant you that and that's the con. It's achievement is it's size: and that is meant to win us over. That's all it has going for it - it's big. Much in the same way the Lennon monument is meant to win us over in its fluffiness, its good vibes; this giant expects you to fall for its size and its de-constructed vacuousness. It offers nothing other than a reflection of Olympic Committee's misplaced sense of their own stature.
Size seems to be something that is attractive to the sponsors of public art (and if you were a Turner Prize winner). The 160 ft replica of a white horse will not look out of place between the electricity pylons and high speed train tracks - so un-Kentish is the installation.  The obvious question is why?

My last example of naff public art is the sadness that is Cumbernauld's contribution to British culture. "Arria", a 33 foot installation,  is a flummery with twinkle. Cumbernauld is one of the disasters of central planning. It is not somewhere you'd voluntarily go to live. How does this piece of nonsense speak to the people of that benighted "experiment".

Listen to Councillor Gerry McElroy, the politician responsible for this piece of irrelevance: "We're all really looking forward to driving by her on the main road that bisects Cumbernauld and hope that she becomes an iconic landmark for the town."

Oh, and 70,000 commuters will see the statue every day. Well that  all fine and dandy then.

I think we deserve more. Nothing here does anything other than titillate. They're all tokens, gestures. Nothing too dangerous; the frisson of a Turner Prize winner providing the requisite "edge".  They are commissioned by committees who appear to be completely disconnected from  the reality they claim they are trying to capture. What we get is a slap in the face - second no, third best and a sense of a great opportunity gone begging.

For my part I would gladly see "The Angel of the North" everyday. It has everything the others don't. It is strong, it is powerful, it is loved. It is anchored and has found a home on its site above the remains of a colliery.


Layclerk said...

I looked at the photo at the top of your post, then read what you'd written, expecting to be outraged and already thinking about what I was going to write in defence of the Angel of the North, but happily you took the wind out my sails and surprised me by complimenting that wonderful artwork!

Having lived in the north east of England for a few years in the early 1990's, I have a real soft spot for the Angel, and I'm glad you seem to have too.

As for all the other pish masquerading as art, yes I totally agree, and one of my favourite cartoons was from a long time ago in Punch or Private Eye, when two old guys in flat caps were studying some God-awful 1960's modern art sculpture, and one says to the other "well, it might be art, but it's bloody poor welding!" and that pretty much sums up my opinion of modern stuff!

The Sagittarian said...

I agree, it seems the uglier something is the more likely the Council are to pay for it to be an eyesore! Follow the links here and you will see some of ours, sadly none of them affected by the earthquake!Gone to the dogs for example... and our other object, which is kinda ok but just doesn't suit its location in amongst the heritage buildings!! Here

Anonymous said...

I wrote about that Cumbernauld carbuncle because an acquaintance who works in PR wanted me to write something positive about it because he's been contracted to promote it. When I learned about the money spent and the fruits of this depth-of-recession expenditure, I honestly couldn't say a good word.

Surely public art should come from the grassroots; should emerge from local culture? But people are conditioned to be passive and nonparticipatory, so we have a handful of 'art specialists' whose ideas and concerns are professional and a million miles from what most people can authentically respond to.

Anonymous said...

Only just took in how hideous that twee Lennon Memorial is - think how cynical and snide he was; he would have absolutely loathed it!!