Walking through the City you might have noticed two conjoined bells on a street corner or a circle of shoes outside Lloyd’s of London. These and other sculptures are part of an annual contemporary sculpture exhibition, Sculpture in the City, in the Square Mile of the City of London. The City of London Corporation works with galleries and artists to curate the exhibition along with local businesses which sometimes host the pieces on-site. Now in its fifth year, the exhibition showcases fourteen sculptures, on view until 30 June 2016.
*artemporary sent a fellow art-enthusiast to tour the works and review the pieces. In case you live in London, a comprehensive map of the exhibition is useful for making your own trip to the City.
On a weekday in the City, I found myself conspicuously un-suited, and staring at my phone with a map of fourteen sculptures in a square mile. This made for a fun scavenger hunt, albeit one that involved navigating the sidewalks while looking down at my phone and dodging businessmen on their way to moneymaking. The City is notoriously empty on the weekends but I wanted to see this exhibition with one of its most crucial elements intact – interaction with the public. Many of the sculptures were sent on behalf of the galleries representing the artists and it was apparent some of the pieces would be more suited in a white space than competing with the varied architecture and bustling streets of the City.
- Altar by Kris Martin
A brilliant sculpture that used a past behemoth of art history to make a contemporary statement, Altar is a recreation of the polyptych frame of Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. Situated in St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Garden, the bronze sculpture creates empty space and allows the viewer to fill in the rest. The location in the park is an ideal placement especially as nature is beginning to stir after winter and it seemed to just simply fit. This sculpture would be dead inside a gallery and is absolutely meant to be outside. The spreading frame gracefully encompasses the site without detracting from the gardens and made me want to sit and watch the day pass through it. A meditative sculpture is exactly what is needed in the City. Request to the City of London Corporation: make this permanent!
Hits: interaction with site, aesthetic value
2. Forever by Ai Wei Wei
Sometimes the reputation of the artist precedes the reception of a piece, and that is the case with Ai Wei Wei. Luckily, I first saw this dynamic sculpture before knowing Ai Wei Wei was the sculptor and had an unadulterated viewing experience. And I was completely floored. My reaction was not unique, after posting photos of Forever to Instagram, I immediately had a number of positive comments. Art that speaks to its audience through anonymity and reproduction is good art in my book and Ai Wei Wei’s fame was validated.
In a choice location in front of the The Gherkin (hmmm work of famous artist placed in front of one of London’s most iconic buildings? I see what you did there City of London Corporation), this large sculpture of stacked bikes had the most interaction with people out of all the sculptures. In fact, there were other, un-suited girls clutching phones who appeared to be there simply to see the sculpture too! Perhaps they knew of the blockbuster artist of the sculpture but the attention is well-deserved just the same. The shiny silver frames of the bikes are perfectly placed in front of the glossy, faceted blues of the exterior of the Gherkin. I watched a man on a cell phone walk up to it and mindlessly spin a wheel – it moved! Extra points! The sculpture makes you want to walk around it as it changes shape from different angles. More points! I challenge anyone to take a bad photo of it as well. Not possible.
Hits: extremely photogenic, location, public interaction
3. Breakout II By Bruce Beasley
This geometric cubic bronze sculpture is well displayed, up on a plinth on a busy sidewalk. All about balance, the polygonal shapes form a delicate arch-like stack. One of the biggest strengths of this display was the location. From the angle I was taking photos, I realized the sculpture complemented the busy exterior of the building behind it. From being raised off the ground for better viewing, to the orange tint of the bronze, Breakout II brought attention to its surroundings in a flawless example of urban sculpture.
Hits: aesthetic form, display, selflessness
- Organisms of Control by Keita Miyazaki
This was the most hidden of all the sculptures and my excitement of finding it quickly wore off the more I saw. The clunky disjointed shapes and basic colors of the sculpture started to set off the negative feedback loop I sometimes get with not-most-favorite works of contemporary art. I wondered if the organizers might have had a similar reaction and like an unwanted gift from an in-law, placed somewhere acceptable yet discreetly out of the way. Also the description says there are “jingles heard” but I didn’t hear any. However after looking at the junkyard mashup I couldn’t help but think there was enough noise already.
Misses: poor location, no sound (maybe a good thing?)
2. Ghost by Adam Chodzko
How can one review a piece of public art that cannot be seen? Walking through Leadenhall Market underneath colored ironwork and past busy shops is always an over stimulating experience. That is why it is so easy to miss the spectre of a slim wooden canoe quietly hung overhead. All of the promotional images of the aptly named Ghost are shot from above the canoe, as if people will be able to hang from the ceiling to see it! However, this has to be the most fragile sculpture in the group, needing to be out of the rain so in that respect the market is a suitable location. Frustratingly, the canoe could be one of the most powerful pieces in the show given its history as being used as a kind of meditational transport to its paddlers. Hung up overhead, out of view, away from water though is not an ideal display of Ghost. I am hoping it gets back to water as soon as the show ends. #freeghost
Misses: impossible to see, more performance art than sculpture
3. Charity (2002 – 2003) by Damien Hirst
Again, this is a piece I saw without knowing who the artist was but unlike Forever, Charity did not impress me. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the artist was Damien Hirst and let me confess I am not usually a fan of his work. Charity misses the point of public art because it makes sense to only a small percentage of the public. The sculpture is made after Scope collection boxes of the 1960’s of a disabled girl holding a teddy bear. In this form, Hirst plays off of size by making an exact replica but 22 feet tall. To a non-British Millennial, all I saw was a brightly colored Pop Art doll looming against the sleek skyscrapers and aged brick walls of St. Helen’s Church.
According to Hirst, Charity is “a symbol of changing attitudes to disability” and he hopes it will “encourage conversations about disability amongst people in our capital”. This piece will only resonate with a certain group of people who knew the original collection boxes. It will no doubt cause conversations about the representation of disabled people in art, but most likely not in a positive manner. By highlighting one outdated object in an attempt to show society’s progress in treatment of disability, he is merely focusing on the past, not the present. And what a missed opportunity it is. But don’t worry, Hirst (the world’s richest artist) assures us he has “long been a supporter of Scope”.
Misses: narrow audience, kitsch
Sculpture in the City is a both a benefit to the people who work in the Square Mile and the art lovers who travel to see it. Going during the workweek allowed me to see the sculpture in the setting of the fast-paced pressured corporate culture of the City. The people who work in the City are just as much a part of the exhibition as the sculptures, and hopefully they have enjoyed it during this time. It was an enjoyable afternoon spent hunting for the pieces and seeing the difference between the sculptures.
Although different in their forms, there was one theme running through the group. Like the gender ratio of the working population of the City, the artists were overwhelmingly male with two female artists represented out of thirteen artists. However, the standout pieces made up for failings in locations and gender representation and the exhibition is worth a trip before its close on 30 June 2016.