London has been gracing us with a beautiful summer weather for few weeks now, and I know that for some of you any indoor activity can be seen as a waste of vitamin D intake, so I thought that it was a perfect timing to talk about public art in London.
Art is supposed to reflect our society, who we are, what we do, even though a vast majority of people still sees art as an elitist hobby and don’t feel connected with it, art has the power to reveal what life was (or felt) through the eyes of an individual and can without a doubt add value and meaning to a city. Not only public art is accessible to everyone and engages social interactions, but it also involve artists and creatives into the development of our cities (alongside urbanists, engineers, politics,which often don’t share the same concerns than an artist ) which in my opinion humanise our concrete public spaces and creates bridges between communities. Social values are essentials in the future building of our cities, and public art can be an important tool in the way we shape the cities of tomorrow.
Not only public art provides a direct encounter with art outside of galleries and museums, but it encourages people to interact and learn about their environment. It stimulates their imagination, raises interrogations, gives them the opportunity to stop for few minutes on a busy day and to connect with someone else vision. You will not always like what you see, you will not always understand it either (I remember being quiet puzzled by Daniel Buren’s flags close from Le Sablon in Brussels when I was a teenager), but it will enable you to have a different experience with your surroundings and often lead you toward self-reflection.
I’m going to pass this time on the economical benefits for cities to create culturally active places (not only it attracts more people and businesses, but it also helps to transform disadvantages communities), and share with you some of my favourite public art spots in London at the moment.
Sculpture in the City
Since I moved to London it became a ritual every year to head to the City to discover the new large-scale sculptures and installations that the City of London has commissioned and installed around the Square Mile (aka brokers and bankers land). This year again, they invited heavyweights from the contemporary art world (think Marina Abramovic, and Damien Hirst), but also emerging female artists to celebrate the century of female suffrage. You can find more information and a map here.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The London Mastaba
“The London Mastaba is the first major outdoor public work by Christo in the UK, and it coincides with an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery of Christo and his late wife Jeanne–Claude’s work, Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958–2018. The London Mastaba consists of 7,506 horizontally stacked barrels on a floating platform (…)”. We went to see it last weekend, and it completely changes Hyde Park landscape, this installation was designed to divide (the scale of the project and the vivid colours might disturb some regulars walkers and picnickers) , but at the end of the day it’s an interesting utopian/philosophical shared experience for everyone crossing the park. The Mastaba is on view until September 23rd. Read more here.
Richard Serra : Fulcrum
We don’t present the American artist anymore, but Serra’s Fulcrum sculpture (made of five sheets of self-weathering Cor-Ten steel and located at the western entrance of the Liverpool Street station) despite being part of Londoners lives since 1987 still disturbs and visually challenges the commuters. The reasons? The large scale (55 feet), lack of comprehension, and “looks like a pile of rusted steel”. But if you take the time to stop, walk through it, lean on it, you will realise that interaction is at the heart of Serra’s work.Therefore you need to experience the sculpture to understand it. Next time you are around just enter the sculpture and enjoy a break from this oh so busy area.
Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth
The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but due to insufficient funds the future of the fourth plinth was debated over 150 years until the RSA decided to commission temporary contemporary art sculptures in the late 90’s .
The commissions are now supervised by the Mayor of London, and I recommend you to go have a look at “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz :”Michael started The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist project in 2006. It attempts to recreate more than 7,000 objects which have been lost forever. Some were looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003, while others were destroyed at archaeological sites across the country during the Iraq War. For the Fourth Plinth, Rakowitz has recreated the Lamassu. This winged bull and protective deity guarded the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) from c700 BC until it was destroyed by Daesh in 2015.“Read more here.
I also recommend you to look for Anthony Gormley sculptures as a few are displayed across the city (two of them around the british Library),you can also spot a beautiful Henry Moore in the middle of a housing estate in Southmark, or enjoy a Rodin outside the Palace of Westminster. Just keep your eyes open, your city might be full of surprises.
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