In Focus: The art that exploded in London galleries and hit the streets


Art is breaking free from the traditional gallery and its emergence in our streets and in our parks is changing the way we live, says Clive Aslet.

Here’s a tip for anyone who wants to involve bored kids in the capital: count the statues. They are thick on the ground – they are placed on plinths, pediments, on the facade of Fortnum & Mason. In recent years, some have been contested, but neither the number of statues already in situ, nor the stigma aroused by some have dissuaded promoters, public authorities and champions of special causes from adding more.

Look at the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, occupied by a succession of colorful works of art, sometimes incomprehensible in recent years. Still the subject of great popular debate, this is just one of the many ways in which public art is transforming London. It can delight and amaze those who see it, helping many Londoners believe that they live in the best city in the world.

The East End now has a public sculpture trail that connects a dozen works of art from Olympic Park to the Millennium Dome. It’s called The Line. Some, like Richard Wilson’s A slice of reality – a section of sand dredge, cut like a cake and placed on the foreshore – have been in place since the millennium, but others are new. that of Joanna Rajkowska The newborn of 2019 takes the form of a gigantic blackbird egg, from the inside of which comes the sound of hatching chicks (recorded with an ornithologist’s microphone).

A slice of reality on the Richard Wilson line. Credit: Emily Jane Lovell

Thomas J. Price unveiled the most recent contribution in 2020, Give a hand: This 9ft tall bronze depicting a young black woman on a cell phone is in a public park near Stratford. A deliberately unheroic image, although by its size alone, strangely powerful it was created as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests to combat the under-representation of blacks in public sculpture. Same Give a hand is eclipsed by the scale of works such as that of Antony Gormley Quantum cloud of 2000 on the Greenwich Peninsula, where the shape of a human body emerges from a miasma of magnetized fingernails. At nearly 100 feet, he’s taller than hers Angel of the North.

On July 21, The Line unveiled its latest addition, a bronze sculpture by Tracey Emin. A moment without you, with five birds perched above head height, is the British artist’s only public sculpture. Nearby are three old mills in operation on Three Mills Island, on the main tributary of the Thames, the River Lea.

Reaching Out by Thomas J. Price is in a park near Stratford. Credit: Vassilis Skopelitis The name The Line pays homage to New York’s famous High Line, a former railway line transformed into a linear park. London has yet to make as much of its public art as other cities around the world, such as Barcelona, ​​but the number of sculpture trails is increasing; one was created around Wembley Stadium, with 14 works. They are joined by temporary festivals that transform the facades of famous monuments using projection techniques.

Having started in Durham in 2009, the Lumière Festival is now commissioned by the Mayor of London; This year’s event will last four nights in November, making the most of the long winter evenings. It is produced by Artichaut, a company dedicated to creating “extraordinary and ambitious” public art.

“Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt have been chatting kindly on a New Bond Street bench since 1995… These bronze men help to humanize the street.

In contrast, the Illuminated River Project, completed in April, will last a decade, lighting up nine bridges along more than three miles of the Thames – the Illuminated River Foundation says it’s the longest-running public art commission in the world.

The initiator of the idea, Hannah Rothschild, is “proud that this monumental project promotes London as a creative and innovative city on the world stage”. We wanted to celebrate the important role that London’s bridges continue to play as part of the capital’s identity, connecting the whole city.

Every Christmas, Tate Britain’s understated classic facade becomes an exuberant light show, in the hands of artists such as Chila Kumari Singh Burman, who is told, we are told, by her family’s ice cream van and childhood visits to the Blackpool Illuminations.

The Tate Britain Annual Winter Commission at Tate Britain on November 13, 2020, designed by Chila Kumari Singh Burman. Credit: Mike Marsland / WireImage via Getty

These innovative and literally dazzling works of art have not dampened the public’s appetite for traditional sculpture. In July, Princes William and Harry were both present at the unveiling of their mother’s statue by Ian Rank-Broadley in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace.

So far, audiences don’t seem to have warmed up to the image, which shows the princess in a stylish outfit holding the hands of three children, but she hasn’t initially embraced the magnificent Martin Jennings sculpture from 2007 of Sir John Betjeman holding his hat as he gazes up into St Pancras station, which he has surely now taken to heart. The jury remains on the sidelines on Maggi Hambling’s A conversation with Oscar Wilde outside St Martin-in-the-Fields, where the poet’s head is seen emerging from a coffin.

Antony Gormley’s quantum cloud. Credit: Vassilis Skopelitis

War memorials also continue to be built, despite the many decades that have passed since the end of World War II. They appear to have been subjected to a process of monument inflation, with the WWII Women’s Memorial in Whitehall being as large as the Cenotaph, the national memorial to the dead of all wars. On the north side of Green Park, the Liam O’Connor’s Bomber Command Memorial – a sober Greek Doric colonnade in Portland Stone – was inaugurated by the Queen in 2012; inside is a group of seven crew members sculpted by Philip Jackson.

These works carry on a tradition of public art that was revived after World War II by the 1951 Festival of Britain. The sculptures of Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth relieved the monotony of monolithic architecture that has become the new face of British cities. Today, promoters use public art as a means of giving an identity to what might otherwise be amorphous neighborhoods, a contribution to the goal of creating places that creates links between residents and their place of life.

More and more, Londoners appreciate the theater of city life, provided for example by street food stalls and Christmas markets which draw in cheerful crowds. Busking adds to the atmosphere. The sculpture adds its own note to the party, continuing to populate the streets after humanity has left. Wartime allies Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt have been chatting cordially on a New Bond Street bench since Lawrence Holofcener sculpted them in 1995. It’s a conversation that never ends. These bronze men help to humanize the street.

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