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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Why is so much of London's recent public sculpture so horrible?

Poor old Charlie Chaplin, knocked off his
place in Leicester Square and now demoted
 to  entertaining the queues outside the Prince Charles Cinema, London
Wandering through Broadgate yesterday - as, if you have much sense, you do not do very often - was
struck by two or three things.

First, just how much of this corporate architecture has gone up in this area in the past decade or so. Broadgate is like a little town all of its own, with its barren streets and squares and shopping areas and  even a little park.

Second - what a sad contrast between the stately Victorian architecture of the old  Liverpool Street Station canopy, and the mock-classicisim of all that flashy 1990s stuff.

Third - the completely repulsive piece of public sculpture, the massive 5-ton bronze nude Broadgate Venus.

In fact this work by a Colombian artist is absolutely perfect for the place; a grotesquely fat, featureless, personality-free female floating pointlessly in the middle of a space surrounded on three sides by identikit office blocks and on the fourth by the rail terminal at  Liverpool Street.

 It's a real cheek calling her Venus - she's got about as much to do with love or sex as an over-inflated barrage balloon. But as symbol of the ugliest sins of the city around her - avarice, cupidity, sheer greed, excess  - she is perfect.

Which is more than you can say of much of the recent public sculpture in this town.

It seems to range from the brash but competent show-off - such as Rudy Weller's  Four Bronze Horses of Helios (1992) rising out of a fountain at the corner of hideous 1980s building near Piccadilly Circus - to the totally naff.

That flashy new development in Knightsbridge overlooking Hyde Park - often referred to as having the most expensive apartments in the world - comes complete with some equally tasteless public sculpture.

I've no idea who it's by but it's a fairly extreme example of what seems fairly dismal public sculptures adorning various commecrial and residential developments in this  city of obscene wealth.

Sadly, even publicly-commissioned work to celebrate the great and the good somehow seem to always go bland. The horribly cliched Charlie Chaplin is one example, now mercifully moved from a prime site in Leicester Square to a dark turning off Lisle Street, as if relegated to the naughty corner.

The strange Oscar Wilde tribute behind St Martins -in-the-Fields is another. But to find the truly horrible modern sculpture you have to turn to the private sector - the stuff that now seems to be obligatory on every posh new residential apartments development anywhere in London.

Richard Serra's Fulcrum, Liverpool Street Station, LondonEvery cynical new block of "desirable" riverside apartments snow seems to have to have its own bit of dismal art. Look at these ghastly characters down by Battersea Bridge adorning one of a thousand similar recently-built Thameside estates for the very rich.

WHy, you wonder, can't these very wealthy people not commission something good - like Elisabeth Frink's work in Piccadilly, or the one great bit of modern sculpture in the CityRichard Serra's Fulcrum  (1987)  at the back entrance to  Liverpool Street Station.

Even if not great art, it knocks you sideways. Meanwhile, there's virtue in comedy - and who cannot but laugh or at least smile when meeting the three-dimensional déjeuner sur l'herbe in Soho Square.

OK, I have to admit - it has to be better to have some naff art, some horrible public art, than to have no public art at all.

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