Public art landmarks have been popping up throughout the UK in recent years, especially since Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North was erected in 1998. After referencing a similar piece that I find rather enchanting, one of my Content Team colleagues pointed out that she has a rather different opinion of it, which regrettably is not fit for publication!
It led me to wondering if there was more to these spectacular commissions that have started to litter the landscape of the UK than meets the eye. I mean, somebody other than the artist must like them right?
So I started with something quite close to home and did a little looking into the Angel of the North.
Although the Angel of the North swiftly became an iconic symbol of the North-east of England, and most people will know what it is and where, I wonder if it’s famous or infamous?
When it was first erected, the Angel was greeted by a lot of criticism.
“Gormley’s figure is said to represent an angel, but it more closely represents an old clothes peg and a foot rule…” The Mail on Sunday.
I remember hearing one individual extolling its virtues, claiming it would look brilliant when it was oxidised and finally finished. His opinion soon changed when someone explained that oxidized meant they were going to let it rust!
As it turns out, the vision for the Angel was to present a sculpture that was abandoned between the industrial and information ages, bearing testament to the men who worked in the dark below the very surface it stands on:
“The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears.” – Antony Gormley, sculptor.
My own opinion on the aesthetics aside (surely it’s just scrap metal?), the Angel is a very real connection to Gateshead’s historical legacy.
Keeping close to home I moved onto researching Arria, the mesmerizing 10m-tall mermaidesque statue that overlooks the A80.
Arria was created by Glaswegian artist Andy Scott to improve the image of Cumbernauld, which was crowned with a Carbuncle award for the second time in 2005 for being one of the most dismal places in Scotland.
You might wonder what a mermaid called Arria would have to do with the place. Some 70,000 commuters drive the A80 every day and I’d expect that only a minority of them are aware that Cumbernauld in Gaelic, ‘Comar nan Allt,’ means ‘the meeting of the waters.’ A very potent reason indeed to have a mermaid at the roadside of a busy motorway seemingly miles from its typical habitat.
Even her name, taken from Arria Fadilla, the mother of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius who ordered the construction of the Antonine wall that lies only 2 miles away from the town, links her more strongly to her surroundings.
So while at first glance Arria may appear to be just a beautiful, but slightly out of place sculpture, she is actually is a strong reminder of the rich heritage in the surrounding area.
Finally I looked into a new sculpture, Horse at Ebbsfleet, which was designed by Mark Wallinger and is due to be finished in 2012.
Already widely known as Kent’s ‘Angel of the South,’ Horse is supposed to highlight the Ebbsfleet’s redevelopment area and Ebbsfleet International railway station. Like every other landmark of it’s kind, it divides public opinion:
According to Mark Hudson at The Telegraph, the design for Horse was hailed with “immediate, near universal approval, not only from the local people who selected it from five designed by leading artists, but among the population at large.”
According to comments on one of the BBC’s articles however, the real opinion is more varied, with many people suggesting that it would be acceptable if it was like the Invicta horse, which is a key part of the county’s official coat of arms.
“Unlike the White Horse on the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire, or other horses and figures carved into the chalk downland, this giant beast is just silly. It makes me cringe.” – Adrian Searle, The Guardian.
So did the public choose Horse because of the similarities to the Invicta on Kent’s emblem, or just because it was the best of a bad lot?
What do you think? Have you got any more examples of stunning landmark sculptures or perhaps ones you wish hadn’t passed planning permission?