Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Good and bad public sculpture.

Just seen 'Witness', Anthony Gormley's latest public 'artwork' at the British Library, mentioned in that institution's newsletter (which I still get having once had a reader's card). I don't mind some of Gormley's work, but he's evidently taking the you-know-what with this one!

Sorry, mate... This is not art, this is rubbish. No finesse, or inventiveness, or imagination has gone into it. Plus this sort of thing has been done to death through the last 3/4 of the 20th century, when it appropriated the term 'Modern'. It's old now. Yawn!

Here is some more interesting (in my humble opinion) contemporary public art that I have seen on my travels:

Ammonite sculpture in Malahyde, Ireland, by Niall O'Neill, b. 1952:

'Children of Lir' monument, Garden of Remembrance, Dublin (Oisin Kelly, 1915-81):

Millennium monument outside Temple Church, London:

Scultputrs in Stratford Upon Avon inspired by Shakespeare plays:

Sculpture in Croydon that incorporates a hedge...

These figurative pieces have features and details that capture one's attention and spark the imagination, that is my response anyway. A square-cornered abstract eyesore does no such thing, and it only provokes alienation. There is nothing upon which to feast the eyes, the geometry can be understood as easily from a description as from actually looking at the thing. It is cold, shallow, hard and inhuman. It tells no story; a public space, especially a location devoted to literature and history, deserves better. Art should have character, it should have a face. It is true that modern figurative sculptures seldom reveal the skill levels or refinement that those from the 19th and early 20th century do. When a figurative artist lacks skill, it shows. When an abstract one does, there is no-way of telling. Any idiot can hack the corner out of a cuboid. To make a body look like a body is hard work. This, the National Firefighter's Monument in London shows how some modern figurative sculpture doesn't quite cut it. The anatomy of the figures is a little questionable...

Compare it to this sculpture by Lord Leighton, which I got to admire at the Cult of Beauty exhibition last year, and you can see how it fails. Leighton knew how arms and heads attach to torsos, and how long legs need to be!

Art should be hard work, otherwise you're doing it wrong. Once we get back to this idea, our visual culture will enjoy something of a renaissance. Artists should earn their accolades, and their success. Intrinsic quality needs to be elevated over hype, and the crazy critics should only be laughed at when they launch into elaborate explanations of clearly worthless tripe, in order to justify its elevation as 'fine art'. Artists should have to master a set of skills just as people following nearly every other profession have to.

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