Post Date: 23rd December 2014
Author: Jess Brownrigg – Guest Blogger
I have always felt that London is blessed with incredible public art. At the moment, however, it seems especially replete with great works. Often drowned out by the digital displays of Piccadilly Circus and advertising billboards infesting every wall, there are extraordinary sculptures at every turn. This is a celebration of the best ones around right now.
But first a distinction. This list does not include statues or war memorials – it is not celebrating or commemorating anyone or anything, apart from perhaps art itself, and its effect on the area around it. While the following list takes an irreverent look at these works, I remain in awe of all the artists who created them, and thankful for their place in the city.
Beloved by small children and fans of all things equestrian, this 35ft high disembodied horse’s head balances on its nose by Marble Arch. Unveiled in 2009, it is now a permanent installation yet looks set to topple over. The bronze sculpture, by Nic Fidden-Green, represents a horse drinking water and was based upon his own steed, George.
The artist remains concerned about his work’s upkeep, and in 2012 even manned a cherry-picker to scrub off all the pigeon poop that had collected upon it.
Still Water loses points in this list for being reminiscent of that scene in The Godfather… and from the wrong angle, resembling something that fell out of a whale’s nose.
Seven Ages Of Man
This totem pole like sculpture rises from the courtyard of Baynard House on Queen Victoria Street in the City of London. Depicting a life from bouncing baby boy to decrepit coffin dodger, this aluminium work by Richard Kindersley was unveiled in 1980. It’s main purpose would appear to be drawing attention away from how stupendously ugly Baynard House is.
Lioness And Lesser Kudu
Like a freeze-frame from David Attenborough’s latest jaw-dropping wonderfest, this 1998 bronze sculpture by Jonathan Kenworthy races through Upper Grosvenor Gardens by Victoria Station. Incredibly kinetic, it shows a lioness closing in on her prey, a lesser kudu, and is called, rather less kinetically, um… Lioness and Lesser Kudu. I think a better title might simply be: Lunch.
Barely a few metres away from Lioness And Lesser Kudu is this wondrous sight from David Breuer-Weil… A gigantic alien landing on it’s head! Perhaps it opened a window for a quick drag on a cigarette while the captain was off the bridge, and fell out of its spaceship? It certainly looks like an unfortunate extraterrestrial, buried shoulders deep in the lawn, legs flailing in the air.
Breuer-Weil clearly enjoys the fun side of his work: “I love the idea of the shock of an alien landing in the heart of London and taking everybody by surprise. I wanted to capture the sense of wonder and shock that such an arrival would generate. Every new work of art should be like an alien landing, something sudden and unexpected.”
However, there are deeper themes at play, as he explained: “My grandfather was a refugee from Vienna and fled after the Nazis took over there in 1938. He landed in England, but found he was labeled an ‘Enemy Alien’ when he arrived here. Many of my works, both paintings and sculptures, explore the theme of belonging or alienation.”
Look closer at the Alien’s “skin” and you can see an inscription of his grandfather’s name, Ernst, as well as other doodles and musings by Breuer-Weil. One of these is a drawing of the Kaiser of Nerac; king of an imaginary land invented by the artist.
The bronze behemoth invaded in April 2013 and is to be beamed up the same time next year.
As I said in the introduction, London has many statues. Mostly, these are of dead white men and, mostly created by more dead white men. So, good to have some exceptions to these norms. For a start, it is wonderful to have public art that fires the imagination, adding a little surreal magic to the grey edifice of London.
Dunamis, which is Greek for “miraculous power” certainly achieves this. It’s creator, Bushra Fakhoury says of her work: “My themes and inspirations are mostly based on myths, fables, folklore, carnivals, parades, dreams and by observing, and studying people in their daily activities.”
A circus performer balancing an elephant on one hand, it certainly is a mythical feat of sculpture, incredible that remains upright. The artist comments that it represents “pushing boundaries to make the impossible possible.” All very commendable, yet I can’t help but feel sorry for the elephant.
Nine metres high, the bronze piece stands astride the middle of Park Lane near Hyde Park Corner. Fakhoury will donate 10% of the sale price to the elephant charity Tusk Trust, and it will remain in situ until it is sold. Anyone up for a whip-round so we can buy it and keep it there?
Bringing vibrancy and colour to the stuffy conservatism of Berkley Square, Dale Chihuly’s The Sun dawned back in April of this year. Five and a half metres high, it is composed of 1,573 hand-blown glass elements and is illuminated at night – to quite awesome effect. Taking over 2000 hours to create and five days to install, its popularity proves it was well worth all the effort.
I can’t help but be reminded of a gigantic sea anemone though, and half expect a massive clownfish to be bumbling about nearby. The Sun will shine until December this year, then disappear just as the winter gloom really kicks into high gear. Thanks for that, then.
Peace Descending On The Quadriga Of War
This magnificent depiction of the Angel of Peace landing upon the Chariot of War sits atop the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner. Like a still from a Biblical epic, it was created by Adrian Jones way back in 1912 and remains London’s most arresting piece of art.
Every morning, the Household Cavalry ride through the arch beneath it on their way to the Changing Of The Guard, in an ongoing feat of epic irony that seems to be lost on all concerned.
Peace Descending On The Quadriga Of War replaced an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington that was so disproportionately huge compared to the arch it stood upon it was roundly mocked by the press. Jones’ work was the largest public sculpture in the UK until the unveiling of Anthony Gormley’s Angel Of The North.
It was an epic journey from conception to completion. In 1891 Jones exhibited a plaster Quadriga (four horses drawing a chariot) at the Royal Academy, where the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) suggested he design one for the Wellington Arch. It took another twenty-one years for the final sculpture to be erected, long enough for the artist to find time to hold a tea party inside a cast for one of the horses!
It’s a big blue cock in Trafalgar Square… says every other tour guide. Yes it is. But it’s so, so much more. It may seem obvious having a Fourth Plinth work on the list, let alone at number one, but Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsche fully deserves it’s place as the most prominent sculpture in the capital.
For a start, it’s so big… and so blue! It snaps your attention away from the dreary, monochrome grey of its surroundings. This iridescent fibreglass icon stands at almost five metres tall, and always has a congregation of pigeons worshiping at its feet. People flock around it too, in bafflement, wonder and also derision.
It has caused controversy – for many reasons, mostly for being completely out of place in Trafalgar Square. Not just physically, but historically, and not in keeping with the stern grandiosity of the area. But that is entirely the point. As Fritsche herself commented: “Humour is always a big thing for me. It stops things from becoming too severe.”
Trafalgar Square is filled with symbols of the state: statues of generals Havelock and Napier, as well as King George IV on his horse (before he expanded to a 56-inch waistline). Hahn/Cock (the double entendre was intended) playfully undercuts the strutting pomposity of these figures and, by extension, British imperial arrogance.
It is also hilarious to have a cockerel, the symbol of France, in such a Gallic colour, standing behind Nelson’s back as he gazes proudly towards the sea: A cheeky riposte to history. Katharina Fritsche claims it was not intended for her work to carry these connotations, but relishes the happy accident that it does: “it’s a nice humorous side-effect to have something French in a place that celebrates victory over Napoleon. He has come back as a cockerel!”
But there is even more to it. As the artist notes, these are all “male persons standing on pedestals”, and that Trafalgar Square is “…about male posing, about showing power, about showing … erections! I mean, look at that column!”
She expanded upon this theme in various interviews: “London is a business centre; there are streets round here like Jermyn Street specialising in men’s suits. There’s a real male culture around the place.”
Fritsch added: “It is a feminist sculpture, since it is I who am doing something active here – I, a woman, am depicting something male. Historically it has always been the other way around. Now we are changing the roles. And a lot of men are enjoying that.” Too right. I will be sad to see Hahn/Cock go at the end of this year. In the meantime, every glimpse of it is sheer joy.
This article was written by Jess Brownrigg, tour guide, writer and good friend of Fun London Tours!