Sunday, July 19th 2015
For the fifth year running, we can this month enjoy a much anticipated exhibition of sculpture in which the streets of the City of London serve as the gallery. Admission is therefore free! Sculpture in the City 2015 presents 14 works by contemporary sculptors and all are now in place except one: Ai Weiwei’s Forever will be installed only in September in an event intended to coincide with his September exhibition at the Royal Academy of London.
If you live in London or within easy travelling distance, I encourage you to grab the free sculpture map and chase down the sculptures for yourself. If you are unable to do that, I present the 13 extant sculptures below so that you can get some idea of them. I hope to add Ai Weiwei’s sculpture when it at last appears. (Added November 3rd 2015.)
I have taken several photos of each sculpture and combined these into a GIF slideshow, so click on each static image to see the whole set. As with all art, but particularly with modern and contemporary art, it is helpful to have some notes of guidance on what you are looking at. As I am no art expert, I will spare you are own maunderings on the works and reproduce the notes supplied by the City of London on its page entitled About the Artwork and Artists. I have put these commentaries in italics to remind readers that they are copied text.
Kris Martin’s Altar is a metal replica of the multi-panelled, fifteenth-century Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. Also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the work was seminal to the development of North Renaissance painting and the landscape genre, and is still visited by countless people each day in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent, where it is located. The artist re-presents this famous work with a twist, however: he has reproduced only the frame, leaving it bereft of its twelve folding panels. Rather than marvelling at the sumptuously painted religious scene, in which flora, fauna, and figures are depicted with astonishing accuracy and jewel-like colours, we are invited to look through an open structure to the real world beyond. In this way, Martin asks us to re-focus our attention on the cityscape we know so well, and to forge a new sense of curiosity, devotion and wonder from this humdrum, everyday view.
Kris Martin’s work often consists of a presentation of found objects that have been altered or repositioned through minimal means. In Bells II, Martin conjoins two ornate church bells at the mouth, locking them into a symbolic kiss that carries with it the notion of silence, as sound can no longer escape from the hermetically sealed fusion.
The artist’s fascination lies in the way such small rearrangements can dramatically alter how we see the world around us, and understand our place within it.
Laura Ford is well-known for her portrayals of animals, with which she explores aspects of the human condition. Her bronze sculptures presented here are from a recent series called ‘Days of Judgement’, for which her starting point was Masaccio’s fresco ‘The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ (1425) in the Brancacci Chapel, Florence. In Ford’s postlapsarian vision, however, Adam and Eve are reconfigured as a group of very tall, skinny cats. Pacing around in various states of deep thought, these cats appear like existential poets gripped by their own inner anxieties; with their featureless faces they have an uncanny blankness onto which we can project our own fears and concerns.
Adam Chodzko’s, Ghost, is a kayak, a sculpture as vessel, a coffin, a costume and a camera rig. He designed the kayak, to have a paddler in the back and a passenger – a member of the public – in the front. The guest is reclined, stretched out like a body in a coffin, with their head slightly raised. Through each journey for Ghost, the artist and the passenger are on a metaphorical and mythological journey to the Island of the Dead. A camera, mounted on the bows records the journey of each passenger, thus creating an archive of their experience.
Since 2010, Ghost has travelled along the River Medway, Kent, the River Tamar, Devon, through The Olympic Park, London, and along the Tyne, Newcastle. In each location members of the public were ferried along these stretches of water.
In ‘Ghost Archive’ (2015), two journeys were made, both from Bankside to Deadman’s Hole. The first passenger was Karina Isajeva, a caterer at Hiscox, the second was Robert Hiscox, Honorary President of Hiscox. Although these two journeys were consecutive and took place over less than two hours, Ghost Archive replays them as fragmented sequences.
Dutch artist Folkert de Jong is internationally recognized for figurative sculptures that mine issues of empire, trauma and myth. Originating in a 3D scan of a suit of armour belonging to the aging Henry VIII, Old DNA (2014) is a psychological portrait of power and the way it can endure and decay. As a public monument, it occupies a peculiar factual space: “the scene De Jong creates does not feel like an official history,” writes curator Sam Lackey of the Hepworth Wakefield museum, “but rather a hidden or unseen moment—an uncovered conspiracy from the past.”
This piece is part of Xavier Veilhan’s ongoing “Rays” series. Designed for the Willis Plaza, the artwork frames and questions the views of the City opened up by recent construction activity. The artist has been working since 2011 on this series formulated as a tribute to Jesús Rafael Soto and Fred Sandback. Dealing with the possibilities of representation and the question of display —two important issues in his practice— these works create immersive and optical environments that play with scale, light, shadow and architecture. They have been presented in numerous institutions and public spaces, including Le Corbusier’s “MAMO – Cité Radieuse” in Marseille, the Sheats-Goldstein Residence in Los Angeles (USA), Hatfield House (UK), La Conservera in Murcia (Spain), and Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (Japan).
With ‘O my friends, there are no friends’ (2011), Sigalit Landau challenges the concept of monumental sculpture choosing a traditional material such as bronze to celebrate the future.
The pedestal on which the sculpture stand represents an anti-monument; real laces, soft and vulnerable, link together the pairs of bronze shoes. As Landau states, the work is “a commemoration of the future, when we will be able to slip into these shoes and be part of a community that will create a better history, with more solidarity, more generosity and regeneration”. This work was first shown in the Israeli pavilion at the 54° Venice Biennale in 2011. This will be the inaugural presentation of this work in the U.K.
RED ATLAS is part of the on-going sculptural series ATLAS that deals with the subject of balance. RED ATLAS investigates our physical position in relation to the surrounding architecture.
In previous works, Altenbuger has used the appearance of architecture – a fallen arch or tipped plinth – for RED ATLAS he has stripped away the representational and made a sleek simple form from heavy architectural material. The sculpture leans gently on the wall, held firm by it’s shear weight; exploring the balance between object, architecture and ourselves, using this interplay to question the perception of our physical presence in an urban space.
Japanese artist Tomoaki Suzuki’s diminutive sculptures put a decidedly contemporary twist on the millennia-long tradition of Japanese woodcarving. Drawing on his life in London, Suzuki creates painstakingly detailed portraits of diverse urban youths at one-third their actual size. The five sculptures on view demonstrate a shift in the artist’s practice—they are his first works to be executed in bronze.
Suzuki maintains that by working in small scale he is able to focus his attention on the figures in a way that would not be possible on a larger scale. Plus, because of their size, the figures physically draw the viewer in and down to their level, and yet in spite of their size, the sculptures have a powerful presence.
After witnessing the 2011 tragedy, Keita Miyazaki felt the need to create a new ‘utopian’ vision out of the ashes of the ‘dystopia’ in Japan: artworks created out of the rubble; sculptures pointing forward to a new beginning.
Miyazaki marries traditional Japanese techniques with parts of old car engines to create a completely new visual universe. The particularity of his sculptures is increased by sound, which emanates strategically from various points. The jingles heard are original compositions inspired by music played in Japanese supermarkets; sounds of Tokyo and London; to the tunes played in the Tokyo public transport system. Miyazaki’s wish is to create a geographical connection between London and Japan.
Ai Weiwei’s groupings of stainless-steel bikes – configured in ever-expanding modular shapes and layers of geometrically stacked and fused individual frames, to create one larger structure – refer to the famous ‘Forever’ brand of bicycles that have been mass-manufactured in Shanghai since 1940. Once ubiquitous, this classic marque and indeed the perceived profusion of pushbikes on Beijing streets are now steadily dying out, to be replaced by cars. This irony is not lost on Ai or in the title of this series, which can incorporate as few as two bicycles and as many as 3,000. As in other works by Ai, not only does this multiplication suggest a congregation of people or a massing of humanity, but the underlying concepts of assembling, repeating and copying also play an important role, as does the lasting influence of Marcel Duchamp.
Damien Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol and was brought up in Leeds. Since the late 1980s, he has used a varied practice of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing to investigate the complexities of the human condition and the polarities of life and death. Hirst won the Turner Prize in 1995.
Charity (2002-2003) is a 22-foot bronze sculpture based on The Spastics Society’s (now Scope) charity collection box, which was commonly found outside local chemists and shops in the 1960s and 1970s. Aggrandised through scale and material, Hirst’s version has been vandalised and her contents emptied, a number of remaining coins lie on the ground next to a crow bar. Monumental yet vulnerable, the work plays on the art historical tradition of depicting the Virtue of Charity as a single female figure. The sculpture was originally installed in the park outside White Cube Hoxton Square London, as part of Romance in the Age of Uncertainty, Hirst’s solo exhibition at the gallery in 2003.
Bruce Beasley’s intersecting cuboid forms are reminiscent of natural crystalline structures, with sumptuous patinas adding to their organic essence. Perhaps surprisingly, Beasley’s sculptures originate in digital three-dimensional design software, which allows him to devise his forms without the constraints of gravity; the shapes are later cast into solid bronze. Beasley’s impressive arch Breakout II epitomises the sculptor’s talent to balance the tension between precision engineering and organic form.
Today Beasley is recognized as one of the most noteworthy and innovative sculptors on the American West Coast. His monumental work has been exhibited worldwide including at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1995 and a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California in 2005.
Site-specific installation Broken Pillar #12, is part of a body of work developed over the last five years, by Shan Hur. As part of the artist’s practice, Hur incorporates found objects, usually relevant to its location within these structures, encouraging the viewer to question the world around them and the objects hidden within it. Adapted to its surroundings at St Helen’s Churchyard, Broken Pillar #12 is a unique interpretation from the series, unveiled for the occasion. Hur’s previous public placements include ‘Berkeley’s tree’ – the façade of Berkeley Square House, London, UK and ‘A New Column for Manchester’ with the Arts Council of England – Manchester, UK, 2014.