Who decides how long artworks in the public realm should occupy their space? In a Radio 4 programme Change of Art, Andrew Shoben, artist at greyworld, and Professor of Public Art at Goldsmiths, University of London, explores the idea to ‘rotate or retire’ public artworks. The last three decades have seen a flourishing of public art in our towns and cities with works adorning every new housing estate, shopping centre or local park. But what was bold and innovative in the eighties may now seem tired, decrepit or meaningless. In a bid to refresh our cities and rescue ‘orphaned’ works, he sets out to explore the arguments around relocating more of our artworks.
In Trafalgar Square he discusses the Fourth Plinth with Sandy Nairne, Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group and Director of the National Portrait Gallery; he visits Sir Wilfred Cass at the Cass Sculpture Park in Sussex; talks to Antony Gormley about the artist’s hopes for Angel of the North. Local authority art departments talk about the process of commissioning and de-commissioning work for our communities.
This is not so controversial as it appears as sculptures are regularly removed in building works. Alex Beleschenko at Reading Station and Peter Nicholas at Cardiff Airport discovered that their public artworks had been destroyed as the buildings were redeveloped. The number of Queen Victoria statues are reduced as they are transferred to storage and never re-sited. Some sculptures such as the bust of Nelson Mandela in central London are relocated for political reasons, while others, such as the long lost Poets Fountain on Park Lane, with statues of Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer, were probably too fragile to survive their temporary relocation. And an increasing number of sculptures are lost to the cogniscenti of thieves who appreciate the scrap value of bronze. There’s a historical precedent too. The Elgin Marbles are in the British Museum in London rather than on the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens; and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes was moved around Florence three times between 1455 and 1505, before it was replaced with Michelangelo’s David.
Greyworld has created public artworks for several UK cities, including Monument To The Unknown Artist, a 20ft bronze animatronic figure that changes its pose at the command of passers-by, sited at Bankside 123 development near Tate Modern. The artists speaks to people passing by his own sculpture to find out if they love it or if they’d prefer that it be replaced by something, anything else.
Image: Andrew Shoben, Monument to the Unknown Artist.
Producers: Joby Waldman and Kathryn Willgress A Somethin’ Else production for BBC Radio 4. First broadcast. BBC Radio 4, 11:30am, Tuesday 18 Oct 2011 .
Listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b015zm9b/Change_of_Art/