Artist Jeremy Deller – whose own joky sculpture for the Cultural Olympiad, Sacrilege, is a bouncy-castle version of Stonehenge – calls the escalating size of public sculpture in Britain an “arms race”.
First Antony Gormley’s 20-metre tall Angel of the North was erected in 1998 in Gateshead. Then, in 2009, the design for Kent’s “angel of the south” – a 50-metre sculpture of a horse by Mark Wallinger – was unveiled. In 2010 came Temenos, Kapoor and Balmond’s series of five sculptures on Teesside, claimed as the “biggest public sculpture in the world”. Later this month, the designs for Richard Wilson’s Slipstream will be revealed. Described as “the longest sculpture in Europe”, it is destined for Heathrow’s new Terminal Two in 2014. But the Orbit towers over them all: “the tallest sculpture in the world”, say its creators. Artist Richard Wentworth, head of sculpture at the Royal College of Art, detects a “comical and awful rivalry” between Gormley and Kapoor as each outsculpts the other. Gormley was, along with Kapoor, shortlisted for the ArcelorMittal project.
"It is," says Deller, "all about people wanting to brand places and regions." Everyone has wanted to repeat the success of the Angel of the North, which has become a symbol of the region and a beloved landmark. But for the “wow” factor to succeed time and again, the only way is up.
By coincidence, or not, the designers of these vast works are all men. Polly Staple, director of the Chisenhale Gallery in nearby Mile End, remarks drily: “I work with a lot of women artists who aren’t interested in working vertically.”
Recall making a presentation in architectural theory class arguing that the verticality of skyscrapers wasn’t simply phallicism but as much about the sublime and, ultimately, the divine. Masters of the Universe and all.
This public art, however… Branding and place-marketing absolutely the dominant drive. Still patriarchal in a roundabout way - names are a kind of power, one that 49% of the population get to hold and the other 51% receive through relationships to men (fathers, husbands).
But the ceaseless drive to differentiate, the need to create difference through plonking multi-million pound lumps of art - rather than recognising any of the things that actually make a place a place: history, people, industry, landscape. What is the artistic drive to produce works like this, and how exactly is it different to making a really good Nike ad?
Maintaining Olympic advertisers’ expensively-purchased monopolies of signification is a legal requirement for host cities. This means new laws:
Section 22 is then about how the police can enter your house to seize your Pepsi t-shirts, news articles or protest banners before you even use them.
Section 19: Advertising Regulations.
(4)The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including, in particular—
(a)advertising of a non-commercial nature, and
(b)announcements or notices of any kind.
(5)The regulations may apply in respect of advertising in any form including, in particular—
(a)the distribution or provision of documents or articles,
(b)the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds, and
(c)things done with or in relation to material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement.
Found via @DSG_DSG, 10 Growth Markets for Crisis