London’s most dynamic public art
London is arguably the art capital of the world. From its rich tapestry array of museums, to the commerciality of its cutting-edge art galleries, there’ is always plenty to see. What’ is often overlooked , and often taken for granted, is the city’s wonderful public art set in parks, squares and streets across London, reading and reads like a Who’s Who of the art world: Hepworth, Moore, Chadwick, Rodin etc.
Fulcrum by Richard Serra, Broadgate Circle
Disarming all who emerge from Liverpool Street station’s Broadgate exit is American artist Richard Serra’s most striking site-specific sculpture. Its thick sheets of gently rusting Corten steel soar up to just under 17m/56ft. They’re arranged in a precarious put-together lean that dares onlookers to step inside for a more visceral experience of its impressive angles. An ingenious display of simplicity, elegance and drama, Fulcrum was installed in 1987. Its layers of lived-in rust add to its edge – the artist worked in steel mills as a student and chose a metal that weathers beautifully with rich autumnal hues. Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, famously called Fulcrum ‘one of London’s design icons’, and it has become one of The City’s most recognisable contemporary landmarks.
Newton After Blake by Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library
Dominating the courtyard of the British Library, Newton – also known as Newton After Blake – crouches atop an immense marble plinth. The creation of Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, this arresting 4m/12ft bronze of Sir Isaac Newton was inspired by Romantic artist Blake’s monotype of the celebrated mathematician. A famous critic of Newton’s rationalist philosophy, Blake’s painting depicts Newton poised with his compass pressed to a scroll, oblivious to the natural beauty surrounding him. Paolozzi’s sculptural echo, installed in 1995, pushes Blake’s premise a step further. In his, Newton is mechanised with bolts and metallic straps in an awry nod to the interplay between art and science.
Quantum Cloud by Antony Gormley, Greenwich
The starring attraction of The Line, a public art walk between Greenwich and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Quantum Cloud rises above the banks of the Thames by the O2. This towering sculpture depicts a figure – based on artist Gormley’s body – blurred within a busy, chaotic cloud. It’s a thoughtful comment on man being more than he appears. Commissioned for the Millennium Dome and erected in 1999, computer software applied chaos theory to design the nebulous structure from steel tetrahedrons. It’s Gormley’s tallest creation at 30m/98ft, loftier even than his celebrated Angel of the North, and was the UK’s tallest at the time of its completion.
ArcelorMittal Orbit by Anish Kapoor
A sculpture-cum-record breaking theme-park ride, visionary artist Kapoor’s 115m/1238ft structure towers over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It was established as an integral feature of the London skyline in 2009. This was its resounding accolade after winning a competition to honour the 2012 London Summer Olympics and stand as a legacy to the event. Olympic sponsor, steel giant ArcelorMittal, gave it its name and provided materials for its leaning observation tower and spiralling surrounds. Four years after its conception, Belgian artist Carsten Holler added a 178m/584ft tunnel slide, now the world’s longest, coiling around the tower and dazzlingly illuminated at night.
Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, in front of the National Gallery, has an unusual history. Following failed plans to install a sculpture of William IV almost two centuries ago, it stood bare for 150 years. In 2007, the Mayor of London took over its ownership and formed the Fourth Plinth Commission. This programme allows contemporary artworks to be displayed atop it on a changing, temporary basis. From David Shrigley’s Really Good sculpture showing an elongated thumbs up, to Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse, a skeletal horse with a live ticker corresponding to the London Stock Exchange, exhibitions to date have been varied and often controversial. Since 2018, Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist has had pride of place, a recreation of a sculpture destroyed in Syria by ISIS, faithfully recreated using date syrup cans.
Serpentine Pavilion, Kensington Gardens
In addition to its two gallery spaces, since 2000, the Serpentine Galleries offers an annual architecture commission to artists and architects around the world. Each year, the chosen pavilion is showcased over the summer, built on a limited budget, and intended to provide a space for guests to interact and engage with the ideas on display. The current commission, designed to celebrate the programme’s 20th anniversary, will stand for two years, and is the work of Johannesburg-based architectural firm Counterspace. The pavilion’s moveable pieces will be removed and installed around London at different intervals, expanding it into an ever more public arena.
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