After the recent revelation that the iconic Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic arches at Tottenham Court Road station, were not destroyed by Transport for London, but in fact covertly spirited away to a storage facility in Norfolk – an act of seeming subterfuge, potentially allowing TFL the freedom to sell the work without the prying eyes of the nation or art professionals weighing in with their opinions, due to their non-disclosure regarding the plight of the Eduardo Paolozzi Mosaic Arches at the time of their removal. Now the work may be sold by authorities without the knowledge or consent of the general public for which it was created.
In fact this situation serves to highlight a new dilemma in the protection of public art, after Artlyst recently published that the Twentieth Century Society conservation group has called for a “Domesday Book” survey of post-war public art – but that murals, mosaics and ceramic works will not be a part of a drive to catalogue the nation’s sculptures and public monuments.
The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) already has an extensive inventory of public sculpture, which it has amassed in the 14 volumes that have been published since 1991. However, there are many geographical and historical gaps in this particular inventory, and many important murals are not included. Whereas the project “Your Sculpture” is a joint initiative of the Public Catalogue Fund and the PMSA – that will receive £2.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund – but reliefs, mosaics and murals will also not be included in the new project.
So it would appear that there will be a potential blind-spot in the vision of societies and conservation groups attempting to safe-guard the country’s large body of public art, in particular works that are attached to pre-existing sites, especially when owned by conglomerates, big businesses, or anyone looking to prosper from the removal of works that are – at least ethically – the property of the general public, having been bestowed a work of art in an attempt to create something of socio-cultural benefit to them.
As Artlyst has stated, the decision on the importance and relevancy of publicly situated works of art should always be made by an art professional, with the complete consent and approval of the society that will either have to live with the potential monstrosity – or grieve for the demise of something of beauty and value that was a part of their lives, a decision that should never be made without the public’s democratic consent.
With the recent news that Banksy’s Cheltenham mural “Spy Booth” had been granted listed protection – after the community fought the property owner over ownership of the artwork – Artlyst asks how are we supposed to protect important works of public art if they are not included in the extensive inventories designed for their protection? – and after the events surrounding the removal of the Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic arches from Tottenham Court Road tube station, and the failure to disclose to the public the fate of works that were created to enrich their lives – and not the pockets of private or government owned big business – we also highlight some other of the nation’s public art currently under threat, below, in the sincere hope that the tragic events that unfolded at Tottenham Court Road, robbing the capital, and the country of its culture, will not be repeated.
Victor Pasmore panel, 1959-63
Victor Pasmore created this abstract sculpted panel for the staff canteen in the former Pilkington Brothers headquarters in St Helens, Lancashire. The building was constructed between 1959 and 1963 and is Grade II listed, as is the mural. But the work is under threat as the building, which is now owned by the Japanese glass firm, Nippon Sheet Glass, is derelict. Works by other 20th-century artists, Avinash Chandra and John Humphrey Spender, were also commissioned for the headquarters.
Hans Tisdall, The Alchemist’s Elements, 1967
Hans Tisdall’s mosaic was created in 1967 at the entrance to the Faraday Building, which was once part of the campus of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, but is currently empty. There were plans to redevelop the building, but its future is uncertain. The work depicts the four elements -fire, earth, air and water – and refers to the building’s former function as a chemistry department. the artist created a similar relief on another university chemistry building nearby, but this work has recently been cut in two by an extension to a café. Highlighting the issue at hand.
Rowland Emmet mural, 1959
Rowland Emmet was the grandson of Queen Victoria’s court engraver and a cartoonist for Punch magazine. The Twentieth Century Society says it doesn’t know of any specific threat to demolish the Emmet mural painted in 1959, housed in a car park in Hemel Hempstead. But these sites are vulnerable to redevelopment “and the mural appears dirty and uncared for”, says senior conservation adviser Henrietta Billings.
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved