With the recent destruction of the iconic Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic arches at Tottenham Court Road tube station, that Artlyst considers to be one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory – having occurred despite public protests and a petition from groups and the 20th Century Society, which attracted nearly 8000 signatures, TFL confirmed that three of the four arches at Tottenham Court Road station featuring the murals had been dismantled and most likely destroyed (?) – in light of these events Artlyst asks if there should a reappraisal of professional attitudes and practices toward the implementation or removal of public art?
These recent events serve to prove yet again, that the general public is a sophisticated entity that is entirely capable of understanding the value of great works of public art as a part of their history and cultural heritage, even if they are ignored in the process. Many individuals over the decades would pass through Paolozzi’s colourful arches, and in doing so the works would undoubtedly brighten any winter morning, and those commuters would surely have come to a collective understanding of the value of the murals – and quite possibly the emotional and socio/cultural value of good public art in general.
But it also seems glaringly obvious that the authorities making decisions regarding the creation, or indeed the future of these public works of art, believe that they hold an understanding above the art world professional, or the individual who has lived with these works on a daily basis. These authorities believe that they have the right, and the ability to make far-reaching decisions regarding the cultural history of the city – without – it would seem, any level of knowledge to inform them, not to mention an inability to listen to those who do.
Now the latest case in point comes all the way from New Zealand. The Sculptor Gregor Kregar has created “Transit Cloud”, an aluminium mesh sculpture that hangs on the façade of a train station, eight metres above ground in the town of New Lynn, near Auckland. The work is meant to convey a cloud-like form, yet residents of the working class area are complaining that the sculpture is an obvious phallic symbol. They do not want it in their town, and certainly don’t want their children playing around it.
The decision to implement the installation of the work came after it was commissioned by the Auckland Council to bring ‘contemporary artistic flare’ to the quiet town. This commission cost the New Zealand taxpayer NZ$200,000 or £97,474. The principal of investing money into the enrichment of the environment via public art is a very sound one – that is, of course providing that those who are making the decisions to implement public works of art actually know what they are doing. When instead time-and-again we witness acts of cultural vandalism implemented with state approval, or the addition of public art that does not reflect its environment or the society that surrounds it.
Kregar has responded by saying he believes the debate is positive and welcome: “Art is out there to stir reaction.” He intended for the work to resemble clouds and raindrops, the artist claims, and certainly not anything phallic. A 50-metre string of neon lights will transform the sculpture at night into a colourful amorphous floating form, which the artist hopes will change residents’ perspectives of the work.
But both the cultural vandalism of Tottenham Court Road’s Eduardo Paolozzi mural, and the decision of the Auckland Council, serves to highlight that no matter where these events take place, that whether it is concerning decisions to destroy historically important works of art – or to create public art for the cultural enrichment of the social environment – that these choices to either spend large sums of public money – or decide to ignore the importance and relevancy of publicly situated great 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, that in fact in this case, neither of these authority’s had a right to implement or destroy, regardless of legality, without their democratic consent.
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved