Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fen Court EC3

This remarkable piece of 2007, Gilt of Cain, is a collaboration between the sculptor Michael Visocchi and the poet Lemn Sissay to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.
The granite columns are shaped to resemble sugar cane, the product most slaves were taken from Africa to the Caribbean to grow and process into sugar. Before them is a podium with a short flight of steps.
This arrangement has a dual purpose. In one sense, they can be viewed as a pulpit and a congregation of abolitionists, recalling the role of the church in the abolitionist cause. A deliberate reference is to the Rev. John Newton, author of Amazing Grace and inspirer of William Wilberforce, who was rector of nearby St Mary Woolnoth.
In contrast, the group can be seen as a crowd of slaves in front of the auctioneer's desk.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Broadgate Circle EC2

American artist Richard Serra's enormous 1987 piece, Fulcrum, consists of five enormous, 55ft steel slabs apparently leaning against each other, though they are in fact welded together at the top to stop them falling over and incommoding passers-by. The idea is that art lovers can go inside, look up and watch the clouds scud overhead.
Unfortunately, Broadgate's health'n'safety crew seems to have doubts about the integrity of the welds, because they have installed their own counter-art installation Crowd Control Barriers to keep everyone out. Or perhaps the giant wigwam was being used as a refuge by smokers who, let's face it, have nowhere else to go these days.
Serra has made enormous sheets of steel his life's work. Google 'Richard Serra enormous pieces of steel' and select the 'images' option if you want to see what I mean.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

199 Bishopsgate EC2

This cheeky girl sketched out in painted steel lines stands high outside Broadgate, commissioned by the developers from artist Bruce McLean in 1993. He calls it Eye-I, which sounds a bit like the comment of a policeman inquiring what a girl like her is doing hanging round on the street at that time of night.
Bruce McLean was born in Glasgow, studied in the School of Art there and then at St Martin's, where he was taught by Antony Caro. He reacted against his teacher by making sculpture from rubbish.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

County Hall Apartments, York Road SE1

The grand entrances to County Hall Apartments, located behind the County Hall itself, are still marked 'The County Hall', as if Mrs Thatcher had never abolished the Greater London Council all those years ago.
The pair of blocks were designed by the LCC Architect's Department with advice from Sir Giles Gilbert Scott as offices for the council's thousands of officers controlling everything from town planning to vehicle registration. The initial phase was completed in 1939.
The entrances are guarded by stone lamp standards with delightful capitals carved by Alfred Oakley. One type features a school of leaping fish, the other a pod of leaping dolphins.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Hanover Gate Lodge, Regent's Park NW8

Regent's Park was originally private, a place for the rich and aristocratic residents to enjoy without being troubled by the unsightly, smelly and disorderly proletariat. 
The entrances were guarded by uniformed beadles who were housed in elegant little lodges like this one, built as the West Lodge but now known as Hanover Gate Lodge.
The lodge was designed in about 1822 by Sir John Nash, and was originally flanked by iron gates. Elegant statues stand in niches on the Park side, presumably made of Coade stone. They seem to represent the seasons, possibly spring and autumn, though bits may have dropped off over the years.
The Park was opened to the public in 1835, initially for just two days a week. Eventually, however, the beadles left, the gates were removed and the lodge became a bijou residence, albeit one in the middle of its own bijou traffic island.

Monday, 9 June 2014

St Mary Axe, EC3

The workers at 30 St Mary Axe, universally known as the Gherkin, file past this curious figure as they head for the lifts every morning. It is called Grosse Geister, it was made in 1996 and is the work of the Dusseldorf-based artist Thomas Schutte.
The material is cast aluminium, highly polished. Schutte made 17 different versions of Grosse Geister, each in a trio in aluminium, bronze and steel. Schutte creates the shapes in miniature using extruded plastic modelling material.
The work's title translates rather badly into English, apparently. Literally, it means Great Ghosts or Big Spirits, but the connotations of spirituality, greatness of mind, otherworldliness and so on are lost.
Its towering presence (it is 8ft 6in tall) and strange swirly shape have inspired critics to very inventive descriptions including "part Darth Vader, part Pillsbury Doughboy", "licorice humanoids" and, from the Gherkin's own website, "a cross between Ghostbusters, the Michelin Man, Michael Jackson moonwalking, Terminator 2 and a burger bar customer."
I hope the money men who pass it every day treat the great spirit with more respect. In 2010, Phillips sold one for $4.1m.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Broadgate Circle EC2

Some time in the 1970s, the sculptor Barry Flanagan was inspired by the 'magical' sight of a hare sprinting across the South Downs. Through the rest of his career he turned again and again to this graceful, lithe but strong and resilient creature.
Hares were sacred to the Ancient Britons - the Earth Mother Eostre changed into a white hare at the full moon, a belief that has decayed sadly into the Easter Bunny of today.
Flanagan's piece for Broadgate Circle is called Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell and was placed here in 1988.