Last week I spent some time ‘visiting’ ‘Spiral Nebula’. This is a 1962 work by British sculptor Geoffrey Clarke.
You can just about glimpse this work from Haymarket, if you know where to look, otherwise you really need to seek it out. It’s currently located in a small and very well worn ‘square’ outside Newcastle University’s Herschel Building / at the end of Herschel Walk. Over the years the sculpture has become very dilapidated, almost in places like its material is falling apart. Pigeons have begun to use it as a nesting box (there are twigs sticking out of the gaps between the metal) and the surface is streaked with bird droppings. As I sit on a bench opposite the work, a pigeon flies into the centre of the sculpture and starts to scuffle and tap around inside the hollow of the ‘spiral’. It has the appearance and feel of a ‘forgotten’ work.
Visiting the University website however I learn that rather than being decomissioned (or ‘retired’) ‘Spiral Nebula’, is about to be reclaimed and restored as part of the University’s public realm improvement works. It will be interesting to see what difference this makes to the audience reception / viewing of this work. How far will this planned restoration serve to renew public visibility and audience interest in the work as well as materially preserve it? (What might such ‘restoration’ add to the public art ‘rotate or retire’ debate?) Is this part of a new self-concious (?) ‘collection’ approach being taken by the University in relation to its own public artworks (note also the re-siting of Joe Hillier’s Generation sculpture, originally commissioned for One NorthEast’s Newburn Riverside offices, to form the centrepiece of the new Student Forum space)? I wonder too if this is also part of, or perhaps a reaction to, a reported new interest in the previously overlooked but now increasingly ‘collectable’ British sculptors of the 1950’s?
Notes and links:
For more on the ‘Rotate or Retire’ debate visit Suzanne Heath’s Public Art Network 22 August blog post.
Geoffrey Clarke‘s work is included in the Arts Council England, Tate and V&A collections. In the same year as ‘Spiral Nebula’ was installed (1962) Clarke also completed three prestigious stained glass windows for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, commissioned when he was still a student at the Royal College of Art. He also designed the ceremonial entrance hall for Newcastle Civic Centre which was officially opened in 1968.
Needham, Alex (2012), ‘Exhibitions spike interest in postwar British sculpture’, The Guardian, 11 January 2012.